Antonio Arredondo, Canby native and a senior broadcast journalism student at George Fox University, was scrolling through Twitter on an otherwise normal morning when he saw it: a video of him and his brother, Diego, retweeted by ESPN’s SportsCenter.
What was the content? Perhaps an epic basketball shoot-out between Antonio and recent CHS graduate Diego, who earlier this year became the first Canby Cougar since 2007 to score 1,000 points in his high school career?
SportsCenter on Twitter: “This was intense 😂👏(via balloon_league, antonio_arredondo_/Instagram) pic.twitter.com/uBmy3lyj4x / Twitter”
This was intense 😂👏(via balloon_league, antonio_arredondo_/Instagram) pic.twitter.com/uBmy3lyj4x
They call it the “Keep Up the Balloon Game,” or simply, “The Balloon Game.” Players take turns slapping a non-helium-filled balloon into the air. If you let it touch the ground — you lose.
It’s a game so simple, you’ve probably all done it at some point in your lives without even realizing you were playing a game.
The fact that the three Arredondo siblings, Antonio, Diego and Canby sophomore and three-sport student-athlete Isabel, have garnered more than 380,000 followers and millions of views on the social media platform TikTok simply by posting videos of themselves playing this game is as astonishing to them as it is to anyone else.
“Honestly, it doesn’t make any sense to me,” Antonio says with a laugh. “We hit a balloon around and get millions of views on the internet. If you can figure out why it’s so popular, please let me know.”
There are a few clues. First, as we’ve already mentioned, the ubiquity of the shared experience itself.
“That’s my best guess, that a lot of people played that game as kids,” says Antonio. “The nostalgia of it.”
The second reason is that the Arredondos go absolutely all out in the trivial pursuit of whacking that stupid balloon, and the result is often wildly entertaining.
“We’re very competitive,” Antonio admits. “I think people like seeing us play this silly game at a really high level, you know, where you’ve got some college boy throwing himself over a table to hit it.”
The videos themselves were actually a product of that same competitiveness. Because the siblings didn’t start out with the goal of making SportsCenter. They were just trying to keep each other honest.
“We kept getting in arguments over whether it touched the ground or not,” Antonio says. “We had to employ a cameraman so we could do slow-motion replays. That’s how this all started.”
The siblings uploaded the first video to Twitter in January 2019. But the concept — and the viral response to it — didn’t really take off until the pandemic hit the following year.
“Like everybody, we were stuck in the house, bored and thought it would be fun to start playing this game again,” Antonio recalls. “And people just started sharing and following us. It was a very sudden thing.”
The Arredondos’ first viral hit — a clip from the original 2019 game that they reposted to TikTok in April 2020 — has garnered seven and a half million views and more than 1.2 million likes.
Two other videos, one from December 2020 and another from just this past week have collected over 8 million views. It was this latter post that got the boys covered in Newsweek and retweeted by SportsCenter — which was a dream come true for Antonio.
“It was wild,” he recalled. “As a kid, I used to watch SportsCenter all the time, and I always thought it would be so cool to be on there. Of course, in my dreams, it was because I was in the NBA or something. And here I am playing this childhood balloon game, and that’s what gets me on there.”
The Arredondos have invited different players to join the “league” over the years, from their dad, Sabino Arredondo, who’s better known as a partner and CPA at the local accounting firm Wilcox Arredondo & Co., and Antonio’s girlfriend, Lillie Abrahamson, who was behind the camera on one of their highest-viewed videos to date.
They’ve also tried incorporating different settings into their videos — including Goss Stadium on the campus of Oregon State University — but their most popular uploads inevitably center on the upstairs TV room at their family home on South Bolland Road, which is packed with obstacles like couches and tables, and which fans of the channel describe as “iconic.”
Though the siblings frequently make dramatic dives and sacrifice their bodies in service to the game, Antonio reports that nobody has suffered a serious injury — yet.
“I’ve knocked the wind out of myself a few times, hitting the ground really hard,” he says. “We’ve knocked over a couple of things and had to patch up the wall a few times, but really nothing too serious. My mom was all for it. During the quarantine, she was just like, ‘I’m glad you guys have something to do.'”
He thinks for a beat and adds, “The couch has been jumped on so many times, it kind of sinks in when you sit on it.”
The videos have brought more than online notoriety; they’ve also translated to some positive impacts in the real world. The siblings earn modest creator fees from TikTok for their viral vids, and they’ve signed sponsorship agreements with several brands.
“That’s how I paid my rent one month: TikTok money,” Antonio says.
Partnerships the Arredondos have either signed or are considering include The Coldest Water, a shaving cream company, Scrabble Go and The Ridge Wallet. And if that surprises you, feast your eyes on the bizarre promo Antonio received, unsolicited, from Arby’s the same day this reporter called for an interview.
Yep, a full-body “meat suit,” complete with 10-gallon hat.
“I can’t believe it either,” he says with a laugh. “It’s the wildest thing I’ve ever put on.”
Antonio says he’s not sure what will ultimately become of the “Balloon League,” but as long as people continue enjoying the videos, the Arredondos will keep churning them out.
“As long as people keep asking for it, we’ll keep providing,” Antonio says. “I had a great time with it as a kid; I have a great time with it now, and I love that I get to share that with others — all over the world.”
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