The week of August 24, 2014

What’s your fantasy?

By Austin Powell

I have a confession: Last year I brought in a ringer to draft my fantasy football team.

The only reason I had even agreed to take part in the league was for the work camaraderie, and I couldn’t risk the possibility of a losing season. It was short notice, I was ill-prepared, and frankly, I had no idea what I was doing. The last time I had taken part in a fantasy league was in sixth grade. It was a completely analog experience then, and I picked a pretty-much-retired Jerry Rice in the first round. You can guess how that season played out.

Things were different this time around. By the end of week 2, I was working the waiver wires and scouring scouting reports looking for sleeper picks, like Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles. By the time the playoffs were looming, I had already been (wrongly) accused of collusion—after convincing a coworker that trading perennial fantasy heavyweight Rob Gronkowski for my backup TE was in her best interest.

I was addicted: to the data, the hedged bets, the invariables, and nerve-wracking Monday Night Football photo finishes. I could also understand, for the first time, why fantasy football had become America’s new favorite pastime—an experience shared by roughly 32 million people—and why, after years of the same routine, the true diehards would be pushed toward new extremes. In this week’s cover story, Josh Klein explores the rise of fringe fantasy football leagues, where self-described addicts challenge themselves and others with increasingly bizarre rules and handicaps.

Even if you don’t play fantasy football, it’s a fascinating phenomenon to dig into. Case in point: According to Forbes, it’s a $70 billion market—despite the annual revenue for the NFL only being around $10 billion—and an average gamer devotes three hours a week to managing his or her teams. There’s no comparison point for that level of deep financial and personal investment.

In this issue, The Kernel provides a comprehensive look at the state of fantasy football and the social media that drives it. Neuroscientist Renee Miller explores the psychology of fantasy football, explaining how cognitive bias factors into the equation. Ramon Ramirez—the aforementioned ringer from last year’s draft and, for that matter, this issue—delves deep into world of Fantasy Twitter, where the breaking news and bold moves take shape. And professional fantasy football player Shawn Siegele—yes, that’s a real title, though not one he asked for—provides a first-hand account of what it takes to compete in high-stakes leagues.

I’m not quite ready for that level, but Automated Insights, the data company behind the narrative analysis that accompanies Yahoo fantasy leagues, did say this year that I’ve “decided to open a nice little side business that teaches inferior opponents how to draft like a boss.” (To learn about Automated Insights and its real-world implications, see Allen Weiner’s report, “Fantasy football and the cold future of robot journalism.”)

Instead of using a ringer, I opted instead for the NFL Draft Day package from Rotoworld—a gift from my fantasy-minded brother. The site pulls pretty much every piece of data you can possibly think of and allows you to see a player’s projected points based on the scoring in your particular league—no matter what rules you follow. I ended up with a pair of fantasy MVPs (Peyton Manning and Jordy Nelson), two marquee picks in the third and fourth rounds (Andre Johnson and Jordan Cameron), and “Super Sleepers” in the form of Eric Ebron, Cody Latimer, and Mason Crosby.


Suffice to say, this year AP Style is taking home the DDUFL trophy.

Correction: An earlier version of this note misstated the name of Automated Insights on one reference.


Photo by Mark Botham/Flickr (CC BY-NA 2.0)