Though the playoffs for Fantasy Football ended at the end of the NFL regular season weeks ago, we got to thinking as the Super Bowl approached, how popular the interactive, virtual competition has become in the past couple of years.
The basic premise of Fantasy Football is that the player acts as the general manager of a pseudo-team of professional players in the National Football League. Once the team has been created, the manager may draft, trade, add/drop players, and change rosters while engaging in a virtual league competition versus other created teams.
This year, Fantasy Football popularity was at an all time high, with an estimated 27 million participants in the 2011 season according to an article put out in August by The Hollywood Reporter.
There is no denying the hold Fantasy Football has taken on both average Americans and the NFL, with its increasing popularity undoubtedly rooted in the growth of the Internet and the ease in which it can be talked about and accessed now. When doing a simple Google search for “Fantasy Football,” the amount and variety of page hits is astounding. Celebrities like Ashton Kutcher, Paul Rudd, and Jerry Ferrera are out-of-the-closet fantasy sports addicts; a TV show on FX called The League, now in its third season, is based on the humor of a group of friends that play Fantasy Football; and some projections say that Fantasy Football is a $1-billion industry this year.
With its increased accessibility, a more diverse group of players is being brought into the fold. Fantasy Football isn’t just for jocks any longer; based on some of the similarities that can be found in other games that you’d never think to associate with professional sports, people who naturally tend towards RPGs or strategy gaming have begun playing. There is a somewhat complex set of rules in setting up each league and point system, and reading through it feels a little like reading a D&D Player’s Handbook.
According to The Hollywood Reporter article:
“The average fantasy sports enthusiast is 41 years old, college educated and earns more than $50,000 a year. Even the recession and recently settled NFL labor dispute hasn’t slowed the incredibly rapid growth of fantasy football, baffling the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.”
We spoke to Lee Sharpe, who works on Magic Online for Wizards of the Coast and who is a full-fledged Fantasy Football aficionado. This is his third season playing and he’s participated in 5 different leagues.
CFD: What got your interested in playing? Have you always followed the NFL in general?
Lee: Yeah. Football (and the NFL in particular) is my favorite sport. The strategic depth of play calling, lineups, the complexities of blocking, tackling, formations; it’s a complex game with a lot of strategic depth, and I love games like that.
I started playing fantasy football because a friend invited me to a league. I now play with friends I know through Magic, as well as family and friends from back home in Illinois.
CFD: What is it about Fantasy Football that you like?
Lee: Believe it or not, the best thing about it is how much more fun it makes watching football. Watching a sport you like is fun even when it’s between two teams you don’t care about. But instead you get to root for bizarre stuff to happen in games. Like if you have a key receiver on a team, you don’t want them to get to close to the goal line, since it’s more likely they’ll try to run it in instead. Even worse if your fantasy opponent that week has that running back!
But there’s a lot of strategy (and, depending on how into it you want to be, research) that goes along with acquiring and maintaining a good team. Discussions of trading, plus having a specific opponent each week encouraging some friendly smack talk, keeps it a social activity that you can enjoy with friends.
CFD: Many people compare Fantasy Football to RPGs. In fact, some people say Fantasy Football is “D&D for jocks.” Do you consider yourself a jock? Do you play FF because it has elements to it that are RPG-esqe
Lee: The comparison is certainly fair. And many sports fans feel they could run teams better, so this is their chance to play a football team owner. Of course, sports are all about wins and losses, so fantasy football is full of min/maxing. But managing your lineup, keeping track of injuries, matchups, performances, trades, and free agency are skills that real NFL team management and fantasy team owners share.
I’m definitely not a “jock” myself. I can’t play sports very well, and that’s not my crowd. My love of football I would actually describe as quite nerdy.
CFD: In that same vein, as a self-proclaimed nerd/geek (who also happens to have a relatively nerdy job), do you see yourself as being sort of odd-man-out when you get involved with FF? Do you have other friends that consider themselves nerds that play with you?
Lee: I don’t consider myself the “odd man out.” The money league I played in this year I knew most of the people in it as they were local Magic players. While some people I play with are somewhat “jock”-like themselves, almost everyone I know who does it is a bit geeky. What is the essence of being a geek if not a celebration of fandom? Fantasy football helps embrace that for football fans, just like conventions, collecting, cosplay, and so on does for traditionally geeky things.
CFD: How do you view the increased popularity of Fantasy Football? Why do you think the game has grown more popular over recent years?
Lee: It’s a lot of fun. Football’s schedule of most games on Sunday makes it easy to manipulate your team at your convenience without having to pay more attention than you want to. The NFL itself realizes how much better fans enjoy having fantasy football, and have made their efforts to promote it. There are several websites, including the NFL’s own, which handle for free most of what is needed to manage a fantasy football league. These infrastructure improvements have made it a lot more accessible. It’s also a good reason to keep in contact with friends you might have left by the wayside. Did I mention it’s fun? I think these kinds of improvements have advanced fantasy football a lot.