When you hear the term Fantasy Sports, what pops into your head?
Unicorn Light Sabre Joust?
Republican Presidential Candidate Javelin Catching?
Greco-Roman Wrestling with Scarlett Johansson?
As great as those sound (that last one especially), we’re taking the term a titch too literally here.
This type of fantasy, in reality (ahem), is a game whereby participants assemble virtual teams made up of actual players from professional sportsball leagues.
These teams compete against each other based upon the statistical performance of the players in their actual flesh-and-bone games.
The total points are accumulated and the larger total wins the matchup.
These games originated in the 1960s in the US, when a bunch of dudes with a jones for baseball and football stats, and seemingly an unhealthy amount of time on their hands, created the first fantasy, or Rotisserie, league.
Why they decided to name it after the slow cooking of delicious meats over coals is a mystery, rather irrelevant, and has now made me hungry, thanks.
Stats were compiled manually, and written on sheets of paper with something called a pen.
The results were then distributed to the contestants via, I don’t know, carrier pigeon? Is that what they used in the early 60s?
I digress. As pro sports evolved and began their steady march toward complete domination of Western society, the delicious flame-kissed game evolved with it.
Scribbled notes, trades by rotary phone, and abacus calculations were replaced with modern technologies.
What began as a quaint hobby by insufferable nerds in smoke-filled rooms has become a billion-dollar industry.
Websites, podcasts, streaming and even network programming devote 24/7 coverage to matchups, injury reports, and other trends that the modern sports fantasist requires for his or her lineup decisions.
The leagues themselves use sophisticated algorithms and technology to update your roster in real time.
Fantasy sports has now become, to millions, as essential a part of the gameday experience as scouring your recycling for pizza and wing coupons, wearing official team-licensed pieces of foam, and informing your squad’s quarterback of an impending zone blitz by shouting specific instructions at your flat screen.
Don’t think for a second however that all of this tech has made it less available and user-friendly for the average sportist.
Not true. Most of you work in offices or at jobs where there is likely an office pool, be it for weekly NFL games, or an NHL playoff draft.
A lot of these leagues have low costs of admission, and most online ones are free to play.
In fact, fantasy sports has drawn in thousands of folks previously immune to big time athletics, due to the relative simplicity and inclusiveness of the games.
Sure, it helps to know if the player you drafted knows a stunt defence from a can of baked beans, but it isn’t essential.
You can tune in to any game, see how your drafted players are doing by watching it live or following the stats tracker on the bottom of the screen.
Chances are you have a vested interest in whatever game is being broadcast.
It’s the big brash beast of pro sports in easy, bite-size chunks.
What’s not to like?
Well, for me at least, there are a couple of things.
Forgive the old-man-shaking-his-fist-at-them-teenagers moment, but for your humble narrator, fantasy sports don’t quite light the old Coleman lamp.
Don’t get me wrong. I see its appeal and totally understand it.
It’s just lost on me, and here’s why:
I’ve always treated football as event viewing.
One game a week. One team wins, one loses.
Dissecting and compartmentalizing the game, and especially my team (full disclosure: Packers), into individual statistical mini-games, not to mention having my attention diverted to whatever numbers the rest of my roster is putting up (CAN’T THAT TICKER GO ANY FASTER???), takes away from my enjoyment of it.
There is plenty wrong with the NFL, as I have outlined previously, but the game day experience is not one.
Probably just a me problem, still…
As for hockey, I used to love fantasy pools.
Unless I was roped into running one, that is.
Seriously, if you’re asked, pull the fire alarm and jump out the nearest window.
However, getting together with your mates over beers and nachos, getting your Hockey News out, and playing General Manager is a blast.
Arranging and setting your roster daily however? Not so much.
As the games have become more sophisticated, the demands on your time have become more intensive.
I simply don’t have the time to devote to it every night, especially when my ultra-competitive, stat-nerd-obsessive streak kicks in, and suddenly I’m Scotty Freaking Bowman waiting for the injury report so I can get my damn third defense pairing ready to go for tomorrow because I’m playing Pete and he’s ON FIRE right now and….suddenly it’s 3 AM and my neighbours are concerned for my well-being, as well as local noise ordinances.
Again, a me problem…
One other issue I have is the co-opting of “fantasy” by lottery and gaming concerns.
What was once a fun, social way to enjoy sports has been turned into another get-rich-quick-or-get-poor-even-quicker scheme by FanDuels, or whatever other company is advertising BIG CASH PAYOUTS every 15 seconds or so during a telecast.
Just because you call it Fantasy, Draft Kings, doesn’t mean it isn’t actually gambling.
In fact, many US states not named Nevada are taking a serious look at this very issue, and would appear to have come to the same conclusion.
But I digress again.
If you are looking for a way to enjoy the pro sports experience beyond Dorito Orange fingerprints and intricate empty beer can pyramid designs, fantasy sports may provide just that missing bit of involvement for you.
It’s fun, usually free, and chances are all of your other sports friends are doing it too.
Well, not all of them.
Just remember to heed the advice of a certain Piano Man.
It’s just a fantasy. It’s not the real thing.