The week of August 24, 2014

The original kings of Fantasy Twitter

By Ramon Ramirez

Sigmund Bloom was a bored systems analyst with a fantasy football addiction in 2006 when, walking out of a Black Crowes concert in Austin, Texas, a drunk driver plowed into him and fellow pedestrians. Bloom and his wife wound up in intensive care and required multiple surgeries. Another close friend sustained head injuries and passed away.

That’s when Bloom decided to quit his job and become a full-time fantasy football analyst. “[The accident] really drove home to me to try this,” he says, “We were DINKS—dual income, no kids—and it felt OK to jump out of an airplane.”

Bloom has since cobbled together more than 33,000 Twitter followers who bottle his insights like sacred springs and use them to dazzle their more casual competitors. He’s been playing fantasy football for 14 years, and he’s in over 20 leagues this coming season. Bloom writes with the acumen and grace of an analyst whose job it is to solve societal ills, not obsess over what to make of Rod Streater’s future after a training camp concussion. He’s a booming voice on Fantasy Twitter, an unofficial network of DIY-made buffs with varying shades of industry success but distinct, increasingly invaluable voices.

“I’m a narcissistic egomaniac who just likes to talk and thinks people are listening, and Twitter is perfect for that,” Bloom half-jokes.

Bloom is the co-owner of Footballguys.com, a long-running subscription-based fantasy football hub that does business with ESPN talking heads. The site predates Bloom’s involvement, but nine years ago, he rose through the ranks on its obsessive message boards—a tight-knit community where users transcribe print beat reports, exchange data, trade quips. Those boards are central to fantasy football nerdom and helped establish the habitual workflow of modern fantasy football discussion on Twitter.

Fantasy Twitter serves as the industry’s perpetually undercutting, breaking news front. It’s where high-stakes decisions make reputations and back-pedaling is for the weak.

The first rule of Fantasy Twitter is that you parse out crucial pundits and build lists around handles like @Dexters_Library, @Fantasy_Douche, @TheFakeFootball, @projectroto, @CDCarter13, @RumfordJohnny, @EvanSilva, and @BalesFootball, to name a few. The second is that you try and keep those to yourself as long as possible, lest your league-mates catch on.

Some of these analysts live by research and metrics—complete with arrays of tweeted charts—while others thrive on polished writing. But there’s more at stake than mere pigskin. Most of these users have day jobs, and so the balance of time and identity protection is a constant source of stress. And they are sliding toward the mainstream as waves of fantasy players turn to their phones for an edge.

Fantasy football is a $70 billion industry, a “raging torrent of money right now,” as Bloom puts it. Fantasy Twitter serves as the industry’s perpetually undercutting, breaking news front. It’s where high-stakes decisions make reputations and back-pedaling is for the weak.

The original kings of Fantasy Twitter offer distinct backgrounds and philosophies. Here’s what what you need to know, and who you should be following.

@BalesFootball, the DIY data czar

In July, Jonathan Bales’s self-published book, Fantasy Football for Smart People, was the No. 1-selling football book on Amazon. He’s talked his way into the New York Times’ssports section (“I badgered the shit out of them”), and his polished Dallas Cowboys blogging turned enough heads to warrant cross-country guest posts for the Dallas Morning News.

A Philadelphia area-raised football nut (who grew up trolling his hometown Eagles as a die-hard convert to the loathed Cowboys), Bales has bucked the traditional career path. Where most would typically be thrilled to be a sports beat writer at a newspaper, Bales says it’s been an “easy decision” to go into full-time fantasy writing.

“The return on my time writing [Fantasy Football for Smart People]—not even close with the fantasy content versus the NFL writing,” Bales says.

In addition to having written the book, Bales pens weekly columns for DraftKings.com, Rotoworld.com, 4for4.com, and contributes to Rotoviz.com. Last year he got suckered into 36 leagues but swears he’s sanding it down to “definitely under 10” for the 2014 campaign. I get the feeling Bales secretly loathes his Twitter obligations, though. He’s dealt with oceans of trolls happy to blame him for their own fantasy shortcomings.

“I hated it, and it really got to me,” he says of his early days on Twitter.

But as a professional, full-service analyst, Bales still has to live and die by his word. That means learning to maintain an engaging, self-policing Twitter presence during peak NFL hours. He’s a major thinker in the data-driven intellectualism camp (and comes correct with graphs for every occasion).

