Fantasy Football is by far the most popular fantasy game in the US, with 78% of the over 60 million fantasy players partaking in the football version of the game in 2018. This is largely due to the overwhelming popularity of the NFL in comparison to the other big four sports, and the availability of fantasy football games in comparison to other sports. Daily fantasy websites also have more gambling options available that center around football, which brings gamblers into the mix which is another area in which football is king in the US. Fantasy football was also the original fantasy sports game, so it has been around the longest and fans have the most familiarity and understanding of it. Unlike baseball, the football season is also relatively short, which makes it easier to manage a team and stay committed to playing fantasy games. Familiarity with drafting players from playing Madden is another reason that fantasy football is so popular, especially amongst gamers. The NFL has done a great job of incorporating fantasy football into its coverage of games too, with the RedZone channel being specifically designed for fantasy players to keep track of scoring plays from every game on one channel.
Madden players will know that there are many similarities between playing certain modes in the game and playing fantasy football. Madden has been around in some form since 1989, and its franchise mode, which gives players total control over the creation and running of an NFL franchise, was introduced in the early 2000’s. In franchise mode, one of the tasks that players are required to do is drafting a roster in a full 32-team draft. This is very similar to fantasy football in that fantasy players have to draft their team, often in 12-team leagues, with other players and teams vying to get the best players ahead of them. This control over the team in franchise mode extends to managing a roster throughout the season, which can mean making cuts, trades and claiming players off the waiver wire when available depending on the needs of the team. Fantasy football also involves this aspect of management of a team through a season as players must keep up with the performances and injury status of the players on their team, as well as others around the league, in order to maximise their success by adding and dropping players at different times. Franchise mode in Madden demands the same observance, skills, and knowledge of one’s own team and players on other teams as fantasy football does in order to succeed. In both games, the player is in complete control of everything involved in their team, and the team’s success is entirely reliant on the player and their level of investment into the details of the respective games. There is also the added similarity of playing against other teams every week, so the games share that competitive aspect too with players being able to form leagues against friends or join online leagues with random players.
Fantasy football will always have the point of difference of the control of the outcome ultimately being down to what happens in the professional game played by NFL players each week, but the drafting and roster maintenance aspects have become increasingly similar to the job of a head coach and general manager in the NFL. For example, players at DraftKings Fantasy Football, must bench and promote players from their roster based on performance just as an NFL coach must, whilst drafting a roster based on projections just like a GM does. Injuries, suspensions and retirements also influence the running of a fantasy team like they do an NFL franchise, and the relation between the fantasy game and the professional league will always be strong given the dependency on real events for the game to be played.
The game has developed over the years to include most of the aspects that a GM has to deal with on a day to day basis such as the waiver wire, which is a very real feature in the NFL, and it will not be surprising to see yet more features added. Perhaps players will be required to face media related tasks such as pre and post-game press conferences in the future and make comments on the actions of players on their rosters, which would bring the game closer to the real managerial experience and the Madden franchise experience too. Currently fantasy leagues redraft players every year, so another addition might be the retention of a players roster from year to year with the draft becoming solely for rookie players.
This would certainly bring the fantasy game much closer to the real experience of running an NFL franchise with long term roster building and scouting of college players becoming more and more important, and injuries becoming ever more fatal to the outcome of a season. Fantasy football has certainly come a long way since its creation in the 1960’s, and it will be intriguing to see how the game develops over the next decade and if it becomes closer to the real managerial experience of those that run NFL franchises. The demand for advances in the game will absolutely be there as more and more players come into it, and especially as gambling becomes more ingrained into the fantasy experience so developments are inevitable.