Community

The Psychology of Fantasy Football

What is the key to success in Fantasy Football? Ultimately, our season boils down to a series of decisions. The transfers we make, the players we bench, the captains we choose. The quality of our choices determines our points total, our overall ranking, and our mini-league position. To help us make the decisions that define our season, websites like Fantasy Football Scout provide a wealth of advice and resources. With all this help, we are well informed, make rational choices, and inevitably succeed. At least, that’s the theory.

Cognitive Bias

Unfortunately, we are not the rational beings we might like to be. Our decisions are subject to cognitive biases, which are illogical mental shortcuts we take in certain situations. Cognitive biases exist because, from an evolutionary standpoint, the logical choice is not always the best one. When we hear a gunshot outside our window, rather than a car backfiring, our brain is prioritising our welfare, not predicting the likeliest event. Strange as it may sound, the same thing can happen when we play Fantasy Football. Our decisions are not just the result of weighing every outcome’s probability. Our emotional welfare, and how good a decision makes us feel, also plays an important role in the choices we make.

For example, some Fantasy managers will captain a player from the final match of the Gameweek, not because they believe this fixture boosts performance, but to avoid the trauma of an early captain fail. This is cognitive bias in action. By looking at a few of the common cognitive biases that affect our decision-making in Fantasy Football, we can make more logical decisions. I realise this article is more theoretical than most, but I have tried to make it as accessible as possible. Hopefully you’ll find it interesting, and take something useful from it.

Confirmation Bias

This is perhaps the best known of the cognitive biases. Confirmation bias is the tendency to find information that confirms our current beliefs, at the expense of other views. We often fall for this when looking at a statistics, where we ignore those that don’t fit our theories, and focus on those that confirm them. For example, if you read a ‘Captain Sensible’ article with your team’s armband firmly on Anthony Martial, you are likely to find it containing evidence that supports this decision. This is not always particularly harmful, as sometimes confirmation bias simply strengthens our conviction in decisions we were always going to make. On the other hand, where confirmation bias leads to us dismissing alternative options out of hand, it can cause problems.

The Scarcity Heuristic

The scarcity heuristic is a mental shortcut where we value something by its scarcity. In other words, the more difficult it is to acquire an object, the more valuable we perceive it to be. In Fantasy Football, this can be observed when we over-value expensive players, and under-value cheaper options. This error makes some sense, as the top performers from previous seasons start with the highest prices, whilst unproven quantities are relatively cheap. That said, when prices guide us more than performances do, bad decisions follow. Riyad Mahrez in 2015/16 and Harry Kane in 2014/15 were both budget-friendly, top tier performers. Because of their low prices though, the scarcity heuristic led Fantasy managers to bench their big points hauls and to underestimate their captaincy credentials.

The Gambler’s Fallacy

The gambler’s fallacy assumes that, because something has happened less frequently than expected over a period of time, it will happen more frequently in the future, or vice versa. It is what underpins the Fantasy concept of a player being ‘due’. Players can be seen as ‘due’ a goal, or ‘due’ a blank, depending on the difference between their displays and our expectations. Unsustainable performances can be expected to revert to the mean over the long term. However, when we make a short-term prediction about an under-performer, such as that they will score in the next match, just because they’re ‘due’, we are falling for the gambler’s fallacy.

The Endowment Effect

The endowment effect is where we place a higher value on something when we own it. It leads us to pay more to retain our possessions, rather than trade them for something new. Given that we talk about ‘owning’ the players in our teams, the endowment effect’s applications to Fantasy Football are clear. It often leads to stubborn behaviour, as we keep faith with players despite continued under-performance, perhaps ignoring in-form alternatives. The endowment effect has been explained by our loss-aversive natures, where our displeasure at losing something outweighs our pleasure at gaining something. This can lead to managers focusing their transfers on moves that won’t lose points, rather than looking for those that might gain points. A common example is when we keep an out-of-form player with a good fixture, to avoid the potential disappointment of ‘missing’ their points. The endowment effect also makes us likelier to predict success for our own players, and to recommend them to others.

Omission Bias

Omission bias means we judge harmful actions more severely than harmful inactions. When we score 50 points with 5 points on the bench, we feel better than when we have 20 on the bench, as those benched points could have given us a better Gameweek rank. The actual result is the same in both cases, though, as our team scored the same amount of actual points. For another example, imagine that our captain scores two points, and our vice-captain scores 13. If we kept the armband on the captain all week, we would feel better than if we switched from the vice-captain on Saturday morning. A fear of mistakes can make us pursue strategies which limit the number of decisions we have to make, such as by avoiding rotation, or spending the absolute minimum on bench players. What really matters, though, is the number of points you have on the pitch, not whether or not you played your perfect team each week.

