Final Fantasy (Football) I
Final Fantasy (Football) is a blog series that chronicles the gaming subculture of Fantasy Football. With the NFL 2014 season coming to a close, it’s a good time to look back on the exploits of Fantasy Football players during an unpredictable season filled with injury and scandal. The first post, “If it’s a game, how do I play it?” is an introduction to Fantasy Football and will focus on explaining the game mechanics to new players.
Let me start off with this: Fantasy Football is a game.
It is not a sport. It is a game ABOUT sports, but there is no physical exertion taking place outside of throwing your remote through a window while watching Jordy Nelson ruin weeks worth of preparation. No, Fantasy Football is more about turning the humdrum activity of watching a sport into a death-match competition with friends and family. It’s a game of strategy, intrigue, knowledge and chance. And for some reason, it’s socially acceptable to do it EVERYWHERE. So for those who roll their eyes when they hear co-workers rattle off numbers re: “projected fan points” and “PPR,” I’m here to make this a little easier to understand, and hopefully introduce you to a fun, and soul sucking, new addiction.
The most common response I hear from people who’ve never played Fantasy Football is they don’t know anything about football. No worries! You don’t have to learn the rules of football, you just need to learn the rules of FANTASY football.
Every game has rules, which we sometimes refer to as game mechanics. There are a few core mechanics that make up Fantasy Football, (from here on out referred to as FF) so let’s take a look at how to play.
STATISTICS: This is the core of FF, and most “fantasy _____” games. Without something actually happening to create these statistics, you have no game. This is why there can be fantasy baseball, soccer, basketball and hockey. If someone is doing something, and their stats are being recorded, you’ve got the main element to play. So in FF, who creates these statistics? NFL players do during games and the stats revolve around points scored, yards gained and generally any other measurable that dictates success within a game. Keep in mind that although in reality a player’s team can lose the game, in FF the only team you care about is your own, and you build your team during…
THE DRAFT: The first goal of FF is to build your own team. You do this by picking players dodgeball-style during an event known as the Fantasy Football Draft. This is a glorious occasion where some FF players go all out, booking hotels and restaurants as venues for their friends to get drunk and roll the dice (not literally) on a new season. Most players just get together and order pizza, while other more reclusive players feel right at home with an online draft, alone with only their FF stats and player rankings to keep them company.
The draft order is usually generated randomly, though some leagues (a group of between 8-12 players) will have their own rules on how to assign who drafts when. Then, one by one, each FF player is given a small amount of time to make their selection. They are allowed to select any player currently in the National Football League, and their goal is to build a team made up of the following players:
1 Quarterback (QB) – The team leader, the more yards and touchdowns this guy throws, the happier you’ll be.
2 Running Backs (RB) – The ground-pounders, running backs are the backbone to a great FF team.
2 Wide Receivers (WR) – The NFL has been criticized for being a pass-first league, which is why many FF players like to have high scoring receivers and field general quarterbacks leading their squad.
1 FLEX – (either Wide Receiver or Running Back, your choice) You decide, on a week by week basis, whether you want to play a receiver or running back. The choice is yours!
1 Tight End (TE) – As funny as this position title is, a TE can be the difference between a good team and a great one, right Tom Brady?
1 Kicker – He kicks the ball through the uprights.
Defense – The defense is a collection of players, not just one, and it can gain points by sacking opposing quarterbacks, intercepting passes, shutting out an offense or scoring on their own.
There are some variations within different leagues, such as 3 Wide Receivers or 2 Quarterbacks, but this is generally the layout. Drafting is the first time you’ll need to rely on strategy for success, but definitely won’t be the last. Every draft is broken down into a series of ROUNDS in which you select the best players available to be on your team. There are hundreds of different draft strategies, so be sure to study up! Some prefer taking a Running Back in the first round, because the ones available in later rounds have a significant drop off in production. Others select can’t-miss Quarterbacks, like Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers, two superstar Quarterbacks known for racking up fantasy points. Regardless of your draft strategy, at the end of the night you will have built your team. But that’s only the beginning…
THE LINE UP: So remember back when you had your draft? Sure, you drafted someone to fill each of those positions listed above, but here’s the thing: YOU HAVE TOO MANY PLAYERS. That’s right, every week you need to choose which 9 of your 17 players will be “starting.”
Your starters stats are the ones you’re adding up at the end of the day, so you’ll want to choose carefully. If you drafted 5 Wide Receivers and you can only play 3 (two in the WR slot, one in Flex) then you need to decide which 3 are going to have a better game. THAT’S where the intrigue, strategy and frustration come in. There’s nothing worse than playing your star Wide Receiver and then watching someone on your bench outscore them. You don’t get a single point from any player on your bench, so paying attention to your “match up” is key. If your Quarterback is playing a team that gives up 5 touchdowns a game to opposing QBs, you’re definitely playing him this week. It’s all about the match up.
TRADES, ADDS, AND
AUTOMOBILES: Just because you have your team, and your lineup set, it doesn’t mean you’re done. In fact, EVERY WEEK brings change in the NFL. There are lots of things to account for such as injuries, bad match ups, court arraignments regarding child abuse, not to mention unknown players lighting it up out of nowhere (I’m looking at you, Jonas Gray!) You’re allowed to add or drop players throughout the course of the season, and you can execute trades to other teams in your league. This affords you a certain level of control over your teams composition throughout the season, and generally requires most players to keep their finger on the pulse of things happening in the NFL. Although this might seem uninteresting, when framed in the competitive spirit of kicking the ass of your former grade school bully, it becomes spectacularly obsessive.
MATCHUPS: Every week, your team of misfits is sent into battle against another team in your league. Each of your player’s points are added up and then compared to your opponent. If the total amount of points your players scored in their weekly game is higher than your opponents, congratulations! Now do that 16 more times and you’ve just won your first league championship. Every week is another chance to put a W on the board, and soon enough you’ll find yourself pouring over stat columns, flipping through games, and calling in to local sports radio shows asking if Shayne Graham kicking outside is a good enough reason to bench him for Dan “Mr. Automatic” Carpenter.
Now if you’ve found yourself intrigued by the idea of Fantasy Football, you’re too late. The season is ending and we’ve moved on to the playoffs, ha! However with a better understanding of how the game is played, you can take a full offseason to prepare yourself for next years conquest, as well as take a look back at how others have fared this season. Hopefully you’ll now be able to fully appreciate the struggle of your co-workers, who gently sob to themselves every monday morning from the recesses of their cubicle. We feel your pain, Brian, but no one told you to start Mark Sanchez against the Seahawks D. That one’s on you.
Stay tuned for the next installment, “Final Fantasy (Football) II” where we take a closer look at my own Fantasy Football League, al Kinda. We’ll compare how a solid draft and a few failed trades led the only female player in the league to victory, while I stew in a perpetual state of never-ending failure. Also, using the same fantasy game mechanics, we’ll show you how to turn boring, everyday situations into compelling competitions of battle and skill.