In order to become one of the hottest new hangout spots in downtown Colorado Springs, CO.A.T.I. has filled its space with surprises around every corner, from Instagram-ready neon signs to rotating art installations to plates of food that get people talking.

There’s something not-so-flashy that also brings people in: two wooden boards and some bean bags.

In CO.A.T.I.’s back alley on a nice day, you’ll likely find patrons huddled around a set of cornhole, the bags-tossing game that’s long been a tailgating staple.

The game has also become a staple of the alleyway, which was spruced up this past summer with plants and artwork to better serve as an extension of CO.A.T.I., says events coordinator Ren Thorpe.

At a place with so many offerings, the fact that people are so often playing cornhole there, or waiting their turn to play, speaks to the game’s odd and growing allure.

“You see the same people coming back just for that,” Thorpe said. “We kind of have developed a little cornhole group.”

You see strangers joining each other’s teams for face-offs that cycle between intense and lighthearted. You see people who have never played before and who haplessly throw bags around, sometimes nearly hitting people walking by. Even then, you see people smiling.

“It’s just fun to watch,” Thorpe said. “It’s cool to see whether or not people are coordinated with it.”

Cornhole sets have popped up at other restaurants, breweries and bars around Colorado Springs. You can find the game, set up to play informally and for free, at places such as Mash Mechanix Brewing Co., Bristol Brewing and Viewhouse Eatery. You’d find it at the same places that offer pool tables or dart boards.

The cornhole craze isn’t just fueled by casual players.

At weekly tournaments hosted by Pikes Peak Cornhole, participants play for cash prizes. The local group hopes to “grow the sport, advance our members’ skills and compete at the local, state, and national levels,” according to its Facebook page. Some members enter competitions such as the annual Colorado Cornhole Championships.

This summer, a new social cornhole league launched in Colorado Springs called GO Cornhole. The league’s falls season was held at Hillside Gardens and a winter season kicks off Jan. 24 with indoor games at WhirlyBall. Online registration, which is required, closes at 10 p.m. Wednesday.

GO Cornhole has been “overwhelmingly successful” in the Pikes Peak region, said the company’s Colorado director, Craig Duncan.

“I’ve been kind of blown away by our numbers the first season,” he said.

About 130 people signed up for the inaugural GO Cornhole season and that number went up to 280 people for the second one, Duncan said.

GO Cornhole, which also has leagues in Fort Collins and Denver, is an offshoot of GO Kickball, a social sports league that started in Atlanta in 2005 and has since expanded to 12 states.

Cornhole has its own draw, says Duncan, who called it one of the fastest-growing recreational sports in the country.

“There’s a competition aspect, but it’s also just so laid-back,” Duncan said. “And you can drink a beer while you’re playing.”

The game likely got a boost in popularity during the pandemic when ESPN started broadcasting cornhole events.

“COVID has kind of a role in the growth of it because people are wanting to get out and hang out together again,” Duncan said. “This is a way to be social and do something that’s not just sitting and talking to people.”

The existence of cornhole might be common knowledge by now, but the game’s origins are a bit of a mystery.

According to a history page on the American Cornhole League’s website, the game probably originated in Germany in the 14th century and was rediscovered in Kentucky more than 100 years ago.

“The truth is,” the website continues, “who really knows?”

The game has stuck around all these years with help from its simple set-up. “Cornhole can be played anywhere and everyone can play cornhole” has become an unofficial motto.

All you need is the wooden platforms, bean bags and a place to play. And you need to know how to keep score, with the goal of reaching 21 points before the other team.

“It’s an easy game to learn how to play and be good at,” Duncan said. “And I think it’s also an easy game to be really good at without necessarily having skills in other sports.”

You don’t have to be the most athletic of the bunch to land a bag on the platform, which counts for one point, or in the hole for three points. But it’s still impressive to watch the pros, some of who play on GO Cornhole’s “advanced” teams while wearing jerseys adorned with logos of corporate sponsors. They see the social league as another chance to practice. Others show up looking to make friends or do something other than watch TV.

Duncan’s wife says the cornhole league is the highlight of her week. As a stay-at-home mom, it’s like a “getaway for her,” Duncan said.

“She gets to be around likeminded people who are all looking for the same thing,” he said. “That’s what a lot of people love about it.”

Load comments