Groupthink

Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon, where the desire for conformity in a group can lead to irrational decision-making. Group members reach a consensus by discussion, then minimise further conflict by suppressing dissenting views. This is not due to malicious intent, but arises from our collective desire for harmony in groups. Groupthink can be seen in the criticising of RMTs and opinions that differ from the ‘template’ on Fantasy Football Scout. The solution, of course, is to properly consider alternative views, rather than immediately shooting them down. Projection bias is another phenomenon that happens in isolated groups, where we assume that outsiders agree with us more than is really the case. The effect is that we gain the false impression that a particular template is dominant, even though it is common for highly-owned players in the Fantasy community to be completely ignored by the majority of Fantasy managers.

The Bandwagon Effect

This one should need no introduction. The bandwagon effect is where the uptake of something increases the more that it has been adopted by others. The bigger the bandwagon, the more people decide to ignore their personal misgivings, and blindly follow the behaviour of others. This is a cognitive bias that has been used positively by the Fantasy community. Like investors buying a fast-rising stock without doing their usual research, Fantasy managers often jump on early-season bandwagons to make some quick money, in the form of team value.

Recency Bias

Recency bias is where we disproportionately focus our attention on recent information. Recency bias can often lead to ‘chasing points’, as we focus too much on a player’s latest performance, rather than on their overall prospects. That said, form remains the best predictor we have of future performance. The hot-hand fallacy is the error we supposedly make when expecting an in-form player to continue their success. Research now suggests that it might not actually be a fallacy, however, as performance is boosted by the confidence success brings. Another example of Fantasy managers falling for recency bias occurs in pre-season, where we look for the players that match the characteristics of last season’s stars. This summer, we will look for ‘the next Riyad Mahrez’ and ‘the next Jamie Vardy’, trying to find situations which mirror those at Leicester a year ago. Last summer, we looked for ‘the next Charlie Austin’, scouting the promoted sides for prolific forwards. Before that, it was ‘the next Michu’, and we looked closely at cheap players arriving from overseas, following the Spaniard’s goalscoring exploits. With the successes of these players fresh in our minds, we make the mistake of assuming that next season’s bargains will follow the same narratives.

The Psuedocertainty Effect

The pseudocertainty effect is the tendency to take fewer risks when you are confident of success, and more risks when you are not. This can be seen when managers with a good rank play it safe, and struggling managers take wild punts in an attempt to catch up. Interestingly, game theory suggests that this cognitive bias can lead to good decision-making. This is because the goal of Fantasy football is not to score as many points as possible, but to score more points than everyone else. The value of differentials, or low-ownership players, is that if they do well, they give you a big advantage over your opposition. Likewise, blocking moves to limit the chances of an opponent overtaking you is a viable, risk-averse tactic, such as bringing in the player your rival is likely to captain. That said, Fantasy Football is certainly not a game in which everyone behaves identically. As a result, the best differential can be to simply focus on scoring as many points as possible, given that it is very unlikely that anyone else will make the same decisions as you every week.

38 Comments Post a Comment
  1. J0E
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • Has Moderation Rights
    • 12 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    Thanks for this. Excellent article - I'll look to theme today's daily hot topic around this. 🙂

  2. Doosra - ☭A Noble Grape…
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 12 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    This is a great article. Thank you.

    I especially loved the "Projection Bias". But you have left one out ... 😉

    Foreign player/FM player bias ... 😆

  3. buffrey
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 8 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    Enjoyed this. Nice one.

    I also find that the gambler in me tried to wrestle control when a choice is obvious just to be different.

    Like. It captaining Kane v Bournemouth as IF Aguero smashed it id be up. Something I need to control next season when obvious decisions are there.

    • 8 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    1st comment back and its a bleedin' article! I hope its more than just a brief fly-by Ludo 🙂

    I'd like to say about the last one its good for winning mini-leagues or securing a high rank but to go really high or even win the whole thing then the game theory breaks down and you really do have to go for the most points as you can't defend everyone inside the top 1k at any given point. At least until you get to, say, the last 3 weeks when there's perhaps 20 people who can realistically win.

  4. GreenWindmill
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 10 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    Really enjoyed this - it plays to my preferred style of attempting to be cold and logical in my decisions 🙂

  5. Irish Madridista ⭐
    • 11 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    Absolutely brilliant article.

    I know that I have a tendency to fall for the Endowment Effect.
    Every Friday I tend to see my captain as one of the top players of the week, every Monday I ask myself what I was thinking..

