How Much is Success in Fantasy Football Down to Pure Luck?

by Andy Stitzer
2022 Fantasy Football Key Offseason Moves

Fantasy football may seem like a relatively new phenomenon. In fact, it’s now over 60 years old.

The earliest form of the game was invented way back in 1962 by the trio of Bill Winkenbach, Bill Tunnel and Scotty Stirling. All three were connected to the Oakland Raiders and used the downtime on an away trip with the team to come up with the basic format.

Back then they could hardly have anticipated just how massive the game would become.

Today it’s estimated that almost 60 million Americans play fantasy sports of all kinds with football being the most popular. 17% of NFL fans are said to participate regularly, using their knowledge of the sport to compete in leagues, against friends or simply to increase their enjoyment of the season itself.

There are even big money prizes to be won for the most successful fantasy players.

Naturally, this huge demand for the activity has led to many fantasy football sites arising offering a very slick and automated way to play – a far cry from the origins of the sport where results and performances had to be noted down with paper and pencil.

But one question has always dominated fantasy football from its earliest days. Is success as much down to luck as it is to knowledge and skill?

To try to reach an answer there are several elements to examine – the tactics that can be employed, the knowledge needed and the role of intuition.

Tactical choices make a difference

To stand any chance of success in fantasy football a player is going to need a very firm grasp on the tactics involved.

The first of these comes with the draft of the squad. It would be great if it could be packed with superstar players, but the budget available combined with their high prices means that this isn’t possible.

So the player needs to carefully construct their team with a mix of experienced players and rookies who look to have great potential.

Then it’s a question of being flexible enough to mix up the team week by week for maximum effectiveness.

Knowledge, another essential ingredient

To make effective decisions in the fantasy game there’s also the need for in-depth knowledge in a number of areas.

For example, keeping an eye on which players are in especially good form at any one time is critical, especially when there are opportunities to make transfers.

A knowledge about how particular teams have performed against each other in the past is also important as is their recent record. Even a team’s ability to win away from their home stadium will have a bearing.

Luckily for the fantasy football player, there has never been so much data and knowledge so easily available as there is today. It’s fair to say that if a stat exists you’ll be able to find it online somewhere.

There are also countless blogs and fan sites packed with opinions, theories and even quite a few facts too.

Intuition plays its part too

So, as you can see, there is more than enough that sits behind the running of a fantasy football team that is more about judgment than luck.

But that’s not to say that having a hunch or two can’t also play a part. So, the ability to use a little intuition also has a not insignificant part to play.

You might just have a feeling that a team or an individual who has been experiencing a dip in performance is set to come good. Or it may be that you can sense that there may be a major upset on the way. One tried and trusted tactic is to check out the odds for the most likely scenarios and pick your team from there, the NFL week 1 odds suggest filling your team with KC Chiefs players could be a solid strategy.

Having said that, a hunch doesn’t have to be backed by any kind of logic, that’s the beauty of intuition.

Lucky or not?

When a hunch does pay off then it can certainly be claimed that luck has played a part in fantasy football success. But it also needs to have been accompanied by solid tactics and knowledge.

It’s also undeniable that luck will have played some part in any successful player’s season, even if it’s forgetting to make a planned switch which then turns out for the best.

But just crossing your fingers and picking a team by putting a metaphorical pin in the list of available players is never going to work.

Where to next?

Amidst this debate there’s also the question of what the future holds for fantasy football as a whole. As with so many other elements of the world at the moment AI is probably the answer.

The technology’s increasing sophistication could mean that more and more players will be using bots of some kind to pick their teams.

If and when this happens then we’ll be able to safely declare that logic, not luck, is at the heart of success in fantasy football.

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