Paul Charchian is a Minnesota-based fantasy football analyst and radio host, and the creator of Fanball.com. A lifelong gamer, he hosts Video Games Weekly on KFAN on Tuesday nights. The VR enthusiast recently took some time to chat with OiO about his career and his passion for gaming.
Where did you go to school and what did you study? What was your original plan for your career?
I went to school for one year at St. Olaf, when my parents were paying for me for a year. St. Olaf became too expensive, and they didn’t have my major. I ultimately wanted to be a journalism major. I left behind St. Olaf, even though I loved it. I left behind a lot of friends, and went to the University of Minnesota. It was a sizable culture shock because I came from class sizes of 18 people and my first class at the University of Minnesota was Psych 1001 and that was in an auditorium with 1,500 people and the class was on tape. I’m thinking to myself, “What have I done? What a disaster this is going to be.”
Ultimately, they had my major and I ended up going through journalism school but I didn’t think I would put it to use to be honest. I thought I was a computer guy. I was already employed. I was a computer trainer through college, and as soon as I graduated I had a computer networking job, and I thought that was going to be my career. I loved journalism, and had the journalism degree, but I didn’t think I would use it and that I would go on to be a computer guy, but things change.
When did your love for Fantasy Football start?
I have loved Fantasy Football and I have been playing straight through since 1987, when I was just out of high school. I really loved it, and that turned into my number one hobby. I ended up putting a lot of my time into it, doing newsletters and trying to be a great commissioner. Faxing newsletters around to everyone, and updates and weekly stuff.
At that time, it was all scored by hand. Originally, even pre-computerization, it was all by hand. Even once we had computers for the league, it was just using Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheets to keep track of the standings and points and stuff like that. You still had to tabulate every players score in your head with the box score. Monday morning you’d run out and get the paper and tabulate all the scores. It was an extremely manual process back then. You had to set your lineup on Thursday, so that I could mail everybody’s lineups, so they would have them for Sunday. You’d have to set a lineup on Thursday and just live with it. Those were the bad old days. There was no part of that that’s better than what we have today.
How did you end up as a fantasy analyst? What outlets have you worked for and with? What projects have you tackled along the way?
I got involved in the fantasy sports industry right out of college in 1993. We created a fantasy football magazine at a time when there was literally no published content in the industry once the season started. There were a couple of preseason magazines and that was it. We made the magazine we wanted to read, Fantasy Football Weekly. We felt like there was a need. It was something we would have wanted. That’s how it all started.
My co-founder was a guy named Rob Phythian. Rob and I still work together today. We started the company in 1993. We wound up selling it in 2005, then he went his way and I went my way. I created LeagueSafe, he did some other things and now a decade later we’re back together again.
When you started the magazine, were you doing that in addition to your full-time day job?
Yeah, that was nights and weekends for the first three years of Fantasy Football Weekly. We didn’t have any full-time employees. I was trying to make ends meet with my day job and then go home and work all night and work all weekend and then go back to working at the day job. That part of it was tough, but you know, it’s not uncommon. That’s part of what you do when you are a young startup entrepreneur, with effectively an unfunded company. That’s part of what you go through. Looking back I have no regrets, for sure.
There were a lot of challenges with print, especially back then. That was pre-digital magazine for the most part, so there were a lot more challenges to it back then. To get it on newsstands early in the week, and to get it across the country so it could sell during the same week, we had to be done with the magazine by 9 p.m. on Sunday to preview everything that happened the next week. We would basically pre-write the entire magazine during the week, and then over the course of Sunday change things as they happened based on the games that we saw. Back then you couldn’t necessarily see all the games, which was another real conundrum. We were at a massive disadvantage, but everyone was just so starved for content that we had an advantage just by being there.
Was it primarily subscription based, or on newsstands?
It was both. Our newsstand sales in the Twin Cities were really good, and then the farther away you went the worse it got because of the time it took to ship it. Every day counts. We would ship it either next day or two-day air it to another city, say San Francisco, and then you hoped that magazine distributor would get it on the newsstand within a couple of days, but sometimes they wouldn’t. And then you hoped to get on the newsstand by maybe Thursday of that week, then you only have like two days to sell. Thursday, Friday and maybe Saturday. It was a really tough business, and not one that was super profitable. We didn’t turn Fanball into a meaningful company until we started the website version.
The rise of the internet changed everything for our business. The magazine started to get really old really fast, with just the data and the content that was in it. Because we had to write it on Sunday, by the time Wednesday or Thursday rolled around it just felt old. Before long, as much as we loved it, we put an end to the weekly magazine and just oriented all of our business towards the internet and Fanball.com.