@CDCarter13, the neurotic professional

“I learned a long time ago that I needed to turn off the Twitter notifications on my phone,” says DraftDayConsultants.com founder C.D. Carter.

As a full-time “editor of an online newspaper” that draws a line between his professional life and his fantasy ventures, Carter receives upward of 300 Twitter notifications during fall business hours.

“It takes real willpower not to just glue my eyeballs to my Twitter feed all day every day and to the detriment of everything else in my life,” says Carter, the father of a 19-month-old son. “It’s not an easy thing to manage for me. It is solvable if you just donate chunks of time to addressing Twitter questions.”

“It gives me a real anxiety to be out of touch with Twitter.”

Carter is a candle burner—waking up at least two hours early on work days to churn out five fantasy football columns per week. With Draft Day Consultants, Carter sells himself: For $34.99 an hour, you can have him Skype in during your draft and coach you through every pick.

His angle is that he brings his seasoned reporting chops to fantasy football and can relay information with more clarity than the next guy. He, too, published a book, How to Think Like a Fantasy Football Winner, and another one about the decidedly more fringe game of daily fantasy football. If daily fantasy—where you draft a new team every week of the season and use it for just that Sunday’s action—seems like a bridge too far, that’s because it is, and Carter knows it.

“I interviewed poker pros. I interviewed investment experts and behavioral psychologists that have done research on this stuff,” Carter says about How to Think Like a Daily Fantasy Football Winner, “We came up with a pretty good outline of what it is to think of daily fantasy football as a much different animal.”

As one of Fantasy Twitter’s best explainer voices, Carter runs on serving and satisfying this beast.

There’s such a hunger for content,” Carter says, “I didn’t realize the extent of that hunger until I started writing, almost as a joke, a kicker column every Friday.

“It gives me a real anxiety to be out of touch with Twitter,” Carter explains, “I feel like I have to unplug and just deal with the oncoming anxiety. This stuff has a real effect on your brain and the way it works. The feelings that you feel are not just in your head—they’re biological. … Things are happening in your brain that say, ‘Please go check the phone.’”

@RumfordJohnny, the part-time regular

Rumford Johnny is the most balanced, happy guy on Fantasy Twitter. He’s a sort of reassuring big brother to the network—breaking up fights between writers and organizing joke drafts where players pick beers. His 2 Mugs Fantasy Football show is one of the top 15 fantasy podcasts on iTunes, and it’s in large part because his great, distinct New England accent booms through with every joke about Jimmy Garoppolo. You want to grab a stool and a pint and let the guy just ramble.

He’s an 18-year fantasy veteran who got his start in fantasy football with three-ring binders, legal pads, and newspaper clippings. By fostering a gregarious and generous reputation as opposed to selling himself as an emerging voice, Rumford Johnny and his 2 Mugs cohort, Ryan Forbes, have carved a respect-laden niche.

“It doesn’t consume everything,” he says on the phone from his home in Rhode Island before pausing to let out the dogs. “It’s a labor of love. During football season it’s an understanding—I’m writing articles as I’m watching the game. … Saturday is date night unless there’s [NFL] football on.

“If you have a strong marriage, it doesn’t really cramp anything; if you’re in a bad relationship, you get lost in all that stuff.”

It helps that his professional world is harmonious and, like Carter, is kept as an uncompromised entity. Rumford Johnny says he works in the medical field, doing outreach around New England with people with autism. He makes it a point to be home in time for dinner every night with the wife. Rumford Johnny is the reason your league dissolved—everyone got tired of that one jerk constantly winning.

After four titles in five years, he had to quit his office league. Like so many of his Fantasy Twitter brethren, that’s basically how his Twitter handle became essential and how he got into writing.

“You’re really just someone else hanging around the boards and people start asking you questions,” he says. But as is the case for anyone else in Fantasy Twitter, Sunday mornings are when the needle breaks.

“People are setting their lineups minutes before the game starts, and with social media, you’re getting player injury reports right to the second,” he says, “They’re not watching NFL This Morning or whatever; they’re watching their Twitter feed.” A part of him dislikes the game’s insatiable nature for intel (“It’s removed some of the challenge,” he says), but Rumford Johnny knows his Twitter stock hangs on how quick he is on the dribble with breaking news. “You can keep that to yourself, but someone else is going to tell someone else,” he says.

