America’s Fastest Growing Skill-Betting Pastime
When we say that fantasy sports have taken off, we really mean it. From its origins in the 1960s, to its first breakout in the ‘70s and ‘80s as a pastime for stats-loving baseball fans, and to its widespread growth in the Internet era as more sports and more ways to compete as fans have emerged, fantasy sports is a long-term winner.
If you care enough about sports to understand why your team is better or worse than its archrivals, then you have the inherent desire to compare player and team statistics and project future performance. In a nutshell, that’s what fantasy sports are about – guessing better than your opponents about which athletes are going to excel.
Today fantasy sports are not only everywhere, they’re generally recognized legally within the United States and many other jurisdictions as a form of skill-based betting. It’s a great combination. Today, the Fantasy Sports Trade Association estimates that 32 million people in the United States and Canada play in at least one fantasy sports league.
Baseball and the “Rotisserie” Roots of Fantasy Sports
As mentioned, fantasy sports had its origins decades back, and sprung from the efforts of “rotisserie league” enthusiastis, who developed the early formats as a way of both learning more about the game’s inner workings and keeping closer tabs on the sport they loved.
Many of these rotisserie leagues themselves traced their own roots to a popular baseball-based board game, heavily reliant on statistics, called APBA. Those letters once stood for the “American Professional Baseball Association,” though over time the full name faded, and it became APBA, usually pronounced “app-bah”. APBA employed detailed strategy cards for hundreds of major leaguers in any given season, describing their performance in odds-based terms in many different baseball situations. For instance, an APBA card might depict how a right-handed-hitting utility fielder would perform against an opposing team’s relief ace, using cards for both players’ strengths and weaknesses, giving relative odds for hits, walks, outs of various forms, and even allowing for more rare events.
Baseball became the first and most important fantasy sport because it had the deepest tradition, the best range of stats to describe each player’s performances, and the most long-term dedicated fans. What rotisserie and fantasy leagues was to tweak the old APBA format, in which two players essentially managed a game against each other, into a season-spanning comparison of the type of stats that any casual fan could find in the daily newspaper, or later, on the Internet.
Baseball came first, but other sports followed. And for certain sports that were stat-poor a few decades back, the fantasy sports themselves have helped create and popularize new stats that have, increased the understanding of the game. Although baseball was always the richest of sports in terms of stats, a classic example would be WHIP (a formula to measure pitcher effectiveness that equals [walks+hits / innings pitched]). Three decades ago no one knew what WHIP was, while today any fantasy-baseball can tell you that a pitcher with a WHIP of 1.15 is darned good, a pitcher with a WHIP of 1.45… not so much.
The Creation of Daily Leagues
Perhaps the final step in making sports a truly interactive, day-to-day activity for sports fanatics was the invention of “daily” leagues. This type of league has proven to be very popular with sports fans who don’t want to wait an entire season to see if their selections pan out or not. Each new day’s lineup of games offers a chance to select a new lineup and try again, and dedicated fantasy-sports fans have thronged to the format.
Since most major fantasy sites also provide for interactive stats tracking as each day’s slate of games progresses, participants can see – in real time – exactly how well they’re doing. This immediate gratification is a major part of why fantasy sports have experienced another surge of growth in just the past few years.
Choose From Your Favorite Sports
Most of the major online sites which cater to United States-based players offer a roughly similar lineup of sports and formats. At DraftStreet.com, for instance, one can find fantasy contests (assuming the sport is in-season!) for:
- Fantasy Baseball (MLB)
- Fantasy Football (NFL & NCAA)
- Fantasy Basketball (NFL & NCAA)
- Fantasy Hockey (NHL)
- Fantasy Golf (PGA)
- Fantasy Soccer (MLS)
The new daily-league formats also make viable a wide range of available buy-ins, with some satellites and micro-buy-in leagues charging a dollar or less. On the top end, the priciest real money fantasy leagues can cost hundreds of dollars a shot to enter.
Such formats are highly reminiscent of online-poker tournaments, in that a few hours after they start, all the prizes have been decided. Daily fantasy leagues are highly reminiscent of online poker in another manner as well. Since the concepts are skill-based and require constant study and knowledge of player performance, it’s just like poker: The higher the buy-in, the better the players.
New fantasy-sports players should mind that, when they’re just starting out. Buy in to leagues and tournaments at the lowest available levels, and don’t move into deeper waters until you’re ready.
Learn the Formats
Perhaps the most important thing to remember for newer players is that fantasy sports are derived from the sports on which they’re based, but are not directly related to wins or losses in those same real sports. As a matter of fact, that’s part of what makes it legal, and not just a fancy form of sports-betting. Since fantasy players are not betting on the real-life success of a given team, they’re not betting on sports itself. Instead, they’re just using the stats that are produced by real-life athletes in competitions based on those statistics, many of which are made up.
Fantasy Performance is not Equal to Real-Game Sports Performance
In fantasy sports, you might draft a team that would crush most of your opponents in real life, but fails miserably when put against other teams, of different real-life players, when computed across a family of fantasy-league stats. What that means is that you, as a fantasy sports player, have to build your lineups based on the categories that are being used, and those are multiple categories for every sport. The categories themselves can be changed and mixed according to any given league’s format, though they tend to follow a basic formula, awarding points mostly for offense, a bit for defense, and awarding out-sized bonuses for performances in “signature stat” categories, like touchdown catches or home runs.
It’s understanding that complex interrelationship of all these arbitrarily defined categories that sets the good players apart from the rest. If it sounds like a lot of work, it is, but it’s a lot of fun as well. Remember that is indeed a form of skill, and one of the major skills involved is understanding how the league’s format works, and how the many players you’ll have to choose from fit into that format.
All set, then? Elsewhere on this site you’ll find an evolving lineup of the best fantasy sports sites on which you can play, along with a look at what makes the site so popular and including some of the special wrinkles and formats each site offers. Picking a site is not nearly as difficult as picking good lineups consistently, but you’ll soon find your favorites and stick with them.