Daily Fantasy Sports Could Be Due For Its Next Evolution
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Fantasy In Real Time: Is The New ‘In-Game’ Fantasy The Future of DFS Industry?

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If you play daily fantasy sports, you’ve undoubtedly found yourself in this scenario at one time or another: You’ve barely opened up your live scoring page, and the starting pitcher you invested heavily in is already getting shelled. The only thing left to do is vent about your dismay on Twitter, vowing to never use Stephen Strasburg again.

The advent of in-game fantasy sports may now give DFS players an alternative to drowning in their sorrows. Just as one of the initial selling points of sites like FanDuel and DraftKings was the ability to draft a new lineup each day to prevent a torn ACL from wrecking your season-long fantasy squad, in-game player selection takes that premise up a notch.

Daily fantasy players won’t have to worry about getting burned by early injuries or late scratches because they will be in the manager’s seat, able to pivot strategies in a few clicks or swipes.  

Fake teams turned into real games

Even though the length of fantasy sports contests has evolved in the past decade, the basic experience has not. You select your team, wait for the games to be played and watch, waiting for your statistics to flow in to see if you’ll land a victory.

In the era of morning newspaper box scores, this made sense. In a time where we all have supercomputers in our pocket capable of streaming any game we want, it seems a little silly.

At Fanamana, we are mobile-only, and we have totally reimagined the way fantasy contests are played and scored with our InGame Fantasy™ app. Our view is that fantasy sports should be more interactive and exciting. Our mobile-only baseball game brings fantasy sports back full circle, to be played and scored just like real baseball.

For example, in the MLB version of InGame Fantasy, you can “draft” up to three players that are in the on-deck circle of a baseball game in real time. That batter’s outcome is applied to your team’s virtual game. If your first batter strikes out, you have one out in your first inning. If your second batter doubles, that’s a runner on second, and if your next guy homers, that’s a two-run bomb. 

The beauty is if you understand baseball you can play our game. Numbers crunchers and traditional baseball lovers alike can enjoy Fanamana in their own way.  

A game can result in a team being down by a run with the bases loaded and two outs. The next selection will determine if you win or lose your game. Magical moments like this are why we are sports fans.

However, until now, those moments could not really be replicated with any regularity in fantasy sports. Walk off-homers, game-winning touchdowns and buzzer-beating shots should exist in fantasy, and now they are available with in-game fantasy.

Added advantages of in-game drafting

Besides the ability to avoid injuries or pounce on a pitcher getting shelled, here are some other lines in the sand between traditional DFS and in-game play:

  • No worrying about the weather: DFS players spend enough time constructing lineups based on value, but Mother Nature has turned many users into amateur weathermen as first pitch approaches. Rotogrinders even went out and hired a meteorologist to give breaking weather updates right up until game time. Drafting in-game takes the elements out of play, allowing users to focus on the players that are actually playing.
  • No salary cap: There are few things more frustrating than building what you think is the perfect lineup, only to have it land just a few dollars over the predetermined cap. There’s no need to worry about that with in-game drafting. Instead, you can focus your energy on identifying the best matchups in each and every at-bat.
  • You know you’re playing against a human: Bots and scripts have become a recent bone of contention in the DFS world as advanced players have figured out ways to fill thousands of lineups per day. Let’s face it — if we wanted to play against a machine, we’d play chess instead.
  • When the games begin: With in-game, contests begin at the same time as the actual events. You don’t have to stress about getting your lineups in at the deadline, and you can jump in anytime throughout the day as long as games are going on. Sneak in some picks during a bathroom break, or play at night after you put the kids to bed.
  • Your game won’t get canceled: There’s nothing like filling out lineups for a bunch of non-guaranteed contests, and seeing them get canceled because they don’t get filled. With the in-game model, once you join a contest, the game begins and there’s no going back.

It’s all about the engagement

Will in-game drafting be the next evolution of daily fantasy? Is there room for alternatives to the current daily fantasy game model? We certainly believe the answer is yes to both questions, and our early data supports that the active participation of drafting in real time is a compelling one. And with mobile already a driving force in the fantasy landscape, we believe fantasy players are ready for an immersive mobile-first experience.

InGame Fantasy™ is seeing off-the-charts engagement, with average session times north of 21 minutes for the first half of the 2015 baseball season. That number is more than double the average session length from the first half of last season (9:48), and up over two minutes from the second half (19:21) of 2014. Additionally, 21.4 percent of our sessions for this MLB season have lasted longer than 30 minutes, with an average session time of 80 minutes in that segment.

For comparison’s sake, the average session length across all mobile apps was 5.7 minutes in 2014, and 6.4 minutes for sports-related apps, according to the most recent data from mobile marketing platform Localytics.

When you also consider the fact that fantasy players are becoming increasingly mobile, the foundation is set for a smartphone experience like InGame Fantasy™ to take hold in the DFS space. 

But is in-game fantasy legal?

