If you love football, and you’re looking to take things to the next level, fantasy football is probably in your future. But if you’re the only sports fan in your friend group, you’ve got problems: no one to show you the ropes, and no one to play with. So you’re going to have to play online.
But as you’ve probably noticed if you’ve found this article, searching online for terms like “how to play fantasy football without friends” is like running through the streets begging everyone you see to snatch your pocket money. Fantasy sports is an onramp to the exciting new world of way-too-easy online sports betting. If you’re prone to problem gambling, maybe just indulge in a new TV for watching the NFL instead of trying to make it more exciting by staking your family’s wellbeing on it.
But if you know your limits, you can sign up for a Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS) service, or find a public league to play with. Here’s a basic how-to on both of these, along with some of the pros and cons.
Should I use Daily Fantasy Sports to play fantasy football alone?
The term “Daily Fantasy Football” refers to football contests on DFS sites like DraftKings, FanDuel, and Underdog, which are all essentially online casinos. Much in the way a casino advertises the possibility of getting rich, daily fantasy football sites will put it into your head that you can make a huge, life-changing amount of money by getting first prize in one of the bigger contests. People win payouts upwards of six figures or more on these sites from time to time. But as always with gambling, expect to lose, and think of it as a bonus if you win.
To sign up, first don’t be in Nevada, Washington state, Montana, or Nevada, where these services are illegal.
Whichever you use, the sign-up process will be similar: Choose your preferred service, and download the relevant app if you want, or play in your computer browser. Create an account. Fund your account by connecting your bank account or debit card. Choose “fantasy” if your site of choice has other options, like a sports book. The site may have an option to manage a league with your friends, and obviously you’re going to skip that.
There may be multiple games. In the “Lobby” tab at DraftKings, for instance, you’ll notice seven game types, two of which involve simulated games created in the game Madden NFL 22. Find a contest that’s based on regular old NFL games, with rules and a scoring system that works for your needs — usually a salary cap-based draft format. And make sure the entry fee is something you can afford to lose.
Once you enter, naturally you’ll be prompted to draft a team. In DFS, you can pull from the teams playing by a given date, usually in the near future. In most forms of fantasy football, this means eight players and a ninth “Defense and Special Teams” position, or D/ST — a team whose overall defensive performance will affect your score.
Unlike playing in a league with your friends, the winner in DFS fantasy football will be decided pretty quickly once the games are played. Watch them alone, as you apparently do with all NFL games, and then look to see how you did. If you won a prize, that will go into your account, and if you enjoyed yourself, you’ll probably be ready to play again.
Should I play fantasy football in a public league online?
If you want your experience to be more like an internet version of the show The League — a commitment that lasts from September to February and involves the same group of players — DFS probably won’t cut it. But finding a league online can simulate this experience. You’ll use the standard fantasy football platforms like Yahoo or ESPN, and most often, you’ll only need to learn fantasy football basics, such as how to use the snake draft, and which scoring system your league prefers.
Is it risky to play this way with unknown parties you found online? Yes and no. Some commissioners simply enjoy hosting leagues online, and are willing to advertise them publicly in places like the r/findaleague subreddit. They’re looking for a wholesome good time with strangers on the internet. They offer reasonable entry fees. They may even host Zoom parties for the players. When it’s all over, they pay prizes to the winners in a timely fashion.
Yes, there are also fantasy football scammers out there, and that means finding a public league online is actually a little sketchier than playing on a site like DraftKings. But you can mitigate these risks by exercising even a tiny bit of caution.
In the past, you might have enjoyed a casual low-stakes betting pool or poker game with your friends that used a money transfer app like Venmo as its payment platform. When you’re gambling with internet randos, however, you should expect some of them to be flaky, dishonest, or just disappear altogether, so the phrase “I’ll Venmo you,” should always be taken with a grain of salt. When you find a commissioner whose league sounds fun, expect them to use a payment manager like Leaguesafe to keep everyone honest. In fact, if they don’t formalize their payments with one of these services, that’s a red flag.
On the whole, however, the biggest risk in online fantasy football with strangers is that someone will lose interest — often after their most expensive player has a couple bad games — and stop responding to messages. In fantasy football, a league member going MIA can seriously hamper the proceedings for everyone. The best way around this, ironically, is to make sure you have a friendly rapport with everyone in your league, and they feel excited to play with you. And if you’ve done that, it looks like you have fantasy football-loving friends after all.