Fantasy sports: skill or luck

Fantasy sports is a form of entertainment that attracts millions of people around the world. However, the question of what is the key factor of success in this kind of competition — skill or luck — is still open.

Fantasy sports

Fantasy sports — what’s the point?

Fantasy sports is a virtual game based on real competitions in various sports: soccer, baseball, basketball and so on. Fantasy competitions are always organized on the basis of a specific real tournament or sporting event — for example, the World Cup or the Champions League (soccer).

Fantasy managers — that’s what people involved in fantasy sports are called — assemble virtual teams from existing players from different sports clubs. You can safely have both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo on the same team, meaning you are not limited in assembling your lineup. This is what «fantasy» is all about — you can combine athletes who are members of different clubs in reality into one team.

Next, after collecting the desired lineup within the announced tournament, users wait for the real matches to be completed. In reality, their selected players will perform different actions, for example: goal, assist, pass — each of which is evaluated by points within the game. The user whose athletes on the team will score the most points wins.

Thus, unlike betting in bookmakers, where the focus is on the match and the events in it, in fantasy sports the focus is on the success of a particular player, or rather combinations of the most successful players in individual matches.

Fantasy sports originated and remains incredibly popular in the United States. Interestingly enough, in some states of America any form of gambling is banned, so the only legal way to participate in these types of competitions for profit is through fantasy sports.

Fantasy sports — a game of skill or luck?

Fantasy sports

In recent years, the question of whether fantasy sports is a potential form of Internet gambling has arisen. Under a U.S. federal law known as the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, or UIGEA, online gamblers (say, poker players) are prohibited from sending funds won from Internet gambling across state lines. The law excludes fantasy sports, stating that this game is not a form of betting or wagering.

However, the UIGEA was not made to change the legality of Internet gambling, which in most cases is determined by individual states. As the popularity of fantasy sports, particularly fantasy soccer, has grown and commercial and cable television advertisements have appeared, several states have questioned the legality of fantasy sports and the companies that support them.

Gambling, of course, refers to any activity that involves the exchange of money and depends primarily on chance. Fantasy sports would not be considered gambling if it were shown to be more of a contest of skill. So what prevails in fantasy sports gambling — skill or luck? The question remains a valid one. And FanDuel reps did a study on luck and skill in their contests.

Researchers analyzed daily fantasy contests played on FanDuel during the 2013 and 2014 seasons in baseball, basketball, hockey, and soccer. They reasoned that if a game is based more on skill, then a player’s performance should be consistent. It could be good or bad, but it should remain relatively constant over several rounds. To test this in the context of fantasy sports, they analyzed each fantasy player’s win and loss totals in the FanDuel database for one season.

If fantasy sports were based more on skill, then an individual player’s win percentage should be about the same — whether it’s 90% or 10% — in the first and second half of the season. On the other hand, if the game were random, then each player’s win percentage should be around 50%.

If the game is based on randomness, then each player should have the same expected outcome, just as flipping a coin has the same probability of heads and tails. The researchers developed an algorithm that created random fantasy teams from the same pool of players available to FanDuel users. The algorithm was designed to follow the rules of the game and be relatively intelligent in how it generated each team.

Hundreds of thousands of games have been played, and the results have been compared to the performance of real fantasy players. The results are as follows: fantasy sports players beat computer-generated players, which suggests that winning requires a certain amount of skill.

Results of the research

Fantasy sports

To put the results of the study in perspective, the researchers placed the results of each fantasy sport on a spectrum of luck and skill. Along this spectrum, they also placed the results of each fantasy sport on real-world sports, as well as other activities such as coin flipping, which is based solely on chance, and cyclocross racing, which depends almost entirely on skill.

In most cases, success in both fantasy and real-world sports depended on skill, with baseball and basketball, both real and virtual, being more skill-dependent than hockey and soccer. Skill may play a relatively larger role in basketball, as the sport involves more than 80 games per season.

The conclusion of the study is as follows: «Fantasy sports is a combination of skill and luck. Players must have good analytical skills and knowledge of statistics in order to select the most promising athletes. However, luck also plays an important role as it can affect unpredictable events such as injuries or weather conditions. Experience and knowledge are also important for success in fantasy sports.»

Experienced players know how to properly utilize their knowledge to select athletes who can bring them more points. They can use different strategies such as rotating players to maximize their chance of success.

Does a fantasy game with no money involved make sense?

Fantasy sports

If we look at the reasons for the popularity of gambling: betting on sports or casino slots, there are two main reasons:

1. Winning here and now This is the basis, for example, of live betting on sporting events. There from the moment of debiting the money to the moment of the bet resolution is a minimum period of time.

2. Potential opportunity to «make a fortune» with small investments And on this principle work express bets or slot machines in the casino, where the client looms in front of a huge amount of prize, and he is morally ready to say goodbye to his small amount of bets for just a chance to get such a prize.

In fantasy, there is none of that. There are very earthly prizes and a long wait before they are awarded, so this type of game is interesting to play not for those who aim to make money or get rich, but for those who really like soccer, understand it, and who want to apply their knowledge and skills somewhere. So why is it still interesting to play fantasy soccer without money?

1. Game of skill Unlike betting, where everything is decided by chance, fantasy sits firmly on player statistics. If you are a real fan and follow players closely, and you know exactly who is injured, where Messi has moved to, and who will be benched, then fantasy tournaments are the place to apply your knowledge.

2. Known opponent If in a bookmaker you fight for victory with the owner of the office, and in a casino — with the programmer of a slot machine, in fantasy tournaments you fight with real people, the same fans. And it is not crowds of analysts or algorithms that win, but specific users.

3. Variety of modes In betting and slots, everything is quite formulaic — there are odds, there is a «Bet» button, you don’t need anything else. In fantasy games there are many different modes — tournaments, sprints, duels, guess the lineup, games with friends.

Therefore, even without money, fantasy sports deserve the attention of real fans. Yes, there is no opportunity to earn money, but there is an opportunity to apply your knowledge and meet face to face with the same enthusiastic fans.