The research you don’t know about
With the NHL and NFL regular seasons in full swing and the NBA beginning recently, it is likely you fall into one of three categories. Category one: you do not know, or care for that matter (fair enough), about sports; category two: you follow sports casually and may even watch the odd game with friends; category three: you play fantasy sports.
Now, don’t stop reading if you fall into one of the first two categories, you never know when someone from category three may enter your life. In fact, there are currently over 60 million people across Canada and the U.S. playing fantasy sports. That number may only continue to grow as states and provinces keep opening their doors to legalized sports gambling, a crossover from the world of fantasy sports.
What are fantasy sports exactly? Allow me to use my girlfriend’s definition, it seems to get to the point nicely.
“Is that when you, like, make a fake sports team with actual real-life athletes and then play fake games against each other online?” Yep, she’s right.
And I’m here to tell you I’m one of the 60 million — a certified category three’r — and this seemingly innocuous hobby may carry risks you weren’t aware of.
Remaining competitive in a fantasy sports league takes a certain level of commitment and time. A great deal of time in fact. From draft preparation, player analysis, and managing your roster, to making trades, monitoring the waiver wire, and pouring over endless amounts of stats, the hours quickly add up. Because, really, the whole thing is designed to simulate the responsibilities of managing a professional sports team. On top of that, no one wants to lose to their friends.
In a digitally mobile world, most of the time managing our team is spent on our phones. And I can attest that it’s a lot. In fact, I may be the poster child for fantasy sports overconsumption.
But, research says I may not be swimming alone in the deep end of the fantasy sports pool. A study published in the International Journal of Mental Health and Addiction found that there’s an increased likelihood that fantasy football participants will develop an internet addiction compared to those not taking part.
The study also found that the most common device and app used to research fantasy football information and play are smartphones and Reddit. This resonates with me too. Not only because, like everything on our pocket-screens, there’s an element of accessibility and portability that fuels our usage, but when I manage my fantasy team on-the-go, there’s a false sense of productivity. In my mind, I’m not thoughtlessly scrolling, I’m strategizing to accomplish a goal and being efficient with my time.
Believe me, I’m aware of the irony here.
A quick rule of deduction reveals that the more time I spend online playing fantasy sports equates to less time available for important real-life responsibilities like school, family, and my health and wellbeing. The scary part is being aware of this dichotomy and still not correcting it.
Not a great feeling.
But this underlying feeling, of being spent and used up, may, again, not necessarily be exclusive to my experience. A study in Human Behavior and Emerging Technologies found that playing fantasy football (European football in this case, but let’s not split hairs) may lead some users to experience a decline in their mental health.
*Ahem* I think we’ve heard this story before. Social media, I’m looking at you.
The survey, taken by almost 2 000 individuals from 96 different countries, recorded their engagement with fantasy football — time spent playing, researching, and thinking about it — and the effect it had on their mood, social adjustment, and habits. A quarter of respondents said playing caused them to experience “at least a mild-low mood” — that number almost doubled among those that spent the most time thinking about it daily (I think I know what category I may fall into).
What’s more is that 37 per cent of the users that spent the most amount of time thinking about fantasy football said it disrupted their lives, causing what researchers called “functional impairment.”
Yikes. Am I selling fantasy sports hard enough here?
Let’s review. In order to play properly, an exorbitant amount of time is not only required but likely to also increase the risk of the player forming an internet addiction. Subsequently, these high levels of engagement may be leaving users in a diminished state of mental health. All this and we haven’t covered the research that claims users participating in fantasy sports are more likely to gamble frequently.
So, if you’re like me and partake in the make-believe, remember, you’re not managing a million-dollar sport franchise — be kind to yourself and, like everything, consume in moderation. Our time is precious in this digital world and deserves to be spent on areas in our lives that give us positivity back.