The world of daily fantasy sports seems omnipresent — but people who aren’t involved in this pasttime don’t know much beyond what can be gleaned by DraftKings’ and FanDuels’ copious advertisements.
So we decided to shadow a professional daily fantasy player for a day to figure out what DFS is all about.
Jonathan Bales lives in Philadelphia and makes a living writing about daily fantasy sports, running the analytics platform Fantasy Labs, and betting about five figures every week on football and baseball.
Thanks to his obsessive stats knowledge, he’s never deposited any money in his DraftKings account since his initial $US50 about three years ago — all while grossing millions and profiting in the hundreds of thousands.
Bales, who played football in his youth, started tracking sports analytics and data in college “just for fun,” he said. He’d run the numbers and analyse teams’ on-field decisions, fourth-down decisions, when they’d punt, and more.
He started a blog, got hired as a consultant for an NFL team, and self-published a few books. He also creates some content for DraftKings. Since 2013, he’s been able to write and play DFS full-time.
“It’s a game that, if you’re smart and do a lot of research and you’re dedicated to it, you can make money for sure,” Bales told Tech Insider. “It’s very similar to poker. But it’s a game of skill. The best players win again and again over the long run.”
On DraftKings, fantasy players receive a fake budget of $US50,000 every week to draft their team. Each football player is assigned a dollar value — the most valuable one right now is Tom Brady at $US8,500 — and fantasy players must “buy” a quarterback, running back, and so on while coming in under budget. The key is to select not only the best players, but also the ones who might do well and aren’t showing up on every other fantasy player’s lineup. Players can enter tournaments or go head-to-head against other fantasy players. They can play without wagering any money, or they can bet on each lineup tournament or contest they enter.
People like Bales who have figured out how to do that effectively can make millions over the course of a season. The key, Bales says, is to think creatively. The best DFS players know to use injury reports that are released by the NFL on Thursday to predict who will be fit to play. They analyse players’ histories, coaches’ tendencies and preferences, and even the weather forecasts for game day when building their lineups.
Now, interest in daily fantasy is boiling over thanks to recent allegations that an employee of a DFS site leaked important information in the form of fantasy players’ lineups. That employee was cleared of wrongdoing following an investigation, but daily fantasy sports organisations are reportedly being investigated by the FBI.
Bales welcomes this new attention to the pasttime, saying federal regulation would be welcome as long as DFS could be kept legal in every state. It’s already been banned in Nevada.
Keep scrolling to see what it’s like to be a professional DFS player.
Bales wakes up at around 7:30 a.m. every day and heads into the office in his Philadelphia townhouse.
He tracks players' stats on an Excel spreadsheet. 'I just collect information from every possible source,' he said. 'I'd rather have too much information than not enough. I put the onus on me to figure out which information is actionable and valuable versus what's just fluff.'
He starts planning his weekly lineups on Tuesday. He starts by looking at players' 'costs' on Draft Kings and Fantasy Duel. Fantasy players on those sites build their lineups using an imaginary budget, and each player has a cost based on his projected value. 'Little quirks in how players are priced can change the way people perceive them,' Bales said.
It's all about data for Bales. Media reports are only useful because they influence which way other fantasy players might bet. 'Beat writers will predict something and they have no idea what they're talking about,' Bales said. 'I'll out-predict everyone at ESPN every week. It's not even close.'
On Thursday, the NFL releases injury reports denoting which players are likely to sit out the weekend's games. This further influences Bales' lineups. He also uses his own software company, Fantasy Labs, pictured below, to analyse and create projection models.
After a week of running numbers, Bales wakes up at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday -- game day. He finalises his line ups, which are locked in at 1 p.m.
Around noon, Bales breaks for lunch with some buddies. This past Sunday, breakfast sandwiches were on the menu at a restaurant around the corner.
After they're done eating, the guys check up on their lineups one last time. Bales doesn't usually create his lineups on mobile, but he'll use his phone to make minor adjustments before the games start.
Bales is a lifelong Cowboys fan, so when Dallas is playing, he'll watch the entire game. Any other team gets the Redzone treatment, which shows viewers only the most exciting parts of all the games going on at the same time. Every single play affects his earnings, he said.
Here's a look at Bales' lineups for Sunday, October 18. Last week was a losing week for Bales, who was down $17,500 after the games ended. He chalks this up to his decision not to use DeAndre Hopkins, a wide receiver for Houston.
Bales knew the wind was going to be high where Hopkins was playing, so he thought the receiver's passes would be negatively affected, resulting in a win for him if he didn't use the popular receiver. But it didn't work out.
'He did really poorly in the first half and I was looking good, then he completely dominated in the second half and it killed me,' he said.
During baseball season, Bales actually avoids watching games because this could cause him to create narratives that aren't there, he said. Baseball is his most profitable sport, but 'it's so mathematical that you can't learn that much from watching.'
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