Utopia Is Fantasy (Sports)

Imagine a nerd space that had so much respect that people didn’t even comment on its presence.  One with dedicated TV-channels that spent hours talking about the nerdiest of all nerd things — numbers. One where even basic channels spent programming time on helping millions of nerds figure out the crunchiest parts of their tabletop role playing game (TTRPG).

Do you have that utopia in your head?

What if I told you it exists and it’s sports?

No really, I’m being serious.

Sports spaces are some of the nerdiest spaces I’ve ever been in. They’re loud, sure, and very mainstream (a thing certain other nerd spaces definitely see as inherently normie). They definitely have a reputation for being aggressive and abusive and unsafe that– same as every other group’s reputation– is both earned and unearned. But they are also full of nerds who obsess over things like statistics, and magic rituals, and the latest tech.

And yes there’s a TTRPG that gets television air time.

At their very base level, fantasy sports area “what if” game where players pretend to own and/or manage a sports team and compete in a league, just like their real world counterparts, to see who’s the best at picking players. (Seriously. It’s so nerdy that it’s about pretending to be the numbers guys– not the athletes.)

Rules vary by real life sport and by fantasy league, but the essentials are the same:

Players form or join a league at or before the beginning of the professional sport’s season.  

They “draft” (pick) real world athletes to be on their team, often at a party with the rest of their fantasy league. They pick starting athletes and a bench of substitute athletes they can use if for some reason one of their starters won’t be available.

Just like in the real world an athlete can’t play on two competing teams at the same time, so drafts are done at the same time and once an athlete has been drafted they can’t be drafted to any other team in that fantasy league.

The fantasy season starts the same time the professional season does. The players choose which of their athletes are going to make up their starting lineup for each fantasy game. These games are usually a week long so each team in the real world leagues, either plays a game or has the week off.

Then, as those athletes play real world games, the fantasy teams earn points based on what happens in the real world games. The fantasy teams play against each other by adding up those points. The team with the most points wins the game, and the team that wins the most games at the end of the season wins the league.

Fantasy sports are very popular and VERY big business. According to Wizards of the Coast, Dungeons and Dragons– another role playing game widely considered the most popular TTRPG– had 12 to 15 million players in North America in 2017. That same year there were an estimated 59.3 million Americans and Canadians playing fantasy sports according to the Fantasy Sports and Gaming Association. 

Yes, apparently that’s a thing.

Like I said, fantasy sports are big business. According to one source, Americans playing fantasy football spend an average of $131 on/for their draft party alone. And people have bet on fantasy numbers. As a result, there’s a number of betting companies that run leagues in countries and states where gambling on sports is legal.

So do a number of sports specific TV networks, such as ESPN and Sky Sports. ESPN also facilitates people’s private leagues.  And, when the National Football League (NFL) and National Basketball League (NBA) are in season, ESPN puts the fantasy points up on screen. Even pregame shows on major broadcast networks will talk about fantasy sports points and stats.

Even professional sports leagues encourage people to play fantasy sports. The National Hockey League (NHL), in the lead up to the start of their season, has been tweeting links to articles on the fantasy section of their own website to help fantasy players decide who they want to draft.

All of this for some (millions) of nerds who want to pretend to manage a sports team.

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