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Script Kiddies, Part II: DFS Sites Target Huge NFL Open Despite Fairness Concerns

If you’re on an online poker player, you’ve become aware by now of the proliferation of online software aids designed to assist and streamline the process.  Such aids and assists have always been controversial, because poker is a game that’s supposed to be player vs. player, not machine vs. machine.

draftkingsWell, here’s a news alert: Online poker isn’t the only Internet-based, real-money offering where scripts and third-party software programs threaten the overall competitive balance of the industry.  It’s happening in the DFS (Daily Fantasy Sports) world as well.  The DFS world is newer, smaller, and essentially a single-country (the United States) vehicle at this point, and the news gets worse: The impact of such scripts and other automated third-party software programs has already skewed the DFS world in a way that may make it difficult for the nascent industry to grow as its backers hope.

The core problems bubbled to the surface yesterday in a couple of pieces written by poker-industry veterans, both of whom have quite frankly seen this scenario played out before.  Over at Casino City, contributor Aaron Todd penned a solid piece examining how a few prolific DFS players can, through what in the poker world would be called a massive form of multi-accounting, walk off with virtually all the large prizes in a major DFS event.

As Todd and others have noted, an example from a recent DraftKings tourney is, unfortunately, way too typical.  On August 20th, playing in a tourney with a $3 entry, Brandon “banders234” Anderson won 13 of the top 14 spots in a 55,485-entry event.  Anderson himself won 31% of the total prize pool with his 13 winning entries, accounting for $45,667.67 in winnings.  Anderson’s lineups were all variations on a theme, using small lineup differences around a core group that he hoped would perform very well that day, which they did.

Note that Anderson’s performance is not atypical; that’s how most major DFS tournaments shake out, with a disproportionate number of the highest prizes often going to only a very few players, simply because the largest DFS sites all allow these massively multiple entries.  And in order to assemble all those teams, these elite players also employ plenty of different software aids, designed to do everything from assisting in the actual lineup building to weighing all the possible performance factors and helping select which pro players to use.

As Anderson wrote on Rotogrinders about his big win, “”Full disclosure, I used fantasycruncher’s import feature to put in my lineups, so yes I used a script (probably obvious).  I had 480 lineups with 4 stacks. WAS, MIN, NYY and CHC (120 each). Normally what happened tonight would never work out like that.”

The “stacks” Anderson refers to are the maximum number of players allowed to be selected from any real-life team, usually four players.  Such stacking is usually done from the heart of a team’s lineup — and it’s done most effectively in baseball, due to the way the sports’ offensive statistics are interrelated among a team’s players.  A given stack, for example, might include the Seattle Mariners’ #2, #3, #4 and #5 hitters for tomorrow’s game, if the DFS player thought the Mariners were going to go out and score 6 runs.

Yet as one can see, the massive multi-accounting — in DFS’s version, massive lineup submitting — and the extensive use of third-party software mirrors exactly what’s been plaguing the online-poker world.  There’s also no indication that these new DFS sites (most date from 2011 or later) will learn from online poker’s mistakes.  The reverse instead seems to be true; DFS might be repeating poker’s worst initiatives, perhaps even allowing them to occur at a heightened pace.

Another of today’s well-written think pieces on the topic comes from UK writer Kim Lund.  Lund, a poker-world veteran, is new to the DFS concept, as are other UK peeps who are just getting their first tastes of the format.  In an over-written but still very worthy treatise, “Will the DFS Industry Learn from Online Poker’s Mistake,” Lund examines how DraftKings and other sites are blasting through some recent huge venture investments, targeting new players with massive waves of marketing, all while keeping in place these massive multi-accounting and script-using structures that make all these hoped-for new players likely to lose their money… and lose it fast.

It’s even more glaring when one considers that DraftKings, which is engaged right now in a huge US-market advertising spend, is operated by a former group of prominent US poker pros.  Several other well known “former” US poker players are among the site’s most prominent DFS performers.  In other words, these people know all about the dangers of botting and scripting and allowing the process to become too automated, to the huge detriment of the casual player, the “net depositor” that all such online-gambling sites need to have large quantities of in order to thrive.  Lund’s points, for the most part, are spot on.

But he’s late to the party, too, and DraftKings, poised to become the market leader if their current media blitz pays off, is running a huge gamble of their own.  About two months ago, I noted a piece that appeared over at the DFSReport.com site, written by Ben Brown.  In “Scripts, Bots and DraftKings’ Terms of Service,” Brown explored some subtle changes made to DraftKings’ Terms of Service that attempted to place limits on the types of acts that all these third-party software programs could perform.

According to a post republished there and originally published by DraftKings representative Jon “FatalError” Aguiar, DraftKings at that time quietly announced that such software would only be allowed to:

  • Create a contest (a self-contained “league” for a given day or week);
  • Create a lineup;
  • Edit a lineup;
  • Enter a guaranteed contest;
  • Withdraw from a contest.

The implication, according to DFSReport’s Brown, was that DraftKings was well aware that the script kiddies were already doing much, much more, including some of the in-depth statistical analysis and lineup weighting referenced above.  Brown also castigated DraftKings and Aguiar for barely announcing the script limitations at all, simply dropping the notice onto a couple of prominent DFS user forums, without e-mailing customers about policy changes.  (And, yes, that’s the same Jon Aguiar who’s a well-known poker pro, or at least who was until his DraftKings duties and investment turned out very well indeed.)

Note that even with those limitations as mentioned above, it really doesn’t change very much.  The massive multi-accounting and huge scooping of prizes by a small number of players?  That’s still the very nature of DFS, and the changes announced by Aguiar and DraftKings changed none of it at all.

Sites such as DraftKings and FanDuel, another DFS heavyweight, have received these major capital infusions, and have every reason to not want to limit the number of lineups that individual DFS participants can create and enter in a given tourney.  Doing so would significantly decrease the number of paid entries in large tourneys, and that’s exactly the type of numbers that these DFS sites -don’t- want to create for their new investors.

“Banders234” and his 480 lineups, all variants on a few themes?  If the DFS sites truly valued steady, stable growth, and the long-term growth of the industry, such things wouldn’t be allowed.  Instead, it appears that DraftKings and other such DFS sites are out to pillage their investors with a quick media saturation, followed by a few short churn-and-burn cycles, just as they continue to allow their most experienced and tech-savvy players to pillage new depositors.

It’s the online-poker script problem all over again — yet somehow magnified.  And it doesn’t bode well at all for DFS’s long-term future.

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