Most Americans immediately think of football when it comes to fantasy sports; however, back in the 1960s, fantasy leagues really took off in baseball thanks to the sport’s availability of statistics. These early games were known as ‘roto’, because the first groups who played fantasy sports met at a rotisserie restaurant.
Fast forward over half a century and fantasy sports remain hugely popular for sports fans. In the early 2000s, daily fantasy sports or DFS took off. DFS shortens the format of fantasy competitions so they conclude quickly. For example, an offer from FanDuel can be applied on a huge number of betting markets, along with plenty of DFS offers.
But not many WWE or AEW fans realize that these types of deals are starting to include more and more action on pro wrestling. Back in 2020, FanDuel ran its very first DFS play for one of WWE’s Money In The Bank events. This marks one of the largest crossovers in WWE and DFS, highlighting how interest in pro wrestling is expanding into more traditional betting territories.
And while the attention from sportsbooks is new, fantasy leagues in wrestling have been around for decades.
Federations Facilitate Leagues Before Dial-Up
Some of pro wrestling’s most iconic moments happened before fans had internet connections at home. From Ric Flair to Andre the Giant, imaginative and innovative angles helped hook a whole generation on the sport. Some even wanted to create their own characters and careers—which was the focus of the first fantasy wrestling.
Known as the ‘mail-in’ days of fantasy wrestling, these early leagues were hosted by top magazines. Unlike most fantasy sports leagues, pro wrestling lets players create their own characters. Along with appearance, they also decided on signature moves, fan reactions, and even entrance music.
In these early days, an adjudicator would decide the outcome of matches. Each ‘federation’ of fantasy wrestling had its own. But by the mid-1990s, play-by-email had replaced this format.
Fantasy Wrestling Moves Online
Email and online bulletin forums quickly replaced the mail-in format, but most of the fantasy leagues were run by the same federations that had helped steer the industry in the 1970s and 80s. However, other independent groups also began launching websites at this time.
The Wild World of e-Wrestling was one of the first ‘e-Federations’. Not only did these websites help onboard new fantasy leaguers, but they also let players begin to reimagine the original format. They also provided fans with advanced tools to help build out their own characters.
Poser images started to become a huge topic for players, along with diversifying competition types. From the 1990s through the early 2000s, fantasy wrestling began to tackle elements in wrestling aside from characters and their movesets. It also began to focus on things like trash-talking, along with highly elaborate storylines that might involve multiple fantasy league players.
In other words, it started to look a bit like a pro wrestling simulation. One federation, for example, challenges fantasy players to write matches—and the winner’s narrative goes down officially in that federation as canon.
Official Fantasy Leagues (WWE, TNA)
By 2004, the WWE launched its own branded fantasy league. Unlike other leagues, they focused on bridging real-life rosters to the hobby. The WWE immediately targeted any e-Federations that relied on wrestlers that looked too similar to actual WWE Superstars. The short-lived pursuit ended within a few years.
Today, the only officially sponsored fantasy league is from Impact Wrestling. TNA originally launched a fantasy wrestling league back in 2005, but, similar to WWE, it was dropped in 2006. Since 2011, the league has been relaunched and is one of the most developed fantasy leagues in the wrestling industry.
Even Google+ became the temporary stomping ground of pro wrestling fantasy leaguers. Members of a community could vote on fantasy matches, making them crowd-driven. At one point before the social media platform was shut down, World Wrestling Role-play had over 800 members.