Fantasy esports – often abbreviated as DFeS – is one of the smaller branches
of the esports betting industry.
While ad hoc and free-to-play versions of fantasy esports have been available for quite some time, the ascendance of fantasy esports kicked off in early 2015 as the genre rode the wave of interest and enthusiasm around daily fantasy sports.
What it is
Fantasy esports is broadly similar to traditional fantasy sports.
Participants create a lineup of esports pros competing in a given event or slate of events (salary cap model is most prevalent) and then that virtual lineup receives points based on how the real-world pros perform. The lineup that scores the highest wins the fantasy competition.
How big is it?
Relatively small, at least when compared to skin betting or cash betting on esports. Right now there are a handful of primary sites for fantasy esports play:
- DraftKings (offers esports alongside traditional sports)
- EsportsPools (fantasy esports and additional games)
The two initial leaders in the vertical – AlphaDraft and Vulcun – both shuttered in 2016.
The stakes involved tend to be lower than on traditional DFS site like FanDuel.
Overall, the annual handle for fantasy esports is likely described in terms of millions to tens of millions of dollars, as opposed to the hundreds of millions used to characterize cash betting and the billions involved in skin wagering.
Why it works
While the genre is relatively small, I believe there is a long-term place for fantasy esports betting in the broader esports betting landscape:
- Engagement: Fantasy esports is a unique product that speaks to an audience looking for greater involvement than a simple sports bet can offer. Fantasy esports competitions give players a chance to dive into deep analysis (although such analysis is certainly also possible with sports betting) and to engage with their favorite players on a unique level.
- Player vs player: Fantasy sports is peer-to-peer wagering, while other popular forms of esports betting are typically player-vs-house.
- Safe entry point: Fantasy sports are a familiar, innocuous template that may serve as a palatable entry point for developers and brands that want to engage fans via wagering, but who are concerned about the cultural associations surrounding sports betting.
- Deep data: esports is a data-driven product, and fantasy sports products tend to thrive in contexts with robust data availability.
The size of the place that fantasy esports occupies in the landscape for esports betting could vary based on a number of factors:
- Legal challenges: Daily fantasy sports is facing numerous challenges in a variety of states. While state lawmakers are typically not concerned directly with fantasy esports, whatever happens to DFS effectively trickles down to fantasy esports as well. We could see the fantasy esports market shrink and more states challenge the legality of DFS or pass bills that make doing business too costly for fantasy esports operators.
- Liquidity challenges: While big prize pools aren’t the only thing that drives a product like fantasy esports, they certainly help. And having enough players participating to ensure that there’s a rich choice of contests for all players is certainly a critical need for any fantasy esports site. But as the genre lags behind other formats, we may see liquidity drop to a point where growing the product becomes a real challenge.
- Lack of competition: As mentioned above, there are only a handful of sites offering fantasy esports. It’s possible that the limited competition could stifle innovation, product development, and promotional / marketing outlay – all things that are arguably necessary if the broader genre of fantasy esports is to thrive.