Lessons from Germany: Five things Fantasy Premier League could incorporate from the Bundesliga game
written by James Martin
Fantasy Premier League players have flocked in their thousands to the official Bundesliga game since football returned in Germany. Many have fallen foul of the different rules – the lack of auto-subs in particular can wreak havoc on the uninitiated – but the differences run much deeper than that.
They give an insight into ways in which FPL could change in future. With the breaking announcement today, the Premier League is scheduled to resume on Wednesday 17th June.
This is perhaps the most obvious area where FPL could learn from their German counterparts. The pricing structure in the English version is much derided – it is tied to ownership, albeit somewhat obscurely in terms of the actual maths involved. Even more controversially, increases in value are only half-enjoyed by fantasy managers. A mechanism the game calls a ‘sell-on fee’ means that a player must rise in value by 0.2m before he can be sold for 0.1m above his purchase price.
The Bundesliga version does away with all this, instead tying price directly to performance. From the first gameweek onwards, a rolling average score for each position determines a benchmark: if a player significantly underperforms or overperforms against this, their price changes accordingly. There is also no concept of the sell-on fee, so if a manager buys a player who then performs consistently well, he can enjoy the full benefit of the subsequent price rise. This is fairer and more logical.
On a related note, the overall budget forms another difference between the Bundesliga game and FPL. The Germans generously provide an extra 50m to fill the same 15 slots – it might be assumed that this is simply because players are more expensively priced, but that is not completely true.
There is indeed a higher ceiling on player prices – indeed, given the metric for calculating price increases is tied purely to performance, there is theoretically no upward limit once a player gets on a hot streak. As such, Robert Lewandowski currently sets managers back an eye-watering 25.5m. However, the same thing applies at the other end: there is no artificial 4.0m base starting price for the players perceived to be least valuable, and players can drop as low as 1m.
There are pros and cons to this approach. The greater disparity between the best and worst players in the league provides a more accurate reflection of squad worth, while also promoting greater variation between squads as managers look for the greatest value. This can only be a good thing. However, it does lend itself heavily to the tactic of ‘bench fodder’ – filling up four slots with 1m players allows a whole lot of big hitters into the rest of the side. Even so, given the regular frustration of ‘template’ teams emerging in FPL, a tweak to the budget and player valuations might not go amiss.
Now, onto the scoring itself. Here, the system is amusingly German in nature – it is the embodiment of the perfectly logical approach to fantasy football. It is arguably a little too humourless, but the element of luck involved in points-scoring is undoubtedly reduced compared to FPL.
The most significant difference is the reduced emphasis placed on outcome. In the Premier League game, tangible returns are everything – goals, assists and clean sheets are the lifeblood of the system. The Germans would frown in puzzlement at this. Why should a midfielder be deprived of points because the striker to whom he passed missed the chance? ‘Passes to a shot’ are duly rewarded.
Duels won also earn points, making defensive-minded players viable options. This is markedly different to FPL, where defensive midfielders are generally a last resort for filling the bench cheaply. This, at least, seems like a positive change FPL could introduce: whether you support wider changes to bring the game in line with its Bundesliga counterpart essentially depends on how you view fantasy football.
Purists might say that any steps to reduce luck and place skill front and centre improve the experience, and this is a valid opinion: undoubtedly any regular player of the Premier League game will have felt this way when denied a big points haul by a huge slice of uncontrollable misfortune. Ultimately, though, fantasy football is based on the footballing realities, and out on the real pitches luck certainly has its part to play. It will never be eliminated entirely, and on the whole FPL probably has the right idea by simply accepting and embracing that fact.
- Star players
Again, this difference between the two fantasy games seems to reflect a difference in fundamental attitudes. In FPL, the sole captain receives double points in a gameweek – the vice-captaincy for in case the chosen captain plays no part whatsoever is the one, small nod towards reducing the element of luck, with the general thrust of the system being a do-or-die punt on one player. The Bundesliga game, meanwhile, allows a star player in each of defence, midfield and attack: they each score double points.
Not only that, but the star player pick can be moved about periodically during the course of the gameweek. Thus, if somebody does not score particularly well on a Friday night fixture, a manager can choose to gamble and make someone playing later his star player. The concept of sticking or twisting is an interesting one, although the over-importance placed on having players from matches that kick off at different times is an unwanted side effect.
The ability to alter star players mid-gameweek might therefore be more trouble than it is worth, but the general concept of essentially having a captain per position is an interesting one. It strikes a fair balance between forcing managers to make firm decisions and somewhat mitigating the risk of unlucky breaks like red cards or own goals – it would be a bold change for FPL to make, but arguably a positive one.
In much the same way as the star player status can be moved in the middle of a gameweek, substitutes can be brought off the bench provided they have not yet played their match. This comes with the same associated problems – notably, the significant advantage gained by fielding a squad with fixtures staggered across the weekend. This strengthens the hands of the meticulous planners, but it feels rather arbitrary.
These manual substitutions replace auto-subs. The FPL bench is possibly the element of the game with the most potential to infuriate, with huge scores getting stuck at first sub while your striker comes on for a two-minute run-out to score one point. However, I wouldn’t change it for the Bundesliga system. Settling on your side and deciding the order of preference for the substitutes in advance is a skill in itself: the potential for massive frustration is part and parcel of a game that essentially rests on gambling on real-world performances.
It’s definitely a controversial one though, and there’s bound to be plenty of managers who prefer to be able to make the substitutions themselves – maybe a compromise is possible, whereby subs are automatic unless overridden by a manual switch.
Either way, the Bundesliga game could certainly provide a lot of food for thought at FPL Towers.
Review written by James Martin
James is a sports journalist with a focus on football. He began writing for LFC Fans Corner over seven years ago, and has since been featured on the club website and The Independent among others. He graduated from Oxford in 2019, and holds the Gold Standard NCTJ Diploma in Journalism.
His portfolio can be found at http://jamesmartin013.journoportfolio.com