A quartet of football fans from Northern Ireland have created a new online concept in fantasy football that has won fans around the globe.

And now they’ve teamed up with the IFA to create a special GAWA version of their online game.

Managing Director Steven McComb, whose background is in web development, gave up his job in February to go full time with the Unique 11 project and a week later he was toasting his beloved Northern Ireland’s qualification for Euro 2016.

The 30-year-old has teamed up with his brother Andrew and two former work colleagues Adam Young and Ross Newton to develop an online game which means that no one in your fantasy league can own the same players as you.

Steven, Andrew and Adam of Unique 11. Not pictured is fellow team member Ross.

Steven, Andrew and Adam of Unique 11. Not pictured is fellow team member Ross.

Steven said: “All of us would have been big fantasy football players, but we were getting bored with the traditional format so we came up with something that would make it a bit more challenging.

“The game was based on seasonal draft fantasy football – no salary cap or club restrictions but each player can only be owned once in each league, removing the dreaded copycat team situation. So when Aguero is snapped up, his fantasy owner can enjoy the fact nobody else in his league can play him. It’s a more challenging and competitive concept but something that our users really love.”

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Leagues are for a minimum of eight and maximum of 16 players and the draft can be done online or offline, either way it helps if you’ve got all the competitors ready make their draft picks at the same time.

He added: “We had launched the first full version of our site at the start of recently finished English Premier League season and we received some encouraging progress with users signing up from 35 different countries. There’s players from Scandinavia, Serbia, Australia, it’s amazed us how far its spread. At our peak times during the season we reached 100,000 visits a month.”

They received backing from Invest NI to be able to grow the brand and now Steven and has team have created an IFA endorsed version of the game. The draft element is removed to create a more traditional fantasy football format with the stipulation that you have to pick a minimum of two players from Northern Ireland.

Steve explained how they ended up in league with the Irish Football Association: “The partnership with the Irish FA came about thanks to a little bit of right place, right time. Towards the end of the recently finished football season I was starting to think ahead to next year and look at new avenue to pursue. The Irish FA and NIFL was something that was on my radar and I LinkedIn with the Irish FA’s new (and first female) commercial director Oonagh O’Reilly.

“The Northern Ireland national team had just sealed qualification to their first major tournament in 30 years but unbeknownst to me at the time, the IFA were actively looking at ways to capitalise on this once-in-a-generation opportunity and reward their fans with a novel fan engagement strategy. My LinkedIn connection paid off and the IFA reached out to me about discussing ways to get involved.”

Fast forward a couple of months and now we have www.gawafantasyfootball.com

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Steve commented: “We have two aims from this partnership. The first is to increase brand awareness in the NI market – of our 100,000 visits per month, less than 20% come from Northern Ireland and Ireland. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, we aim to use the partnership to build credibility and increase our market recognition in the sports gaming industry. The success of this partnership will provide an excellent case study for demonstrating the value we can provide to other national and international sporting bodies.

“We are using this partnership as a good opportunity to rebrand our gaming platform as Unique 11 and after the Euros we will be focusing on further establishing our new concept of fantasy gaming. We have plans to extend beyond the EPL and branch into new football leagues and even new sports.”

Steve will be heading to all the Northern Ireland games in France and, should we reach the final, he’s got the option of a ticket for that too.

I remember my first game was a 3-0 defeat by Germany in 1999 at Windsor Park. Oliver Bierhoff scored two that night. I’d been a fan before that but that was the first match I was ever at. I’ve been a block booker since then.

Looking ahead to the Euros he said: “Michael O’Neill has done an amazing job and he’s given the team a real sense of belief. We’re in a tough group with Poland and Germany but if we can create an upset or two and make the second round that would be some achievement.”

Of his fantasy football tips he said: “Sadly for us I think Lewandowski and Muller will have a great tournament… and of course big Kyle Lafferty.”

GAWA Fantasy Football is available to play online now via gawafantasyfootball.com. For hardcore fans of fantasy football, check out the version including the draft at unique11.co.uk

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