brexit comes to football manager

This will be a longer explanation for yesterday’s link.

I used to post about the game Football Manager about once a year, trying to explain what it was and why so many people obsessed over it. Usually, I’d excerpt a complicated discussion about, say, motivational theory or Karl Popper and positivism. Back in 2010, I linked to an article by Brian Phillips, “The Unreal Genius of Football Manager, Greatest Video Game Ever”. And every year, about this time, I’d post something brief to explain why I wasn’t around much because the latest annual edition of Football Manager had been released.

I thought I’d done this forever, but I don’t think I’ve gotten around to it in recent years. I mean posting ... I still crank up the game (for instance, I played last year’s model, FM 2016, for 924 hours, which wasn’t even my record ... that was FM 2014, with 1236 hours played). FM 2017 beta came out yesterday, and I’ve already managed 11 hours. The game’s depth is endlessly complex, and I’ve been at it since the late-90s.

Each year adds new wrinkles to the game, and often, we’ll get preview videos that show some of the changes, like this year’s, dramatically titled “The Big Reveal”:

But there was a surprise for us when the beta was released yesterday. Miles Jacobson, the director of the series, wrote earlier this year, explaining FM to non-players:

We’ve been releasing games for 24 years, starting off as two brothers based in their bedroom in Shropshire through to where we are now, a 110 strong team based in the Old Street area of London. We make niche games, although the niche is pretty popular – we sell just shy of 2m games a year and were independent until roughly 10 years ago when we became part of SEGA. 30 of the 35 people who were with the studio when the takeover happened are still here now. We also have circa 100 contractors at any one time, some in the UK, and some in other parts of the world.

Jacobson joined the team early on, after brothers Paul and Oliver Collyer created the game. For their efforts, the Collyers were named Members of the Order of the British Empire ... later Jacobson became an officer of the order (or something like that ... I admit I don’t quite understand these things). Suffice to say that the Football Manager series has made a lot of money for those three, and a lot of money for England, and a lot of joy to the players. It’s “just a game”, but it regularly refutes that cliché ... take the title of a documentary from 2010, Football Manager: More Than Just a Game. Or Iain Macintosh’s 2012 book, Football Manager Stole My Life: 20 Years of Beautiful Obsession. Or look at the real teams that use the vast FM database for scouting purposes.

Well, the above quote from Jacobson was a prelude to a long piece about how Brexit might affect Football Manager. He wrote primarily about how it could change the way Sports Interactive ("SI", the company that produces the game) works, detailing some real-world possibilities.

Of course, Brexit passed ... and of course, it will take time for it to take effect, if it ever does. Meanwhile, FM 2017 is here, and we’re all busy trying out the new edition.

Except ... there was a little addition that didn’t make “The Big Reveal”. SI must have a pretty strong non-disclosure agreement for its testers, because this little addition was a complete surprise.

Brexit has been built into the latest version of Football Manager.

A brief explanation. Football Manager is a “management simulation”. Unlike video games you might be familiar with, like FIFA, in FM, you do not control the players during a game. You are the manager of a club. You sign new players, choose staff, run training, create tactics, manage games, try to win championships. And after one season, if you are lucky and don’t get fired, you get to do it for another season. And another, and another, etc. So the game starts in Fall 2016, but if you stay with the same game without starting a new one, it will eventually be 2020, or 2025, or 2030, or whatever.

Which is where Brexit will enter the gameplay. As one headline read, “Football Manager 2017 to simulate Brexit - fans of the game go crazy on Twitter”. Among the tweets quoted in the article: “Football Manager 2017 has put more research into the implications of Brexit on the UK in the game than the actual government have irl”, and “Brexit means harder FM. Wish I known that before voting.”

There you have it: the creators of a management simulation have built a Brexit simulator into the game. As Jacobson said, “As far as I know this is the first time a computer game has tried to predict the future of a country.”

Sometime after two years have passed in the game, the player will be informed about the implementation of Brexit in the FM world. (There are random factors involved, so each game will have its own implementation.) There are three scenarios:

  1. Soft Brexit - free movement of workers remains.
  2. Footballers are granted the same special exemptions that are currently given to ‘entertainers’. This means it is easier for them to obtain work permits than other people, and it will not have a huge impact on player movement from the EU.
  3. Hard Brexit: similar rules to those which currently apply to non-EU players are adopted for all non-UK players.

