A subversive and unwelcome effort toward world peace

Let’s talk about Fantasy Football.

This post relies heavily on my son, currently a bit of a fantasy football obsessive. He’s tried to get me to participate, but I feel quite strongly that I have as much obsession in my life as I can safely handle. And there’s one other reason I want no part.

But before we get into all that, a mention that tomorrow Arsenal play Crystal Palace at Crystal Palace. Here in the States, that will be televised at 8:30 ET on NBCSN. It’s been a quiet week, befitting a time of introspection that inevitably occurs following a loss that just should not have happened. Here’s hoping the lads get back on track this week. I’ll identify our Gooner Supper Club dish of the day after the game.

In my post Cats must also fail, I talked about schadenfreude and how much it is a part of football. Well, how much it is a part of how I operate as a fan of Arsenal. Evidence abounds that it’s not just me. But within the sport there is one force that encourages those who participate to give peace a chance.

“Fantasy” sports wouldn’t be possible without the kind of computing and analytical power we all suddenly have at our disposal. And they wouldn’t be as much fun without the Internet to be able to compete broadly. On the site my son uses for Fantasy Football, fantasy.premierleague.com, more than 3.1 million people compete. You can compete publicly or in a private group, as my son does.

In Fantasy Football (FF), each participant selects a team of 15 players from among current Premier League Players. The selection is somewhat similar to assembling a real team. Players are assessed a value, and each participant manager in FF has £100 million to use toward buying players. The range of player valuations is a bit tighter in the Fantasy league than in reality. The cheapest player available this week is valued at £4 million. The most expensive is Kun Aguero, currently valued at £13 million. Last year’s Premier League player of the year, Eden Hazard, is valued at £11.5 million. A bargain. In life, Aguero and Hazard are probably each worth above £50 million. As in the league, player value can change over the course of the season. The FF manager is required to buy a certain number of players for each position. It’s not possible to assemble a team of only strikers, for example.

This equal purse per FF manager is in stark contrast to reality in which football teams who have the wherewithal, within the Financial Fair Play rules, can buy players for whatever they can afford. I have mixed feelings about this, probably because the team I support has more resources than most. Naturally, I enjoy that the real team I support is among the four best year after year. However, I can see why it would be no fun in a game that is supposed to be “Fantasy” to have to deal with a nasty reality like being poor. Another element of fantasy is that it’s possible for more than one FF manager to have the same player. I recall that my husband played FF the last year Luis Suarez was in the Premier League. He refused to own Suarez, but almost everyone in his group did. And they all earned the many points that accrued on the basis of Suarez’s amazing performance that season.

Sell your soul for points?
Sell your soul for points?

Each week, the Fantasy Football manager has to select the players that will start the game. As actual games are completed, the Fantasy Football participant is able to amass points based on the performance of the players during the matches in which they competed. The overall scoring awards the obvious good actions in the game, such as goals, assists, and completed passes, but also does a good job of capturing how we fans feel about certain events even if the in-game event doesn’t significantly impact the actual score. For example, it would be wildly exciting in an actual game for a goalkeeper to score a goal for their team. Even though in an actual game that goal is worth the same as any other goal, Fantasy Football awards far more points for such an event to capture the special thrill involved. In an actual game, when a player misses a penalty kick, the result is simply a goal not scored. But in FF, points are taken away, capturing how you feel when the kicker, who has such an advantage in the penalty situation, fails to score.

In Fantasy Football, the point system also considers positive and negative events in the game in consideration of the player’s position. Midfielders, defenders, and goalkeepers are awarded points for a clean sheets (no goals scored), but the rewards are greater for the goalkeeper than for midfielders. A striker is expected to score goals, and therefore, a striker’s goals receive a lower point value than a defender’s.

Because football, like many other sports, is analyzed nearly in real time, very quickly after an actual match is concluded, points are tallied and visible online to the participants in FF.

So there is a lot to FF that seems fun and much like being a football manager. Part of the reason that my son encouraged me to play FF is that he enjoys it, but he also said that it would be a good way for me to get to know more players in the Premier League.

The reason I avoid it, in addition to the excuse I tendered at the beginning of this post is that it encourages–no, nearly requires–participants to behave in a way I would consider to be abhorrent. The requirement that you must pick no more than three players from each Premier League team somewhat requires to you to select players from teams you don’t support. Because the point is to amass a large point total, this means selecting good players from other teams, the best you can afford. A good player who plays for another team is highly likely to be someone I enjoy wishing the worst for. But because that player finds himself on my FF team, without even noticing that it’s happening, I could see myself starting to wish well for those teams and players, simply so I could get FF points. The year my husband played, I witnessed him winding himself in knots having to hope for a clean sheet for Chelsea so that he could get FF league points, while simultaneously hoping for Chelsea to lose. At some point he gave FF up. It took too much time and he didn’t enjoy the feeling of hoping for success for players and teams he didn’t want to support.

So while I applaud the Premier League and EA for coming out with a fun Fantasy Football competition that may encourage understanding and peace among football fans, I think they should shoot a little higher. Can they come up with a game that helps worldwide religious fundamentalists understand each other instead? Or perhaps encourages understanding between Democrats and Republicans?

Hate is hate, you say?

But I like my hate.

Ok. I promise I will think about whether it’s healthy to hold onto this kind of hate for other teams and their players.

After I finish celebrating Tottenham giving up two goals today in a game they were winning 2-0.

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