  6. Baines on Toast...
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 11 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    This is fantastic, good job.

  7. J0E
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • Has Moderation Rights
    • 12 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    I've launched a hot topic related to this article over on the main article http://www.fantasyfootballscout.co.uk/2016/05/26/euro-2016-team-analysis-romania/?hc_page=1#hc_comment_13390814

    1. Van Klinkert Delarosa
      • 7 Years
      5 years, 7 months ago

      This is like inception, you guided us here from the main article, and then you guide us back to the main article from this article to guide us here back again.

      1. J0E
        • Fantasy Football Scout Member
        • Has Moderation Rights
        • 12 Years
        5 years, 7 months ago

        Its like a hall of mirrors where you constantly have to analyse your psychological approach to fantasy football forever 😉

  8. Ruth_NZ
    • 7 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    Nice one, Ludo, this is a very important subject for a FPL Manager.

    FPL is about decision-making. The better the quality of your decision-making, the better your team will do in the long run.

    Part of this is done by learning and studying how the game works. Do people really understand how the BPS works and why it is that (for example) Özil has a measurable tendency as compared to other players to get 2 or 3 BPs when he achieves a goal or assist rather than 0 or 1?

    The other part is by working on how you make decisions and that's where this article comes in. Most FPL managers have numerous biases that affect their decisions - I certainly do anyway. The first step is to recognise them for what they are. Especially when you don't want to. 🙂

  9. John t penguin
    • 7 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    can anyone sell me a brain unfrazzler?

    also is hughes doing de niro in picture

    1. Van Klinkert Delarosa
      • 7 Years
      5 years, 7 months ago

      You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? You talkin' to me? Then who the hell else are you talking... you talking to me?

  10. Forza
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 7 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    Brilliant article... Too much reliance on pseudo certainty and confirmation bias has ruined me this year. But it's still all Hazard's fault.

  11. 32chickens
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 11 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    Nice ludo
    Looking above to those so far commenting-you have tapped into some of the biggest ffs thinkers around.
    I like the stuff about groupthink-very strong on this site

  12. PlanGinerd
    • 8 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    Really enjoyed this article. Especially the points about groupthink and bandwagoning.

    I spent more time thinking about and analyzing FPL than any other previous year and found it challenging to balance my gut feel, with my ML rivals, with websites like this, polls, and the twitterverse.

    The gargatron clearly showed me I need some work in many of these categories and how to better balance my decision making.

  13. tm245
    • 10 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    Great read, as usual with your posts. I think another component to the psychology of playing FPL is that for many frequent visitors, this site becomes another prism through which the game is perceived, and it therefore contributes to many of the psycological effects which you mention, especially bandwagons and groupthink. It's as if we are playing two games, FPL (where you are here just to earn points) and FFS (where your perception of the game is altered by the echo chamber on here when a player you own bags a brace, misses a penalty kick, or commits some other act that makes the pages fly).

    While many of the phenomena you mention predate the digital age, I would argue that FOMO (fear of missing out) is another strong psychological factor that reverberates especially in a close digital community such as this one. Our sense of self is exponentially intensified online as we want to join in with fellow celebrants as if we were in a pub together or feel sickeningly alienated looking through said pub Windows as others celebrate a Mane end of season master class. The amount of matchday posts bemoaning "had him in my draft all week" is just one example of people subconsciously trying to associate themselves with a pick they didn't actually make, and if they get a reaction of understanding or a reply noting a similar state on here they might feel less isolated from what they've incontrovertibly missed. Score checks, Giroud captainers unite posts, sunglasses emoji squadrons, etc. might have more of an impact on our future decisions than we might think. And that's not even including the newly updated website's graphic depiction of failure or success in the form of an extra large, high definition picture of the flavor of the week lording his dominance over the front page of the site...

    But I digress, so cheers again for a thoughtful article during these quiet times in the calendar.

    1. Ruth_NZ
      • 7 Years
      5 years, 7 months ago

      This is a big deal and very well observed.

      Not wanting to look like an idiot is a powerful psychological influence that presses people towards community norms.

      As has been observed in many walks of life, making the same mistake as others is often excused and/or justified whilst making a different mistake to others is derided. 😕

  14. Cheeseoid
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 9 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    Great article.