Also, Scotland might decide to stay with the EU.

I suspect most of us just want to manage our favorite team to a championship. The idea of the real world interfering with that is startling. But Sports Interactive have been successful precisely because of how accurately their game reflects the real world of football. Ultimately, I don’t think they could have left Brexit out.

And it was fun to have an actual surprise in this day and age.

music friday: jeff pike's index

“Music Friday” is a misnomer here. Jeff Pike’s new book, Index: Essays, Fragments, and Liberal Arts Homework covers a lot more ground than just music. I didn’t do a statistical analysis, but I think music might have only been the third-most common topic, after movies and books. But it’s Friday, so I’m writing about it here.

I’ve been a longtime reader of Jeff’s blog, which can be addictive even when it riles me up (today he wrote about Dancer in the Dark, a movie I hate to be reminded of). The breadth of things he writes about is impressive ... the book’s subtitle is quite accurate (well, “liberal arts” is on target ... it never feels like homework). I thought the book would largely be an anthology of his blog posts, and there is some of that. But, to give one example, arguably my favorite piece in the entire book pre-dates the blog, so there is a lot of fresh-to-me material.

Index is also an accurate title, for the book is structured in A-to-Z fashion, from A.I. Artificial Intelligence to Neil Young’s Weld. I’m fudging things a bit here, because the truth is, the book literally goes from A to Z ... each letter gets its own short essay to introduce the “chapters”. Jeff had been writing these “letter” posts on his blog for awhile now, and I admit I was puzzled by them. But they make sense here, and in fact he does some of his best writing when digging deep into this or that letter.

As a longtime blogger myself, I couldn’t help comparing this book to something I might put together. What I noticed was how good the longer form pieces are (I tend to write long form only when it’s to be published elsewhere).

And I don’t know why I didn’t think of this in advance, but Index is an ideal bathroom book. The structure invites you to jump around, and the length of the essays are just about right for that environment. So Jeff, you’ll be glad to know you’re in there with Kael and Christgau and Marcus and David Thomson and, yes, Dellio.

Of course, I wanted to read about my favorite topics first. He is quite fair with Bruce Springsteen, writing about “Independence Day” and “Downbound Train”. I liked reading about The Replacements/Hüsker Dü from somewhere who was there (meaning Minneapolis ... I was “there” for Hüsker Dü in that I loved them and saw them several times in concert, but Jeff was “there-there”.) But perhaps my favorite essay had nothing to do with music, movies, books, television, or any other thing that might be called “liberal arts homework”. I’m referring to the long piece, “Strat-O-Matic Baseball, 1985-1993”, which as I noted above pre-dates the blog (although a related post, about the great Robert Coover novel The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop., includes a brief mention of Strat). He captures perfectly the feel of being obsessed with that game ... rather, those kind of games ... I have played many over the years, going back to 1961, but I only had a short affair with Strat-O-Matic. I love reading about this ... for a long time, I found my attraction to the games something I should approach in a clandestine fashion, a feeling that was multiplied after reading Coover’s novel, which is frightening in its psychological accuracy. In the 1980s, the world discovered “fantasy” sports, and nowadays it is not unusual to participate in such games. (I played “rotisserie” baseball from 1987 until the present day, although it looks like 2016 will be the first year I don’t have any teams in almost 30 years.)

