The Zen of Fantasy Football – It’s Casual Games for Men

I read this article awhile back. The basic point they’re trying to make is that men are more of a force in the casual games space than most statistics suggest. I think there is a “hidden” casual games market in which men spend an inordinate amount of time and that “hidden” market (it’s in quotes because most estimates put the value of the market at several billion dollars annually) is fantasy sports. Fantasy sports have a lot more in common with casual games than they do with hardcore games. If you look at the level of skill required to participate, the time commitment, and the nature of the gameplay, I’d argue that fantasy sports (football in particular) are really the current incarnation of male-focused casual games.

What is it about fantasy football that makes it so appealing in general? And why is it so much more popular than every other fantasy sports game besides perhaps baseball? It’s not just that the NFL markets a great product – there are some great gameplay elements to fantasy football that make it so popular. Below is my amateur attempt to break down the zen of fantasy football in terms of what makes it so addictive.

Simple game mechanics – If you understand how the NFL works, you can play fantasy football. Getting up to speed in fantasy football is pretty easy. For the most part, players who are great in the NFL are great in fantasy football. Sure, you will always get aberrations (players who score touchdowns are ranked higher in touchdown-only leagues, players who catch many passes get ranked higher in a point-per-catch league, etc) but a basic understanding of who’s good in the NFL is all you really need for table stakes.
There is a good combination of luck, skill, and strategy. Fantasy football has a good combination of luck, skill, and (the appearance) of strategy. Skill comes in working the waiver wire, doing your homework before the draft, and staying on top of who’s emerging during the course of the season. However, there’s a lot of luck involved – you can’t control who gets injured and how long they’re out. Sometimes a can’t-miss fantasy player has a season-ending injury. On top of this skill and luck, there is both strategy and lore. Any experienced fantasy football player will tell you some basic rules or “laws” – always draft running backs first, never carry 2 kickers or defenses on your team, etc. When these “strategies” work, you’re a hero. When they don’t you’re a loser.

I think it’s worth noting that other fantasy sports don’t share this characteristic. Fantasy baseball is really complicated – there are a lot of statistics to track and the strategy is a lot more complicated. The talent level in the NBA is so thin that there isn’t a lot you can do to recover from bad luck – if you lose your starting center or top draft pick, your season might be over.

The time commitment is manageable (unlike other fantasy sports) – You can basically manage a fantasy football team in a few hours a week. Ask anyone who plays fantasy basketball or baseball how much time they need to spend tweaking their lineups and studying stats. The beauty of fantasy football is that almost all of the action takes place in about 24 hours per week. Watching football is already fun – having players for whom to root really makes it even fun. If you’re a lazy owner, you can manage your team on about an hour a week. You can’t do the same for other fantasy sports. And it’s far from World of Warcraft in terms of time commitment.

Fantasy football is a social experience – Fantasy football is a social experience. Don’t believe me? Go to any sports bar on Sunday and make an offhand comment about one of the players on your team. Guaranteed you’ll get at least a few other folks at the bar who have a rooting interest in one player or team. Because the rules for fantasy football are fairly universal, two players in separate leagues can often have a good conversation around fantasy football in general. Most of these conversations center around the owner’s “genius” in drafting some player in the 5th round and how some sure-fire “stud” has failed to perform all season.

So there you have it. I most often hear casual games described as games with relatively simple gameplay, manageable time commitments, and a good combination of luck, skill, and strategy. Fantasy football has all of these elements, even if they’re not obvious.

  • Michael Vu

    Great post Charles. I couldn't have agreed more. Fantasy football is 100% a social experience. It's about the discussions, the trash talking, analysis, and interaction with your friends. It's long been a social phenomenon without the the right social network. Fantasy sports is making sports fans smarter and louder than ever, yet they still exist as a faceless and homeless online community. My partners and I are hard at work trying to fill that void with our project: Fantasysportsmatrix.com. In the near future, we will be releasing a revamped front page and user avatars. With that said, how are your fantasy football teams doing this year? =)

  • Charles Hudson

    Michael, Yes, fantasy football is a very social experience and that's why I love it so much. I agree that being an active fantasy sports player makes you smarter and more engaged – it pays to know what's going on in the league if you wan to win. Let me know when you relaunch your page and I'll check it out. I'm 7-4 and on track for the playoffs, barring any major injuries.

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