'Missing the Madness': What Social Distancing Means for Adrenalin Starved World of Fantasy Sports

Much like most non-essential services around the globe, live sport has not been possible for a while due to the coronavirus pandemic and in turn, social distancing. And even though some countries are moving towards recovery; the red-letter day is a fair distance away. The dependence on sport as a hobby, professionally or for the purpose of fantasy sport means it adds more pressure on the mind that is already yearning for normalcy.

In a parallel universe, Australian cricketer David Warner would be looking to crunch bowlers over the fences while Liverpool’s Trent Alexander Arnold would be hoping to put it on a plate for his forwards, leaving fantasy sport enthusiasts busy counting points for their respective teams and plotting their next move.

The football season and the cash-rich IPL, run by the world’s richest cricket body - the BCCI, would have been approaching their home stretches, which means avid followers and gamers would be juggling combinations to get the best out of their teams.

What fantasy sports affords is unique! A virtual team made up of almost all your favourite sportspersons is controlled by you and selection decisions aren’t a light matter either as it can cause mayhem on the leader board.

Be that as it may, the wait and the agony continues for fans, as well as those providing a platform for such high-octane but an armchair rivalry.

“Without live sports, there can't be any fantasy sports either. Effectively, the industry is on pause waiting for the lockdown to be lifted for the main sporting leagues. It is a blow, of course, especially given the timing which was just before the main season of the year (IPL) would have started. However, we are confident we will survive this dry spell and prosper at the other end,” Sudhir Kamath CEO and Co-Founder, Faboom, an online cricket fantasy league platform in India, told News18.

A month into the lockdown stock purchasing portals, gifts and fantasy sports were among the hardest hit. Fantasy sports activity dipped a whopping 50.85% (cricketaddictor.com) while online gaming profited by 26.50% (ace2three.com).

India’s biggest representation in the fantasy sports world comes in the form of Dream11 who are the official game partners for IPL and the International Cricket Council. They boast of 8 crores plus user base in 2020 which includes those who are working their brains overtime on hockey, football and NBA. Dream11, however, wasn’t available for comment.

“In some ways, the suspension of professional sports is insignificant in comparison to the devastation caused by COVID-19. With that in mind, in the world of fantasy sports, a void has emerged. Content creators certainly have more time on their hands. In fact, some fantasy football enthusiasts (including me) have partly shifted our focus towards alternative games that have emerged during the outbreak, such as @FantasyChampMan and @FPLVirtual which offer a valuable outlet when no professional football is taking place,” elaborated Ash from FPL Hints, who is a former Top 100 FPL Manager and also serves as a designated panellist for Fantasy Premier League.

“I've certainly seen a boom in retro gaming over the past month as football enthusiasts become reconnected with games they played over 10-20 years ago, such as Championship Manager. Games like this serve as a fantastic outlet for any football fan.”

Over in India, DesiFPL, who produces a podcast solely on the Fantasy Premier League of the EPL, concurred, “For us, we are missing the madness. We miss the chase for a guest on the podcast and the thrill in making the content, there is no filling the void for that.”

The FPL which began all the way back in 2002/03 is arguably the world’s most famous fantasy game has close to six million logging in every week for the duration of the Premier League season at least.

“With no IPL and no fantasy league, it's been a dull phase during the lockdown. Apart from the IPL fantasy league, the English Premier League (EPL) fantasy Football league is another competition I look forward to and this year was no different. Every weekend would involve making changes as and when required, but everything has stopped and even though, for the right reasons, it is quite weird,” said Promit Ghosh, a Sales and Marketing professional from Kolkata, whose first involvement with fantasy sports dates back to ESPN’s Super Selector that began in 2001.

“My weekends feel empty. Earlier time used to fly by very easily but now it is difficult and I am really missing football. I actually started watching the EPL because of the FPL (Fantasy Premier League) and never followed it religiously before I started playing the FPL thanks to peer pressure,” Yashpal Taparia, a businessman from Gujarat, explained.

“We look forward to making changes to our teams. Now we play some virtual games but it’s not the same. I hope things can resume and this forced break ends.” Yash also explained that making changes is not just a matter of a few clicks but involves long drawn out discussions and analysis, especially if there are negative points that come into the scenario, along with friends, who form a league of their own with a small reward for the winner at the end of the season.

An otherwise vociferous bunch of people are at a loss and find it difficult to replace a hobby for another quarantine activity, succumbing to the propaganda machine that keeps them hooked on in hope.

Plenty of hope was pinned on to April 30th and the PL initially before the FA squashed any dreams and finally followed suit with the sporting world, by duly suspending functions indefinitely.

The Germans could help bring back a breath of fresh air with the Bundesliga aiming to be back as early as May 9. The Italians hope to resume training on May 4 while Spain and France continue to wait, as do the rest.

“Initially when they (FA) announced the suspension, people were hopeful that football and FPL will come back soon. Of course, everything changed within a week. It went from hopeful to hopelessness very quickly,” noted Pulasta Dhar co-host off DesiFPL.

Team managers in numerous apartments and content creators have been forced into a break before what could be an extended run in of non-stop sport. Governing bodies will be dictated more and more by economics as they look to make up for the lost time, and fight for bragging rights about being more righteous than the neighbour.

“Across the board for all sports, everyone is waiting for normalcy. The day something is announced we (DesiFPL) have to be on it and for a brand like ours it is a good time to make a noise. We have to be more aggressive in terms of our communication and content production,” Vibhor Garg, the co-host of DesiFPL, stated.

In December the world of sport was left in awe of the Grandmaster Magnus Carlsen as his FPL credentials came to the fore. Nonetheless, the frustration is picking up interest as Carlsen, you and I wait for Cristiano Ronaldo, Sadio Mane and Virat Kohli to lead us into chaos and competition.