A thrilling Monday Night Football game between the Green Bay Packers and the Las Vegas Raiders Oct. 9 had me glued to my screen, but maybe not for the same reason as most.
I lost three of my first four fantasy football matchups but after clawing back within a point of my opposition with five minutes still to play in the fifth week, my optimism reached new heights. With every play I anxiously scanned the field, praying the ball would fall to Christian Watson for the singular point I needed to win, to avoid the taunting of my peers. It never did.
As I watched the clock tick down to zero and felt my hopes of winning shatter, I could not help but think I was taking this too seriously. A game I ordinarily would not give a second thought to managed to ruin my week, and it was only Monday.
I began to understand my desire to beat my friends in fantasy sports trumped my love for watching the sports themselves.
Fantasy sports are online games in which participants draft teams of real athletes who receive points based on statistical performances. Rules and rewards vary from league to league.
These games, which were already popular on sites like ESPN, have become significantly more recently, with betting sites like DraftKings and FanDuel going all out on marketing and adopting fantasy formats. ESPN reported a record amount of fantasy participants Sept. 19, claiming 12 million players would take part in 2023.
My journey into the world of fantasy sports started when I graduated high school. My group of friends who watched soccer decided to make a fantasy league based on the Premier League in England, and not wanting to fall out of contact with them in college, I joined. Now, more than four years later, I have branched out into baseball, football, hockey and basketball.
Fantasy sports evolved into a yearlong ordeal, an obsession which had me looking through spreadsheets for hours on end every week. Once upon a time, I watched sports because I wanted to see my favorite teams make a playoff run, because I wanted to watch my team land an unlikely win in a tense rivalry game.
That’s not enough anymore. If the team I have supported unconditionally for nearly two decades loses, it is OK if the player I had on the opposite team had a career night. Sports and players I once loved have become nothing more than numbers to me, and it is actively ripping away the passion I held.
Former Cal Poly Pomona student O’Neill McIntosh has competed in many fantasy leagues across different sports and felt wagering on fantasy leagues took away from his enjoyment of the sport.
“It definitely changes how you watch and who you root for,” said McIntosh. “When more than just the game I’m watching is on the line I take it a lot more seriously.”
Not only is this a toxic way to watch the sports I once enjoyed, but it is not how sports are meant to be watched.
Focusing on statistics takes credit away from players who do not “perform” in fantasy formats. Dominant performances from soccer players do not always involve a contribution to a goal, and defensive baseball showings receive no recognition outside of pitching stats either.
This expectation for players to get a certain amount of fantasy points has led to unacceptable exchanges between spectators and athletes on social media platforms like Instagram and X. Minnesota Vikings running back Alexander Mattison found himself on the receiving end of racial abuse following a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles early in the NFL season.
Sports fans are a competitive, emotional bunch. The teams we love already make it hard enough for us to get through a game without disappointment. This season of fantasy sports has helped me realize I don’t need a reason other than being an A’s fan to angrily close a box score.