Fantasy Sports…It’s Skill! It’s All Skill!

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The upcoming National Football League season is nearly upon us and we all know what that means. No, it doesn’t mean 16 (or more, counting the playoffs) weekends of watching grown men pound each other into a stupor over an inflated pig’s external organ, trying to push through the armada defending a goal to score the ultimate victory. It means that we get to choose up players and try to prove to our friends and loved ones that we know more than even the best NFL general manager through the machination known as Fantasy Football.

Sure, there are other sports that have their fantasy seasons. The origination of “fantasy” sports can be traced back to the end of World War II, but many believe the true version of fantasy sports began with what was called Rotisserie baseball in the mid-1970s. Owners, playing through the entire season, would choose a roster of players from the actual Major League Baseball teams. The owners would then earn points on how their players performed and, at the end of the year, the champion would be crowned through who earned the most points. The idea of fantasy baseball took off in the early 1980s with players starting to pick up on the intricacies of the game and media outlets offering in-depth box scores on the games that were played (can you even imagine sitting down with a prehistoric computer – or, worse yet, a pen and paper – to compute the fantasy scoring for a league?).

If there was a major professional sport that thrived under the advent of Fantasy, however, it was professional football. With teams playing once per week, Fantasy players could choose up teams and compete against each other on a weekly basis rather than just the season as a whole. Although baseball might have borne the fantasy game, it was football that truly lit the spark.

In 2014, Vox.com estimates that the yearly revenues generated from fantasy sports was $1.4 billion in the United States and that is probably on the conservative end. Pro football heavily dominated the breakdown, generating over 36% of the action, while baseball took up the second place slot with almost 19% (surprisingly, auto racing was the third-most “fantasized” sport, according to Vox). The companies that were benefitting the most from the activity were such industry powerhouses as Yahoo!, ESPN and CBS, who operated their own fantasy leagues for both fun (re:  no cost) and for profit (entry fees paid back to players), not to mention the individual professional sports leagues operating their own Fantasy games.

2014 was also about the time that the phenomenon known as Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) came about full bore. With DFS, baseball now had its little niche in the fantasy world that had pretty much been taken over by professional football and other sports could pick up on some of the glory that the NFL got from its one game a week schedule. While DFS has been an activity that many have gotten into as an extension of yearly fantasy sports, it has also drawn the attention from law enforcement and the politicos.

The Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA) of 2006 was written to shut down the financing of online gambling transactions (think of online casinos, bingo and online poker), but there were several segments of the gaming industry that were excluded from the law. Horse racing (as a carrot to the horse racing industry in the United States), lotteries and fantasy gaming, then in its infancy online. With that carve out from the UIGEA, the DFS sites such as FanDuel and DraftKings are quite pleased to let everyone know that it is “legal” to play. Lawmakers will be rethinking this strategy but, with so many of the professional sports leagues and mainstream media involved in the game, it is highly likely they won’t touch it.

The reasons for fantasy sports – and horse racing along with it – receiving the legislative exemption is because many consider both activities to have a “skill” element that raises it above the bar of luck-based gambling (such as casino games that include poker). This skill element allows for a player, through knowledgeable study and examination of the variables of the game, to pick a better team (or a better horse) than someone who simply walks in off the street and tries to play the game. Which makes the results from my Fantasy Football draft on Sunday a good testing ground.

In previous years (and we’re talking for about a decade here), I pored over Fantasy Football magazines, ESPN.com, NFL.com and several other outlets looking for that edge in the fantasy game that would drive me to a championship. Alas, over the years I have only captured one championship, which pushes me to compete even harder and drink even harder when I’m sweating Marshawn Lynch having to make up a 25 point deficit on Monday Night Football. Those years I didn’t win, I would think that I had the “greatest team ever assembled” until they came crashing down in a heap at the bottom of the standings.

This year, I’d gone through the preparations but I’ve gotten a bit wiser about the proceedings. While I can research the players and teams from here until the Super Bowl, I am not Peyton Manning; I cannot have an effect on the outcome of the games because I am not out on the field performing the activity. Nowadays, I head into my fantasy draft looking to have fun and, if possible, win some extra cash, but not to put myself through Hell in doing so. Then the following happened, which is where the experiment will begin.

On Sunday, I was settling in to get ready for my Fantasy draft when my lovely wife said she needed to get some more clothes for her position as a professor at a major university. The best mall is a 45-mile drive from our home, hence we and our son hopped in the car and headed over to let her shop. After three-plus hours of shopping (and our son’s multiple rides on a carousel in the mall and ice cream bribery) and a dented credit card, we returned home with several outfits for her and me wondering how my Fantasy draft had gone.

With the fifth pick in the first round, I was able to pick up Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles through the auto-draft procedures (when someone isn’t physically able to make the picks, sites will pick the best available player for the absent owner) and it only got better from there. In Round 2, it was Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A. J. Green; Round 3 was a little weak in Chicago Bears wide out Alshon Jeffrey, but the next two rounds were golden.

Round 4 was nice in that it gave me a versatile but injury-prone running back in Jonathan Stewart of the Carolina Panthers, but it was Round 5 where I made my biggest steal. With a four-game suspension hanging over his head, everyone in our league had passed on New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and my computerized picker was able to snap him up without hesitation. Even if Brady is out for those first four games (and after getting a solid backup in the Chicago Bears’ Jay Cutler), he’s worth having for that “Fuck You” mentality he’s going to have for the remainder of the season (and whenever he starts playing, he’ll have that “Fuck You” mentality after all he has been through).

Overall, the automated draft picked out a team (my team isn’t creatively named, the “Southern WarLordz” but it’s a visual image that is threatening) that looks to be pretty solid and, with Brady, potentially one with a sneaky chance of winning the title. If it is the case that I should win this year’s championship, then the bullshit of fantasy sports being a “skill” activity would be shot down as anyone who lets the auto-drafter pick for them isn’t using any skill at all in their attempt at winning. I guess we will see how it plays out over the season…in the fantasy world, at least.

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