In 2005, we sold the company. We both stayed on for about a year, then I went off to form LeagueSafe, because I really thought there was a big need in the electronic entry fee security side of the business. We created LeagueSafe to simplify entry fees and to make sure the right people were getting paid. It was really a consumer protection and convenience company. It’s still going strong today. It ended up being reasonably successful. I got LeagueSafe started, ran that for about 10 years and then I partnered back up with Rob to blend it into the current-day Fanball.
What other products did Fanball offer?
It started as the magazine, then we started Fanball.com which was primarily content and our commissioner product. We had a commissioner product that launched in about 2001, before ESPN really had a good one and before Yahoo had a good one, and so we were early enough in we had a really competitive advantage. That was our best product by a long shot. At the time it was a really revolutionary commissioner program. But when we ended up selling, the people that took it over kind of ran the company into the ground and Fanball commissioner went with it, unfortunately.
When did you start to realize you could make a career out of it?
Well, I didn’t have a choice. I was working at a company, and they fired me. I think in no small part because I was putting a lot of my effort into Fanball. It turned into a situation where I had to leave a then-$60,000 job so I could make $18,000 a year at Fanball, and try to make ends meet off that. That was difficult, but sooner or later you just say, ‘I got to make the jump sometime.’ That was a pretty good time because this company didn’t want me doing both anymore.
How has Fanball grown since you reacquired the site? What does the future hold?
Fanball’s grown a lot of different ways. We have a lot of different ways to play Fantasy than we did before. We’ve got a new auction game, in which we do real-time, live, frantic auctioning. We’ve got guillotine leagues now. We’ve got a lot of new ways to play, and that’s just a core belief of mine. There’s an unlimited number of ways to play Fantasy, so why not be creative about it and offer people different ways to play? We don’t all have to play the same way anymore, and I think the marketplace is mature enough where people want to have a second league or third league or some new way to play and we want to be able to pull it off. That’s a lot of what we are doing at Fanball right now.
Do you have a personal favorite variant for Fantasy Football?
My new favorite is the guillotine league, which is so much fun. It’s great. For people who don’t know, it’s season-long. In the preseason you start a league with 17 people. Every week the low–scoring team gets eliminated and their roster goes to free agency, so that everyone else can bid on those guys. It’s so much fun, all of a sudden after week one say Saquon Barkley is available because he had a bad week, his team got eliminated and all these great players are available every week for bidding. Everybody who is still alive starts compiling these better and better, awesome teams. By midseason, everyone’s teams start looking really good. By the time you get down to the very end, it’s just two teams left in week 16, and they are just powerhouse teams going at each other. It is a blast.
What are ways fans can interact with you during the football season? What platforms allow them to challenge your fantasy football skills?
We have the Crush Charch Challenge at Grain Belt. We have the Chase Charch at Fanball.com. Those are two games you can play against me specifically. I interact with people on social media all the time. We have back-and-forths. We debate each other and challenge each other, sometimes I agree to do an interview off social media. That happens too.
I like learning from the listeners and the followers. I think anyone who thinks they are always the smartest one in the room are really limiting things. To me it’s just a lot of fun to see what other people think, what other people have on their minds and the analysis they’ve done. I love the back-and-forth.
I’m really only on Twitter (@PaulCharchian). I don’t do a lot of selfies or photography, so I’m not on Instagram. I don’t care for Facebook’s business practices, so I’m not on Facebook any more. Twitter is my platform right now. I have a lot of regret that I didn’t just go with @Charch. I don’t remember any more if Charch was taken, or if I just thought, ‘You know what, I should get my name before anyone else takes my name and I’ve got to go battle for Paul Charchian. I should have just done both.
You are known as Charch to the world. What does your family call you.
I’m all Paul to the family, but they are all Charch’s too. It’s weird for them to call me anything else. My daughter’s 13, and her friends have started calling her Charch. That’s a little bit weird, right? We’ve got multiple Charch’s in the family.
What does your life look like during the football season? Can you give us an overview of a typical week?
It’s a routine where I do the same thing every Monday, every Tuesday, every Wednesday, repeated 17 times during the season. Monday I have already started working on my player rankings for the coming week. Then there is prepping for Monday Night Football and watching Monday Night Football. Lots of player ranking work and lots of waiver wire work on Tuesday. Then Tuesday night video game show (Video Games Weekly on KFAN in Minneapolis).
