Sunday, August 25, 2013

Why Losing in Fantasy is Different (and Sometimes Worse) Than Losing in Real Life

Brees scored more fantasy points than
anyone else in 2012 according to my league's settings

I had my fantasy football draft on Saturday morning. It's the third straight year I'll be in a league with my high school buddies, and after finishing 1st and 3rd in the first two editions, I'm hoping to return to the top of the standings in 2013. I won as Team Gronk and got 3rd as Return of the Gronk. Although Episode III: Revenge of the Gronk was too long for a team name (for some reason, Yahoo! has a 20-character limit), that will, for all intents and purposes, be my team name in 2013, even though it's officially listed as Revenge of the Gronk. I'll try to not to spend that much time talking about the details of the draft and my teams, since we all know that hearing about someone else's fantasy football team is about as interesting as an 11th-grade chemistry lecture. But I wanted to take a minute to quickly share my biggest frustration about fantasy football.

I only started seriously playing fantasy football in 2011. My dad and I once co-managed a team in 2003 but after getting murdered by Priest Holmes (the guy in our league that had him left two roster spots open and still beat us the week we played him), I decided to just focus my attention on following the games, rather than the stats. But a couple years ago, one of my buddies suggested we start a league and I decided to give it a shot. I had played a lot of fantasy baseball, but my interest peaked at the draft and fell off sharply once the season starts. Six months and 162 games is just too long for me to pay attention. The idea of beating my friends was fun, but I could not commit to monitoring my team on a daily basis. 

With fantasy football, it's different. Though games are played on three different days every week, you really only need to set your roster once. Make sure you put in your waiver requests by the deadline and check that everyone on your team is healthy (and not on a bye week) and you're pretty much done. You can spend a lot of time digging for deep sleepers, but to be a competent fantasy GM, you only need to spend about an hour on it every week (though I find myself on there a lot more checking standings and my players' stats). Nothing I've written here is groundbreaking; in fact, anyone who plays fantasy football right now is probably asking why I've spent a couple hundred words outlining stuff any fantasy player already knows. 

I wanted to remind myself -- and the reader -- about what goes in to managing a successful fantasy football team because when the games start on Sunday (or Thursday night, whatever), I get a sense of personal satisfaction when my team does well. Not the team whose jersey I buy or whose games I go to; my fantasy team, that I assemble and manage. But when things go bad, it can really, really suck. A fantasy loss is different from a real-life loss. When my NFL team loses, it sucks, it's frustrating and it ruins my day. In college, my friends could tell how the Patriots had done each Sunday by reading my expression at the dining hall that night. 

But a fantasy loss is different. First, it lasts way longer. You can start losing on Thursday night and not finish until Monday night. Entering the Monday night game down 10 points and knowing that you could win with an outsize-but-not-totally-unrealistic performance from Darren Sproles is a frustrating way to exist. Losing due to injuries sucks as well. In real life, your team can put in a backup who, though not as good as your superstar, is still a capable NFL player (well, unless you root for the Jets). In fantasy, once your player is out, he's done scoring for the day. If his backup comes in and scores three touchdowns, his real-life team will be ecstatic but you won't score any more fantasy points. And losing in fantasy really sucks because, unlike with your real-life team, you can't commiserate with anyone else. Sure, half of all fantasy players will lose in any given week. But, as Tolstoy wrote, 

"Real-life NFL losses are all alike; every fantasy loss is a loss in its own way."

Basically, what I'm saying is that when the Patriots lose, I can read about it in the Boston Globe, listen to people talk about it on the radio and dissect it with my friends. I know that everyone's experiencing the same thing as me. With a fantasy loss, you're all alone. No one else experienced the exact same circumstances as me and, what's more; nobody cares. No one wants to hear about how I lost because the only thing they care about is how they did the week before. The most you'll get is a "Oh yeah, I had LeSean McCoy too, stinks that he fumbled away that touchdown." It can be fun to watch games of other NFL teams, but no one wants to follow a matchup of other fantasy teams. 

However, the worst part of a fantasy loss -- the part that can make it worse from a real-life loss (in rare cases) -- is that I hand something to do with it. I can scream my brains out at a Patriots game, but I never feel guilty after any of them because I know that I had no way of impacting the outcome of the game. Not so in fantasy. If I bench a guy who ends up scoring three touchdowns, I end up feeling guilty for not starting him. Even though I had no real control over it (does anyone truly know when a guy is going to erupt for three scores?), it feels like I did. It's the same feeling we get when our March Madness brackets fail. We had no way of knowing that Kansas would choke away that game to Michigan or that Florida Gulf Coast would go to the Sweet 16. But because we had the opportunity to pick them, we experience our failure differently than the failure of our team, something we have no control over. Even though both real-life and fantasy losses are determined by other people, that feeling of control and the guilt associated with it is what makes a fantasy loss different -- and sometimes, worse -- than a real one.

Oh, and for anyone who's interested in how my team turned out (which, I would guess, is no one), here's the roster for Episode III: Revenge of the Gronk. It's a points-per-reception league and we also start one individual defensive player.

Week 1 starters:
Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans
Roddy White, WR, Atlanta
Steve Smith, WR, Carolina
Stevie Johnson, WR, Buffalo
Reggie Bush, RB, Detroit
Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco
Jason Witten, TE, Dallas
Garrett Hartley, K, New Orleans
Denver defense
Chad Greenway, LB, Minnesota

Darren Sproles, RB, New Orleans
Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland
Kenbrell Thompkins, WR, New England
Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati

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