Photo Credit: Brian Bisping, Star Tribune
I don't know how, but I was dragged back into fantasy football this year. I hate fantasy football. My only excuse is that's a good opportunity to network with some of my peers and... I dunno... win some money.
But otherwise fantasy football is mostly bullshit. It doesn't require a particularly strong grasp of football knowledge or strategy. All the player knowledge you could ever want is just a Google search away. Rather, the people who understand basic stock strategy are the ones who do the best: buying low and selling high, finding players with upside who can become lottery tickets, and cashing in at the right moment.
Beyond that, it's all luck. Last time I played fantasy, I rode Thomas Rawls all the way into the playoff semifinals. And you know what happened? He destroyed his knee. That's fantasy for you.
What fantasy is mostly good for is checking your app every five seconds for updates, scrounging injury reports, and saying things like, "Well, I obviously want the Vikings to win, but I also need Aaron Rodgers to throw three touchdowns in a losing effort." It winds up turning you against your own team. It's the worst.
There are a couple things that pull people into fantasy football (outside of the sheer inertia of everyone playing it, that is). First, the fact that they know enough about football to draft David Johnson first overall, which makes them believe that they can totally win. Second, the excitement of team-building. As an RPG fan, I know a thing or two about team-building. It's pretty much my favorite thing about the genre!
That was pretty much me when I started playing Fantasy Football back in 2001. Somewhere in the back of my mind I felt like I was building an actual team, rather than a collection of stats. It was like Pokemon with large beefy men!
But as the years passed, I became frustated with the total lack of control I had over my team's production. I could put together a great lineup, make a few steals, and still have them randomly underperform because Tom Brady decided to favor a different receiver that day. There's a level of helplessness to fantasy football that makes the gamer inside me rage.
It wasn't until 2010 that I find what I was actually looking for: Madden Online CFM. At first, I didn't take it too seriously; but after a few games, it finally clicked—this was what I had been looking for the entire time.
Madden's franchise mode tends to catch a lot of heat from purists, not the least because it's seemingly been deprioritized in the face of Ultimate Team's ongoing success, but it does have one very important feature: the ability to form a league with your friends.
In Online CFM, you can build your team however you like. You can make wild trades (my favorite being a massive three teamer involving Adrian Peterson, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and a bunch of others); you can obsessively scout and develop rookies, then give them nicknames like "Sweet BBQ," and you can play through multiple seasons. Flawed as it can be at times—and Madden has been really flawed over the years—it's a football fan's dream.
The moment I discovered Madden Online CFM, I was broken on fantasy football forever. There was just no way that watching a bunch of random players tick up stats could ever be as satisfying as building my own super team and directing it to the Super Bowl against my friends. This was actually like playing Football Pokemon.
Fantasy football can never match the moment I had recently, when I completed a wild comeback to earn a trip to the Super Bowl and keep alive my perfect season. Down a touchdown with a minute and a half to go, I was literally five yards from losing when my opponent decided to go deep for a dagger to the heart, which I was able to intercept. What followed was an epic 99-yard march down the field that culminated in a game-tying touchdown with four seconds remaining.
I mean, how can fantasy football even come close?
Over the years I've continued to play fantasy football in one form or another, but the edge is long gone. If I join a league, it's usually because I want to socialize, which is what's happening this year. I'll set my lineup; I'll watch the games, and when it's all said and done, I'll forget about fantasy football entirely.
I know I'm not alone in this. Plenty of people have expressed frustration and boredom with fantasy over the years. It's not the same, they say. There's no such thing as a sleeper anymore because there's so much information available on the Internet. Winning consistently requires too much luck.
If you're one of those people, I have good news: there is an alternative. And if you can get a few friends together and get a proper league going, you'll be shocked at how quickly fantasy football becomes an afterthought.
Looking for tips and strategies? Check out our complete guide to Madden 18.