Utah builds fantasy gaming platform to bring state workers together

Superheroes and sandwiches are both categories in which state employees may compete using Utah's Geek Bracket gaming platform. (Getty Images)

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To stave off the tedium of working from home during the pandemic and reconnect with their colleagues, some of the more technically minded staff inside the Utah state government this year developed an online platform that lets state workers competing in a series of fantasy-sports-style games.

But rather than picking football players or basketball teams, they’re pitting sandwiches, superheroes and hair bands against each other.

“You might have a Philly cheesesteak going up against a knuckle sandwich,” said Utah Chief Information Officer Mike Hussey.

Hussey told StateScoop that some of the people working in his department developed the platform, called Geek Bracket, after longing for their usual in-office competitions revolving around the college basketball national championship, which — like many other sporting events — was canceled this year.

“We were trying to figure out how to connect the office even though we’re remote and trying to supplement our big March Madness thing we missed out on,” said Hussey, who heads the state’s Department of Technology Services.

Without real-life sporting events to determine the outcomes of each match-up in the competition, Hussey said each sandwich (or band or superhero or sitcom) is assigned a ranking, while dice rolls are used to introduce the randomness needed to make the game unpredictable and fun.

Geek Bracket screenshot
Utah’s technology division competes virtually using its in-house fantasy gaming platform, Geek Bracket. (Mike Hussey)

Some employees wore costumes for the festivities, he said, including the winner, who dressed as Kiss bassist Gene Simmons.

Hussey said Geek Bracket serves the dual purposes of boosting morale during a difficult period and giving his developers a chance to hone their skills.

“I think there are some very valid points to those people who say they can’t wait to get back in the office because of that separation,” he said. “So we’ve been trying to solve this … and at the same time developing that camaraderie and developing talent, like, hey, let’s have you guys figure out how to do this new technology by writing an application that ESPN would be envious of.”

Built on relatively new cloud-based software, the project “pushed the envelope on technology,” Hussey said, adding that his department would share it with other organizations looking for a diversion that can bring people together in a time of social isolation.

“It was a ton of fun,” he said.

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fantasy sports, Geek Bracket, Mike Hussey, Utah
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