I’ve read or listened to pretty much everything anyone has written or says about daily fantasy sports, because it’s my job to keep up with it. Short news articles, long-form think pieces, TV spots, legislative committee hearings.
I can tell you this about Dueling with Kings: High Stakes, Killer Sharks, and the Get-Rich Promise of Daily Fantasy Sports: It is the best thing you’ll read about the industry, of any length.
I’ve known — any many other people have too — that the DFS industry was ripe for a book to be written about it. There are at least one or two other books in progress. I pondered trying to do it for a time in late 2015, but that would have meant dropping what I was doing to pursue a book full-time, something I didn’t have the courage or the wherewithal to do.
Why does DFS make a good book? There’s plenty of intrigue, lots of money, and a great story to tell.
Barbarisi takes it a step further, putting himself into the story, creating an even more interesting tale.
The premise of the DFS book
The premise of the book is simple enough: Author Daniel Barbarisi, a Wall Street Journal sportswriter, comes across DFS in 2015. That’s when it came into the American consciousness for many people.
He starts playing DFS while covering his WSJ beat — the New York Yankees — and decides two things: That he wants to try to become a pro at DFS, and that he wants to write a book about it.
Seeking out the help of top DFS players in his quest to become a top player, Barbarisi paints a vivid picture of the industry. He meets and talks with many of the industry’s central figures, from FanDuel CEO Nigel Eccles to well-known pros like Peter “CSURAM88” Jennings. (Interestingly, DraftKings CEO Jason Robins, while he appears in the book, did not agree to be interviewed. The other co-founders, Matt Kalish and Paul Liberman, did talk.)
I sometimes suffer from fatigue from reading so much about DFS. But I agree with the book jacket, in this case, that it’s a page-turner.
Inside the world of DFS
The book is interesting even just from following the industry’s arc: Its incredible growth from a federal law enacted in 2006 to the legal and regulatory intrigue of the past year and a half. (Frankly, it’s amazing to me that Barbarisi turned a book around in such a short time.)
But that’s not really the most entertaining part of the book. What is? It’s his journey from not knowing what DFS is to immersing himself in the game.
I won’t publish spoilers here — some already exist in reviews on the internet. But as he meets pros — looking for a mentor in trying to become a top DFS player — he writes about the industry in a way it has never really been tackled. It’s a full-on dive into the world of DFS as the top of the food chain (the so-called sharks) approaches it. While I talk to some high-volume players on occasion, it gave me a whole new level of insight.
In one chapter he pulls back the curtain on how one top pro — ‘BeepImaJeep’ — approached DFS at the time and subsequently taught Barbarisi, and it’s a fascinating section.
From the industry’s (read: DraftKings’ and FanDuel’s) perspective, it’s probably going to be viewed as a bit of a mixed bag. He makes everyone seem human, and he generally portrays DFS in a positive light.
And even while demonstrating that it’s a game of skill through his interaction with pros and his own experience, he constantly refers to DFS as a form of betting, something the industry continues to push back against. (While I’ve always thought of that as a practical and legal calculation, Barbarisi provides some evidence that even some people within the companies don’t view it is gambling.)
Telling the DFS story
Barbarisi doesn’t drop much in the way of bombshells about the industry. I know a lot of the story, already, albeit off the record. (Barbarisi’s knack for getting people to talk candidly — me included in my brief appearance — can’t be understated.)
But he seamlessly interweaves his personal story with the overarching storyline of the DFS industry, from the heady days of billion-dollar valuations to the new reality that came in the wake of the DraftKings data leak and the legal battle for DFS in New York.
But the devil is sometimes in the details, and there’s plenty of interesting stuff in there, even for people who read everything about the industry — and know some of the inner-workings — like I do. And there are some really interesting nuggets from the book, at least from my perspective. Here are a few examples:
People have always questioned how real rumored merger talk between DraftKings and FanDuel was. (The two companies are actually planning to merge later this year.)
Barbarisi reports just how real those discussions were, and that the two companies couldn’t agree on terms. This quote, talking about how aggressive DraftKings was both on the legal front and with money, was especially telling, I thought:
“The only reason our guys would do it is that if we acquired them, they wouldn’t be doing crazy shit,” a FanDuel higher-up said in late 2015. “It would be a defensive acquisition.”
Barbarisi also discloses just how much DraftKings outbid FanDuel in doing deals and partnerships with leagues and teams along the way.
A brief interaction Barbarisi had with executives from the now defunct Fantasy Aces is fascinating, in retrospect. Aces recently filed for bankruptcy, while losing more than a million dollars in player funds.
Barbarisi at one point runs into the Frisina family, which ran and owned the site. One of them tells Barbarisi that they will match any amount that he wants to deposit with a bonus. At that point, ACES already far behind on player funds, using them for operations.
New York and DFS
Barbarisi had boots on the ground for much of the New York legal battle, including the court hearing in 2015 and the legislative effort in 2016.
I sat and followed the proceedings in the New York capitol — when the legislature legalized DFS — from afar, using live streams and industry contacts to keep abreast of the situation. But Barbarisi’s first-hand account gives a great perspective of the most important victory in DFS history.
Conclusion: Read the DFS book
Since I have to read nearly everything about DFS that’s ever been written, I wasn’t necessarily excited to read 300+ more pages about it. Especially since I already know the basics of the story Barbarisi set out to tell.
But I can recommend the book for just about anyone, including people that know a a lot about the industry, or someone who just wants to read a good story.
Additionally, if I were advising lawmakers bringing forth DFS legislation, I would have them read this book first. It’s a quick read, and they’ll get a better picture of what they’re dealing with.
Anyway, read the book. You’ll be glad you did.