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Boom, bust, sleeper

What is fantasy football, and why the hype?
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JESSICA LAM/THE VARSITY
JESSICA LAM/THE VARSITY

The 2022 season of the NFL is in full swing. Accompanying this new football season is, of course, every fan’s favourite pastime: fantasy football. Although fantasy football memes seem to devour the social media feeds of football fans every year, many fans are still unfamiliar with the activity and miss out on this essential component of football culture. 

So what is fantasy football and how does it work? Many fantasy football apps are available in Canada, some of the most popular being NFL Fantasy, ESPN Fantasy Sports, and Yahoo! Fantasy Football

The sizes of leagues vary, but they tend to consist of around 10 teams who all partake in the same 17-game competition. Each league starts with a draft, the objective being to assemble a team that typically consists of eight skill position players from various NFL teams — one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, and one kicker — as well as the defense of an entire team, for example, the Buffalo Bills’ defense. 

There are typically two types of drafts: straight drafts, with an identical selection order for each team every round of the draft, or a snake draft, which is a more impartial option. In a snake draft, the order of player selection varies every round to prevent teams at lower positions in the draft from missing out on key players. This is a good thing, considering there is nothing more insufferable than having to settle for Sam Darnold as your team’s quarterback. 

The hope by the end of the draft is that you have successfully assembled a team that will be able to garner enough points to dominate each of your weeks’ games. The points systems of leagues vary; however, all systems of earning points rely on statistics from the live NFL games. From these games, in-game statistics of individual offensive players in different skill positions and the entire defense of one team are used to calculate points for the fantasy football team. These in-game statistics include things like touchdowns made, yards ran, and field goals scored by the players in the game.

Team owners then face off against each other in a round-robin, where each owner plays a different team every week. The finale of every fantasy league is the fantasy playoffs during the final few weeks of the NFL regular season, with the fantasy champion crowned at the end of the regular season.

For many, fantasy football is no joke, with an entire market of fantasy experts and analysts capitalizing on the craze. Team owners tend to use in-app and external advice on platforms to find the best players to draft and strategies that both self-proclaimed expert fans and professional sports analysts stand by. 

But why is fantasy football taken so seriously? The answer is simple: many users choose to join leagues with rewards from the platform like ESPN’s sweepstakes, as well as unofficial wagers between players. Despite some legal grey areas in Canada regarding whether fantasy football is considered gambling, fantasy football and sports betting seem to go hand in hand with companies like DraftKings, where fans have the option to bet and compete in fantasy at the same time. 

Nevertheless, fantasy football is a game of skill, requiring time and emotional investment. This investment is well worth it for most, as the added stake in real NFL games makes fantasy football more enjoyable and exciting. Coming from a New York Giants fan, this is especially the case when the NFL team you support has produced lacklustre football in recent years. 

So gather your football-watching friends or venture alone, because whether you’re a die-hard football fan who won’t settle for just watching, or a casual viewer pursuing some additional skin in the game, fantasy football is undoubtedly one of the best ways to get more immersed in this year’s NFL season.