I love fantasy football. I’ve been playing since my freshman year of high school when I knew next to nothing about the NFL; now I find myself almost embarrassingly pouring over mundane statistics like wind speeds and directions during games or even a player’s weight fluctuations in the offseason. What it has done is engage me in the game on another level.
Fantasy sports may seem daunting, but the basics are simple. You pick a team of real life players to represent your fantasy team, and depending on how they play in their actual games, your fantasy team gets points. If you can pick the players who perform the best, you win.
With the explosive popularity of fantasy football, some aspects of the game have come into question. Specifically, the 70% of the 54.7 million players who put money on the game. Fantasy sports are legal federally, being declared games of skill that require “superior knowledge of the game.” However, especially with the emergence of daily fantasy websites such as FanDuel and Draftkings, the legality and morals have come into question.
Is fantasy football still the wholesome, just-for-fun game it was created to be? Or has it turned sports into a gambler's legal paradise?
Fantasy Football is like a simple stock market. You choose players you think will do well, and you see if whatever investment you made in acquiring them pays off. Finding the right players at the right times takes thought. You can dig around online and in magazines and find an overwhelming amount of strategies, tips, methods, instructions, manuals, tablets, and scrolls, there to give you that little edge. I’ll admit it; I spent more than a few hours researching and scouring for my team last season. According to a 2015 Eilers Research study, “most DFS [Daily Fantasy Sports] players spend 10-20 hours a week on research and RotoGrinders is their preferred site (by a wide margin).” The point is a lot of thought goes into it--It’s not just picking a player off the roulette table and taking them for a spin.
The thought shows. There are good fantasy football players, and there are bad ones. The skill almost always remains consistent. Heck, folks like Matthew Berry have even made a living out of giving fantasy advice. It takes a good player to actively manage a team and use their players to maximum potential. You can’t just look at a couple sentence summary of a player or their projections for the season. Well, you can, but you probably won’t win a lot. A good fantasy player will take much more into account in constructing a dominant team, with every piece of knowledge going into building a winning roster and setting a carefully calculated lineup each week. For just one small example, take the Dallas Cowboys running back from the 2015-2016 season, Joseph Randle. In addition to being considered a mid-level (not superstar) back, he had also not started the previous year, which went against his value. I (yes, this is a personal example, Randle was very important to me winning my very own league this year) took him anyway. Because of my superior knowledge, I knew that the Cowboys had an exceptional offensive line; this, paired with my knowledge that such an o-line would be a gold mine for a running back with potential, gave me the confidence I needed to invest in Randle. With his season cut short to 6 games due to injury, my 8th round steal was able to only be 28 total rushing yards short of his yardage total from the previous season, where he played 16 games. Because of my superior knowledge, I was successful.
Along with this, the psyche of fantasy football players is different than that in a gambling hall. According to the same 2015 Eilers study, the majority of daily fantasy players say the thing they love most about fantasy sports is that “it makes the games more fun/engaging”, and that “they love it and would never quit.” The motivation for players is not to make big money but to just have fun. The connotation of spending hours at the poker table don’t seem to transfer.
Despite all the evidence of the innocence of Fantasy Football, there is a dark side. Especially with the emergence of the daily fantasy tycoons DraftKings and Fanduel, the game has developed an almost exploitative vibe.
If you watched TV at all in the past year, it’s almost certain you’ve seen a commercial for daily fantasy football tempting the idea that anybody with an eye for fantasy football can make a bunch of money just playing weekly (They have a suspiciously large amount of advertisements, despite the allure that you’ll be the one making the money.).
This new version of fantasy sports is pushing the envelope when it comes to fantasy sports' exemption from gambling laws. Instead of a group of guys getting together and throwing in on a pot like they would on a friendly golf game, it’s millions of players putting real money on a website and locking horns in serious high-stakes competition.
Just like poker, the only people making the real money are the big time players. Daily fantasy seems to have morphed the game into what some would call a US economy spin off; the rich get richer, the poor get poorer. Statistically, the small minority who put the huge amounts of money in the game and play hundreds or even thousands of games a week are the ones profiting from these sites, while the sites make their money from the large majority of lower level players. Despite the fact that many players claim to play DFS for the love of the game, the ‘sharks’ invalidate the ‘skill’ of the sport, in that the ones who are winning aren’t the ones who have the most knowledge, but rather the ones who have the most capital, time, and software.
So yes, fantasy sports have evolved and morphed into forms that don't look so wholesome. But we cannot ignore the explosion in popularity and the stats showing that the game America once and still does love is played for the experience and fun--like it was meant to. The surveys do show the majority of daily fantasy players, the ones who are supposedly being exploited, "love it and would never quit." But on the other hand, other stats show us the dark side of the fantasy. The casual players seem to be getting swindled, while the minority moguls are the ones getting consistent return. The arguments are there; the next step is solving the issue.