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Fantasyland

Fantasyland

Fantasy Premier League has attracted 8.9million players this season. A new study suggests this could be having a bad effect.


Transcript

Hi, I’m Andrew and this is the Playmaker. 

One story, every day, to make sense of the world of football. 

Today, could playing fantasy football be bad for your mental health? 

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So would you say if you have Cristiano Ronaldo for this gameweek, it’s fine, hold him, there’s plenty of points potential, but wait and see… would you bring him in?  

Premier League

It’s a scene played up and down the country most Saturday afternoons.

As you’re scrolling through the latest Premier League scores, you’ll hear an array of remarks, like: ‘Oh, who scored for Everton?’, or ‘Did Kevin De Bruyne get the assist for that goal?’, and ‘Ah, there goes my clean sheet bonus for Brighton!’

Fantasy games are now a huge part of sport. 100 million people in India play Fantasy cricket. 35 million Americans play Fantasy NFL. 

Globally, Fantasy Premier League has attracted 8.9million players this season. That number has more than doubled since 2015.

What was once a fairly niche pursuit for patient number-crunchers has become a mainstay for most football fans. 

The premise, if you aren’t one of these people, is straightforward enough – select players from different teams in the Premier League, who then receive points according to their real-life performance – for goals, assists, clean sheets and so on. 

For the most part, it’s a bit of fun – it makes games you wouldn’t care about that little bit more interesting, and you can compete against friends, colleagues and families for bragging rights across the season. 

However, a new study has found that playing it too much can adversely affect your mental health.

I’d be scrolling over social media and I’d be seeing these sorts of posts and… the first few times I saw some negative posts, I thought, oh, that’s just a one-off, you know, it’s, it’s a rare thing, but more and more, I kept seeing these really negative posts, this frustration, anger, even, um, depression, potentially. 

And it wasn’t even tongue in cheek. A lot of the time, you know, it was, it was serious, or at least serious, sounding post.

And I just thought, you know, this is interesting. Is there anything behind this? Is there any research behind this? So I looked into it, there was nothing on this and just, it’s one of those things as a scientist, you’re like, okay, well, if there’s nothing on it, then I’ll do it myself.

Luke Wilkins

That’s Luke Wilkins from Nottingham Trent University. 

He’s authored a new study that found players who engaged most with fantasy football were more likely to suffer from low mood and anxiety when playing or thinking about the game.

The research found that while only 25% of participants reported mild low mood, among what they called ‘high engagement players,’ this number increased to 44%.

A ‘high engagement player’ is classified as someone who plays in six or more leagues, plays for more than 45 minutes a day, and researches their teams for over an hour a day. 

This sounds like a lot of time spent of the game – but with the rise of fantasy sports, there has also been an accompanying rise in fantasy football content available, offering help to improve your teams.

There are dozens of fantasy football tips podcasts, YouTube channels dedicated to the game, and websites offering premium, paid-for services to get the edge over your rivals. 

All this is quite amazing when you remember the first prize for winning the overall Premier League fantasy game is only a seven-night break, VIP tickets to two Premier League matches, a games console and a watch. 

But this is assuming that people’s emotions are all tied to being number one – which, given the astronomical odds of winning, for most it isn’t.

The type of people that end up winning the overall global leaderboard have spreadsheets of strategy and points forecasts. 

The chess grandmaster, Magnus Carlsen, was at one point the number one player in the world in 2019.

So for many, it’s about one-upmanship – which, as any football fan will tell you, is currency when it comes to talking about the game. 

From chatting to people and from doing this sort of research, fantasy football and knowledge of football is reflected in fantasy performance.

At least that’s the perception of individuals. So they believe that their fantasy performance indicates how smart they are about football. And being knowledgeable about football is very important to a lot of people.

As a big football fan myself, it’s important to me. I want people to think and maybe know that I’m knowledgeable about the game.

And when you pride yourself on that, when you attach your identity to something like that, then obviously demonstrating, um, superiority or performance, or at least competency in that area is obviously going to be really crucial.

Luke Wilkins

We should say, there are some positives from the study. 

The majority of players experienced no mental health concerns regarding their fantasy football teams.

It also seems that people who have been playing for a few seasons take setbacks in their stride a bit more.. 

The researchers also found that players who’d been playing for 11 years or more reported significantly better mental health than those that had been playing for a shorter amount of time

This could be because those able to better manage their mental health may continue to play the game, or that individuals had developed more effective coping mechanisms over the years. 

This is the first research of its kind, and Luke says there is plenty more scope for further studies to better understand the psychological effects of playing fantasy games.

So, before you get rid of Ronaldo and then beat yourself up if he scores a hat-trick next week… try to remember it’s meant to be fun.

And if it all feels like it’s getting too much, think about this: some people actually get paid for knowing a lot about football and someone still ends up at the bottom of the league.

But, if you feel like it’s all getting too much, exercise caution.

These games are designed to be fun – try to keep it that way. 

Today’s story was written by Andrew Butler, and produced by Studio Klong.