He’s right. The hive will find out—you might as well get the RTs.

@Dexters_Library, the stoned loudmouth

“I was in a league last year with all the [Fantasy Twitter], titans and my team was goddamn amazing,” 36-year-old Chicago bartender Ken Griggs says. “I get to the fucking playoffs and @LateRoundQB has that journeyman cocksucker Josh McCown going, and I lost.”

Whatever. Having personally bested Griggs (who thrives as Fantasy Twitter talking head, @Dexters_Library) in a league last year, I can share that he kind of sucks at fantasy football. He doesn’t research anything (“I’m not a big chart guy”). He played college ball as a defensive back at some small potatoes Midwestern school but doesn’t have any interest in touching on his experience under the helmet. His marijuana intake is somewhere between Pink Floyd and Deep Purple, and Griggs drinks the way every aspiring writer romantically wishes they did.

But Griggs has an entirely self-made army of almost 7,000 followers—including every major voice on Fantasy Twitter—because he writes about fantasy football with dense literary vigor that includes Thomas Pynchon references and hilarious nicknames. Griggs calls hulking Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones “DJulio” and suspended-for-positive-weed-test heartbreaker Josh Gordon “Hash Gordon.”

“I was hanging out with a young lady that works for Twitter. She believed that I bought my followers,” Griggs says, “I was so pissed, man. I didn’t buy any of the motherfuckers—these are from interacting and from tweets that I came up with.”

But even though Griggs says he “ties one on” every Saturday and wakes up hungover to a rush of questions (usually resulting in terrible, last-minute fantasy advice), Griggs has fans because, perhaps most important on Fantasy Twitter, he is funny and doesn’t hesitate to call out the business.

“I’m not spending time as a beat reporter for the Bears.” Griggs says, “These guys tweeting out that they somehow have inside information is laughable. I don’t take it seriously enough to be worrying about whether or not I’m getting a paycheck.”

“A little competition, a little challenging of someone’s analysis, is not a bad thing.”

That also means putting his name out there without worrying whether or not some jerk that lost a bet on his word comes looking. He bartends at Union Sushi in Chicago’s River North neighborhood (which Zagat calls “very cool and trendy”) and routinely invites Twitter followers in for a cocktail. He’s over-served some of the biggest names in the business and writes beautifully about bartending. (Full disclosure: I met Griggs through Fantasy Twitter, and he’s penned stuff for a sports blog that I edit.) “I swept that line,” Griggs says, “I don’t care if anyone knows who I am. And I think I’m funny, so who gives a shit?”

The future of Fantasy Twitter

Like any fertile creative moment, capitalism is unavoidable. The camaraderie of Fantasy Twitter makes it a safe space to test theories, and it’s a lucrative game full of opportunity for self-starters. Which is why it can read like a networking happy hour where everyone just wants to make a good impression on the executives.

“Too many of us—including myself—back down from worthwhile arguments because we want to maintain that good will,” Carter says, “A little competition, a little challenging of someone’s analysis, is not a bad thing.”

Bloom maintains that audiences on Twitter are “self-selected” by your output and tone. He’s one of the few full-time fantasy writers, and maintains that industry is large and sustainable. Maybe as a result, he says he’s never even blocked anyone.

“These guys tweeting out that they somehow have inside information is laughable. I don’t take it seriously enough to be worrying about whether or not I’m getting a paycheck.”

“It’s validating to see people there at that level of hair-splitting,” Bloom says, “It creates a kind of a ladder that people climb. You can’t pretend that other sites don’t exist and just not mention them.”

With guys like Carter, Rumford Johnny, and Bales diving into the daily fantasy market, imminent growth is likely. And when there’s an inevitable 24-hour network devoted to fantasy sports, I know just the guy to personify the heart of Fantasy Twitter.

“The ideal situation,” Griggs says, “would be me in a Dean Martin-esque talk show where I get shit-faced and we talk fantasy and I make literary references that no one gets.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misreported Sigmund Bloom’s career before becoming a fantasy football writer. He was a systems analyst.

Illustration via Graphics Fairy | Remix by Max Fleishman