RotoGrinders Interview: youdacao
If you’ve played daily fantasy sports, you’ve probably seen the name littered atop the leaderboards across all the major sports.
Youda Cao has had an incredible amount of success in DFS so far — just check out his RotoGrinders rankings and other accomplishments and you’ll see what we mean. He’s third overall, third in the 2016 TPOY race, and wound up as the number one NBA player this past season, with a staggering 241,676 points to his name. youdacao’s no stranger to live finals either, having qualified for five different DraftKings events thus far.
Not one for the limelight, there’s an air of mystery surrounding youdacao, so we wanted to learn more about the man behind the dominant DFS alias. We managed to catch up with the #3 overall ranked DFS player and have him answer a few questions.
To start, introduce yourself to the RotoGrinders community.
My name is Youda Cao, I’m 26, and have a background in finance, economics, and technology. I apply a lot of tenets of value investing/trading to my DFS game.
The similarities between the two fields were noticeable immediately after I started playing. In October 2015, I founded a fund to truly align the process with the output, and now essentially run a Daily Fantasy trading desk.
When did you first get into daily fantasy sports, and how did it happen?
I have pretty much been playing fantasy sports ever since I learned to read. I recall as a child avidly playing season long NBA salary cap games on SportingNews (smallworld.com for those in the game long enough to recall). I transitioned into season long fantasy leagues on Yahoo!/ESPN with friends, always for pride rather than money.
I owe my start in DFS to Basketball Monster, a site whose tools I was using to gain an edge in season long NBA leagues. This was at the onset of the 2013-2014 NBA season. They were running a promotion with DraftStreet where users received $25 on DS as part of subscribing to their site. I initially found measured success while adhering to their projections, and then really took off after I started to incorporate my own model.
Do you have a particular DFS sport that you excel in more than the others?
NBA is my best sport in DFS. It’s the sport I’ve played and always followed closely on a regular basis.
It is inherently more predictable and not subject to as much projection variance compared to the other sports. There is an art to building lineups and edge to be had simply by being diligent with news and understanding coaching schemes.
On the flip side, are there any DFS sports that you struggle more with?
Up until the middle of last season, I struggled to an extent with MLB. If building NBA lineups is more art than science, building MLB lineups is just the opposite. It is the sport with the most factors to pay attention to, and it’s a challenge to both account for them all and weigh them appropriately.
The latter is so important, as there are quite a few MLB stats people swear by that are really just noise for DFS purposes. I’m able to get consistent results with MLB now, but it took a gradual paradigm shift to get here.
Are you more cash game or tournament oriented in your play now?
I don’t lean toward any direction as I play both. The nature of tournament payouts makes it the more entertaining and strategic game type.
ROI from tournaments is certainly higher but there is a limit to how much can be played on a daily basis in terms of volume (or risk aversion depending on how you view it). Cash games are certainly not as sexy, but still a sound way to ramp up volume. There will always be a place for both types in my DFS gameplay.
Do you like to sweat/watch the games live, or are you a “wake up and check in the morning” type?
I tend to watch as many live NBA/NFL games as I can. For NBA, this is out of passion and interest. It also helps in picking up rotation trends, defensive game plans, and in-game adjustment tendencies of different coaches. For MLB, I find watching less essential because the lack of team aspect. That and the outcome of every pitch can be synthesized without an eye test.
What’s been your proudest achievement in daily fantasy sports so far?
I don’t really have any big singular achievement in DFS. In fact, I flamed out in all of the larger events or live finals I’ve qualified for. I suppose my proudest achievement is consistency. I’m proud to have been able to grind from the bottom, scale up without any real significant downswing, and have the longevity to evolve and maintain edge, as the industry gets sharper.
Have you made any big purchases with your DFS winnings yet? Any future plans to do so?
I seem to pick up more bar and restaurant tabs than I did before. Beyond that, I’ve made few purchases or lifestyle changes. Living in a big city, I’ve never had a need for a car and generally spend little time in the apartment.
From my perspective, there’s also a psychological advantage to living/grinding like you have yet to make anything.
Even though you’ve already had tremendous success, have you set any future goals for yourself in DFS?
I’m already gotten further in the industry that I could have imagined when I started. I have no goal or agenda outside of continuing to make optimal decisions. I could stand to fare better in future live finals, but realize winning one of those involves as much good fortune as good decision-making.
How does the future of DFS look in your eyes? Is there more growth to come?
There is not enough legal clarity at the moment for me to really evaluate the industry. So much hinges on legislation at the moment, and each state seems to have its own legal battles.
Ultimately, I’m hopeful for regulation. We’ve seen the industry plateau some this past year, but I do see potential for a positive inflection point on the horizon. There is still significantly more season long fantasy sports players than DFS players, and the way people consume sports and technology in 2016 really makes DFS an ideal two-screen experience. I think we’ll see a second wind of growth around NFL season should the industry realize some positive legal clarity.
For those DFS players hoping to vault up the overall rankings like you did, what advice would you give them?
Don’t fixate on short-term results, be it the performance of athletes or your own DFS results. Instead, try to peel off the layers and look into underlying contributors of those results. Investigating the process and contributing factors of results is significantly more reliable and predictive than taking recent outcomes and applying those as new truths.
This way of approaching DFS is undoubtedly more labor intensive, and subsequently frustrating when process and results don’t align. In this sense, DFS resembles any other industry – there’s no elevator to success and you inevitably have to put in the work to excel.
Thanks to Youda for taking the time to answer our questions!