The origins of fantasy football stretch all the way back to 1961, when a minority owner and two newspaper staffers from the Oakland Raiders devised the first form of the game to entertain themselves. From those beginnings, fantasy sports have become an online behemoth that over 59 million people played in the year 2017. Initially, fantasy football grew steadily, while the baseball version of fantasy sport was played more, until the late 80’s when the first national fantasy football magazine came out. Ian Allan and Bruce Taylor’s Fantasy Football Index was first released in 1987 and newsstands stocked 5000 copies nationwide, exposing the game to a whole new audience. The advent of the internet in the 90’s further enhanced the game’s growth as players could now communicate and online games began to be released, starting with CBS and Yahoo.
The early 2000’s saw yet another revolution as the creation of social media websites, more free games, and smart phones allowed more player interaction and easier access to games. According to the FSGA the game gained 11 million players in the year 2008 alone, leading to the NFL’s Red Zone channel being released in 2009 where viewers see scoring plays alone in an attempt to provide a fantasy tailored viewing experience. Broadcasters began to hire fantasy experts too, such as ESPN’s Matthew Berry, and fantasy draft companies began to emerge. These companies, like DraftKings, allowed users to play a variety of fantasy sports against others from around the world and place bets on their action. Owing to all of these factors, with social media as the biggest driver, by 2016 an estimated 57.6 million people played fantasy sports.
The fantasy football industry in the US is an enormous industry that is now valued at over $7 billion overall and is expanding into new demographics all the time. The popularity of the game has led to most large online casinos offering their own leagues, giving people who have often only gambled on card games and live sports, the chance to try something new. This is also true of esports enthusiasts and gamers, who may see fantasy football as a new type of challenge due to the fact that success in the game is based on real events every week on the football field. Whilst the skill involved in online gaming relies upon an understanding of a fictional universe, fantasy football is rooted in reality, and there is immense skill involved in drafting a roster, using statistics and foresight to one’s advantage, and keeping up to date with performances of players around the league week-in, week-out in order to win over a 17 game season. The time and effort gamers in the esports world put into honing their skills and mastering the craft of a particular game will certainly translate to fantasy sports, and there is even the chance to play fantasy esports where gamers would certainly have an advantage over casual viewers or enthusiasts of other sports. Over half of fantasy sports players fall into the 18-34 age range which perfectly aligns with the younger generation of gamers who could absolutely see their skills being transferable between fantasy sports and esports. The fact that there are fantasy esports leagues available would be a big attraction to gamers, and having set up accounts to play in those leagues, those of them that watch football would likely be tempted to take part in fantasy football sites like DraftKings.com.
Over 20 million Americans tune in to the NFL every week during the season, making the likelihood of a crossover between gaming interest and football interest relatively high so it is inevitable that there will be some growth seen in how popular fantasy football is amongst the gaming community. The chance to win big money in national NFL fantasy leagues would also be hugely attractive to those gamers who may not be earning a lot in the gaming world, with prize money for the NFL Fantasy Perfect Challenge sitting at $1 million and the Fantasy Football World Championships offering $150,000 to the winner. Elite gamers who are top earners in their sport may also be attracted to this in order to diversify their legacy. The very fact that esports fantasy leagues exist show that there is a demand for these games amongst gamers, which almost certainly stems from playing fantasy football in the past. Gamers that play Madden will also have an edge and understanding of players and teams that allows them to succeed at fantasy football, so there are a plethora of reasons for esports enthusiasts to try their hand in the fantasy world.
Fantasy football is one of America’s favourite pastimes, as the evidence highlights. There are more places to play the game than ever, more places to discuss the game than ever, and more resources available than ever to help players succeed. The crossover to the gaming world is a natural one with the skills developed by esports players being highly transferable to fantasy football, especially those already holding a keen interest in the NFL. There is no doubt that gamers enjoy fantasy football, especially with daily fantasy sites available where money can be wagered on leagues and individual matchups. The game is pervasive in homes worldwide, with even NFL coverage geared towards making fantasy football relevant, and gamers are not immune from being won over and engaging their competitive sides in a slightly different manner.