Throughout the 2022/23 Fantasy Premier League (FPL) season, our team of Pro Pundits, Hall of Famers and guest contributors will be sharing their thoughts, tips and own transfer plans.
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Here, former FPL champion Simon March explains why weirdness could be a good thing for FPL managers.
After seeing that my previous article ‘What FPL Managers can learn from the sport of rowing’ had been posted, I quickly logged in to Fantasy Football Scout, excited as always to check the comments and to see what the gang would make of this one and…
“What is this rubbish?”, “Utter tosh”, “Waste of space”, “Huh?”
In fairness, this column has indeed approached FPL from a few weird angles in its time, with previous articles considering what wisdom FPL managers might be able to glean from military snipers, the 2008 housing bubble, lockdowns, Christmas and, uh, mums (it was Mother’s Day). Some people enjoy them, some people not so much – that is the life of an FPL content creator.
However, given that I’ve been at this for over three seasons now, it is perhaps worth taking a moment to step back and explain why I think it is valuable to look at FPL through a multitude of different lenses.
The problem with experts
At its core, FPL sits at the intersection of two areas of expertise; football and the Fantasy game itself. It no doubt helps to know a bit about football, tactics, players, managers and all the dynamics that exist in between.
Equally, understanding the basics of FPL in terms of its scoring, along with the more minutiae elements such as double gameweeks, team value, hits and chips can, of course, be useful too. Having a firm grasp of the above alone will put you around the upper percentiles of FPL managers but they might not be enough to take you to the heights that most of us who frequent these pages aspire to reach.
The reasons for this are twofold. Firstly, the amount of strategic FPL content available to players has increased rapidly, as has the number of actual managers season after season. These forces contribute to a more competitive game, as more people using the same information makes it tougher to outperform the crowd over time.
Secondly, having strong but narrowly-focused expertise can potentially become detrimental over time as it may close our minds to new opportunities and the emerging threats to what might have made us successful as FPL managers so far.
You may have heard the phrase ‘to a hammer, everything looks like a nail.’ Essentially, when we gain a certain area of expertise, we often begin adapting the world to our own understanding of it, rather than adapting ourselves to better understand the world.
FPL is life
In my eyes, it is no coincidence that there are so many prominent FPL managers with one or more talents outside of the game itself. The most famous among these is almost certainly chess Grandmaster Magnus Carlsen but, when you get talking to top managers, you tend to find that they’re also fairly accomplished in another area – be it poker, music, gaming, game design, investing, linguistics, mathematics and so on.
In general, people who are successful at one thing are often also successful at other things because they allow the knowledge and expertise gained from one endeavour to inform their others.
However, whether you’re a Grandmaster or simply trying to get the kids ready for school in the morning, you are planning ahead, managing resources, exercising patience and dealing with uncertainty. These are all transferable disciplines that you can bring to FPL and, in all likelihood, improve your game as a result.
Although certain disciplines like poker and stock trading are quite closely tangential to the game of FPL structurally, I think it is less important what the discipline is and more about there being a willingness to properly consider what unique value it can offer you when applied to the game, allowing these insights to inform your FPL decisions.
However, it’s not just about thinking differently, drawing on multidisciplinary expertise goes to the core of what FPL actually is.
FPL is a mystery not a puzzle
The distinction between puzzles and mysteries is something author Malcolm Gladwell has often talked about. To summarise; a puzzle, as he perceives it, has a defined solution that can usually be found by consuming more information.
A mystery, on the other hand, has no singularly-defined solution and requires decisions and assessments to be made under uncertain conditions. More information does not usually solve a mystery and, in fact, often obscures what is useful or important by obscuring the best path forward for unravelling it.
Within these definitions, FPL is very definitely a mystery as it is, almost exclusively, an exercise in dealing with uncertainty and making decisions based on incomplete data. While there are tools available to help manage the data that’s useful for FPL decision-making, if FPL managers are all consuming the same output on a mass scale, simply taking in this information puts us even further from our true goal; to outperform our fellow managers.
This might sound like an excoriation of FPL content but it is far from it. As I alluded to earlier, consuming FPL content is becoming an increasingly essential foundation for a good season, but a great season will require both this and something else – something more individual.
So why is it useful to approach the FPL mystery through different lenses? Gladwell sums this up nicely (albeit probably not with FPL in mind) by stating that: “The principle elements of a puzzle all require the application of energy and persistence. Mysteries (on the other hand) demand experience and insight”.
Ultimately, if FPL is indeed a mystery, and such things demand experience and insight, then it is logical that the insights we bring from other disciplines will offer managers an advantage over those who focus all their efforts on crunching data and consuming the information directly associated with the game.
In other words, it’s not just the data you receive but how you, as an individual, think about the data that will become ever more important as the game evolves.
The question will not just be how much FPL content can you digest but what can you can uniquely bring to that information. What will your personal spin on it be? And how will this influence your strategy and decisions?
Understanding football and the dynamics of FPL can get you quite far but these alone won’t allow you to reach your full potential. There tends to be a relatively high base level of both among managers and an absence of either can usually be compensated by consuming some of the vast FPL content.
Furthermore, approaching the game through these lenses alone may close your mind off to different strategies or new opportunities. By allowing your knowledge of other disciplines to influence how you play FPL, you may find it allows you to approach things uniquely.
Because of its mystery-like nature, FPL does not lend itself to a purely mechanical, rules-based approach. Instead, it encourages multi-disciplinary perspectives to help make sense of its complexity.
So a community which seeks to master the game will likely benefit from broader diversity in terms of the perspectives that flow throughout it. You may adopt some and you may reject others but you can still find yourself enriched nonetheless.
Different perspectives and the willingness to let them inform our decisions are what will ultimately set FPL managers apart from one another, perhaps being the antidote to an increasing homogeneity we are seeing amongst squads.
With all this in mind, when it comes to FPL content, I continue to believe that weirdness is good, and I hope to see more – not less – weirdness within the community as it continues to evolve.