Wednesday is when we release my player rankings for the first time that week, and so there is lots and lots of work in getting those ready to get deployed throughout the day. That’s most of Wednesday, and then Thursday is my radio day. I do six, seven or eight out-of-market radio spots on Thursdays, and then there is Thursday Night Football. Fridays I have Friday Football Feast in the morning, and then I prep for Saturday’s show throughout Friday afternoon and Friday night.
Then on Saturday’s I do a show, Fantasy Football Weekly, and then I get Saturday afternoon off and all day Sunday is football. That’s the grind for 17 weeks of football. I do radio spots in seven or eight markets regularly, and I do a lot of one-offs here and there as well. I’ve been able to build up a lot of great relationships and became good friends with a lot of hosts in a lot of cities. It’s one of the highlights of what I do.
What’s your setup like for football?
I’m a believer in projectors. I love having the big-screen projector. People don’t realize, they think they are really expensive. They’re not! Projectors are no more expensive than regular TVs. If you’ve got the big wall, and you can put up anything bigger than a 100-inch screen, this is the way to go. In my case I’ve got a 110-inch screen. I’ve got a projector and on Sundays in the past I’ve used DIRECTV which splits up your screen eight ways and shows eight different games at once, which is super fun. Right now I’m testing the Sony Vue, but I may have to go back to DIRECTV when the season starts. We’ll see.
How do you process eight different games at once and social media all at the same time?
It’s fun! Your eyes kind of get used to watching every play in action, so your brain gets adjusted to ‘Oh, there’s a hike.’ You go to screen two, and then that play ends and there is action over here so you go to that screen and that screen and that screen. Your brain tunes in to where there is something exciting happening. Do you miss some stuff? Yeah, for sure. But mostly, you don’t.
In addition to working in the fantasy industry, you love games. When did you fall in love with this medium?
I’ve always loved video games, my whole life. I love the challenge. I love the social interaction part of it, especially playing with friends. My parents grew up in an age where you just sat and watched TV. If you wanted to unwind, you watch TV. And that is an inert process, in which you just sit there and you let the programming wash over you and you ingest as much of it as you want. With video games, you’re working. It’s a challenge, and you’re invested in a way that you’re not with just TV.
For the people who poopoo video games, I always come back with, ‘You know, there’s a whole generation before us that sat and listened to the radio, they sat and watched TV at night. This is way healthier than those things.’ Videos games, they work you, they challenge you, they interact with you, and those are all far healthier outcomes than sitting and being a couch potato, in my opinion.
Have you ever had a job in the games industry?
I’ve never worked directly in the video game industry, or in the production of video games, but what I do have is a background selling them. Back in high school I worked at a B. Dalton Bookseller, Eden Prairie Center. As an experiment they decided they wanted to sell software inside the store and they had a little display case inside the bookstore that had software in it. That grew in time to the point where they wanted to try a test store in Southdale, in the basement. They created a store called Software Etc. and they asked their employees, ‘Does anyone want to work here? Would you rather sell software or books?’
So I decided to make the move over. At the time, what you couldn’t have known was that first store would ultimately become GameStop. And Software Etc. would eventually absorb some competitors and keep growing and expanding to thousands and thousands of store, and become an absolute force in the marketplace.
Back then, we were selling not just games, but we were selling all kinds of stuff. Books, software, magazines, tons and tons of business software, Windows, everything. You had to be able to talk about Ultima 3 with a 15 year-old kid, then walk over and talk about Lotus 1-2-3 and dBase with people, and C+ programming with another guy. So you had to know a lot about a lot of different things to work in the video game retail industry, at least the way Software Etc. worked. In time they gave up on all the business stuff and just went with the games.
Your brother has worked in the video game industry for years for both Microsoft and Sony. What is it like having a relative in the industry?
He had the opportunity to work on both Xbox, including the launch of the Xbox 360, which were great times and really fascinating because of course the first Xbox wasn’t a huge success but it set the path for them to make the Xbox 360, which clearly won the next generation. Then he went over to the Sony Playstation for the launch of the PS4 that has turned out to be very successful for them. He only recently got out of the industry altogether, it’s been fun watching him, and it’s been great having someone to bounce video game stuff off of. Like what’s going to be successful and what isn’t and what works and what doesn’t, and have somebody from the other side of the fence that really understands it from the console standpoint is really fun and different.
What are your opinions on Virtual Reality?
I love VR. I think it’s a ton of fun. As much fun as it is, it’s probably even more fun to watch other people have their first experience in VR. It’s jaw-dropping. It’s just amazing how much it fools you. The degree to which you feel you are really there, and watching people who are in VR at the edge of a cliff, and they are inching up to the edge of it and they are looking down, and they won’t go one step farther. They are just in my living room, and they will not extend their foot over the edge of the cliff they are seeing, it’s crazy how much a VR system can really fool you into believing what they want you to believe. Whatever world they put you in, it works really, really well. I’m a firm believer in the future of VR. We’re starting to see second-generation hardware coming out from Oculus, and Rift and Steam and others, and I think the second generation of VR will make it even more accessible for people. As cost comes down value goes up and some of the other barriers to VR today get eliminated.
