Angry Robot

My Hockey Pool – Game of the Year?

The hockey pool, aka Fantasy Hockey League, is web-based and we do ours on Yahoo, although people have been doing paper-based pools for many, many years. The gist of it is you ‘draft’ existing NHL players before the season starts onto your fantasy roster, and then play the role of GM/coach over the course of the season, choosing which players to bench and which to play, which to trade and which to pick up from free agency. The real players’ stats then count towards the fantasy team they are playing for, so the hockey pool has a sort of parasitic relationship with reality.

There are as many rule sets as leagues, and as many play styles as players (we call them ‘managers’). With our league, the thing that will most determine your success is how you draft, but a close second is your free agent pickups. You could get lucky and draft a team of champions that needs very little tweaking all year. But if you draft a shit team, you still have a chance to win the season through free agent moves, since there are always new hot players that nobody expected to do well, or old veterans suddenly clicking on new teams. But to win that way you have to be aware of what’s going on in the league, so it takes more of a time commitment.

When I think of the hockey pool in the context of video games, it seems like a cross between an RPG and a management game. Your league will track stats automatically, and you can choose the categories; some only track goals, but many track a lot of statsother stats, like penalty minutes, shots on goal, plus/minus, assists. So you have some players who are good in some categories and weak in others, and you want to balance your team much like you’d balance a party in a role-playing game. Ad the whole culture of the thing is like the jock correlative of Dungeons & Dragons.

There’s clearly a lot of strategy involved, and absolutely no twitch gaming at all. But my overall favourite thing about fantasy leagues is that you are rewarded for doing research. The more time you log paying attention to the sport in question, the more likely you will do well in the pool. And since the research you are doing is into real-world knowledge (i.e. sports scores, not types of pokemon), the side effect of playing the pool is that you learn quite a bit about your chosen sport, and you become more than a fan rooting for his local team, you become a sport connoisseur. (Or jock-nerd, take your pick.)

What I’m saying here dovetails nicely with Raph Koster’s GDCPrime talk. In fact, he uses Fantasy Football as an example of what he’s saying, which is that the thing we should mean when we say games is a lot broader than we usually mean, and includes a bunch of things going on on the web that we don’t normally treat as ‘games’. That includes fantasy leagues, also ARGs, web MMOs, Hot or Not, and even apparently LOLCatz. I agree. What I’d like to see (and it’s probably out there, I just don’t know about it yet) are more games of this ilk, that have what I love about the hockey pool – online or no, graphics or no, that involve minute amounts of time over a long period, that involve strategy, and that reward knowledge-gathering.


Because yeah, I need to spend more time playing games.

(Oh and no, I’m not saying my hockey pool was the game of the year, it just made for a catchy title.)