I have been playing fantasy sports for about 20 years. Fantasy sports is one of the best ways to hang out with friends, follow sports, and improve your analytical skills. I started out like many of you in my local league with friends and had a lot of success. Winning more times than losing made it even more fun. I branched these season long leagues out to dynasty leagues and built some great teams. Until I inevitably made a trade like 4 first rounders for Trent Richardson. I didn't only play traditional games though. I also won in national contests like taking second place in a smallworld sports NBA contest, getting inducted into the WallstreetSports Hall of Fame, and winning first several times in the first true DFS games on NBC's Sunday night football by playing contrarian strategies before anyone knew what it meant to be contrarian. But despite having played fantasy sports in all these different forms the transition to DFS is still the hardest. This is simply because it is one of the most complex fantasy games created. Yet outside of our outstanding Cracking Fanduel series I haven't seen a real play book on how to transition from season long leagues to DFS. So I am going to walk through how I did it, learned a lot, had fun, and won a million dollars in the process.
First of all winning at DFS isn't easy. As you may have heard a lot of people aren't profitable at DFS. So if you don't win your first week don't be surprised. In fact if you don't win for several weeks don't be surprised. We are trying to build long term skills. Process is more important than results, at least at the beginning. But with some hard work and if you follow these guidelines you will be in a good position to win and will have a lot of fun along the way.
Why is it so hard to consistently win? Think about your local league. You may be the best player in that league. Now think about how many leagues there are in the country, hundreds of thousands. You aren't competing just against your friends you are now competing against the best of every one of those leagues and some are bound to be better than you or me. It's a lot like professional sports. You may have been the best player on your local high school team but there are hundreds of thousands of other high school teams and likely the player that went on to the NFL went to one of those other schools. But unlike the NFL you don't have to be taller, stronger or faster than everyone, just smarter. We can equip ourselves with the right tools and skills to become the top players and raise to the top just like professional athletes.
The first thing you need to consider when starting DFS is what your game selection should look like. Last year a reporter wrote about how he had just started DFS and was matched up in a contest with several pros in it. He went on to mention that he entered a $25 double up. This is a perfect example of not thinking about game selection and is the easiest way to lose your advantage that you work hard to build. Despite the growth of DFS it is still a pretty small industry and most contests start out in the $1 range and move up slowly. Yes there are some contests in the thousands of dollars but relatively speaking a $25 game is pretty expensive and isn't the type of game you should be playing when starting out. You should start off by joining the beginner games. Most sites, including Fanduel and Draftkings are now offering some type of beginner games which allow you to play against players that are just now learning the game like you. You can play in these types of games for your first 100 or so games. After those beginner games are over you should start looking for some lower dollar games. One example of why DFS is a game of skill is that each time you go to a higher buy in level the games get tougher. If you start out by playing the $1 games and are successful then you can build up to the $2 games, $5 games, etc. Like the journalist I mentioned earlier you shouldn't be playing in the $25 games until you have mastered all of the levels before that. Just like in every aspect of life you don't start off at the top levels, you work your way up. DFS is the same and if you don't respect that fact you could find yourself broke quickly.
What types of games should you be playing? If you aren't sure what the different types of games are check out my article here to get a better understanding of each of the game types. What I am going to recommend you actually do is a little different from most people. But I believe you should start off by playing a mix of different game types until you get a feel for what games you are best at. If you are looking to play $50 worth of games and have already played all the beginner games I would consider playing all of them at the $1 buy in level. From there you could split it up something like 5 double ups, 5 50/50, 5 triple ups, 5 10 man leagues, 5 100 man leagues, 5 quintuple ups, and 20 tournaments all of varying sizes and all 20 with different lineups. For the non-tournament contests I would use 1-3 lineups and will explain why in part 3. This is just an example though, you should look at the different game types and see what types of payouts you find interesting. The important thing is to get a feel for the different types of payouts and see what you are really best at. That's going to be an over arching theme in this journey. Do what you do best. Not follow what everyone else is saying you should do.