It’s easy for me to recommend Jeff’s blog. But I can now recommend Index with equal fervor.

the 2015 rubio begonias

Tonight was our fantasy draft. I promise not to talk about it much, if at all, during the season. But here is my team (10-team league, AL+NL players, 5x5):

  • C: Carlos Santana, Russell Martin
  • 1B: Jose Abreu, Chris Carter
  • 2B: Mookie Betts, Ben Zobrist, Josh Harrison
  • 3B: Kyle Seager
  • SS: Jhonny Peralta
  • OF: Mike Trout, Starling Marte, Matt Kemp
  • SP: Chris Sale, Alex Wood, Michael Pineda, Jose Quintana, Brandon McCarthy
  • RP: Kenley Jansen, Jonathan Papelbon, Sean Doolittle, Brad Boxberger, Ken Giles, Brett Cecil, Luke Gregerson, Sergio Romo

the 2014 rubio begonias

The moment no one has been waiting for: the 2014 defending champion Rubio Begonias. Ten teams, combined AL/NL:

  C: Wilin Rosario

1B: Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez

2B: Dustin Pedroia, Chase Utley

3B: Ryan Zimmerman, Aramis Ramirez

SS: Jose Reyes, Alexei Ramirez

OF: Mike Trout, Carlos Beltran, Austin Jackson, Angel Pagan

SP: Chris Sale, Michael Wacha, Hyun-jin Ryu, Andrew Cashner, Drew Smyly, Zack Wheeler, Marco Estrada

RP: Grant Balfour, Steve Cishek, Tanner Scheppers, Mark Melancon

Limbo: Stephen Drew (I drafted Tim Hudson with my last pick, dumped him for Drew, hid Drew in a new position we have this year, “Not Available”, and grabbed Dan Straily to replace Hudson)

the chris and steven all-stars, version four

Once, many years ago, when my sister and I were sitting at an Oakland A’s game (a doubleheader, as I recall), we decided to choose All-Star teams. The idea was that we would wait five years, and then see who picked the best players.

Five years later, we looked, and saw that Chris had won. So we did it again, for another five years, picking a new set of All-Stars. And five years later, we looked, and saw that Chris had won again. So we went for a third try, for another five years, picking a new set of All-Stars. And five years later, we looked, and saw that Chris was now 3-for-3.

This evening we picked our fourth set of “Five Year All-Stars”. I’m going to win this time, I promise! The rules are simple: fill out a roster (we decided the positions the first time around), and see which of us does a better job of predicting how players will perform over the next five years. (Spoiler alert: it’s Chris.)

Here are the 2014-2018 All-Stars.

Chris (three-time defending champion):

  C: Buster Posey
1B: Miguel Cabrera
2B: Dustin Pedroia
3B: Adrian Beltre
SS: Hanley Ramirez 
OF: Mike Trout (as champion, she got first pick), Andrew McCutchen, Carlos Gonzalez
SP: Clayton Kershaw, Yu Darvish, Max Scherzer, Felix Hernandez
RP: Craig Kimbrel


C: Wilson Ramos
1B: Joey Votto
2B: Robinson Cano
3B: Evan Longoria
SS: Troy Tulowitzki
OF: Giancarlo Stanton, Bryce Harper, Ryan Braun
SP: Jose Fernandez, Stephen Strasburg, Chris Sale, Madison Bumgarner
RP: Aroldis Chapman

the 2013 fantasy baseball rubio begonias

Nothing is more boring than someone talking about their fantasy team, so I’ll make this brief.

90% Mental 2013

I snuck by last year’s champs by the proverbial skin of my teeth (he’s hard to beat … he’s also my cousin). At the All-Star break I was in fourth place, 25 points out of first. Two of my players, including team star Ryan Braun, would be suspended for the season a few days later. I traded a closer for a starting pitcher, began using a streaming strategy for my SP (if that means nothing to you, no problem), and two months later, I took over first place to stay.

My best player was Mike Trout, who I froze after picking him up last season. My best pitcher was probably another of my freezes, Kris Medlen. It says something about the level of play by the Giants this season that I only had three SF players the entire year. One, Yusmeiro Petit, made two starts for me at the end of the season (see “streaming”, above), and another, Brandon Belt, only had 25 AB for me (and only got 3 hits). I actually drafted the third Giant, Angel Pagan, and he played 43 games for me before getting injured.

