Fantasy sports originated decades ago, with predecessors to the modern fantasy baseball cropping up in the mid-1900s before a modern form of the game was born in 1980, when rotisserie-style scoring was conceived by magazine writer Daniel Okrent, according to the ESPN documentary "Silly Little Game." Rotisserie, so named after the restaurant in which the formative league met, eventually evolved into other forms of the game such as head-to-head. Meanwhile, other sports such as football, basketball, and hockey adopted their own fantasy versions, which continued to gain popularity until they became part and parcel of the American sporting consciousness, loved by many, hated by some, but acknowledged by all.
The most recent and arguably biggest evolution in fantasy sports is the advent of Daily Fantasy Sports (DFS), which began spreading about five years ago. I'd liken it to the beginning of land-based life forms; a whole new playing field has been discovered. The development is gaining momentum, and advertisements for daily fantasy sports sites have begun filtering into mainstream media (I can hardly watch sports TV or listen to sports talk radio without running into an ad these days). If you haven't yet made your way out of the proto pool, you've likely wondered what the deal is with DFS.
What exactly is daily fantasy sports?
Daily fantasy sports essentially take many of the components of standard season-long fantasy sports and compresses them into a shorter time period such as a week or a few days.
How do daily fantasy games compare to season-long leagues?
Scoring follows the same general principles of season-long fantasy sports; you select players who are competing in the given sport and they, in turn, produce points for you based on their accomplishments on the field or court during the allotted time period.
The concept is simple enough and easy enough to grasp for those familiar with season-long fantasy sports, but there are some major differences between the two games. For one thing, scoring formats, of which there are as many variations as there are players in season-long leagues, are set by the DFS sites rather than a league commissioner. Those who are used to scoring formats based on categories of different stats (i.e. steals in basketball being compared to opponents' steals) will have to adjust to straight points-based systems where everything is converted into points. This might be a turnoff for those who enjoy customized scoring formats.
Another major change is the drafting and owning of players. In a snake or auction draft for season-long fantasy sports, players either take turns selecting athletes or bid on them, with one player in the league owning a given player at a time. In DFS, everyone who joins a given game has the option of owning, say, LeBron James, rather than just the guy who got the first pick or was willing to pay the most money. Each participant starts with a set amount of salary and decides which players to buy, with prices determined by the DFS site before the game begins. This means DFS "leagues," or contests, can have an almost limitless number of participants (or as few as two – league size is another major difference), a stark contrast to season-long leagues that are limited by the amount of viable fantasy performers in each sport – nobody would have any fun owning the likes of Pete Cozart for six months in a 30-team baseball league. At the end of the contest, the points are tallied and payouts determined before everyone's roster is wiped clean for the next contest, so if you drafted LeBron and he broke his ankle (in this alternate universe LeBron's not an indestructible basketball cyborg), you aren't stuck with the sunk cost of your auction dollars or top draft pick.
Yet another difference comes in the form of payouts. For most season-long leagues, a commissioner has the job of collecting everyone's buy in and then distributing the prize pool at the end of the season. In DFS, this is all handled by the host website, which pays out the prize pool immediately after after the games are completed and stats are finalized.
Where can I play daily fantasy sports and what sports are offered?
A myriad of DFS sites exist out there in the limitless vastness of the internet. The two largest and most prominent sites (the ones with the wherewithal to produce the ads you may have encountered) are FanDuel and DraftKings.
There are far too many daily fantasy sports sites to list the offerings of each one here, so we'll stick with the two industry leaders. FanDuel currently hosts professional football, baseball, basketball, and hockey contests, as well college football and basketball. DraftKings has a bit more selection, pro golf and soccer added to the slate in addition to the aforementioned games.
Check out more daily fantasy sports sites at our DFS page.
But, is all of this legal?
Anyone familiar with online gaming legislation in the United States has to be wary of a website offering real-money contests online. Feat not however, you can likely participate in this growing game.
According to the DraftKings and FanDuel websites, they can accept DFS players from most U.S. states and Canada. Because fantasy sports is considered a game of skill, these sites don't fall under the same grouping as online gaming sites that are blocked by legislation from U.S. markets. Both sites list Arizona, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, Washington, as regions excepted, while DraftKings additionally notes Quebec.
That's the skinny on the world of DFS, so hopefully you know what you're getting into if you decide you're ready to grow some vertebrae, crawl out of the proverbial ocean, and evolve.