It’s strange to think that, up until recently, fantasy football was considered a niche hobby. Before the internet helped to popularise the sport, those who played had to rely on listings in the Monday paper to calculate their scores, meaning it could take a whole week for a team to work out where they stand.
But things have changed since then. Online fantasy football has taken the entertainment factor of the games to the next level, creating an intense game where players can keep altering lineups right until kick off.
Now, one in three men under 50 regularly play fantasy football, compared to just five million in the 1990’s. This equates to approximately 45.9 million people in the US, as of 2019.
But why have these online platforms succeeded in making fantasy sports such a widespread phenomenon? Well, the answer is simple – the rise of dedicated fantasy apps has enabled fans to feel like they’re directly taking control of the game from the comfort of their own home.
This can be addictive for sports fans, as the allure of being a manager who gets to fine tune their lineup right until the start of match day can make the game even more competitive than it already was. For those who play in leagues, whether for fun or for money, it adds an extra intense edge to the challenge.
Another reason for the success of fantasy football is that allows fans to look beyond their own teams. If your team is having an abysmal season, with fantasy you get to pick players from rival teams and cheer them on to success instead.
In 2015, it was reported that several NFL players had started playing in their own fantasy leagues. While they once laughed off the sport, they now see the benefits it gives to fans – helping them become more invested, and bringing them closer to the action.
Casual sports fans have become addicted to NFL through playing in fantasy leagues, staying up to date on the latest player stats so they can accumulate enough points to win. Now, many spend their Sunday afternoons like football managers, on the edge of their seats, hoping that their chosen players can bag them all the points they need for the week.
As the game has grown, so has the different ways players can compete against one another. Players can compete for cash against the public, or in a dedicated league with friends, but there are also enticing ways to bring players of all skill levels on board.
There are different interactive tournaments designed for newer players, and there are several “head to head” options designed exclusively for players to try and beat their friends. The evolution of fantasy football over the past decade has ensured the game can be adapted to suit a wider array of player preferences.
The relationship between the NFL and fantasy leagues has only increased in recent years. In 2019, the organisation partnered with DraftKings to heighten the fan experience, on both the fantasy app and in sports stadiums themselves.
This has only made the game more addictive, with the DraftKings app now able to use NFL footage, designed to heighten the game experience for users. Various gaming and sports betting sites have utilised cutting edge graphics in recent years, as smartphone resolutions have increased in capability – but now, you can be immersed in the real game next to the fantasy one.
Within the next five years, DraftKings are hoping that 5G and wi-fi enhancements to smart TV’s and other internet enabled devices will make it easier to change a fantasy lineup, or place a bet on a game. With voice control, users may soon only need to tell their TV to change their draft, without having to change the channel and miss a single second of the action.
If these technological advancements weren’t enough, there are several other ways the DraftKings/NFL partnership will make the game more addictive. And one of them will see fans get immersed in the game when they go to see their team play.
With fans returning to stadiums, the online fantasy experience is expected to be brought out into the real world. There are plans for dedicated “fantasy zones” in sports stadiums, where users can see stats and promotions, in addition to being able to alter their lineups online.
These updates, both online and in the real world, will only help to make fantasy football become more addictive than it was before. Expect to see these start to take effect within the next five years.
Millions of people play fantasy football every week, and the phenomenon is only set to grow even more in the coming years. As developers create new features to make fantasy games even more competitive and addictive, it wouldn’t be a surprise if it reached new levels of popularity.