Fantasy 101: Introduction to DFS

New to daily fantasy? Start with basics in this beginner's guide from the Fantasy 101 series.

Not everyone has the patience or desire to fixate on the same fantasy baseball league for six months. They can turn to daily fantasy for an exciting new challenge.

DFS offers a different way to play fantasy in an era of instant gratification. Those who find themselves checking out of leagues in July because of injuries, poor results, or plain old boredom may relish the chance to constantly press restart.

After a perilous road filled with legal disputes, daily fantasy is no longer a niche game tucked under the shadow of season-long leagues. Some have eschewed their drafts altogether for day-to-day competition. Many others play both, which can often improve their abilities in each.

This introduction isn’t for Pitcher List readers who devour our daily recommendations throughout the season, but those who still scratch their heads at a DraftKings or FanDuel ad. Still not sure what this whole DFS hoopla is all about? Let’s run through the basics with a beginner’s guide to daily fantasy baseball.


What is DFS?


Daily fantasy sports turn a year-long timeframe into an endless array of day-to-day events. Players can enter contests of all different sizes and prize pools. Using a set salary cap, you create a lineup using the site’s specific player prices and position requirements. Each site has its own point system to determine winners.

A “main slate” typically features all (or an overwhelming majority) of the day’s games, but contests are also divided into afternoon, evening, and late-evening options when applicable. DraftKings and FanDuel have also recently introduced single-game contests with different rules and roster requirements. In other words, there will always be something available to play.

Unlike a season-long league, where only one lucky drafter gets to snag Mike Trout, numerous contestants can use the same players. Searching for options likely to be scarcely deployed is a key component to success in tournaments with more competitors and higher payouts.

Winners will see the money added into their account once the contest concludes. Losers…well, better luck next time.


How/Where Do I Play?


The DFS industry is no longer a two-horse race. Although DraftKings and FanDuel remain the most popular sites, season-long hosts such as Yahoo and NFBC are now getting in on the action. Consumers looking for a place to start have an increasing amount of options. Here’s a quick look at the main players.

  • DraftKings: Using two pitchers means contestants will typically need to pair an ace with a bargain option or forgo the top arms for two quality picks. There’s also no utility slot.
  • FanDuel: Playing only one pitcher helps your budget when filling out a lineup, but amplifies the pressure to pick the right hurler. Catcher recently got consolidated into first base with one “C/1B” spot.
  • FantasyDraft: Along with two pitchers, hitters are designated as infielders and outfielders rather than set positions.

No matter the site, the first step is creating an account and funding it with an opening deposit. Keep an eye out for deals tailored to first-time users, as sites will often offer incentives such as a bonus deposit or free entry.

The added options also open more avenues for fantasy fiends who’d prefer to play for pride and the love of the game. Just looking to have fun? Replicate the camaraderie of season-league formats by making daily contests or leagues. Or challenge one to a head-to-head game with only bragging rights on the line. Last year, Pitcher List hosted a weekly Friday Freeroll for anyone to join.


What are the Contest Types?


The types of contests diversify every year. To keep it simple, here are the most common options:

50/50s are the best place for beginners to start. They mitigate risk (and reward) by awarding the same rate of winnings to a wider portion of the contest pool. For example, each person who places 1-50 in a 50/50 with 100 entrants and a $5 fee will receive $9.

Multipliers are another form of “cash contests” to pursue. Double-ups are similar to 50/50s, except slightly under half of the top contestants double the money. More daring players can instead attempt to triple or quadruple their money under the same format.

H2H contests adopt a familiar season-long style by pitting two contestants against each other. This could be dangerous for newbies, as they could end up facing more experienced experts (“sharks”). However, those who enjoy the social element of fantasy can challenge a friend.

Tournaments are where the big bucks are won. Guaranteed Prize Pools (GPPs) offer set prizes to the top few performers regardless of whether they fill. Many of these contests are higher stakes, but some could merely cost a $1 to enter. The odds of cashing out diminish, especially since these pools draw more serious DFS sharks. It’s thus recommended to limit tournament exposure until gaining some DFS familiarity and boosting your bankroll a bit.

DraftKings (Showdown) and FanDuel now provide contests pinpointing one game on the slate. Each requires contestants to pick one player (a Captain on DK, MVP on FD) who will receive a multiplied point rate (1.5X) compared to the rest of your lineup.


Is It Legal?


DFS sounds fun, but it is legal? Many consumers—and lawmakers—wondered the same thing when DraftKings and FanDuel bombarded the airwaves with commercials before the 2015 NFL season.

Fantasy sports are protected by the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, deeming it a game of skill rather than gambling. This classification, however, came at a time when fantasy was thought of as a year-long game played among friends for beer money. It didn’t account for an emerging billion-dollar wagering enterprise.

The daily industry was on life support with opposition mounting. Most notably, the New York attorney general ordered DraftKings and FanDuel to cease operations in 2015. A bill legalized it the following year, and they continue to conduct business in the Big Apple despite a judge declaring them gambling in 2018.

Daily fantasy is now allowed in a majority of states. As of December 2019, fresh off Michigan becoming the latest state to legalize sports betting, only seven states (Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, Nevada, Washington) restrict every DFS site. The issue remains murky enough in some states that only some sites choose to open operations.

Check this map, courtesy of Legal Sports Report, and each site’s terms to see if you’re eligible to play.


What Adjustments Must I Make from Season-Long Leagues?


Fantasy gamers tend to think their knowledge will immediately transfer over to the DFS waters. While season-long experience can certainly help DFS players, and vice versa, the different games require different temperaments and game plans.

For one, it’s important to know the host’s scoring system. For those who play points league that better reflect real-life value, it won’t be as stark a transition. Traditional five-by-five roto players, however, must account for the typical DFS game awarding hitters for walks and penalizing them for strikeouts. Durability takes on added importance for pitchers, who generate much of their value via innings pitched and wins.

A long-term view must shorten to factor in matchups, ballparks, lineup cards, recent form, and even weather forecasts.

DFS success also requires a different mindset. It’s a lot tougher to stomach one bad week when it drains your bank account. Just like you shouldn’t quit your league because you’re down the standings in June, you’ll never get your bankroll off the ground if bailing after an inevitable setback.

Even if you know your stuff, don’t fall into the trap of seeing DFS as a foolproof get-rich-quick scheme. It can, of course, be a profitable endeavor for devoted players who do the work. Just like season leagues, daily success requires persistence.


Sounds Fun! Where I Can Learn More?


Ready to give DFS a shot? For a more comprehensive look at how to play, take a look at past guides from the Fantasy 101 Series:

Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Andrew Gould

Andrew is Pitcher List's DFS Manager who also covers MLB and NFL for FantasyPros and Bleacher Report. He placed second in FantasyPros' MLB accuracy ratings in 2016 and fifth in 2018.

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