It only seems appropriate to inaugurate this long-overdue project with a brief testament to one of my abiding online passions: Fantasy Football. (That's football football: not American football or Australian rules football but world football, or "soccer.") For if there's any motivational logic behind The Paperback Museum, it's my desire to negotiate and reflect on new media networks as a relative dinosaur with regard to all things Internet among folks of my twentysomething generation. Fantasy Football, then, was simply one of my first "true" online passions -- something I did with frequency and commitment, and something that required higher-than-average Internet literacy.
I have Alvaro Jarrin, friend at Duke University, to thank for that initial spark of interest. About a month before the start of World Cup 2006 in Germany, Alvaro sent me a link to FIFA's official website, where a free online Fantasy Football game was being hosted to millions of users all over the world. Already a devout follower of English Premiership football through the U.S./Canadian Fox Soccer Channel, I jumped at the chance to construct my own "fantasy" team from a pool of "real" players who would be participating in the "real" World Cup. To then have that team pitted against all others the world over, as well as our (Alvaro's and mine) smaller community of friends, delighted me to no end.
In retrospect, my first fantasy team drew liberally from the squads favored to win the World Cup: Brazil, Argentina, Spain, and, to a lesser extent, Germany. FIFA's game, I would later discover, had very liberal rules for selection, imposing no restrictions on which players one could choose save the rule that you could have no more than three players from one country on your squad. (And, of course, the very basic requirement that you had to choose a minimum number of defenders, midfielders, etc.) My team reflected my bias toward English Premiership teams: Lampard (Chelsea), Henry (Arsenal), Cech (Chelsea). But I also threw in a few players whom I had admired from afar, about whose respective leagues I knew less (but still enough to get by): Nedved (Juventus), Ronaldinho (Barcelona), Pauleta (PSG). I guess you could say I took the "European stars" approach to selecting my first fantasy team.
I ended up doing pretty well overall, winning our little group's pool (which included Justin Izzo and Pablo Perez) and finishing in the top ~13,000 out of well over a million users by the end of that now infamous match between France and Italy. My midfield did moderately well throughout, but my defenders and 'keepers were somewhat disappointing. My worst transfer move of the entire tournament was to bring in Switzerland's Alex Frei at the quarterfinal stage, banking on his team winning over the Ukraine. A terrible Swiss side bowed out to the hard-nosed Ukrainians (led by Shevchenko), with Frei making little to no impact and his midfield (especially Barnetta and Cabanas) not being able to string more than three passes together.
The World Cup Fantasy Football experience taught me a lot about how Internet users go about taking (vicarious) pleasure in mass-mediated sporting events. Among other things, online fantasy communities allow users to constitute their own, relatively autonomous sphere of competition -- a competition at once "by (means of)" and "about" information (who's who), knowledge (who is likely to perform well), and network flows (what's the latest news on so-and-so). Even though fantasy leagues preexist the rise of the Internet (a history that has yet to be told by sports scholars), it seemed to me that Internet fantasy leagues extended and intensified the means by which users could participate in the "game."
Soon after the World Cup, I was the one to organize a Fantasy Football pool among friends for the 2006-07 English Premiership campaign, which is still in progress. That competition features old stand-bys Alvaro, Justin, and Pablo as well as new guys Rod Frey and Enver Casimir. Justin overtook me (by one point) for the lead of the group a couple of days ago, but there are still several "Gameweeks" to play. Look for updates on this blog.