Fantasy football is huge. From humble beginnings it’s now a multi-billion dollar industry, with cutting edge technology and multiple providers vying for your business.
For UK sports fans, the words “fantasy football” might conjure up images of getting bulky envelopes sent to them in the post, spending painstaking hours juggling the team budget before posting back your selected picks to the newspaper running the league and checking nervously each week to see how badly you’d done. Others may start humming the opening tune in their head to the weekly show featuring Skinner, Baddiel and the dressing gown-clad Statto.
Although the English version of fantasy football originally involved a lot of manual graft, it has now also found a digital home and is massively popular with UK football fans. However, the nature of the game dictates it is still largely a personal quest, trying to amass as many points as you can within a season to come out top of your league. Thousands of team owners have the same players on their squads as you do and bragging rights are won over your opponents exclusively due to team selection.
American fantasy football is a different animal though. With the majority of leagues having a relatively small number of participants – 10 or 12 being the norm – there is immediately a closer affinity between owners and a more direct sense of competitiveness. With most of the major media outlets having their own versions to entice players – including CBS, ESPN, Yahoo and the NFL themselves, recent years has also seen the emergence of weekly fantasy football with big prizes, such as Fan Duel and Draft Kings. So what makes fantasy football just so chuffing awesome?
It encourages camaraderie
The majority of leagues conduct a live draft – meaning you get to select your team in a real time format similar to the real NFL draft. Normally no money or salary cap is involved in seasonal leagues – just the luck of the draw and using your football knowledge to out-think your opponents. With live online drafts, most league providers will include live chat, allowing smack talk with other owners over snagging that dark horse one spot before them, or for their apparent idiocy at taking a misfiring dud for their team.
Some leagues will hold draft parties at a physical location – at times over a whole weekend – where participants attempt their best Jerry Jones or Ozzie Newsome impressions in person, often bringing swathes of draft notes that are all for nought after a few beers as they get flustered and accidentally take a kicker in the 4th round.