Monday, March 21, 2011

Confessions of a Sports Fan

I've established that I've done some pretty geeky things in my life. Anything involving miniatures is probably near the top of that list of shame, right there with watching an entire season of Chobits and that time Alex, Jason and I turned a Ravenloft adventure into an improv musical.

But the geekiest thing I've ever done in my life is something that takes up a significant percentage of my current time: Fantasy Sports.

I realize that anything with "Sports" in the title (that doesn't also include the word "Mario") is probably the last thing any readers of this blog want to spend time thinking about. Luke, you can look away now. Or just replace the word "sports" in the rest of this post with other words like _______ and ________ ala Mad Libs.

The inversion of cool over the past couple decades is something we've all noticed. And while Buffy's Dad is heading the all-anticipated avengers, and Comic-Con draws more and more people without neckbeards, professional sports has recently started hiring kids out of Harvard to head their organizations instead of the usual nepotism of handing down sports dynasties to old sports stars. Nerds at computers crunch numbers and tell the jocks what to do.

There's one commercial that airs on ESPN that probably none of you have seen. Stereotypical jocks are at a cafeteria table chatting up obscure sabermetric statistics when stereotypical geeks walk up to them and call them nerds. While not the wittiest joke in the world, this commercial is better than 99% of sports ads because instead of playing up to the mock manliness of unmanly men, it's actually really accurate.

If anything, the commercial fails to show just how geeky sports fans can be. The douchiest of douchebags walking into a bar, with his Tony Romo NFL jersey, flat-billed Yankee baseball cap, overly manicured beard and cocky demeanor, is probably harboring ten Fantasy Sports teams on his Blackberry app. He probably checks his phone for updated stats multiple times an hour and boasts about his insight into game theory. Most people will overhear the word "Arod" or "Kobe" and write him off as your typical jock jerk, and miss the irony that this dude in a sports bar is more of a geek than the kid wearing a blanket for a cape playing Dungeons and Dragons with video game soundtracks playing in the background.

"Fantasy Sports" is not a misnomer. This is a game invented by anti-jocks, writers and accountants with too much free time. Just as D&D players pretend to be knights and wizards, the Fantasy Sports enthusiast pretends to be the General Manager of a sports organization. It's a different kind of daydream, but it plays out the same way, with stats and attributes and the accumulation of points and trophies.

The easiest way to describe how Fantasy Sports works is that you invest in professional sports players in the same way that one invests in stocks. If your "stock" does well, your portfolio does well, and over the course of a season, you can buy/sell/trade assets in an effort to have the best portfolio in your group. There are zillions of variations on this theme, but in essence, that's how it works.

That may sound either dull or relatively ungeeky, but consider that it's really just a pen & paper version of playing a sports video game. When it comes to wizards and knights, the term "pen & paper" is pretty socially damning, but if you think about it, Fantasy Sports is worse. Traditional geeks play D&D to spend quality time with their friends during off hours, while sports geeks obsess over their fantasy team every hour of the day, not realizing that their relative inexpertise in the matter reduces the strategy of gameplay to nothing more than die rolls and heroism.

Consider also that the internet is infested with Fantasy Sports "experts" writing articles and blogs offering tips and advice to Fantasy Sports enthusiasts, an empire of gaming that has recently expanding into the billions of the dollars. The jockiest of jocks might follow the advise of one of these internet gurus not knowing that most of these sports bloggers are those same kids who played Magic: The Gathering during high school lunch hour (whom they would never have talked to at the time).

I am hopelessly addicted to Fantasy Sports. I am hopelessly addicted to sports blogs and podcasts and whathaveyou, and while it is true that I grew up playing sports and have always been a bit of a fan, my growing obsession with it these days has as much to do with my passion for geeky games and pen & paper competition as my love for the sports themselves. I am fascinated by obscure statistics in sports just as I am fascinated by obscure statistics in everything. It's the spiritual successor to Dungeons and Dragons in my life and I find it funny how 90% of Fantasy Sports enthusiasts in the world are completely oblivious to the similarities.

As I sit here at work reading sports blogs, Alex sometimes sends me a link to an article on Magic: The Gathering. Another friend sometimes sends me a link to articles related to Street Fighter. And I can't help but notice how identical they all are.


  1. Though I deeply dislike most competitive sports, I have to agree about the nerd aspect. In fact Alex and I were just having this conversation recently.

    But this post begs the question -- isn't everybody a nerd? Whether you're into cooking, collecting Beanie Babies, Jesus, or dick (I liked the juxtaposition), I feel like everyone is categorizing, obsessing over, keeping stats on, and coveting at least something. I mean, fuck, if there were a Fantasy Federal Courts, I'd totally play (and win). Relatedly, I wish I knew how to develop software because I would make that into a program in a second.