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Miscellaneous Fantasy Football

September 20, 2012

I have some scattered thoughts about Fantasy Football that don’t really fit together into a single coherent post, so I’ve decided to just throw them up more or less as is.

I mentioned that Fantasy Football is essentially a valuation / market playing game. That’s true of the draft, but as the season progresses, it becomes much more about making smart trades to keep your team scoring as the season takes its toll on the health of important players. In this regard, it becomes much more about playing the other people in the league. I’m actually reminded somewhat of Monopoly, which is essentially an auction game masquerading as moving pieces around a board, but that’s another topic entirely.

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So, what are some meaningful decisions or interesting optimizations that fantasy players can engage in?

  • Fantasy Football leagues don’t just add up the entire season’s points and award the championship to the player with the highest total. It’s based on the outcome of individual games. A manager has some wiggle room there. For instance, towards the end of the season, a player could make strategic (read: unfavorable) trades to help a no-hoper knock another team out of the playoffs, or tweak the seed rankings.
  • Fantasy Football leagues are also based on the results of a specific game, rather than overall average potential. So, the “any given Sunday” rule applies, in a way. You could play an objectively worse player off your bench because his opponent is weak, instead of your better starter who’s facing the best defense in the league. What matters is the actual number of points this week, not who’s the best in theory.
  • Different teams in the Fantasy League can have players from the same team in real life. This is interesting, because their results can be related, but not identical (there’s probably some research that’s calculated the correlation coefficient there). If your opponent has a great QB, and you’re fielding his star receiver, at what point is it worthwhile to sub in a “worse” player in the hopes of playing the odds and benching him in order to break the dependence between the players? What if the matchup is two different wide receivers from the same team? (which could have a negative correlation coefficient!)
  • Bye weeks are actually a really interesting element in fantasy football. You have to manage which players will by bye in which week to make sure that you’re covered throughout the bye period. You don’t want to be forced to write off a week entirely, but if you spread yourself too thinly, you can end up losing more games. Maybe it’s better concentrate all your losses in one week. Of course, that depends on your standing going into it. If you’re making a run for wins the whole time,¬†you may need to drop a great player in order to pick up a slightly worse player who can actually get you points that week.

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I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m fond of the “cultural phenomenon” definition of sports, partially because I don’t like getting bogged down in definitional arguments, but also because it helps to contextualize a lot of the other aspects of sports culture and how they may interact with the game systems themselves. Sports-as-cultural objects makes acknowledgement fort the fact that sports provide a unique opportunity for alternate modes of engagement, such as spectating, fantasy leagues, etc.

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Football is a game, and Fantasy Football is also a game. In a sense, this means that fantasy sports are essentially derivative games. Much like derivatives in the financial market, the winner of the derivative game is directly based on the results of the game on which they’re based. However, there’s no direct feedback from the fantasy game into the original game. So, a derivative game is distinct from a sub-game (e.g. dice rolling in Risk complements the strategic over-land game) or mini-game (such as in the Final Fantasy series). It’s hard to come up with other examples of derivative games aside from fantasy sports. Non-shooter bets in craps may be another, but only because it’s explicitly laid out in the rules of Craps itself, and not a completely unrelated side-bet.

There’s a distinction drawn then, between games that use historical performance as the seed for a random number generator (like All-Star Baseball, Strat-O-Matic), and ones that use actual performance metrics at a given time (Fantasy sports).

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In my longer Fantasy Football post, I mentioned that there was some non-trivial design built into the assignation of points to player activities and to the positions run within each fantasy team. Some examples:

  • Defense as one team unit vs. individual positions.
  • Count each player type required / allowed per team.(RB, WR, TE)
  • How are points allocated on various plays? QB vs. WR?
  • 10 Yards = 1 point, 1 TD = 7 points, so implicitly 70 yards are worth 1 TD.
  • Kicker = place kicker, and longer kicks = more points. Should kickers be included? Should punters?

How those decisions affect the gameplay experience of fantasy games, I leave as an exercise for the reader (i.e. I’m too lazy right now).

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