TO BE READ BY ME NEXT SUMMER, AND ALL FUTURE SUMMERS WHEN THE SIREN SONG OF FANTASY FOOTBALL CALLS
I am here to send you the following message: Do not play fantasy football again.
Every summer you forget what it’s like and you foolishly re-up. By the time you remember what it’s like, it’s too late to back out. So heed my warning now: Do not play fantasy football again.
I understand it has been a part of your life for a long time. Your first season playing was back in 1998 on Sandbox.net, during your lost and lonely college student days (though thankfully past the full-on depression part). It was a time you needed something in your life and it was there for you. Your first ever draft pick was Terrell Davis, your all-time favorite actual football player, who carried you to a pretty respectable season even though the team was mostly bad because you had no idea what you were doing. After a few years on Sandbox you migrated to Yahoo and have been there ever since. You won a few leagues, were always competitive, and never gave up on a season. You played with your dad and countless friends. Sometimes it was the only thing you could talk about with certain people, so it was an important social bridge, too. It was there throughout the ebbs and flows of your interest in watching the actual games, whether you watched three a week or ten all year. All in all, it provided much enjoyment and entertainment and was, all in all, a very good thing.
But it’s been twenty years. Now it’s time for it to go. Because, as you and I have come to realize, it is a very, very stupid game.
Truthfully, I think we knew this no later than like, year three. We probably suspected it from day one, if we are going to be frank here.
Most fantasy players know this. Anyone who has played any appreciable length of time has stories of the time they lost the week because their opponent’s kicker made six field goals on Monday night. Or how they were projected to win by 60 points against a team whose owner quit two months earlier, but the ghost team eked out a victory anyway when its starting QB had a career game and yours tweaked his knee five minutes before kickoff and sat out. Or how they finished in last place despite leading the league in scoring. Or whatever other cosmically unlikely thing that could only happen, weekly, in a game this stupid.
But it’s low enough commitment, and it does have some positives, so who cares? Well, I have decided I care. Even at ten minutes a week I don’t need the aggravation anymore. In tabletop gaming circles, a game with too many random elements sometimes makes it a bad game. Fantasy football is a game with random outcomes.
That should be plenty. But there’s more. If we truly require more from a game that already assigns wins randomly, let’s also add that not one of the in-game proceedings intended to enliven the experience ever actually work. The reason for this is that, as one might expect from a game with the lowest of low stakes, the commitment of the human participants runs typically somewhere between “negligent” to “literally forgot they agreed to manage a team.”
- The draft: The commissioner and the smallest cohort of owners want to do a live draft. No one else objects, because they aren’t really paying attention. Most players’ interest began waning right after they agreed to play, but they figure, maybe they’ll show up anyway. They won’t.
- Lineup management. Fantasy football owners are expected to optimize their starting lineups weekly. The most productive players should generally be assigned responsibility for generating team points, but next-tier players matched up with favorablly bad defenses might be swapped in. Owners must also negotiate team bye weeks. This all requires research. Few, if any, owners with jobs, children, or literally any other life interests will bother. I did bother. I played for 20 years, times 17 weeks, equals 340 individual lineups to set. I am meticulous by nature when it comes to games, and pretty good at remembering stuff, and would wager I made the time to decide on my lineup at least 335 times, with the remaining five being times I was probably traveling and just set it in advance and hoped for the best. I would further wager that my opponents did the same maybe 200 times, an imbalance of effort that would have stopped me years ago, if I was smart. Because it never mattered. I am certain my overall record is within a sliver of 170 wins and 170 losses.Touchdowns are notoriously fickle rewards, meted out unsystematically by the chaotic nature of the sport itself, and you will never, ever feel as though you are getting your fair share of them. Especially if you have invested time into obtaining them. So, I cannot recommend doing that under any circumstances.
- Trades. What if you would like to fortify your lineup? You can turn to the free agent wire, home of backup tight ends and reserve wide receivers who somehow got a touchdown once. What if you need starting-level talent? To the trading block! Herein, you inform the league about which players you own the rights to that you would be willing to part with. Maybe others will do the same. (They won’t.) So you can offer more directly, contacting another owner directly. You will ask, “How about I give you player A for player B? According to all sources, they are expected to score exactly the same number of points in the future, only I have an abundance of players like player A in that position, and I need a player B who can fill a position of weakness, and you happen to have precisely the opposite situation.” This trade will be ignored by nearly all owners, because they aren’t paying any attention. In a rare case, they are, only the response to every trade ever has been: “No.” With the counteroffer, “Instead I will give you my three most dreadful players–that I shouldn’t even be rostering, really–for your two best players. This is sure to be great for you! Three is more than two.”
- League communication. Ha-ha, a message board! This will be a delightful way to engage with the group! That no ever posts to, reads, or acknowledges the existence of.
I’m sure there are good leagues. It doesn’t help to look for them, however. A quick trip into the public leagues available reveals thousands of “JOIN MY LEAGUE AWESOME OWNERS ONLY WE ARE THE BEST” only with all those words misspelled and 9 out of 10 teams still available. You can pay money to join more serious leagues. These are the same but now you have less money.
I hope this will serve as a sufficient rant against the foibles of fantasy football as a hobby. DO NOT SIGN UP. YOU HATE IT. IT IS STUPID. YES, THE DRAFT IS STILL FUN EVEN THOUGH NO ONE SHOWS UP BUT THEN YOU’RE STUCK WITH THIS TEAM FOR FOUR MONTHS.
IT IS NOT WORTH IT.
TAKE BACK YOUR LIFE.
Or at least, the 10 minutes a week you spend playing it.
Fantasy baseball is still OK though.