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Friday 24th Mar 2017

Like most of the rest of the fantasy world, I am participating in daily fantasy sports (DFS), and doing just fine. So why do I have an empty feeling about it?

This year, I have been thinking about this a lot and have decided what is missing for me is a staple of roto, the human element.

My fantasy baseball journey began almost a quarter century ago when my brother-in-law convinced me to join his AL-only 4x4 league with his high school and college friends. I had already been following Major League Baseball closely and the competition intrigued me. With a math background to boot, I had a feeling I could thrive.

When all is said and done, I subjected myself to years of painful eight-hour auction drafts - waiting while my brother-in-law flipped through magazines, paralyzed over whether or not to make a $1 bid - for one reason.

I wanted to kick his butt, which not only did I do, but years later, my oldest son did, too.

You see, my motivation was simple. My brother-in-law is younger, stronger and faster than me. No matter the athletic endeavor, his higher level of talent comes to the surface. But, he has still never beaten me in fantasy baseball, and I remain very proud of that fact.

I know I am not alone.

The devotion that we have to our drafts, our teams, trading and trying to win is a common thread that so many of us share. In fact, ESPN's Matthew Berry essentially filled an entire book, A Fantasy Life, with hilarious reader-submitted anecdotes highlighting their often-crazy fantasy passions.

Over the years, I competed in high-stakes games, including the National Fantasy Baseball Championship (NFBC) and its football counterpart, the NFFC. While I did just fine at them, I eventually stopped playing. I had spread myself too thin with too many leagues and these lost out.

To me, the money just wasn'€™t the allure. I really enjoyed the friendships with Greg Ambrosius and Tom Kessenich, who run the games and their playing regulars. Though the leagues themselves had different members each time - for obvious reasons to avoid collusion temptation - the reality was that many of the same people play in the same games in the same cities every year.

One of the most fun parts of my NFFC preparation was to meet friend and former CreativeSports peer Lori Rubinson very early on draft morning at a New York City diner. In what must have seemed to observers to have been some kind of bizarre version of sports speed dating, we spent multiple hours firing names at each other to solicit the opinion of the player's fantasy prospects for the coming season.

My work at CreativeSports, which later merged into Mastersball, led to some of my closest friendships and eventually into invitations to compete in industry leagues. Though I have never yet won the XFL, Xperts Fantasy League, my 2009 National League Tout Wars title has been my career highlight to date. Not a penny changed hands.

Two things are tied for my favorite part of the First Pitch Arizona Forum, held in Phoenix around Halloween each year. One is going to Arizona Fall League games and sitting in the desert sun with my industry friends, talking prospects and whatever else comes to mind. The other is the XFL auction draft, held during the event without supporting materials of any kind.

My springs are not complete without a trip to Spring Training, followed by a weekend of Tout Wars drafts against the backdrop of the Big Apple. It is an opportunity to catch up with several dozen industry friends and competitors in an amazingly fun setting.

For me, the common thread is being with friends and hopefully, beating them. Winners are remembered, and if not, one can rest assured the first-place finisher will remind his/her league mates.

Daily games do not give me the same satisfaction. One faces different players, usually anonymous screen names, each day. Even if one scores a big win, few know it and it is almost sure to be forgotten in 24 hours or less.

Money is nice, but for me, peer recognition is far more important.

Next season, I hope to find the best of both. I am going to seek out a DFS league with friends. A format where we can pick new rosters each day and have daily winners, but keep running standings of the daily results over the course of the season with a big winner at the end.

In 2015, Tout Wars offered a version of this, with a once-weekly DFS game, split into monthly tournaments with a winner's€™ championship at the end. Alas, while I did well most weeks, I continued to fall just short of placing in any of the monthly tourneys. I was among those who successfully lobbied to add a wild card in the future, which had it existed this year, could have been my finals ticket.

Finishing first in a DFS marathon against friends would mean something, giving me the chance for that roto-kind of satisfaction from a series of daily sprints. I am pretty sure that is where I hope to get my DFS fulfillment in 2016.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 17-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com and thecardinalnationblog.com. Follow Brian on Twitter.

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