How the mind of a fantasy sports player operates
A day-to-day breakdown of how fantasy sports work, as told by the players
Fantasy Sports is based on real statistics of existing leagues.
Photo by Peter Brand
In the modern age of sport, many fans turn to statistics-based interactive fantasy sports. This world is both fun and obsessive to members of the community.
When it comes to fantasy sports in the last twenty years, fantasy football is king.
Fantasy sites like FanDuel and DraftKings are raking in hundreds of millions of dollars each year since fantasy apps were introduced in 2015. But what drives this global phenomena? The short four-month NFL season, which runs from September to January, paired with what seems to be the most extended off-season of any of the four major North American sports, hypes up the anticipation to the beginning of a new fantasy like no other league. A crucial 16-game season gives fantasy players the figurative feeling that general managers and head offices around the NFL have.
“When you're a sports guy, you feel like you can manage a team,” says Jordan Johnston, who started playing fantasy football in 2004. “A lot of the time, you’re critiquing general managers and wondering why they made that trade or why are they assembling the roster this way. So the appeal to fantasy sports is I want to see if all my knowledge about sports can translate into success, or into winning money off of it.”
The NFL preseason begins in early August and fantasy enthusiasts have most likely started their research by this point. By the end of August, your league's commissioner should have sent out an invite to join an online league via email. If you do not have a league there are plenty of free leagues on NFL.com, Yahoo and ESPN. These sites all have an app that can be downloaded to your wireless devices so you never miss a moment of the action.
Fantasy football analysts like NFL network’s Michael Fabiano or ESPN’s Matthew Berry dedicate their lives to fantasy football year round and around late July they will have weekly or daily articles on whom to draft and where, as well as players who are poised to have breakout season and players that could be a bust. By mid-August, there will be an overall consensus amongst fantasy analysts of who the top 12 players will most likely be for your receptive leagues. Once the high of anticipating the draft wears off and the all the owners have picked players, the regular season will be on the horizon.
Gavin Granger, a fantasy aficionado who plays in a number of different leagues from hockey to football, says that he prefers fantasy football for different reasons.
“Between fantasy hockey and football, football is hands down my favourite because, unlike a hockey playoff pool where your guys get eliminated, you're stuck with those guys for the year unless you trade them or eventually drop them,” says Granger. “You're so much more invested in the whole season.”
The NFL week starts with Thursday Night Football, which is followed by the traditional nine-hour slate of games on Sunday and caps off with Monday Night Football. This means as an owner of a fantasy football team, your week starts on Tuesday.
Depending on how your week unfolded, your Tuesday morning could be a joyous occasion or a feeling of crushing despair. Tuesdays are a stressful day that begins and ends with the waiver wire. Football is a cruel sport and injuries occur early and often. After week three, NFL teams start their bye weeks, meaning a handful of teams take the week off, usually leaving a significant gap in your starting lineup and holes to fill. The waiver wire is your chance to pick up a player who is not on a fantasy roster.
However, there's a catch: most modern-day leagues run on a free-agent acquisition budget, more commonly known as FAAB dollars. Every team starts with a set amount typically $100 or $1,000. If a league is not set up with FAAB dollars, then your league will run on a waiver priority, meaning whichever team has the worst record gets immediate priority for waiver wire players. Team owners can either bid an amount they deem fair for a player or risk the waiver priority.
Tuesdays involve doing research and mulling over which player you should try to pick up, as well as editing your waiver claims. When Tuesday night rolls into Wednesday morning the beginning of the week’s stress has begun. You’ll either wake up happy that the waiver wire brought you that rising all-star or choked that your league rival (usually a good friend) outbid you by a couple of bucks.
The rest of Wednesday usually becomes a mad scramble to pick up a player for free, and depending on what time you wake up, you could be out of luck when it comes to finding a replacement for that first round pick that inevitably gets injured. Wednesday nights are tricky because the NFL’s week of games starts on Thursday night. This means that if you have players playing Thursday, you have a tough call to make: risk that player on Thursday or sit him and play your Sunday players.
If your all-star players are playing Thursday, you typically slot him/them in and hope for a huge game. After Thursday night games you can start the week off in a big way or find yourself digging out of 40 point hole on Sunday morning.
Friday mornings are another round of waiver wire pickups, yet another chance to pick up a sneaky player that everyone slept on during the week or a player that is filling in for a guy who got injured at practice during the week. Friday could leave you with a massive lead or an enormous hole to dig yourself out of after the Thursday night affair (see Tuesdays mornings regarding emotions for that day). Friday and Saturday are comprised of two days full of researching targets per game, yards per game, league leaders, watching injury reports like a hawk and overall speculation of what Sunday will bring.
Granger says, “I check my fantasy football daily to see if guys are injured, practicing in full or limited practice.”
Johnston reiterates the same feelings and says, “A lot of pain goes into all the work and research that you do daily.”
