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League of Leagues takes fantasy sports one step beyond
Laid off lawyer launches unique cross-sport competition online
For many fantasy players, the hobby is as much about camaraderie as sports knowledge. Think a college basketball office pool combined with a group outing to a ballpark.
“It’s the friends, the trash talk, the always having some skin in the game when you watch sports,” Mr. Mergler said. “That’s why everyone loves fantasy. My thought was, How do you optimize the experience?”
The problem with single-sport fantasy leagues, Mr. Mergler said, is that they can become stale. Devoid of risk and excitement. At least for avid players.
“Because fantasy is so popular, there are so many experts,” he said. “Everyone has the same information. Every [player] draft is the same. Trades are hard to pull off. Plus, there’s an offseason - fantasy football only lasts four months, and then everyone spends eight months wishing for the next season.
“Crossing sports means no more experts. Trades are wilder. Game play is year-round. And it gives people a reason to stay involved: You might be losing in baseball, but football gives you a fresh start. This one simple thing opens up a world of possibilities.”
Mr. Mergler initially wasn’t planning to found a business. A 2007 graduate of the University of Virginia law school, he had a job with the Washington office of Alston & Bird, Atlanta’s largest law firm. The pay was good. The work was steady. Mr. Mergler could afford to buy a house in Logan Circle and pay his student-loan debt.
Still, he felt unfulfilled. During Mr. Mergler’s senior year of college, his father, Donald - whom Mr. Mergler describes as his “best friend” and “security blanket” - unexpectedly died of a heart attack.Mr. Mergler was shaken.
“I became risk-averse,” he said. “I had good enough scores and an aptitude for the law, so I said, ‘What the hell, I should go to law school.’ If you’re a lawyer, you won’t go homeless. You’re going to have a comfortable level of income.
“Besides, I had delusions of grandeur from watching [the film] ‘A Few Good Men’ when I was younger, seeing [Tom] Cruise hammer someone on the witness stand.”
In law school and on the job, however, Mr. Mergler found himself more interested in playing and writing about fantasy sports than in corporate litigation. He was a columnist for Virginia’s law school newspaper and had a freelance writing gig with Major League Baseball’s website.
Meanwhile, recessionary economic pressures made his workplace environment increasingly toxic.
“There were three types of lawyers at that point,” Mr. Mergler said. “Those who were getting laid off, those going to work fearing it and those working so hard they wish they were laid off.”
When Mr. Mergler was let go in March 2009 - immediately following his first solo courtroom appearance, no less - his mentor gave him a parting piece of advice.
“He told me, ‘Toby, you’re as smart as any of the people that you’re going to represent,” Mr. Mergler said. “But they took a risk, and you didn’t. And that’s why you work for them.”
Building ‘underwater sandcastle’
© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.
About the Author
Patrick Hruby is an award-winning journalist who holds degrees from Georgetown and Northwestern. He also contributes to ESPN.com and The Atlantic Online, and his work has been featured in The Best American Sports Writing. Follow him on Twitter (@patrick_hruby) and contact him at PatrickHruby.net.
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