Fantasy Sports – the Ultimate ARG?

I enjoyed learning and reading about Ingress over at Kill Ten Rats although I have never played the Alternate Reality Game and I don’t have the personal drive or interest to partake in it. While drafting my team in our annual Fantasy Football league (five years running) I started thinking about how maybe Fantasy Football is a lot like an ARG and maybe I have been playing ARGs for longer than I realize. Fantasy Sports in general is pretty big – some estimates that in 2014 over 40 million will participate in the USA and Canada alone and other reports show that Fantasy sports is a 1.4B (yes, billion) industry. Of those, Football is by far the highest in terms of participation percentages.

fantasy chart

This graph has nothing to do with ARG

People take it pretty seriously and like many hobbies there is a range of time investment. There is also a range of skill investment – from knowing the teams players are on, to knowing their matchups, to planning ahead. The league I pay in has three $500 payouts and a grand prize of $3500. That is by no means chump change. (Well, maybe it is to you, but not to me). I won the overall points total two years in a row ($500 prizes) and the league playoffs ($3500) once. I run a lot of spreadsheets prior to draft day and have a solid draft and waiver wire strategy.

The thing is, I am not even a huge football fan.

I enjoy football and have “my” team (Denver Broncos – since the Elway era!) and like most Canadians who grew up on hockey I picked my football team not based on where I lived  but because my brother was a huge fan – and he introduced me to the sport. How he became a fan I don’t even know. I have followed them ever since the Orange Crush days. Football is one of the most passionately followed sports in the USA, one of the richest sports leagues in the world (I once read that all teams have broken even before the first game is even played) and because of this is under a lot of scrutiny lately. They seem to be addressing and adjusting and while I am getting off topic here the point is Football is kind of a big deal – but is it’s Fantasy component an Altered Reality Game?

I think so – even by definition alone. From our dear friends at Wikipedia:

An alternate reality game (ARG) is an interactive networked narrative that uses the real world as a platform and uses transmedia storytelling to deliver a story that may be altered by players’ ideas or actions.

The real world platform is the football field and the outcome of our digital leagues are fully dependent on our choices and how they produce in the real world – and that is where the altered part comes into play. It is also a pretty brilliant fan base builder. I watch games now based on what players I have playing – not who I care about winning or losing. Every play has more impact on how my personal league journey goes than the overall football league itself – to me. Some may argue that that is not enough to put it in ARG territory but there are millions of people every week playing football through a scorekeeping app or webpage – and it isn’t just on Thursday, Sundays and Mondays.  I would argue that it is one of the strongest ARGs based on participation alone. The fact that real world events have a major impact on the outcome is an attractor – I had four players go out last week injured in the first half of their games (and lost, horribly) and no amount of foresight, strategy or planning could have changed that. That was exciting to me. Then again, I have a big love for randomization that others may not.

This is good news for ARG enthusiasts and developers. Not only is there an existing gigantic market to tap into if done correctly but the practice of this style of participation exists. It is one thing to have someone glued to a fictional event at a determined real world location and use your phone to interact – it is another to tie the real world into it and impact the gaming experience. I haven’t played an “official” ARG but  Fantasy Football seems like some of the best potential the genre has.

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