Competitive Fandom in Action: How Fantasy Baseball Is Really Played

Erica Halverson · Rich Halverson

The “competitive fandom” model for describing the learning, play, and engagement in fantasy sports demonstrates how fantasy sports play requires a combination of fan cultural practices and the skills and habits of mind characteristic of gamers in order to be successful (Halverson & Halverson, 2008). In this presentation, we unpack the competitive fandom model through an analysis of expert gameplay. Classic studies of expertise in contexts such as chess, physics, and cooking have shown that expert problem solvers across domains share common characteristics. These characteristics include: the chunking of large bodies of information into meaningful patterns that can be easily accessed and applied, knowledge that is conditionalized to the specific contexts in which it is useful, and the ability to adapt knowledge to novel situations (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000). Using two types of data — discourse of in-game play and semi-structured interviews with these expert players — we analyze how these principles of expertise apply to fantasy sports gameplay. We hypothesize that expert fantasy sports players construct organizing metaphors for their gameplay (such as the stock market) and that these metaphors guide both in-game decisions and experts’ mental models used for reflecting on play. We believe that an understanding of how expert game players think metaphorically could help guide the design of learning spaces that use the competitive fandom model as a principle for design.