    You missed out on the Pavlovian Effect. Last minute captaincy changes brought about by a sugary dessert

  15. England's Number 1
    • 8 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    There's another bias which I think plays a major part in our decision-making. I'll term it supporter bias. I never used to have players playing against Stoke at the Britannia because I would feel awkward wanting Stoke to get a good result but my striker to score. In the Tony Pulis days this would be doubly difficult viewing because goals were few and far between when we played. A single goal would effect the outcome of the match! I would rather my team and fantasy team benefitted from a goalless draw than see my team lose but my striker score the winner. It was an 'all or nothing' mentality but it often served me well. I've learned to suppress this bias now for the sake of my points total and have benefitted in games where we've conceded. However, I still tend to go heart over head with defenders playing my team, as I wonder what the point is in me going to a game when at the back of my mind I don't want my team to score.

    I will often go with players that play for my team over other options at around the same price. I feel an attachment to Stoke players due to watching them week in week out, and will neglect better players due to supporter bias. Eg. I went for Walters over Mahrez at the start of the season. I've learnt to ignore my supporter bias and am going with Janko over Arnautovic for the Euros. Watching my team also has its benefits though, as I was able to spot Butland's potential before the bandwagonners.

    Fans of Premier League clubs have all sorts of biases towards not only their club, but other clubs too. I'm lucky being a Stoke fan that we don't have many rivals whose clubs I don't want to do well, which can affect some people's judgement. For example, a Spurs fan might be reluctant to own a Gunners player and may also dislike Chelsea and this might reflect in their selections. This may be all in theory but I think there's something in it.

  16. Debauchy
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 8 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    Great stuff Ludo , thought you had left us .Bookmarked

  17. Moin
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 8 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    Brilliant Article Ludo!

  18. Jay_
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 7 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    Great read, great poster, great to see you back.

    1. Debauchy
      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
      • 8 Years
      5 years, 7 months ago

      This

  19. John t penguin
    • 7 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    Thanks all for your kind words

    1. Debauchy
      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
      • 8 Years
      5 years, 7 months ago

      Dog

  20. Springbank
    • 6 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    Superb writing! And this is why FFS is so different from any other fantasy football tips website. It's all about psychology and there is so many clever brain in here. I'll back up the supporter bias mentioned above. I can't help myself to always fancy Coutinho to score a couple or I never buy Man U players!

    1. Debauchy
      • Fantasy Football Scout Member
      • 8 Years
      5 years, 7 months ago

      The bias helps some seasons, but generally not. Agree with no site like it . Sure we all do

  21. HVT
    • 11 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    Thanks Ludo, I thoroughly enjoyed this 'psycho-analysis' class stuff mate!
    what was your OR rank in the end and how much of the above did you apply to your team?

  22. Nice1Cyrille
    • 10 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    Great article.

  23. Ludo
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 8 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    Cheers guys!

    On a personal note, I stopped playing FPL sometime in September this season, and I'm not sure that I'll make a team for 2016/17 either.

    I recently read 'Thinking, Fast and Slow' by Daniel Kahneman (which is excellent), and couldn't help but link everything back to fantasy football. I read some more on the subject, and that led to this article, as I wanted to share my findings with the community.

    Cognitive biases are there to make you feel good, as mentioned in the article. Fantasy football is a game, which should be fun, as well as making you feel good. By pursuing the most logical possible course, I was trying to make myself feel good by excelling at FPL, rather than simply enjoying the game. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that, but personally, I found the result was that too much of my self-worth and effort was conected to my fantasy football rank, and so it was healthier to take a step back.

    1. A.T
      • 11 Years
      5 years, 7 months ago

      I think many of us can relate to that Ludo. You often see posters complaining the game lost its fun when they've taken it more seriously. I know I'm certainly guilty of it. The problem is it's a game with more lows than highs, and as you've touched on in your article, even when you get a high you're still disappointed you've left points on the bench 🙂
      Having said that, it's an addictive bugger, which is why we all keep coming back.

  24. Prøphet
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 6 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    This is a brilliant article mate! I really enjoyed reading through it! Lovely stuff, really appreciate it!

  25. lahi
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 10 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    Great read! Bookmarked this to be re-read before the next season kicks in 😀

  26. Triggerlips
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 11 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    Those who enjoyed this article may want to read the following articles,mtheynare a series on the psychological aspects of Fantasy football that i wrote last year

    https://www.triggerlips.com/index.php/2015/12/06/over-confidence-bias/

  27. Dino
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 12 Years
    5 years, 7 months ago

    Cracking read cheers.

    It explains why I make bad decisions, now I just need a shrink to tell me how to make good decisions.

  28. circusmonkey
    • Fantasy Football Scout Member
    • 11 Years
    2 years, 5 months ago

    Still one of the best articles ever on here.