The early entrants into the daily fantasy sports realm are credited with recognizing that the length of a contest is not a requirement of the fantasy sports carveout in the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act (UIGEA).

We would also point out that locking in your lineups before the games start is also not a requirement. Rather, it is a vestige left behind from the evolution from season-long fantasy leagues to the daily format.

There are very specific requirements that must be met in order for a fantasy contest to be considered legal under UIGEA, and any in-game fantasy contest must be structured to comply with them.

For example, the prizes must be established up front and may not be dependent on the number of participants. So you will not — or at least should not — see a contest where the winner gets to take a percentage of the total paid entry. This requirement is a reason we see so much overlay in today’s DFS industry.

Another requirement of the UIGEA is that that the contest must reflect the participants’ “knowledge and skill,” and the legality of fantasy contests on a state-by-state basis is usually dependent upon their status as a “skill game.”

Any fantasy provider better be prepared to show that its contest structure is skill-based and not just luck. Seth Young of Star Fantasy Leagues wrote about his company’s research showing that their contests are based on skill.

One advantage our baseball game has is that we are able to use the same statistics that baseball uses to prove it is contest of skill. We track not only our users’ wins and losses, but other metrics such as batting average, hits, runs and OPS.  

Is daily fantasy a precursor to sports gambling?

The meteoric rise of DraftKings and FanDuel is viewed by some as a sign that widespread legalized sports gambling is just around the corner. We are not as sure.

UIGEA prohibits any fantasy contest where the outcome is “based on the score, point spread or performance of a single team or combination of teams.” This is why you will not see a fantasy contest where one opponent selects all Dallas Cowboys players and another selects only Chicago Bears, and the fantasy scoring system is based solely on points scored. This requirement was specifically added to prevent fantasy sports from becoming a backdoor method for gambling on sports games.

Joe Asher, CEO of sports book operator William Hill U.S., recently called the idea that fantasy sports is not gambling a “bunch of baloney.”  However, outside of the fact that fantasy sports and sports betting both involve sporting events, we believe the similarities stop there.

Gambling on sports is binary. A team wins or loses. The total score is over or under. Events are ones or zeros. Fantasy sports are the antithesis of this.

Picking your nine-man lineup under a salary cap tonight? You would need to be a math major to figure out how many combinations there are. Lets just say it is way more than two.

Playing a three-inning contest on Fanamana tonight would require selecting a minimum of nine men. However, by removing the salary cap and allowing at-bat specific choices, the number of options increases exponentially over any MLB contest a salary-cap based fantasy site is offering.

Niche or the next big thing?

From its creation, daily fantasy has suffered from a bit of a branding problem. The name itself implies to outsiders that it is an every-day job that requires players to commit some portion of their already busy day to their fantasy lineup.

In fact, daily fantasy has done just the opposite. It has relieved season-long players from that burden. It allows them to play only when they want to. It has also reduced the friction that is encountered when trying to cobble together eight to twelve college friends or coworkers to start or maintain a league.

When daily fantasy first appeared, it was very much dismissed by the established fantasy businesses — both league hosts and content providers. The companies that dominated the season-long fantasy space for over a decade failed to leverage their position. As a result, they watched as two startups have surpassed unicorn status, encroaching on what should have been their market. Yahoo finally jumped into the fray with their launch, as did CBS via SportsLine.com. But did they wait too long?

Some sat on the sideline due to legal concerns, but to many, daily fantasy was thought of as a niche activity that only a hardcore player would participate in. At the biannual Fantasy Sports Trade Association conference, you would be hard-pressed to find a person that feels that way now.

Will in-game fantasy grow beyond a niche product? ESPN’s Ryan Rodenberg took a look at the possibilities of in-game fantasy in an article this week. And many who have analyzed the space believe it has huge upside:

“In-game fantasy sports platforms are certain to gain some traction in the next few years, as the appetite for new games, instant gratification and marketing dollars is so significant right now,” said Tom Masterman, chief revenue officer for Sportradar US in Minneapolis.

While fantasy sports and sports gambling are legally and structurally very different, we feel there are some parallels between the two, and between their in-game variants.

In Europe, the in-game share of the sports betting market is over 50 percent. Predictably, in-game betting has yet to catch on in the United States due to technological and of course, legal, hurdles.

With Las Vegas being the only real way to legally place a straight sports bet, sportsbooks needed a way for gamblers to place bets instantly without having to wait in line at their counters. Now with the proper mobile technology in hand, in-game betting is already accounting for 10 percent of the handle at William Hill U.S., according to Covers.com.

While it took over a decade for sportsbooks to realize the potential of in-game wagering, the fantasy sports industry could already be ahead of the game. Will in-game drafting be the next big evolution of fantasy gaming? We’ll find out together.

Photo by Keith Allison used under license CC BY-SA 2.0.

Jason Garcia
- Jason Garcia is the product marketing manager at Fanamana, creator of InGame Fantasy. He has over four years of experience in the DFS space and almost 10 years overall in the fantasy sports industry.
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