Every sports fan has done a fantasy draft before. Be it for a small, casual six-man MLB league where every team is stacked, an NBA league where everyone only drafts recognizable names even if they fell off a cliff, or a 12 man PPR NFL league with a big prize pool where psychological warfare is used to get that one sleeper nobody is paying attention to. It makes the fan feel like the GM they think they are, even if they draft a kicker in the first round. With fantasy leagues growing like crazy in the late ‘80s/early ’90s and sports games developing even more in the late ’90s, a marriage was inevitable. With the release of Madden ’99, franchise mode was introduced, and it with it the option to partake in a 32 team snake fantasy draft where you draft the entire squad as you see fit. Other games followed, from NBA 2K to the competing MLB games from Sony and EA (the predecessor of The Show vs the Triple Play series, the predecessor of the MVP series). Soon enough, fantasy draft became a mainstay for single-player franchise modes, and for many players, a necessity.
It’s no secret players always choose the best teams to start a franchise. Some braver people revel in the challenge of getting a crappy team like the Orioles to the World Series but many casual players prefer the easy task of continuing a great team’s dynasty. Too much work. Plus many franchise modes end up playing like clockwork due to how teams are set up. Many are set up to succeed for the present while many are prepared for the future, which is a code word for they’re gonna suck for a few seasons, or longer. You know if you start an NBA 2K20 MyLeague that you’ll see the Lakers or the Clippers in the Finals.
That’s where the beauty of the fantasy draft comes in. Everything is flipped on its head. Every franchise is unique. No team will be the same. And you have the freedom to pick what you want your team to be, but there will always be a weakness. Do you want to have a run dominated offense with a superb running back and o-line but with a lower-rated game manager QB? Do you want to focus on strong pitching, both in the rotation and bullpen but deal with a weaker hitting core? Do you value youth and athleticism over experience and awareness? The draft is a massive balancing act, and one oversight can royally screw over your team (plenty of Madden “content creators” don’t know offensive linemen exist). More games, especially NBA and MLB ones, give you the opportunity to add legend players into the fantasy draft, changing the dynamic entirely. Every team will have both modern and past stars in an absolutely stacked league. MVP Baseball 2005 (greatest baseball video game ever by the way) has an extensive legends list.
Every game’s AI has a strategy when it comes to picking or even a certain pattern. For example, in Madden 06, the CPU hold off on drafting tight ends or centers until the late middle rounds, while the MLB The Show AI (especially the modern ones) hounds after younger players, even if they’re 10 fewer attributes than older pros. There can be some head-scratching picks. Like in a recent Madden 06 draft, Brett Favre and Jake Delhomme are in the same QB room (we know who wins that battle). But then we enter the modern age, where online franchise modes exist. Where multiple players can partake in the fantasy draft. Then you focus on the real player strategy. Some can be idiots can reach for Tom Brady because of his name and rating, or there are big brains who wait patiently for that sleeper prospect everybody forgot about. Just like in actual fantasy drafts.
Online franchise mode for a brief time didn’t have fantasy drafts though. Madden 13, known as the beginning of the end for the Madden series quality-wise, took out fantasy draft for their new online and single-player connected franchise mode. It wasn’t until fan outrage forced EA to add it back in, and they only did it for online mode, so if you just wanted to play a solo “offline” fantasy franchise, you had to make a private online one but not invite anyone. It sucked ass. Knowing how bad the Madden series has gotten, if fans hadn’t gotten them to add it back, EA would have advertised its return like the return of the Pro Bowl this year.
I’ve always done fantasy drafts for my franchise modes in Madden and MLB The Show. I remember doing a Ravens fantasy draft in Madden 12 and getting Longhorn legends Colt McCoy and Jordan Shipley into the Hall of Fame, and always drafting Ken Griffey Jr in MLB The Show 07 so I can get him higher on the all-time HR list. I love crafting my own team and seeing where other players end up. Players who never start with their original teams are thrust into a starting job. One team players are split from their familiar surroundings. Its fun to think about. A league hitting the reset button and making all the teams be on a fairly even playing field. The preparation it would take, the hype and controversy. A real-life one would never happen, but that's what makes these video game ones so special.