Catching Up with Al "Al Smizzle" Zeidenfeld
If you’ve been a member here at RotoGrinders or been playing DFS for any reasonable length of time, chances are you’re very familiar with Al “Al Smizzle” Zeidenfeld (alsmizzle on RG).
Once a regular analyst/host here on GrindersLive, Al has quickly ascended the ranks in the DFS industry, and he is now a DraftKings Analyst for ESPN.
Al has taken some time to answer a few questions about his new workplace, his recent big win in NBA, and a few other projects he has going on related to Daily Fantasy Bootcamp.
For those new to RotoGrinders who never had a chance to watch you, tell us a bit of your background and how you got into DFS.
Sure thing. I’ve been playing fantasy sports for the vast majority of my life. I remember the first league I played in was when I was 13 years old and I’ve been fixated on fantasy sports of all kind since then. I always took my fantasy leagues more seriously than most of my friends and over time I wanted to compete against the experts in the LABR and Tour Wars leagues but had no way in.
Right around that time I was hearing lots of commercials and some on air talk on the Sirius XM Fantasy channel about DFS and decided that if I couldn’t get into those leagues and compete against the best, maybe I could prove myself against them in Daily Fantasy. I got into DFS on opening day of baseball in April of 2012 and qualified for my first live final that year with the DraftStreet NFL final in Las Vegas. In March of 2013 I won the DraftStreet Basketball Championship and around the same time, Dan Back & Dave Kitchen were starting a daily live DFS show on RotoGrinders. I pestered Dan to put me on the show way back when we used Google Hangouts and had 40 viewers tuning in to watch each episode. That year ended up being one of my best in DFS as a player, as I ended the year taking second place in the first Millionaire Maker tournament on DraftKings. That second place finish catapulted me to the RotoGrinders Tournament Player of the Year award, which is an achievement I’ll always look at as a career highlight as a fantasy player and analyst.
Since then, I’ve done time as a Grinders Live Host/Analyst, worked with Dan on Sirius XM on the RotoGrinders show, become one of the original DraftKings Pros, and most recently been fortunate to represent the DFS community on ESPN as a DraftKings Analyst on all platforms from writing, to digital content, radio, podcasts and live TV.
Has it become more difficult to stay on top of your DFS lineups since joining ESPN? Do you still play the same volume/frequency?
I always play less when I’m traveling whether it’s to FSTA conferences, live finals or business. So I stepped back my volume a lot as the NFL season went along as well as the beginning of NBA. The biggest transition for me personally was mixing in all the time away from home and travel with being a husband and a father to my two young sons. I would leave on Wednesday for Bristol and fly home late on Sunday typically getting to my house at one or two in the morning. My boys would always come running in at around 6:00 am Monday morning and ask me to make them daddy toast (buttered toast with cinnamon sugar) so the transition from being at work on the ESPN campus to my normal day to day of being a father, playing DFS as well as running my own site always kept me on my toes and very busy.
Now that the NFL season is over and the travel to Bristol has subsided for a few months, I’m back to playing everyday from home. I’m a creature of habit and like to feel “at home” at my command center (as my wife calls it) to really feel like I’m truly comfortable and thinking clearly.
You had a great DFS showing in the NBA recently. Talk about that.
Two weeks ago I had a huge night on DraftKings when I took down both the Mega All-Star ($100,000) and the 3-Ball ($25,000) with the same lineup. I don’t play a ton of lineups very often in NBA DFS and that night I had two lineups in play.
My main lineup which I use for my head-to-head games and then a GPP lineup where I’m looking to find some players at lower percentages. The GPP lineup was the one that ended up winning that day. That lineup had some of the popular plays on that night like Archie Goodwin (88.5%) and Salah Mejri (70.2%) but were both extremely low priced, which allowed me to stack Russell Westbrook along with Kevin Durant vs the Knicks in a game that played very close and ended up going to overtime. The lineup also had great performances from Dwyane Wade (52.50 points, $6,500, 6.2% owned) and Julius Randle (37.25 points, $5,800, 1.9% owned).
What can a prospective DFSer expect to receive from signing up for a live Daily Fantasy Bootcamp event? What about a regular monthly subscription?
When I started DailyFantasyBootcamp.com, I wanted to provide something in the DFS space that nobody else had before. The ability to learn from some of the best players and the brightest minds in the game in a live, in-person setting. Twitter and other forms of social media have brought people closer to others who they don’t get a chance to talk to on a day to day basis, but even then it’s only in terms of the people you play against in DFS, see on top of the leaderboards or the RotoGrinders rankings, and you really only get to talk to them 140 characters at a time. Even with that ability, from the perspective of those being asked the questions, it’s really hard with how the industry has grown to answer every single question and conversation that people approach us with on Twitter.
Bootcamp gives our attendees the ability to have access to those players for one day in a setting where everyone is there to become a better player. Everyone there is immersed in daily fantasy and wants to improve. I learned from being a poker player and my years spent as a basketball coach that the only way to make a marked improvement in your game was to thoroughly surround yourself in the game and eat, think, talk, and sleep it.
The same is true with DFS. It’s my company and I’ve spoken/presented a topic at each of the live camps we held last year, six in total. I can say with all honesty that I’ve left each camp day an improved DFS player from all the other speakers presentations, as well as interacting with the camp attendees and going back and forth on the strategy of Daily Fantasy for the entire day.
