A generation has passed since I began playing fantasy sports. In the early 90s, as a teenager obsessed with baseball, I jumped on the fantasy train as soon as I was introduced to what was then known as Rotisserie baseball, the original fantasy game. As the game began to grow, and eventually explode thanks to the internet, I was so happy that more and more kinds of games began to emerge as my passion was getting harder to appease. Just when I was getting sick of only playing baseball, American football came along. Before you knew it, there was a fantasy version of everything, with bass fishing always making me smile, trying to imagine exactly how that could even work!
I will never forget the day I found out about fantasy Premier League. A buddy who I play fantasy NFL with tipped me off about it and it was like opening the door to a room in your house that you didn't even know you had. I was especially interested in the formatting of the game, specifically the idea of having a budget, having the chance to own any player you wanted and having a market where player's values changed week-to-week based on their performance and subsequent ownership.
You see, for many of you out there, this method of playing fantasy sports may be the first you ever encountered, and many of you may only know of that style of game if you are unfamiliar with other American-based fantasy leagues. In Europe and other parts of the world where sports betting is perfectly legal, the salary cap game that is implemented with sites like FPL.com has worked like a charm. In the United States though, where betting isn't as easy a hobby to get into, the American style fantasy game evolved into something where instead of predicting a score and giving money over to a bookie, fantasy leagues could be set up where every manager "buys in", the money is collected in a pool, and the best of the best were rewarded financially along with the priceless respect that comes with it. With interest in the Premier League growing every year in the states, American-style fantasy games are beginning to influence the PL fantasy game, creating another new way to enjoy playing even more.
That is where I come in -- to open yet another door for those yearning for more ways to get their fix. There are a growing number of new sites online hosting new versions of fantasy Premier League that is designed in the traditional American format. For those that may be used to only the traditional FPL, Yahoo Fantasy Premier League or SkySports versions that currently dominate the PL fantasy landscape, take a look below at some of the major differences in the style of play with the traditional American game:
1,) It's no longer you versus the World - With FPL, the goal is to get the highest overall ranking in the world, with sub-leagues allowing the chance to finish high in a smaller pool of competitors. There are head-to-head mini leagues you can sign up for with friends to create a more exclusive league that mirrors an actual league table. Inevitably though in most weeks, managers can only focus on making a move that will hopefully enhance their overall rank, and then just hope it translates to success within the h2h mini leagues.
WIth draft style play, it is all about competition within a managable group of owners. You create a league with an even number of managers, typically numbering 10, 12, or 14 in total but sometimes as little as 6 or 8 or as many as 16, 18 or 20. It really increases your profile as a manager with the peers you play against in this format. Now you are Jose Mourinho going specifically head-to-head with Arsene Wenger in a given week, not Jose Mourinho against 2.5 million faceless managers. It heightens the intensity to a level that cannot be compared to with the global ranking format, especially during the week building up to your matchup because all you are doing is scrutinizing your opponent's team and thinking exactly what you need to do to beat them. It is virtually impossible to trash talk the FPL universe when you have a gameweek where you throw up 140 points. In draft leagues, trash talk is front and center.
2.) If you want Christian Eriksen, he's yours -- and only yours - The biggest difference between the two styles of game lies here. In FPL, Yahoo, etc, - you can own any player, assuming he can be afforded in your budget, and that player can be owned theoretically by every manager in the world. Surely you remember the days of Luis Suarez? It really was a matter of putting the best X out there, not the best XI, because if you didn't have Suarez, you were wasting your time. What this inevitably leads to each season is a template-looking fantasy team as the year wears on because managers tend to gravitate to certain players and there are only so many in the pool worth considering to bring in.
Draft leagues are so-named because it all begins in a draft with you and the other managers in your league, where the entire player pool is available to select and one-by-one, managers add a player when it is their turn to select (or in case of auction, whoever wins the bid). That means when you draft Christian Eriksen, he is yours and only yours, unless, like in real life, you decide to cut him from your team or propose a swap with another manager that sees you get something in return. There is a heightened sense of a connection to a player when he belongs to you alone. Depending on their performance, there is a noticable increase in pride or disdain for a player in the eyes of the manager that owns him.
3.) Draft types - Snake versus Auction - With the concept of holding a draft with the handful of managers in your league comes two distinct options - round by round drafts, also known as snake drafts, and auctions drafts. First with round-by-round - A draft order is set in advance to determine who has the very first pick, then who picks second, and so on. When each manager has taken their first player, that is a round of the draft in the books. The reason it is known as a snake draft is that with each round, the order of picks is completely reversed. This allows for balance as the manager who is lucky enough to get whoever he or she wants with the very first pick in the first round wiil then get the last pick of the second round. They would then have the first pick of the third round followed by the last pick in the fourth round and so on.
