Fantasy football fans who spend the most time playing, researching and thinking about their teams may have worse mental health than other players of the online game, a study suggests.
According to Nottingham Trent University sport psychologists, players who engaged the most with the online hobby were more likely to suffer from low mood and anxiety when playing or thinking about it.
Fantasy football sees people create their own virtual squads on a budget, before earning points based on the real-life performances of the footballers in their teams.
Researchers gathered data from almost 2,000 people playing fantasy football on a range of different platforms.
The study, thought to be the first of its kind, suggested the majority of players experienced no mental health concerns in relation to the game.
But some found it disrupted their lives and got in the way of work and relationships.
There were significant correlations between poor mental health and players’ levels of engagement according to the study, which was conducted via an online questionnaire.
A quarter of participants overall reported a mild low mood – from anger and frustration to sadness, tiredness and low self-esteem – when playing, researching or thinking about the game.
But this proportion rose to 44% among high engagement players.
Mild anxiety – felt by a fifth of participants overall – was reported by 34% of avid players of the game. Disruption to players’ lives more than doubled from 14% overall to 37% in players who spent the most time engaging with their teams.
High engagement was classified as those who played in six or more leagues concurrently, spent more than 45 minutes a day on the platform, researched for more than an hour a day, or spent more than two hours a day thinking about it.
People who had played fantasy football for 11 years or more reported better mental health than those who had been playing for a shorter amount of time, the researchers found.
They suggested this could be because those who can better manage their mental health can continue to play the game.
It could also be because players had been able to develop coping mechanisms to deal with the highs and lows of the game, according to the researchers.
They argued that game developers and the players themselves should do more to monitor the amount of time being dedicated to the game.
Dr Luke Wilkins, an expert in sport and exercise psychology at Nottingham Trent University’s School of Science and Technology, said: ‘While it’s positive that only a minority report mental health issues in relation to their fantasy football, it is concerning that higher levels of engagement appear to increase the likelihood of experiencing issues with mood and anxiety and seem to be having a negative impact on players’ lives.
‘Fantasy football is unwinnable for the vast majority that play and it is possible that the more a person is invested the more negatively impacted they will be when they “lose”.
‘Our study highlights the general positives that the game can bring, but also warns of the potential negatives, and provides justification for the idea that more should be done to monitor the amount of time being dedicated to playing fantasy football.’
Participants in the study were from 96 nationalities, had an average age of 33 and the vast majority (96%) were male.
The study, which also involved Newman University, Anglia Ruskin University and Derwent Rural Counselling Service, is published in the journal Human Behaviour and Emerging Technologies.
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