This article is part of our The Reddit Madden League series.
You'll forgive me for being just a tad bit nervous.
It was my first game in the 2018 version of the Reddit Madden League (RML for short), a 32-user, fantasy-drafted league that has been going on since the dark days of the PlayStation 3. A league that boasts a wide variety of skill levels, and even more personalities, many of which have stuck around since the beginning days of the original league.
I've been playing Madden since the Ray Lewis cover came out in 2005, gloriously (and not at all embarrassingly) announcing a given franchise game in the comforts of my bedroom as my family begrudgingly grew to accept (more like tolerate) my love for video games - THE football game in particular. My mom would tell you that's when she knew I would be a radio personality someday, but I suspect that's only because she would likely have had to check me into an insane asylum if it was anything else.
It's an odd feeling, really, to try and strategize and develop a roster that could compete against 31 like-minded people, each of whom know how to manipulate the Madden CPU and their opponents, if not better, than surely equal to me. I was quite good at beating up on the CPU, honing my skills and playstyle to something vaguely similar to what I appreciate in the actual NFL, but none of that was against actual, real-life, people. This was an entirely different world I stumbled into, and it had me just a tiny bit on edge.
And when I say stumbled, I really mean it. Until last year, the thought of joining a 32-user Madden league hadn't really crossed my mind. Sure, I had done franchises with two or three of my close friends or the years, but I had never thought about joining one of this scale. Through a still hilarious-to-this-day tweet that I posted on the Madden Reddit page last year, though, the idea was realized, as I was randomly introduced to the concept by Dan Borowski, former head of the RML and generally good guy (he paid me to say that) in a throwaway Reddit message that clearly looked like it had been copied-and-pasted to several other prospective members.
my need for friendship my passion for the game and competitiveness, I agreed to join the league last year, despite signing on to manage arguably one of the worst teams, the Colts. Battered by four years of regression and multiple owners who tossed aside the team like it was a prom night dumpster baby, the franchise's key players were 36-year-old Aaron Rodgers and an 82 overall second-year right tackle. Needless to say, I was happy to win three of the final six games of that season and miss the playoffs.
Shortly after that, the league would descend into chaos, fueled by the fumes of a poorly-programmed game and the lack of interest from people willing to join a franchise already four years in. We would eventually wind up redrafting an entirely new league in order to cough up more bright-eyed new recruits like myself, but with Madden 18 just a few months around the corner, interest would dwindle to the point where RML would only complete the initial redraft season.
Thus, similar to a deer galloping across a highway during rush hour, I was excited to pick up Madden 18 and dive into the newest iteration of the RML. Getting to draft my own team for the start turned out to be a curse, as my propensity for younger players led to me having the second lowest overall of any team in the league. But at very least, it could be MY players, a relatively first-world problem compared to the utter devastation that came with old-man A-a-ron trying to throw a 15-yard out route.
Oh yeah, about that first game; perhaps not surprisingly, I lost. The nerves certainly got the best of me. Playing against a very active (it was the nicest word I could use in this situation) member in the chat, affectionately known as Lope, I was prepared for an utter thrashing as I continued to work my team through its growing pains. While the thrashing never came, other pitfalls of a 32-team league did - namely playing against a stout defense led by a capable user. It wasn't a pretty game from either side, but the end result would see me lose 17-10, starting off the season in typical Packers 0-1 fashion (thankfully I upgraded from the Colts for 2018).
Still, it was an exhilarating feeling - knowing I would get to grow and learn about a series franchise, which despite its many, many warts, will always be one of my favorite games. The loss hurt my pride, but to be in this league I suspect that'll occur plenty enough throughout the seasons. I'll be documenting and writing about the RML each week, studying footage of prospective opponents, trading away all of my players for draft picks because I can't help myself, and losing many more times to come.
But throughout it all, I can assure you one thing - I'm going to have a lot of fun. I'm fortunate enough to have stumbled into a group of players that all share similar interests of mine, chief being our love for football and the only video game that bears its likeness. Finding a community is easy, but discovering a family is unique. That's what the RML league is to me, and should you be lucky enough to receive a pre-written invite on Reddit, it will be for you too.