In a confession that’s sure to confound the marketing men, I quite like Marmite. I don’t recoil at it’s presence but nor do I feel the need to have the barcode tattooed on my body. Marmite’s fine, and is a viable but not necessary option when selecting spreads.
I’m the same with football really; most people are either fanatically devoted to it or fly into a hulk style rage at the mere mention of it. I enjoy the odd match, enjoy the odd video game, follow a team and prefer them to win. Footballs fine, and is a viable but not necessary option when selecting entertainment.
All that said, I absolutely adore Fantasy Football.
I should clarify that I’m not talking about the crappy versions found between the boobs and racism in the tabloids. With their unesscessarily difficult transfer policies that demand you use a bloody phone like this is ’95 or something, they too closely ape the unfairly balanced nature of reality football where the odds are already stacked against the little guy. Ironically, I’m talking about the one officially endorsed by the Premier League themselves, who have inadvertently lampooned the setup of their own league by creating a game that anyone can succeed at, as long as they try.
I’ve not watched more than two entire games this season and yet sit in fourth position in my work league of over 30 teams, some of whom are managed by the kind of lunatics that spend their Saturdays desperate for a piss on a boiling hot bus so that they can yell at someone who doesn’t care that they exist. How is this possible? How can someone who buries themselves in the sport end up worse than someone who only lightly dusts themselves with it?
I’m not even the best fairytale I know. A few seasons back, at the weekend of my 30th birthday, a friend managed to seal victory in our social league (which this season is inexplicably referred to as ‘Hypothetical Trousers’) despite not really showing the slightest interest in football until he was in his late twenties. At that point he didn’t even support a team.
The title was beautifully poised with myself and two others all within three points of each other. When you consider total scores over the season enter the thousands this proves how impossibly close this was.
And he bloody won it. If you’ve been paying very close attention, you may have heard a slight whisper on the wind that this seasons reality football was won by Leicester City, a team tipped for relegation by just about everybody. This was fantasy footballs equivalent and he won in such dramatic fashion. That he’s now considered a force to be reckoned with just goes to show how this game enables a minnow to become an established part of the footballing elite. That this season he was top at Christmas and is now languishing near the bottom just shows how cruel a mistress she can be.
And we’re just a bunch of eight players. This game is played by literally millions of people the world over. I love the idea of all these little stories going on. The setup that allows you to not only go against the world but to also cut off your own small slice in the form of a custom league is inspired. For some, it facilitates #topbants, but for me it means that I’m constantly playing an awesome strategy game with my friends.
And that’s the key to its success. At it’s heart Fantasy Football is a game of numbers and forward planning. A beautifully entertaining spreadsheet of form, figures and statistics. Perhaps if you’re engaged with the sport too deeply you can foolishly start to attribute humanity to the little football shirts on your monitor. I fell for this issue a few years back when I refused to have Luis Suarez in my team because I think he’s a massive prick. Naturally he scored a ton of goals and my team suffered because I let silly emotions get in the way of pure, cold objectivity.
To succeed you have to worship your enemies and kill your darlings. Another friend once found some success in bringing in John Terry, the racist, womanising thug. Hated by most but particularly hated by him as he supports Queens Park Rangers, a team that are in direct rivalry with Terry’s Chelsea. What a moral quandary he must have found himself in. It must have been like starting a game of charades only to find out that George Osborne was really good at it, begrudgingly joining his team and weakly high-fiving his stunningly accurate interpretation of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
A knack for brutal pragmatism and lack of moral fibre is not the only key to success of course. Fantasy Football is often wrongly accused of being a game of chance. Fate does play a factor but certainly no more than your average game of Mario Kart. There’s a cliché in reality football that misfortune ‘evens itself out over the course of the season’ and this rings true for the fantasy equivalent too. One full game is so monstrously long that the cream always rises to the top.
Finding ‘The Differential’ (the player hitting form that no one else has), taking advantage of a teams easy run of games, planning weeks in advance so your team is packed with ‘Double Weekers’, deciding when to pull the trigger on your wildcard which allows you to change your entire team without penalty (and is of course, always accompanied by an Always Sunny reference); all these factors and a hundred more build to create a game of staggering tactical complexity. It’s telling that a friend once described it as scratching the same itch as the notoriously uncompromising EVE Online.
It gets into your head and has you pacing around the kitchen, obsessively the checking the latest scores; quietly fist pumping as a plan comes together or banging your head against a wall as it falls apart. Another glorious mechanic is that it’s a game that’s constantly balancing itself. Players become more or less expensive dependant on their success so getting in early or leaving on a high is an extra level of strategy that needs to be considered.
I would recommend it to literally everybody, with the very slight caveat that if you don’t know the slightest thing you’ll be at a disadvantage to start. I once tried to get my wife involved and she wanted her starting team to include ‘Frank Lampard’ (now plays abroad), ‘the one with the Sideshow Bob hair’ (David Luiz, also now abroad) and ‘Tom Hardy’ (played Bane in Batman, may or may not be abroad). But if you can get over this slight hurdle you’re in the same boat as the rest of us; staring at the impossibly vast number of branching options, desperately searching for that one special player.
Fantasy Football is the world’s first and undoubtedly the finest MMOARSRPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Augmented Reality Strategy Role Playing Game). My sporting vocabulary isn’t developed enough to describe a good goal as anything other than ‘oooh, nice’ and it’s still one of the best games I’ve played in years. Even if you hate football and everything it stands for there’s no reason not to get involved.