In auction, the concept of a budget that is so important in formats like FPL still comes into play. At the beginning of the draft, each manager is given an equal set amount of cash with which to bid on players. This allows more flexibility for the "look" of your team. Naturally in a round by round draft, you simply could never select Sergio Aguero AND Eden Hazard. You may not even get one of them. If you have a late first round pick, they would already both be gone. With auction, the player goes to the highest bidder. So if your dream as a fantasy manager is to have Aguero and Hazard on the same team, it can be done - the manager will simply have to budget for much lesser talent for the rest of their team.
No matter which style draft you choose, one thing is certain - Draft Day, where you get together online or in person with your fellow managers, is always a ton of fun.
4) Redraft, Keeper and Dynasty leagues - This is where you can gauge just how much of a fanatic you are. Because of the intimacy of a smaller league, and the ability for all managers within to communicate relatively easily, there is always the option to set up a league that has a scope beyond that of a single season. Redraft leagues are by far the most common style of league from this group, especially with the casual player, as the game begins and ends within one PL season. After the season ends and a winner is declared, the landscape is wiped clean for a new season and a new draft with the chance to own a completely different core of players.
If you want to add a bit of realism though, you can participate in a keeper league. The idea is to have an initial draft as usual, but with the rule in mind that a certain number of players under your control at season's end can be carried over to the next season. For example, you may draft a roster of 16 players and be allowed four keepers. The strategy is to keep the best four players that will help you the next season and beyond. In a vaccuum, it is safe to say that Petr Cech is a better fantasy keeper for the upcoming season than say Stoke City's Jack Butland. But, you may want to consider Butland as a better keeper option as he has another potential 15 years of playing ahead of him while Chech, only a fraction of that in his advanced years.
Dynasty leagues are pretty much like keeper leagues, but taken even more to the extreme. Usually a dynasty league will have larger rosters and the idea is to put together a team built to win now while running what amounts to something like a youth squad at the same time. The idea is to get in early on a prospect and lock him up as your property. The managers who show a good eye for developing talent would then theoretically see their expertise rewarded in the coming seasons as his or her roster's talent level grows and grows. Imagine having been the first to have Harry Kane on your radar two or three seasons ago while already having ownership of Aguero in your initial draft. Those who know what they are doing can build a deadly squad.
5.) The rules are - There Ain't No Rules - One thing in common for all the styles of draft games mentioned here is that every league needs a commissioner. The commissioner's job is usually a thankless one but a very necessary one as well. The commish would be the one to initially set up a league and determine its size and draft style. Along with that comes the ever-so-important establishment of the league's rules and scoring system. When playing a global league, you are at the mercy of the scoring system and rules established by that league. Even in mini-leagues, there is nothing one can change, you just sit back and wait for the results. Not so when you have a commissioner. Most sites that host draft leagues are completely customizable, allowing the commissioner the freedom to create the best possible gameplay. You can pick which categories will be scored in the league in an a la carte fashion. You can also change the values of each scoring event to your liking. So perhaps you want a clearances category for defenders or a shot on target category for any outfielder. Perhaps you want a SOT to be worth 1 point, perhaps 2 points, perhaps half a point. The choice is up to you. A good commish will set up the scoring system so that there is a balance between positions, so that a talent like defensive midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin can carry similar value to someone like David Silva.
6.) I drafted the perfect team, its now Week 6, and its clear my team STINKS - One may think you are stuck riding out an entire season with a team of players you selected in the draft that look to all be rubbish after a month or two. That simply isn't so. Any players that go undrafted are collected in a free agent pool, and depending on how the rules in your league are set up, you have the opportunity to cut a player from your team and use the open roster spot to bring in an unowned player from the free agent pool. Between that method of player movement and conducting player swaps in transfer deals with other commissioners, your Week 38 team may only have a couple of guys remaining from that Week 6 side.
7,) You say Tomato -- transfers versus trades - As any American who doesn't follow global soccer about transfers in fantasy sports, and they may think you are talking about moving to a new school. With American fantasy, players swapping team-to-team are known as trades. There isn't a better term for it when you stop and think that fantasy sports is very common to playing the stock market. Trading occurs in both. In a draft league, managers can set up rules to allow for various methods of trading players as well as how to have first crack at a player in the free agent pool via the "waiver wire". You can set deadlines for transactions like this, set limits on how many can be done, or implement a free agent bank to limit how many players you can move in and out. Basically, the commish can tailor a league to be as close to the real thing as possible or set up something they feel would make the game even better. Every league is unique assuming you do not follow all the default settings.
If you have never tried this style of game before, I urge you to feed your curiosity and try to play in one this year. Now is the time to start thinking about it as typically you need time to arrange your league and set up a draft which should usually take place about a week out from Matchday One. If you are looking for a league to join, I am sure I will be participating in some that will have space, so drop a line at my Twitter feed @FuzzyWarbles in the coming weeks and I can help guide you to your next fantasy Pl adventure. The two sites that are leading the way right now with this format is Fantrax.com and PlayTogga.com, so get your buddies together, register a league, send out the invites, and get to playing a new level of fantasy Premier League.