The monthly subscription to dailyfantasybootcamp.com includes access to the filmed presentations from all of the live camps so every subscriber can learn via video, because it would be impossible for anyone (other than myself) to be at all the live camps and hear every speaker. They can be bought individually, but the monthly subscriber has all access viewing for the subscription cost. Subscribers also have access to my projection spreadsheet for basketball, baseball and football as well as premium articles from our writers.
The MLB Bootcamp events are coming up in March and April. Where will those be located, and who are some of the guest speakers?
We’re going to be having two live bootcamps this spring revolving around getting people prepared for the coming baseball season. The first one is going to be held in Los Angeles on Saturday, March 19th and will feature Pat Mayo of FNTSY, Davis Mattek of Fantasy Insiders and Dave “CheeseIsGood” Potts as well as myself. We offer a VIP excursion for the customers who opt to include it after the camp where we’ll be going to Staples Center to watch the Kings play in a luxury suite with the guests and the speakers.l
The second camp will take place in Boston on Saturday, April 16th and our speakers will include Paul Sporer of FanGraphs, MLBtv & RotoGrinders, Derek Carty from Baseball Tonight on ESPN, Dave “LoughyD” Loughran from Fantasy Insiders and JM “JMToWin” Tohline from RotoGrinders. The VIP excursion will take us to a luxury suite at Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox play the Toronto Blue Jays.
Chat about your time as a fantasy analyst at ESPN so far. How has the transition to working for one of the biggest companies in the world been? How did it go in your first NFL season there?
It’s been pretty surreal. All my life I’ve wanted to be a play by play guy or one of the SportsCenter guys. I grew up with it, I loved it and being on campus, on the sets, walking the halls and talking to all the people I’ve watched on TV for the past 30 years or more continually brings a smile to my face when I’m there. I think my first season went really well, but it was a lot to transition to for me. First, the travel was very hectic going every other week from Los Angeles to Bristol can run you through the wringer in and of itself. Also, my schedule at RotoGrinders in the past circulated around doing the Grinders Live show in the afternoon, ninety minutes before lock and that was basically it. I didn’t have to do any writing, I didn’t do podcasts, it was basically just the show. With ESPN I’m on all platforms which means I have to write articles, do podcast appearances and my own mini-podcasts, tape digital video (the ones you see with me at the touch screen on espn.com) as well as live TV and radio.
Two experiences that really stood out to me this NFL season from Bristol was first and foremost being in the War Room to watch NFL with all of the guys you see on TV on ESPN Sunday mornings. Feeling like an outsider at first, but more like one of the gang at the end of the season was really fun.
Secondly, I was never nervous for any of the on air things, whether it was the 06010 podcast with Matthew Berry, or the digital video/live TV segments on SportsCenter…except once.
The producers usually give you a rundown with an outline of what your segment is going to be and what anchor you’re going to be working with. My first week there I had a live hit on SportsCenter and I wasn’t given an outline so I didn’t know who the host would be and I really didn’t think about it much at all. I get dressed, get mic’d up and all the pre-show stuff and then I walk onto the set while they’re still live (but on the other side of the room) and Linda Cohn walks across the room, waves at me and whispers, “Hey, first show here for you? Should be pretty fun!” Okay, NOW I’m nervous. About to do my second live TV spot on SportsCenter on the big set and the queen of ESPN is going to be the host I’m working with? Needless to say I stumbled a bit on air that segment, but I think it came across fine. I worked with her a few more times as the season went on and everything was fine, but that first time working with someone you’ve been watching on TV your whole life was a bit intimidating.
We all want to assume the ESPN workplace is just like their commercials. Are there any stories or interesting run-ins you’ve experienced at the ESPN offices?
There was one day near the beginning of the season that I was taping mid-week and a bunch of former NFL players who are not on-air talent (Mark Schlereth, Robert Smith, Jerome Bettis, Herm Edwards, etc) and Stephen A Smith were in the green room. They get to asking me what I do and I start telling them about NFL on DraftKings.
This goes on for about 20-30 minutes, and I have to tell you that Herm Edwards and Stephen A. Smith are not putting on an act when they’re on the air. They are 100% genuine in who you see on the air when they’re off of it. My only regret was when Herm asked me, “Why do people play Daily Fantasy,” was that I didn’t answer, “YOU PLAY. TO WIN. THE GAME!” I thought it, but I just didn’t have the heart to say it. Wish I could have that one back.
As anyone who follows you on Twitter knows, you probably have the best .gif/meme game in all DFS Twitter. You seem to have one queued up for every possible situation; how extensive is your .gif/meme folder?
It’s a constant work in progress.
I’ve got them categorized by show/movie, by emotion (shocked/happy/applause), and by actor (Spacey/Seinfeld/Kramer). It’s always growing and I try to have as many fresh ones as I can so I’m not always recycling the same ones every time, but I certainly have my favorites. The Costanza popcorn, Cookie monster, and Monkey pushing the laptop off the desk are easily my favorites.
Finally, any advice you can throw out to the new DFS players that you wish someone told you when you first started?
It’s scary to think that the game has changed so much in the four years that I’ve been playing that info to me then wouldn’t be as relevant now, but it’s true.
If I was starting over right now, the best advice I could give to someone would be to stay humble in your game selection. Don’t play people out of spite or trophy hunting. At the end of the day, you have to answer to yourself and your bank account, so protect both.