In Fantasy Life: The Hilarious, Obsessive, Uplifting, and Heartbreaking World of Fantasy Sports, ESPN Senior Fantasy Analyst Berry welcomes readers to the alternately touching, sociologically fascinating, and hilarious world of fantasy team-building.
What compelled you to finally write a full book about the vast world of fantasy sports?
Writing about fantasy sports is what I do for a living, it’s what I love; it’s what I’ve done multiple times a week, every week of my life, since 1999. And over the years I had gotten so many amazing stories, incredible moments and unbelievable pictures that I wanted to share them all in one place. But what really inspired me to do it now as opposed to earlier is that I finally had a last chapter. I’ve been at ESPN for a while (since 2006) but it’s only recently, with my marriage and the birth of my twin daughters, that I felt the journey was complete.
What is it about fantasy sports that fosters such devotion?
It’s FUN. That’s the first thing. It’s insanely fun, addicting, maddening and exhilarating. The camaraderie between your league mates, the competition, the rooting interest it gives you in games and players you would normally never care about...there’s nothing like it. I always liken it to a Bruce Springsteen concert. You might be a fan of Bruce, or at least know, yeah, he’s popular. Maybe you even turn up the radio when a song comes on. But once you see him in concert, the crazy three-hour shows he gives, you finally GET IT. The fanaticism, the devotion, why people travel all over to see him. It’s the same way with fantasy sports. Once you play it for the first time, you get it and you’re hooked.
Physical training aside, how do you think participating in fantasy sports compares to playing on a team?
Well, one of the best parts of fantasy is the guys and girls in your league—your league mates. The camaraderie you have with them—the trash talk, the sense of belonging, the inside jokes, the shared language—it’s a lot of the same feelings of togetherness that a sports team shares.
You mention the book Rotisserie League Baseball being foundational to fantasy sports. How did it set the tone for this field?
It’s funny, by laying out something that could easily have been very dry—a bunch of rules to a never-before-heard-of game that uses a lot of stats that weren’t widely available pre-internet—it could have easily turned people off or been only for the super serious. But because that book was written with such glee and wry commentary, was so fun and inviting, it made you want to try this newfangled thing because you didn’t want to miss out on the fun—this was something to be enjoyed.
Do you have a favorite personal draft-day experience?
I’ve never had to do anything crazy like the guys in the book who had to draft while working as the Red Robin at Red Robin restaurant, during a bomb attack on an army base in Afghanistan, or while a guy’s pregnant wife was going into labor. My favorite stores are more sentimental. The first draft I did with my kids and wife and all their friends was really awesome.
Any misconceptions you're aware of surrounding fantasy sporting?
I feel we (the fantasy community) have broken down a lot of the early misconceptions—that it’s only for nerds, that it’s not a game of skill, that it hurts work productivity (studies have shown it brings co-workers closer together and makes people enjoy their work experience more, leading to better retention and better “extra” effort at their job). If there’s one that might still exist, it might be that it’s time consuming. It takes very little time. It’s very easy to play and thanks to technology, you can draft and play on your phone, your tablet, most devices. What happens is that once people play, they get so into it they want to spend lots of time on it. But it doesn’t take very long to play or enjoy.
What do you think of the book writing process as compared to the screenwriting you’ve done previously?
Well, writing a book is a much more solitary experience than writing a sitcom. It’s more similar to writing a movie screenplay (which I’ve also done a lot) in that it’s just you and a blank piece of paper. A book is much more personal. In a screenplay, lots of people—from producers to studio executives to (hopefully) actors and directors...lots of people will touch your work and change it before the final product is released. With a book it’s just you and the reader, so while it makes the process a little more lonely when starting, it’s also a much more satisfying creative experience because it’s just you and the reader. I really enjoyed doing this book—it’s the best thing I’ve ever written and I’m excited for people to read it.
Any general advice for sports fans considering crossing over to the fantasy side for the first time?
A. Ideally join a league with friends—it’ll make it more fun than an online league where you don’t know anyone. But either way, it’s a blast. So just relax and have fun. Read a few articles, look at some ranks but don’t be intimidated or worried if you feel you don’t know anything. That’s an excuse I hear sometimes from non-sports fans (often women) who want to play to see what the fuss is about but are worried about looking “stupid”. Honestly, if you know absolutely nothing and all you do is join a league, grab any rankings sheet you find (ideally one on ESPN.com) and just go down the list, taking the highest-ranked guy when it’s your turn, you’ll wind up with a decent team and fairly competitive. That’s my job. To do all the research for you so you don’t have to.