Where Did FW Come From?
By Chad Merritt

Fantasy Wrestling’s roots lie in the ‘play-by-mail’ wrestling games that became prominent in the 1980s during wrestling’s “Golden Age.” Wrestling fans would sign up and create a wrestling character, usually choosing a series of moves or ‘scoring’ a wrestler’s abilities in various categories, much like creating a character in a roleplaying game like Dungeons & Dragons. “Handlers” (the wrestling fans) generally paid per match to compete. Along with their cash, they sent in strategies for their upcoming match or series of matches.

In the early 1990s, fantasy wrestling enthusiasts began to find more and more people involved in their hobby by going on-line to major bulletin board services like PRODIGY, AOL, Compuserve, etc. As the ‘sport’ progressed, various ‘factions’ emerged. Some simply took the play-by-mail game online, using e-mail in place of snail mail. Others expanded on the ‘strategy’ system, expanding to include actual roleplay from handlers. Many, like the CSWA, continued to use a ‘system’ to designate winners based on points and strategy, then began to incorporate roleplay into decisions. The separation between e-mail and roleplay leagues continues today. While roleplay leagues appear to receive more attention because of their websites, etc., e-mail leagues still amass significant popularity as well.

As “e-mail” and “roleplay” leagues progressed, players had to get used to a more basic distinction. The phraseology was simple: “real” leagues were those using real pro wrestlers as characters. These leagues operated similar to the regional feds of old: in one, Hunter Hearst Helmsley might be the top babyface, in another the snotty Frenchman, while in another a misguided Goth; whatever the handler decided. “Generated” leagues were those featuring brand new characters thought up by handlers. Originally, characters like Hornet or Mark Windham may have been based around the handler’s favorite real wrestlers; but the characters quickly took on a life of their own as they interacted with other generated characters in various leagues. Still a third type of league made no distinction, allowing both ‘real’ and ‘generated’ characters. These “mixed” leagues were the least numerous, followed by the “real” leagues, then the “generated.” Generated leagues have become the norm in most circles, but some major real leagues are still popular.

In the mid-1990s, the first websites featuring fantasy wrestling began to pop up as the World Wide Web started to grow. The first websites, like “FW Central” based off of PRODIGY, were relatively basic, but offered another place for players to interact. As the major online portals began changing their services, raising rates and charging per-hour of usage before finally settling into one price for ‘unlimited’ usage, websites began to become the obvious place to migrate. In the late 1990s, as website operators became familiar with HTML, CGI and other coding, websites started to add more features, including their own message boards. By 1998, sites like FWLNet/IWO-Online, EMWC, NWC and FantasyWrestling.com had shifted users from AOL, PRODIGY and other services to the Web proper. Since then, the trend to progress has continued, including Flash animation and websites, Poser pictures and even animated videos, led by sites like the fWo and CWL, and designers like Travis Beaven. Even “resource” sites have begun to dominate the landscape, featuring columns, tutorials and ‘news’, as well as a place for discussion. Sites like EWStrike, EWzine, Wrestlecell, EWUncensored, EWNWeb are just a few of the sites that have covered the ‘resource’ side of Fantasy Wrestling over the last couple of years.

The WWW is a big place, and various ‘circles’ of fantasy wrestling have sprung up with their own leagues and idiosyncrasies. Some feature e-mail leagues, others prefer “interfed” leagues. Some value design almost, if not more, than content; while some are almost spartan. Others focus on resource sites even more than federations themselves. Many ‘shootfighting’ feds have sprung up, along with those centered around boxing or more ‘extreme’ styles. Leagues like the fWo have even incorporated major pop culture phenomena like Survivor.

If anything has become even more apparent, it is that there’s a place for every type of fed, every type of handler and every type of angle. Fantasy wrestling continues to evolve: in some circles there’s an almost Luddite sense of keeping to ‘tradition’ and harkening back to the days of regional feds in ‘real’ wrestling; in others, wrestling has almost been pushed out of the way entirely in favor of new avenues of storytelling.