If I had to submit a freeze list right now, I’d probably go with Trout and two pitchers, José Fernández and Hisashi Iwakuma. But I’ve got six months to worry about that. In the meantime, I’m the champ.

the 2013 rubio begonias

I’m in one league this year, and here is my team (10 owners, AL/NL, 25-man rosters):

  •   C: Joe Mauer, Jonathan Lucroy
  • 1B: Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon Belt
  • 2B: Jose Altuve
  • 3B: Todd Frazier, Trevor Plouffe
  • SS: Erick Aybar, J.J. Hardy, Everth Cabrera
  • OF: Mike Trout, Ryan Braun, Shin-Soo Choo, Angel Pagan
  • SP: Kris Medlen, Jake Peavy, Jeremy Hellickson, Brett Myers
  • RP: Jonathan Papelbon, Rafael Soriano, Addison Reed, Steve Cishek, Casey Janssen, Jonathan Broxton, Santiago Casilla

what's in his pants, or, pork WHAT?

Last night, my wife told me I needed new hobbies. She quickly amended that statement, probably realizing I have more hobbies than most people. So she added, “hobbies that aren’t on your computer … or your phone … or your Nexus.”

I’m not sure why the source of a hobby is important. But the large majority of my hobbies are admittedly time-wasters. Heck, writing a blog for eleven years is both a hobby and a time-waster, although at least there’s something concrete at the end.

What prompted her declaration was a confession I made. I didn’t actually think of it as a confession, which sounds like I did something to feel guilty about. As I’ve said many times, I don’t believe in the concept of guilty pleasures … if you like it, why feel guilty? … but believing something and feeling immune from the process aren’t the same thing, which is another way of saying, yes, I do know what a guilty pleasure is. A lot of people I talk to would include as one of their guilty pleasures checking something out on YouTube and then spending half an hour watching videos before you look at the clock and see how much time you wasted.

So, as you might guess, my confession last night was that I’d been watching YouTube videos. I don’t know that she would have admonished me if I’d stopped there. But I added that the hook that reeled me in for a longer-than-expected video-watching session was: Family Feud with Steve Harvey.

Look, I know how it sounds. But I have a feeling that if they watched one Feud w/Harvey video, a lot of people would end up watching a few more. It seems to matter than I don’t actually watch the show on TV … couldn’t even tell you when it was on, or on what channel. YouTube is the perfect place to watch, because you get highlights. It is similar to Saturday Night Live in that respect … I know if there was a particularly good sketch, it’ll be on the web the next day.

The folks at Family Feud are well aware of this. They have their own YouTube channel, and many of the questions asked on the game show are clearly intended to elicit a “YouTube” response. This is nothing new … game shows have been fishing for double entendre answers since the dawn of time, which explains why you can still watch lots of old Match Game videos on YouTube.

Here we see Steve Harvey acknowledging that a particular answer will soon show up on YouTube:

And here’s the video I was thinking of when I stupidly confessed to my wife:

scoresheet baseball

I rarely write about fantasy baseball on this blog, following the time-honored truism that “no one cares about your fantasy team”. I'm breaking the rule for a bit here, because I am embarking on a new-to-me experience: my first season of Scoresheet Baseball. This game is highly-regarded by people I trust, but it also more pricey than standard fantasy games, so I’ve avoided it until now. A bargain-priced introductory offer convinced me to try it out.

The biggest difference between Scoresheet and standard fantasy games is that Scoresheet takes the players’ efforts of the previous week and, instead of just adding up all the numbers, plays out games. You have to set rotations and lineups, and make decisions on bullpen usage, pinch-hitters, and defensive substitutions (yes, defense counts), and the like. I don’t fully understand it all, but the differences from what I’ve been playing for 25 years are intriguing, so I’m giving it a try.

One other difference with Scoresheet is that drafting is done over a period of about five weeks, rather than two hours. There are roughly 2 1/2 hours between each pick. Obviously, you don’t have to sit around your computer for five weeks; you compose an ordered list, which can be changed at any time, and the draft works off of everyone’s list. I have the 7th pick in the opening round of a 10-team, AL-only league. The first six picks were Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Verlander, Jose Bautista, and CC Sabathia. I’ve gone back and forth over my first pick, but I’ve finally decided, and so, in about 45 minutes from the time I write this, I will make Felix Hernandez my first-ever Scoresheet pick. (For comparison purposes, the first player I ever picked in a fantasy baseball draft was Joe Carter in 1987.)

Now I’ll go back to shutting up about my team that no one cares about.