Which technology would you recommend to friends?
It’s a little bit tricky. Oculus is a better value and they have better support, but wireless VR is awesome, and only the HTC Vive has got a wireless headset. Wireless is great because you are really disconnected from the world at that point. Bonking into the wire is one of the things that keeps you back in reality. When you don’t have the wire to bonk into, that really does change things. I’ve got the Vive and I’ve been very happy with it.
Editor’s Note: This interview took place before the Oculus Quest was announced.
What’s the first VR title someone should buy?
Skyrim and then mod it to the hilt. That’s one of the great things about Skyrim, is there are thousands and thousands of mods, so you can dramatically overhaul, change and improve the game. Not just the graphics, but also hundreds and hundreds of hours of new content, skill trees, the appearance of everything. There are so many fun things that you can do with a fully-modded Skyrim. If I were advising anyone that would probably be the first stop, is go get Skyrim VR and have a blast with all the mods.
You have hosted Video Games Weekly on KFAN in Minneapolis for years. Can you tell us about the history of the show, and the co-hosts you’ve had?
We’ve had three co-hosts and it started a decade ago. When we first started the show, it was me and Andy McNamara, editor-in-chief of Game Informer magazine. At the time, we’d come on the air, and there would be a deluge of emails that would come to the inbox for the station, a bunch of ‘get this crap off the air, you nerds. Nobody cares, talk about sports.’ A decade later it couldn’t be any further to the opposite. We don’t get any of those emails anymore, and we could take phone calls all night. Just interact with people who love video games, which is awesome. And I love that video games in 10 years have gotten out of mom’s basement. Everybody plays them. Everybody plays video games now. You’re not a nerd if you play video games, you’re a weirdo if you don’t play video games. And we love talking about it.
Matt Helgeson was my second co-host. They’ve all brought different stuff to the table. Matt was really thoughtful and more reserved. Then there is (current co-host Andrew) Reiner, who plays everything. Anything I throw at him, he’s already played it. If not to completion, he’s already put like 17 hours into it. He knows something about everything, and I’ve been blessed to have such good co-hosts on the show.
What are some of the highs of having a weekly radio show? Are there challenges?
For me, I just love to talk about and share things that I feel passionate about. I love video games, and I love the industry, and I love watching it work. I like to be able to have an outlet to talk about it to people. I don’t take for granted that most people can’t do that. Although they can now with podcasts, anyone can make a podcast, which is great. You don’t have to have 100,000 watts of radio behind you like I do. But it’s a luxury and a blessing that I do have it and I’m very grateful to the station management that they let me do this. Emotionally, it’s very rewarding that I get to talk about things that I love, whether it’s the video game show or the fantasy football show.
You’ve mentioned how you share gaming with your daughter on the show. How did you introduce her to video games, and what have been some of your favorite shared gaming memories with her?
She loves video games and we definitely play games together. We like to play cooperative games. She’s a 13-year-old girl, she doesn’t like shooters, she likes other kinds of games. She’s also very thoughtful. We’ll play deep, tactical games like Civilization together. We’ll play games that really do require a lot of thought. She likes, and can handle, deeper games. Which is great.
I think the earliest game that we really, deeply bonded over was Child of Light, which is a game in which the protagonist is a teenage girl. She’s lost her parents, and it’s a story of her trying to find the story of her parents. It’s a roleplaying game, and I got to play as her sidekick. She got to be the main character. We had a ton of fun playing that game together. We ultimately finished the game, solved the game, and she still has fond memories of it. Later, she went on and played it on her own, and solved it on the Vita. She even has a poster in her room today of Child of Light and she’s learned how to play the theme song on her guitar.
What games would you recommend for playing with kids?
There are a lot of games that are out right now, but Overcooked and Overcooked 2 are terrific four-player couch co-op games that you can play with almost anybody of any age. It almost always ends up turning into four people yelling at each other and barking orders at each other, like ‘I need lettuce! I need lettuce!’ and ‘I’ve got the lettuce, I’m chopping it, I’m coming, I’m coming! Wait, who’s got the dirty dishes? Alright, I’m coming over there.’ It’s great, it’s so much fun hearing everybody try to cooperate and ply Overcooked. I think it’s one of the best co-op experiences ever made.