Will Priester: From Salary Cap to Pick'em - The Evolution of DFS
Will Priester, aka chiefjustICE06, is a longtime RotoGrinders personality and avid fantasy sports player who burst onto the DFS scene several years ago, landing himself in the top 100 overall rankings and making several Live Final appearances. Will has since shifted his focus to fantasy pick’em games and is the leader of Chief’s Prop Shop in the RotoGrinders Discord.
The following article is an OpEd piece authored by Will.
They Came, They Saw, They Conquered…Almost
The Daily Fantasy Sports landscape is changing rapidly. New companies are entering the space with hopes of attracting new users to their product and gaining a sustainable presence that will stand the test of time. Two companies have already been able to establish such a feat; their names are DraftKings and FanDuel. If you go back a decade, they were once the new kids on the block, just like some of these companies we see today. They were innovative and constantly trying to find ways to improve in order to make their product one to be remembered, one that they could be proud of, and one that could possibly stand the test of time. Companies came and companies went, but these two became the pillars of the DFS community.
Today, we stand at a crossroads. We have the two companies that we’ve all come to grow and love, DraftKings and FanDuel, begin to focus more of their resources into their sportsbook platforms than the DFS brand that they built their foundations on. If you don’t believe me, please check out how many attractions, sign-up bonuses, bonus bets, etc. are there for new users to sign up on their sportsbooks. Compare that to what we are getting in the DFS space, and I would say it pales in comparison. You may be asking, “Chief, what is this really all about anyway?” That, my friends, is going to be cleared up momentarily.
Let’s take a personal journey very briefly if you will. I was at one time primarily a FanDuel DFS player. It was the site where I seemed to be the most successful. I was on a journey to be the very best DFS player around. I was able to climb the rankings here at RotoGrinders, make Live Finals appearances, and take down several six-figure paydays per year along the way. I was having the time of my life. I had an account manager whom I could reach out to with any questions, concerns, ideas, and fan experiences. It felt like I was valued at FanDuel, and that’s something I always appreciated.
The sacrifice I had to make to be great though was to give away my time. Staying on top of lineup-building, sitting in front of my computer for hours on end, and making sure I didn’t miss injury news, all so that I could tweak those lineups right up to a slate-lock was a daily routine. This was the life of a full-time DFS player. It was incredibly rewarding when the big wins came, but the time it took to get there in between was often draining and something that wasn’t sustainable for me.
Let’s fast forward to the year 2020. As most of you have already experienced, the COVID-19 virus ravaged the country, we were on lockdown in a lot of areas, and some sports were even put on hold. Esports, however, began to thrive.
As I got more into the DFS portion of these games, I happened to stumble upon a new DFS website. It was PrizePicks. It gave me an opportunity to participate in DFS, but it placed so much more time back into my life. I still went through the same process of gathering information, but instead of building lineups with a salary cap, I was building lineups based on how I thought the games would go. It was perfect in that I could get a sweat without having to spend hours of my time to compete at the highest level.
There were esports available and other niche sports that were happening at the time. As the country began to progress back to slight normalcy, the main sports began to pick back up too. As those sports returned, I noticed personally that I naturally started spending less time on FanDuel and DraftKings and more time on PrizePicks. The ability to play DFS in this way quickly became my method of choice. I felt as if I had gained a new lease on life. No longer did I have to be handcuffed to my computer for hours on end. I could still enjoy all of the DFS benefits, but my life had more balance.
As we fast forward to today, I understand that there are some things that I gave up when primarily focusing on pick’em DFS. I gave up the ability to hit the big paydays all at once. It’s a slower grind in the pick’em space. Yes, on any given day, I could risk a larger amount to try and win five figures, but most days, I enjoy the steady grind. I have diversified a lot more by playing Underdog, Sleeper, Thrive, and other pick’em sites as well. PrizePicks, Underdog, and others have really taken their products to the next level by finding ways to make the player experience enjoyable, all while bringing innovation to the table in this new category of fantasy, much in the same way we saw FanDuel and DraftKings do in the early days of salary cap DFS.
What we see from Underdog in the Best Ball space has been unrivaled, and in the pick’em space, they are continuing to add more categories each year, oftentimes mid-season to accommodate the flexibility of the players. We’ve seen them add new payout structures to give players every opportunity to be profitable, which has also helped to increase the game play experience. We’ve seen PrizePicks give us tons of options and flexibility in niche categories, payouts, and much more in between. Sleeper has also done a fantastic job creating community amongst players in their app. From my vantage point, it seems that these companies are growing with the spirit of the “players first” mentality. Yes, we know that these companies are here to make money, but I get the sense that they firmly are out to deliver the best experiences possible for their customers.
It seems that pick’em DFS sites have come up with a way that any casual fan can be introduced to the world of DFS. If you think that you know sports, you can easily hop on and make a prediction based on the projections offered by these sites. I also think it’s important to note that it doesn’t require a lot of time. Time is our most precious commodity at the end of the day, and the more of that you have for your personal life, your family, and anything in between, the better you will feel. As FanDuel and DraftKings have invested more into sportsbooks, PrizePicks and Underdog have been able to give the players the best alternative: a time-saving way to play DFS. This isn’t just anecdotal, as data definitely supports this thesis.
What we have here is the state of Arizona. “Why is Arizona important?,” you may ask. Well, this is a state where there is legalized sports betting. As we look at the entry fees, you will notice quickly that despite having sportsbook offerings, DFS players are still choosing to invest more into PrizePicks than FanDuel and DraftKings in the DFS space. This is an eye-opening statistic because these players are choosing to play on these sites when they absolutely don’t have to. This speaks to the player experience that has been created.
In our second visual, we have the state of Michigan, which is also a legal sports betting state. As we look at the year-over-year taxable revenues, one thing rings true: PrizePicks is continuing to become the DFS site of choice for this generation of DFS players. At the time the above data was recorded, PrizePicks had accumulated more taxable revenue in 2023 than FanDuel and DraftKings combined. Like Arizona, Michigan does have regulated online sports betting, and despite that option, fantasy players appear to be leaving the salary cap game for the more convenient pick’em style of DFS.
Between data like the above and my own experiences running a Discord channel exclusively around DFS pick’em sites, it’s clear to me that there is a wave of change happening: pick’em DFS is becoming the favored option for many players. As a longtime DFS player, I’ve had the opportunity to do some amazing things for myself and my family. I love this industry and the people in it. I appreciate the ability to create my own path in life, and I was able to walk away from corporate America and do something every single day that I’m passionate about and love.
What I hate presently is that our ability to choose is being threatened. There are a number of gaming regulators who, after years of being fine with pick’em fantasy, now suddenly feel differently about it. I’m not going to speculate as to why, but it seems odd that this is suddenly happening now. These innovative companies in the pick’em space have put together the perfect daily fantasy sports solution. Anyone can play, and they don’t have to compete against 20,000 entries. They only have to compete against themselves. They still have all the time in the world to do other things, and this is the great equalizer.
I think it’s important to remember that salary cap DFS was in this same position years ago, needing to defend itself against outside interests for the survival of the game that millions love to play. In my opinion, the same innovation they brought to the table over a decade ago is no different than what pick’em sites are doing today. I think it’s important for us to recognize that and show our support, so we can continue to enjoy this exciting new version of fantasy sports for years to come.