Sex is cool and all, but have you ever been on the clock in a dynasty startup draft?
We all love the sweet, sweet hit of dopamine we get from drafting a new dynasty team. There is just something exhilarating about starting fresh and constructing a championship roster from the ground up.
What’s the downside to all of this “Startup Season” excitement? There is an increase in orphaned teams all across the dynasty universe as managers lose interest in their old, saggy leagues in favor of the new hotness.
No one likes to see vacancies pop up in their favorite leagues. Orphaned teams can unsettle everyone’s confidence in the league’s long-term health. More departures may soon follow. What fun is it to put in all the work necessary to build a winner if there is concern that the league will soon fold? What is the point?
And therein lies the problem with the traditional dynasty format.
Like a game of Monopoly, most dynasty leagues last until everyone decides they don’t want to play anymore. Then the league unceremoniously dies, and lots of projects go unfinished. There isn’t a true, ultimate winner of the league. It just fizzles out.
With how prevalent ditching existing leagues has become, the dynasty community is ready for and needs a seismic shift in how we view the game.
To accomplish this huge task, I present a simple remedy: a new and improved type of dynasty league… an Empire League.
According to my oh-so-super-scientific Twitter (X?) polling data from last year, almost 60 percent of the nearly 2,000 voters said they had never heard of an Empire League. I can only assume that an even larger percentage of fantasy footballers than that have never participated in one.
This deeply saddens me because Empire is, quite simply, the absolute best way to play dynasty.
I believe it should become mainstream like the Tight End Premium and Superflex formats have over the past few years.
Okay, so what is an Empire League?
Much in the way that esteemed physical educator Dr. James Naismith long ago breathed life into the game of basketball from nothing but a peach basket, fantasy football industry legend Paul Charchian gave birth to the Empire League format in 2012.
“Around the office, I was bemoaning that dynasty leagues don’t have a true champion,” Charchian said. “Sure, there’s last year’s reigning champion, but there isn’t a way for someone to permanently win a dynasty league. I wanted to crown a true champion.”
Charchian’s eventual solution was simple: a dynasty league that completely ends when a manager wins consecutive championships. That back-to-back champion is then declared the “true champion” of the league. Then the league ends.
Charchian dubbed the format “Empire” because, as he stated, “rather than simply building a team that can win once, you’re trying to build an empire that needs to stand the test of time.”
Aside from adding a finite endpoint to a dynasty league, the other significant aspect of Charchian’s Empire League format was how the prize money worked.
In a typical dynasty league, 100 percent of the annual dues is paid out as prize money after the fantasy playoffs.
In an empire league, 50 percent of the annual dues is paid out as prize money at the end of the season, as usual. The other half is held in what Charchian unofficially calls the “Empire Pot.” That pot then grows each season (Leaguesafe.com supports Empire leagues, by the way) until someone manages to win the entire thing by gloriously winning the league in back-to-back years, which is no easy task.
“There should be a substantial reward for this difficult accomplishment,” said Charchian. “And that’s why we roll half the money forward each year, to create a significant cash event for the winner.”
Why is the Empire League format superior?
It seems like such a straightforward change to end a dynasty league after someone wins twice in a row. But that simple tweak makes a massive difference in my personal enjoyment of the game. I still play in a few traditional dynasty leagues but strongly prefer empire leagues.
First and foremost, that epidemic of orphaned teams and stagnant leagues we discussed before? There are far fewer orphaned teams across empire leagues than in traditional dynasty leagues.
Why? Adding a defined, ultimate goal for managers to shoot for is enormous. That dangling carrot of the ever-growing empire pot at the end of the rainbow is typically a strong incentive to stick around. I’ve even found that even if a manager is hopeless about their roster and would otherwise bail, the fact that someone else will eventually win and end the league keeps people from leaving because an end is in sight. They elect to stick it out until then to save face.
Whatever the reason, the fewer orphaned squads and dying leagues, the better for the community as a whole.
Many Empire players have also said that the race to win the pot has curbed some of the “perpetual rebuilds” that dynasty managers sometimes like to partake in. More urgency to contend usually makes the league more exciting in general. Encouraging faster rebuilds also typically leads to more trades, which everyone playing fantasy football wants.
Why I personally love Empire Leagues
My personal “home league”, filled with some of my closest real-life friends back in Minnesota, converted to an empire league probably close to a decade ago after hearing Charchian introduce the format on a sports talk radio station in the Twin Cities.
Our league has seen the empire pot won a couple of times. Each time, we rebooted the league with the same members but slightly tweaked/updated rules to reflect the PPR, Superflex, and Tight End Premium trends over the years.
That has been an underrated benefit of Empire for our close-knit group. Instead of feeling stuck in an endless dynasty with rules that some may grow tired of or think outdated, this allows for a chance to reinvent the league after someone wins to keep things fresh and exciting.
Not to mention, we get to do a new startup draft each time!
Some dynasty purists do not like that the league ends, claiming that the long-term roster-building strategies popular in dynasty are not applicable in the empire format. I have not found this to be the case.
Our home empire league lasted six seasons before someone eventually managed to win the pot. That manager used a textbook “Productive Struggle” strategy during the startup and picked 1.01 two years after that before eventually winning it all a couple of seasons later. It is not as easy to repeat as champion and win an empire league as some may think.
In fact, according to Charchian, his very first empire league from 2012 — the first one ever — is still going strong. The pot currently sits at $11,000.
Still, empire leagues are easily customizable for those who want to make the league harder to end. For example, another of my leagues required three consecutive championships to end the league. It might not ever happen! But the allure of that huge empire pot still provides tons of fun in that league.
There are many other customizations and quirks that I’ve seen across my Empire portfolio as well. In several of them, trading with the defending champion is banned. In another league, where we were nervous when the pot topped several thousand dollars, we ruled that three non-consecutive championships would also end the league and win the pot. I’ve seen leagues that award the pot but not reset rosters after the league is over. I love how versatile and customizable Empire Leagues can be.
In addition to all of this, the members in my empire leagues have enjoyed the heightened sense of competition and magnitude of each season, given that such a significant prize is on the line. I’ve witnessed increased activity in chat, more trades, and more intense enthusiasm than in my traditional stale dynasty setups.
At the end of the day, will my affinity for the format propel Empire into the mainstream and revolutionize the community?
But for the reasons listed above, I believe the format is the absolute best and could change the world of dynasty fantasy football as we know it for the better. It adds a new element of strategy to roster building and an enticing ultimate prize to shoot for.
Charchian summed it up perfectly when he said, “Obviously, I’m biased, but Empire is the best way to play dynasty. It adds more strategy, emotions, and incentive to any dynasty league. I can confidently say that winning an empire league is the greatest feeling in traditional season-long fantasy sports.”