I got my team in late December.
The fantasy NFL football season was winding down and I had missed the playoffs for the second year in a row.
I was looking for someone else to appease my hunger for victory when a friend introduced me to a different kind of "fantasy" online game.
Only a month later, I wish he hadn't.
It started out simply enough: I wrote down my information, named my team, and waited for the confirmation e-mail. Then it really begun.
Overwhelmed by a world of micromanaging, real-time transactions, and a bustling community of thousands vying for glory, I initially stepped back. Then, a post-Christmas lull brought me back. And I haven't left since.
Welcome to the world of online soccer managing.
Since the earliest sports videogames, fans have embraced the idea of controlling their favorite teams and leading them to glory. Roughly in the past decade, online gaming has gotten so hugely popular there are now ways someone like you can make money off of it.
The fantasy sports craze as we know it is well documented across our society, thanks once again in part to the explosion of the internet. Combining the thrill of competition by grouping friends and strangers alike, players depend on the athletes to post huge stats for their benefit.
Though most online leagues offer the public their services for free, it's a big business. Yearly publications are marketed as guides to have successful seasons, television sports networks (and other outlets) routinely pump out analysis and suggestions, and websites usually offer real-time stats and expert advice for a fee and make money off of ad revenue.
There are also allegations that it costs unrelated businesses more than a billion dollars a year.
However, the world of online sports management games combines the aspects of fantasy and videogames while adding its own particular flavor. Indulging gamers with a sense of power by handing them their own team, it is sometimes easy to become immersed.
In my particular case, owning a sports team was a dream come true, even if the "team" was only limited to existing as one of many on a website.
After a first season in which I couldn't do much to get out of the bottom of the table, the offseason meant I could get to work buying players, remodeling my stadium to ensure more revenue and modifying the team's training routine to obtain better results.
Being fairly new at this, I decided to check out some of the top teams' pages in order to obtain a model of success. I found out that some had been competing for years. Their stadiums were three or four times bigger than mine, and their players had even been called up for national team duty.
On this particular website, teams come together under a federation representing real-world countries. The countries field national teams which come together in tournaments, including (of course), a World Cup.
Though initially disheartened by the fact that I would probably have to dedicate months or even years into becoming somewhat relevant in this world, I decided to give it a serious try.
Late one night last week, I spent hours trying to outbid a rival manager for the services of a player (I won, and paid a somewhat hefty 400,000 price tag). At work, I unknowingly spent 45 minutes adjusting formations and lineups for my team's next game. Just today, I found that the website has a wiki, and promptly spent over an hour creating a page for my team.
Not a day goes by now that I don't log in and run tasks to make my team better. On game days, I'm often there for hours on end. I've joined forums, fan clubs, and even made a crest for my team using Photoshop.
I complain about player salaries that "I" have to pay and demand explanations from my fictional manager about why my star winger didn't get any shots on goal. I present myself to others as the proud owner of my team, and came this close to buying business cards of all things with the name of my team embossed on them.
The game consumes me. As I go into my second season, I impatiently await fixtures and complain to league officials about other teams in my division when they mysteriously purchase players from friends for next to nothing.
I schedule meals around board meetings and save daily word documents with scouting reports on the opposing team and how my players adjusted to the new training regimes. I worry about fame getting to my players' heads, and I cringe with fear awaiting the day when my star fullback demands a hefty raise.
The guys are like my family now. I'm saddened when they have a bad game and worry about them when they're injured. When I place one of my own on the transfer list, I sometimes feel like I owe him an explanation. My friends and family ask what's new in my life and I coldly respond with "I'm thinking of switching from a 3-5-2 to a 3-4-1-2."
In the end, I've thought about quitting, but something keeps bringing me back. This is my team. And damn it, I want to win.
Last night, I even had a dream about the game: My team's in the cup final, with the score tied, when suddenly my best player is injured. Then, one of my defenders commits a foul and gets a red card.
Later, I miraculously get a penalty in favor of my team. We score! We win! Just when the celebration is on, and the league officials are about to hand me the trophy, the website's servers fail... and the information is lost. The collective memory of my supreme triumph vanishes into the nether regions of the Internet.
I wake up in a cold sweat.
Talk about a real nightmare.