Oscar pools, out. Oscar fantasy drafts, in.

Skip the Oscar Pool. The Oscar Fantasy Draft Is Way More Fun! 

Skip the Oscar Pool. The Oscar Fantasy Draft Is Way More Fun! 

All about the Academy Awards.
Feb. 24 2016 3:13 PM

Skip the Oscar Pool. This Year Run an Oscar Fantasy Draft!

It’s the Oscar-night game for people who actually like games (and movies).

oscar nominee.
Grab ’em while you can: Kate Winslet, Christian Bale, Jennifer Lawrence, and Bryan Cranston.

Photo illustration by Sofya Levina. Images by John Phillips/Getty Images, Ian Gavan/Getty Images, Robyn Beck/Getty Images, Mark Ralston/Getty Images, Christopher Polk/Getty Images.

Oscar night—the climax of awards season—is just a few days away. Do you know who you’ll be watching with Sunday night, and where? Have you planned your The Martian–themed potato vodka martini? Most importantly: Have you set up your Oscar pool?

Well, we’ve got a better idea. This year, skip the Oscar pool, which encourages lazy last-minute picking and rarely generates any actual drama. Take a page instead from fantasy sports, and try a much more fun alternative—the Oscar Fantasy Draft.

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Sure, an Oscar pool is easy to manage. But it’s not that much fun to play! Everyone picks the same one or two nominees in each category, i.e., the odds-on favorites—especially when it comes to Best Picture. So it’s rare for an underdog to come from behind and use those final few awards to steal a dramatic Oscar pool victory. Also, since pools neither reward planning nor penalize laziness, people tend to put off selecting until shortly before the show. It’s hard to feel invested in picks that you’ve given barely any thought to, assuming you remember them at all.

Luckily, having identified the flaws in Oscar pools, we were ready to science the shit out of their replacement. That’s how we arrived at the idea for the Oscar Fantasy Draft. It’s the perfect solution: No two participants can select the same nominee, which means that the points from each award will go to only one participant; and the suspenseful selection process encourages competitive gamesmanship. Basically, the Oscar Fantasy Draft is the Oscar-night game for people who actually like games (and movies).

If you’re unfamiliar with fantasy drafts, fear not—this one’s really simple:

  • There are 121 Oscar nominees across the 24 categories, from The Big Short for Best Picture to Ennio Morricone (The Hateful Eight) for Best Score to Star Wars: The Force Awakens for Visual Effects. Here’s the list.
  • Assign your friends a draft order at random. To keep things fair, you’ll use what’s called a “snake draft.” Put simply, whoever picks last in round one then picks first in round two, and whoever picks first in round one must pick last in round two. The order keeps reversing (or “snaking” back and forth) from one round to the next. For the visually oriented, here’s what a five-person draft would look like through six rounds: 12345-54321-12345-54321-12345-54321. Got it?
  • Once a nominee is drafted, that nominee is off the board. So, for instance, if you draft Adam McKay for Best Director, then nobody else can. They can still draft any other available nominee, including The Big Short in its other categories (Editing, Screenplay, etc.), but Adam McKay is yours-all-yours. Similarly, if you like Brie Larson for Best Actress but someone else has already picked her, tough luck.
  • The draft ends when all 121 nominees have been selected.
  • During the ceremony, hold on to your list of drafted nominees, and cheer for your shoo-ins and long shots. You get 20 points for each winner on your roster in any of the big eight “marquee” categories: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor/Actress, Best Supporting Actor/Actress, Best Screenplay, and Best Adapted Screenplay. You get 10 points for each winner in any of the other categories.
slack screenshot.
Slatesters duking it out.

Screenshot by Slate via Slack

As you can imagine, the draft allows for lots of different strategies: Should you spread things out and try to pick one likely winner from each category (high risk, high reward)? Or should you try to snatch up multiple nominees in each of a smaller number of categories, so as to ensure yourself at least a few wins (hedging your bets)? Should you swing for the fences by focusing on the high-value “marquee” categories, or look for wins among the lower-profile ones? It’s your call.

Finally, don’t think that we’d suggest an idea like this without also taking the plunge ourselves. Our most competitive and movie-addicted Slatesters took part in our Oscar Fantasy Draft this week. (We had so many takers that we had to split into two divisions, the Crash Division and the Brokeback Division.) Never has a pre-Oscars ritual sparked so much drama, distraction, and snark within the Slate offices. Instead of hurriedly filling out a checklist between glances at the red-carpet show, our full-on draft was fun and funny. And with opposing rooting interests now infusing every category, the ceremony should be more exciting and competitive than ever before. Give it a try—and when you proudly rise at the end of the night for your big victory speech, don’t forget to thank your friends at Slate.

Darian Alexander is an attorney and writer based in New York.