What I learned from Fantasy Football

A few weeks ago, I finished up the latest fantasy football* (FF) season in 2nd place in my work league and 5th place in my friend league. Having played for 3 seasons, I am mostly past the initial disgust about bad luck and mostly jaded about the entire process. Having gotten this far, though, I do have a few different lessons from the experience.

(*for the uninitiated, fantasy football is a game where a group of people (usually friends) play “games” in a season where, each week, your team’s performance is determined by the statistics of how real-life NFL football players perform (e.g. you get 6 points for a touchdown or points per yards gained). Everyone drafts their team before the beginning of the real NFL season, and over the course of the season, you can trade with other teams, pick up and drop players, and change your lineup week to week. )

1. Actual game knowledge can be very deceiving.

“A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.” When you’re on a fantasy football website, there are going to be projections and rankings and all sorts of information to help you make good decisions. I have seen a lot of real football fans (i.e. people who actually watch and follow football and not just fantasy) try to outsmart the predictions with some obscure knowledge, but my experience is that typically, the football-naive (but fantasy savvy) people do better. Maybe you heard that your running back plays really well in sub-50 degree games or saw how fast he makes cuts and should crush a slower set of linebackers: the experts probably know that, too, and that he only plays that way in indoor stadums, and that his left guard still has a lingering injury.I think we tend to overvalue game knowledge in fantasy when rankings have already accounted for those facts.

2. Don’t trust anyone. Trust everyone.

Continue reading “What I learned from Fantasy Football”

Fantasy Football and Friends

I had never been so concerned about athletes, many of whom I have never even seen, before I joined a fantasy football league this season. For the past 4 months, my fantasy roster replaced my email inbox as the focus of constant checking for changes that rarely happens. I was concerned that fantasy football would become a big distraction in my life, and it did, but I can’t wait for next season to start.

For the uninitiated, fantasy sports make users the owner of a fantasy team from some real, professional sport. Each season, you and a group of other owners (typically 10 total in fantasy football) form a league and draft players onto your team. For each game day, you set your lineup of players, and your team’s performance is determined by the actual players’ performance in real life. By scoring various outcomes from the actual games, your fantasy team accumulates points, which determine how well you did in a week. A common structure for leagues is “head-to-head” matchups each week, where you and another team play each other, and the team with the higher score that week wins. This process lasts all season, and some system determines the winner. Along the way, team owners trade players, “sign” free agents, and tweak their rosters based on news, statistics, predictions, superstitions, and wild guesses to do the best they can.

Currently, the NFL is in playoffs, which is the end of the fantasy season. My team finished 2nd during the regular season after 13 weeks and ended up 4th in the playoffs*. And despite looking over player rankings again and again, I still know little about the NFL. I have strong opinions about players who I have never seen play before, but I don’t how well their teams are doing or who their defense or coach is. I’m not sure whether that is ever going to change: I didn’t watch NFL games before this season, and I avoided watching this season because I would be too anxious about fantasy.

Still, it’s been a great way to keep up with friends. Most of them are in the area, so we have something to talk about regularly, but it has also been the start of a few random email threads with friends hundreds of miles away as well. We could keep in touch for its own sake, but we don’t. We could just talk sports and pop culture, but we don’t. When we turn it into a activity, however, then we have context to push us towards talking, and then everything is great.

Technology has made this easier than ever. A few weeks ago, I played StarCraft: Brood War with friends from high school while chatting on Skype. A few months ago, I played Dungeons & Dragons with some other friends around the world over Google Plus. Despite my concern about the internet giving us a shallow feeling of connectedness, it can also be the platform for us to engage in activities that we would rather do in-person but can’t. It seems ridiculous to think that it was not so long ago that fantasy football drafts were done on paper in a living room, but we now have the tools to score games and coordinate player transactions in real-time.

Earlier this season, I questioned whether I wanted to come back for another season. Fantasy football is certainly fun, but it’s a big distraction even when I’m not staring at my bench. I can think endlessly about how to optimize my team’s performance, and there’s always more data in statistics and footage to obsess over. Maybe it’s pointlessly addictive, but as long as my friends are there too, it’ll probably be worth it.

* Congratulations on Alex for winning and George for being the narrow 2nd place. Say what you will about luck: those guys deserved it.