Is Fantasy Football taking over the world? It seems like it especially if you have watched TV each weekend this September and have seen countless ads for Fan Duel and Draft Kings. No matter what you think or what you know, it is almost impossible to ignore.
Last year, millions of Americans spent countless hours researching the statistics of obscure football players. Before the season, they “drafted” NFL players onto the imaginary teams that they “owned.” Game after game, they tracked their play in the waning minutes of already-decided NFL games, celebrating in triumph when a player unknowingly gave them victory with a meaningless yard or catch. This is the bizarre world of fantasy football. This game has taken households, companies, and bar scenes by storm over the last decade or so. It has even changed the way real games are broadcasted. And with Fan Duel and Draft Kings fully on board now, legal wagering on the game within games is happening every week.
What is this game anyway?
When you play fantasy, you make a virtual roster of real NFL players, then compete against other people’s rosters, based on the stats of all the players in real games. Traditional leagues are season-long (meaning you keep your players for the whole season), but daily leagues like Fan Duel and Draft Kings (in which you draft a new set of players each week) have skyrocketed in popularity over the last few years.
As I mentioned earlier, it’s all a game-within-a-game, in which the wins and losses of real-life NFL teams is unimportant. The only things that matter are a few key numbers for the individual players on your fantasy team — like touchdowns, yards, and catches. It’s called “fantasy” because to some of us, assembling the top players from different teams onto one hypothetical roster is what passes for some sort of bizarre fantasy. There are fantasy leagues for pretty much every sport, but fantasy football is the most popular in the US — an estimated 30 million people played it last year. Though the actual game is usually free to play, most leagues involve some money that is wagered at the start of the season and paid out to the champion in the end. Believe it or not, many NFL players play fantasy football just like the rest of us.
Where did this game come from and when did it begin?
Starting in the 1950s and ’60s, a few different groups of statistics-obsessed fans hit upon the idea, with fantasy baseball most popular at first. Initially, the fans used paper and pencil to track their players’ stats, but beginning in the 1990s, various websites began offering automated leagues for a fee.
In 1999, Yahoo became the first major site to host leagues for free. The popularity of all fantasy sports — and football in particular — has surged in the years since, and most people now use free online platforms (though premium paid ones with extra features are still available).
For a while, most pro leagues distanced themselves from fantasy sports, thinking of them as a form of gambling. But in 2002, the NFL conducted research showing that fantasy players watched significantly more football, and the league began actively promoting the game and even hosted fantasy leagues on its own website. In 2006, congressional legislation to restrict online gambling was passed with an exception specifically written for fantasy sports. In a short period of time, fantasy has gone from a weirdo fringe hobby to a mainstream part of pro football, and it certainly looks like it’s here to stay.
If you are already playing fantasy football, best of luck this season. If you aren’t playing but are interested, it’s not hard to find a league to join. All you need to do is ask your friends or Google “Fantasy Football” and you will be well on your way.