The common advice you will hear is that you should play 90% cash games. This is what everyone told me and that's how I started off. But if you are better at identifying sleepers and picking upsets than calculating the best pure values you should be investing more than 10% of your games in tournaments. If you are great at identifying the best safe plays maybe you should be playing 100% of your games in cash. This is why it is important to start at lower buy in levels and play several different types of games. By playing all the various types of games you can figure out which ones you are good at and which ones you aren't so good at and do it fairly inexpensively. If after a few weeks you see you aren't very good at triple ups cut them out of your game selection and play more double ups if you are good at those. My split is a lot heavier on the tournament side as I continue to improve my skills in those types of games than it was when I started. BJ Vanderwoude does a great job of showing why he is only playing tournaments this year here. If your results point you in that direction don't be afraid to go that route.
But how do you determine what type of game you are good at? There are two main strategies I use and they may seem obvious but most people don't do them. 1) Track your results 2) Look at other good player's teams in your same contest.
Tracking your results
Let's talk about these one at a time. First of all, tracking your results. All of the major sites offer you the ability to download your game history which allows you to see how much you spent on a contest, how many people were in the contest, where you placed, and how much money you won. Every week you should be downloading this information and seeing where you stand.
After one week you won't know for sure that you stink at double ups or are outstanding at tournaments. You could have just gotten very lucky. Maybe your safe running back that was the right play got hurt and you lost all your double ups but your sleeper wide receiver scored 3 touchdowns and you won a tournament. This is just like in your league when the 0-5 team upsets the 5-0 because everything went his way that week. Sometimes you just got lucky and understanding the difference between getting lucky and being good is important.
What you have done is gathered information showing that you might be better at tournaments than you are at double ups and you could start to increase your dollars allocated to tournaments. If you see this trend continue then you can increase it even more. I'm not talking about big changes to your level of play each week. Instead move from 10% of tournaments to 15%, we don't want to be fooled by variance. Don't just track game types though make sure you are tracking every decision you make when entering a game. How much is the buy in? How many people are in the contest? Is it a single entry tournament or a 150 max tournament? Make sure you are fully reading all the rules and payout structures before entering the contest. You wouldn't buy a stock or a car without doing some basic research about it. Make sure you are doing that research about the contest before spending your money on it as well.
Track the players that other owners used
Secondly, look at the players used by other good players every day and compare them to the players that you used or considered using. This is the single easiest way for you to figure out where you may have an incorrect opinion on a player or team. I continue to do this every day despite having plenty of confidence in my game so you should be doing so as well. I recommend finding about 5-10 players that you really respect and looking at their rosters in every contest you are in. If you don't know who to track you can find a list of very good players here. Granted not all the best players are listed here but it should give you a good starting point to find some people to follow.
When looking at their rosters you should study if several of them ended up playing a guy that wasn't on your radar. If they did then you should look into that player and figure out what you missed. Do you have an irrational opinion of that player maybe because you watched him stink one game last year or you saw him play for a mediocre team in college? Do the same thing for players that you used which others didn't. Did you play Andrew Luck because you love the Colts when no one else did? You have to rid yourself of biases in DFS and play the smart play every time and by seeing who others played gives you an immediate feedback loop. Just because your picks were different doesn't mean that you were wrong. I end up on different guys all the time and after researching them I feel comfortable that I made the right play, but you should carefully consider the possibility that you were. Just like if you arch nemesis in your local league over pays for a running back you start to question your own beliefs in that player you should do the same in DFS.
Another option is that throughout the season I am going to write about the players that I think are the best cash game plays. Don't read my article until you have done some initial research and see if you came to the same conclusions as I did. If you don't agree with me think about why, challenge your assumptions, challenge my assumptions, and research those players more closely. A lot of players want to just confirm that their players are high on someone else's cheatsheet but where you really gain insight is by researching those players that you end up disagreeing on.
In part two of the series I will look at some other key aspects of my journey to get where I am now and help you on your own journey.