Finally, Sunday morning arrives and if you’re smart enough, you’ll wake up an hour or two before game time and get all the latest injury updates (a crucial part to fantasy football). Sunday is also your last grasp for that late waiver wire pick up that you didn’t get on Friday. And lastly, check the weather for games that are played outside because a sudden thunder/snowstorm could put a damper on your quarterback's passing day. Set your lineup and literally pray for the best because you do not want to leave your matchup for the dreaded Monday night showdown to solve everything you've worked all week for.
Enter Monday night. Like Friday, you could be in great shape or need 50 points from your quarterback (nearly impossible) to pull out the victory. There is no avoiding Monday nights, as you are inevitably going to have to play on that day. So, hopefully, your week has been good or, depending on the outcome, you’ll either feel like a champion or find yourself climbing to the top of the figurative fantasy football ledge, ready to hurl yourself off. Johnston says that the frustration of having superior sports knowledge and day-to-day research can be extremely deflating.
“If I go another year without winning, I’m gonna be so choked.”
Sixteen gruelling weeks of researching and watching football games featuring teams you despise, however, could all pay off in the end, according to Granger.
“Winning a league is awesome. It just feels like everything you've done was the right move. Sometimes trades can blow up in your face and there's nothing better than making a trade and seeing the guy you traded away blow his knee out an hour later, it feels like you dodged a bullet.”
While fantasy football runs in an extremely disciplined manner with a set of complex rules, basketball leagues run differently. Aside from the differences in the actual rules of both sports, the way fantasy basketball leagues run are much more smoother than that of a fantasy football league, with more freedom being given to players in terms of how they manage their teams.
Leagues are generally relegated to 15 players per team, though in some cases leagues may allow 12 players per team to keep it more simplified. Much like other types of fantasy sports, the outcome of your team depends on the players you draft and whether or not they exceptionally perform during a scheduled game day. However, the point system that basketball leagues follow differ from that of a football or a baseball league.
For instance, actual points scored by a player in your team do not necessarily give you a better advantage to win. A player could score 20 points with zero blocks, assists and rebounds and still have fewer fantasy points than a player who scores 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight blocks. The scoring system in fantasy basketball does not solely rely on how many points a player scores, but more so how he performs in the game. Factors that help a player’s team in getting the advantage to win include: a total amount of points scored (PTS), total rebounds (REB), assists (AST), steals (ST), turnovers (TO), three-point shots made (3PTM), and so on. Each factor has different fantasy point values and the more you rack up in each factor, the more likely you are to score a larger abundant of fantasy points. Players can also pick up and drop any player that is available to them at any time, with a two-day waiver period, allowing for competition to fume up and become more thrilling for the league.
There is no stereotypical description of a fantasy basketball player, just like how there is no stereotypical description of a fantasy football player. All that matters in the world of fantasy sports is how experienced you are and how smart you are when making decisions around your team.
This translates well with 21-year old Tristen Taypotat, a fantasy basketball participant that already has one winning season. Though Taypotat has known about the activity for seven years, he only started participating a year ago, mainly at the insistence of his friends who were already playing at the time.
“A couple of my friends asked me and I always thought it would be fun,” says Taypotat. “I’ve always been interested in it.”
Taypotat claims to check on his fantasy team at least five minutes a day, through Yahoo’s Fantasy Basketball program on his phone, a very popular app amongst fans of fantasy sports. Taypotat also currently plays fantasy basketball with his close friends as opposed to playing with strangers in a public league online. Aside from this, Taypotat also joined a fantasy basketball league due to his knowledge of the sport, since it happens to be his favourite sport in general. He prefers it to football or hockey, which are sports that have bigger followings and bigger participants in the world of fantasy sports.
While he says he keeps track of his team on a daily basis, Taypotat does not see it as a hassle, largely preferring to keep it that way, as he finds amusement when it comes to frequently monitoring how his team is running.
Taypotat sees the brilliance of fantasy basketball as it was intended to be: a way to be more in-tune with the actual sport and for you to take control as if you were a manager or owner of a real team, something he says makes the activity so captivating.
“You feel more involved with the sport. You’re socializing with your league members,” says Taypotat. “You’re having fun. You’re chatting about it. You’re joking about it.”
However, unlike most fantasy sporting leagues, Taypotat’s league is non-monetary. While most leagues, regardless of the sport, usually have a money pool involved, the gambling aspect of fantasy leagues does not shine directly onto Taypotat’s basketball league, which is something that would affect how he sees the activity if that were the case.
“It would probably stress me a little bit more if my team’s losing,” says Taypotat. “Though I think it would be more fun though and maybe I’d take it a little more seriously.”
"Winning a league is awesome it just feels like everything you've done was the right move. Sometimes trades can blow up in your face and there's nothing better than making a trade and seeing the guy you traded away blow his knee out an hour later, it feels like you dodged a bullet."
-- Gavin Granger
An example of a fantasy Sports Draft.
Screenshot of Peter Brand's draft
When asked how often they check their Fantasy Sports teams, players answer honestly with smiles.
Video by Miguel Ibe and Peter Brand
Video by Miguel Ibe and Peter Brand