The Mental Side of DFS

I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for a long time, but it’s been difficult for me to actually sit down and do it because of the nature of the topic. There’s plenty of DFS content out there about DFS strategy, picks, bankroll management, contest selection, and so on, but I don’t feel like the mental aspect of playing DFS gets talked about much. So the goal of my blog post is to talk about the mental side of DFS while trying to be as open and honest as possible. The DFS grind is exactly that – an actual grind. There are highs and lows playing DFS. We tend to call that variance, which I admit is a nice name. But the truth is that grind really requires a mental toughness.

As I’m writing this, the world is about nine months into a global pandemic. It seems like yesterday that Rudy Gobert was touching all the mics and the NBA shut down. To me, that was the moment where I realized things were about to change – a multi-billion dollar sports league was finally willing to halt games. I remember telling myself this sports break was the time where I would finally rest from the daily grind. With major sports on a hiatus, I would use the time to take a mental break from DFS. Except that I never actually did that. I replaced the NBA DFS grind with eSports and Asian baseball. In fact I found myself more tired on a daily basis trying to grind KBO DFS in the middle of the night, learning an entire new league full of players I had never heard of.

Ultimately, I kept grinding away and found ways to fill that DFS-shaped void in my heart with new sports. And I kept grinding away until the NBA restarted, and MLB season came along, and the NFL season began. But it wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I realized I needed that mental break from DFS. Between the daily grind, the screenshots of other people winning and the bickering on Twitter, I found myself mentally tired.

And that’s where I’m at right now, finally forcing myself to slow down and take a mental break from the daily grind until NBA season starts back up at the end of the year. I’ve found that the mental grind rarely gets discussed, and I know mental health is still a bit of a taboo subject. But I’m writing this as a way to say if you’re going through a tough mental stretch, you’re not alone. The fact is the world seems like a pretty broken place right now. People are struggling with unemployment as our economy has slowed. Kids are at home distance learning, meaning we’re all in each other’s spaces even more now. Even our US Presidential election revealed how divided our country is. I typically rely on Twitter to get my daily news but it came to a point where reading through my timeline just made me even more depressed.

So what makes the DFS grind so different and exhausting? These are a few aspects I’d like to highlight:

The Losing

I know it’s hard to admit, but you won’t win at DFS every day. In fact, I tend to think most people don’t even do the math and realize just how hard winning a tournament really is. I had posted a visual on my Twitter account a few months ago here on just how hard it is to take down a GPP visually.

That’s right, in that visual you’re an arm in a sea of bodies. That’s how hard winning a GPP really is. So yes, on most nights, you will likely come out a loser and you know what, that’s completely normal. The math supports the idea that you will not win every night, yet some have expectations that we will win every night. I’ve had several conversations with new DFS players in the RG Discord complaining that they aren’t taking down GPPs immediately. It’s important to have realistic expectations and to have those expectations backed up by math.

Now let me just say that just because winning at DFS is mathematically hard, there are ways to put yourself into a better position than the field, and that’s why I do believe DFS is beatable in the long run and why I continue playing it. While the math is stacked against you, there’s a reason why we see some of the same players at the top of leaderboards more regularly. I truly believe the RG Discord channels are one of the best ways to learn industry strategy and game theory to help you become a better DFS player. In my humble opinion, the premium Discord channels are worth the price of a monthly subscription.

Losing is mentally taxing, but it’s a part of the grind. There’s a really good quote by Ray Dalio from his book, “Principles” that resonated with me as a tournament player. He said:

“I developed a healthy fear of being wrong and figured out an approach to decision making that would maximize my odds of being right.”

To put this in DFS terms, you could be wrong 49/50 nights, but when you are right that 1 night, it should more than make up for those 49 losing nights. The problem is that for many of us, being wrong 49/50 nights is mentally taxing, so sometimes we find more comfort in making “safer” choices in our DFS play that minimize those losing nights in exchange for tournament winning upside. Or said more simply, sometimes we find more comfort in min cashing more often so that we don’t have to feel the sting of losing. I fall into this trap often.

The Screenshots

Let me just preface that I am guilty of screenshots. At the same time, I am not against screenshots. I get it – we all want to celebrate our wins and I genuinely feel that’s an important part of the DFS community. Still, I know that screenshots can have a negative effect mentally. When you’re on a downswing and you see nothing but screenshots on Twitter, it can make you feel worse about yourself. Ideally we’d be happy for each other and celebrate each other’s successes, but the human heart doesn’t always work that way.

I remember three years ago I was laid off from my job of 10 years. In order to find work, I would often spend hours on LinkedIn looking at job postings. Yet on my LinkedIn feed I would also see my connections posting about their new jobs and promotions. It was a double-edged sword because I needed to be on LinkedIn for my job search, yet I’ll admit it hurt to see the world around me advancing in their careers as I sputtered along in mine. Ultimately this was something I had to wrestle with and work out because I knew I should rejoice when my connections had success, but that wasn’t my default reaction during my time of unemployment.

There is no right or wrong to the screenshot debate. I tend to lean on the side that tournaments are so difficult to take down that if you are genuinely happy in your bink, there’s nothing wrong with sharing it with others who have been along the ride with you.

The FOMO

FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out, is a real thing. I’ve seen it a lot on social media where platforms like Facebook and Instagram create this fear in people where we see our friends living their best lives while we’re at home in our pajamas watching reruns of The Office on Netflix (uh, hypothetically). From a DFS perspective, I’ve had that FOMO of missing a slate knowing that somebody is going to take it down, and if I don’t enter the contest then I’ll never have a shot at first place. The FOMO of missing a slate is especially bad judgement on my part when I haven’t done proper research on the slate yet I’m jamming in entries haphazardly as I try to avoid my FOMO.

This is something I’ve had to get over, and I’m now at the point where I’m okay taking a slate or two off. I know we joke about “No Slates Off,” but really, the world won’t end if we take a mental break.

The Niche

One of the hardest parts about DFS is that it’s a niche hobby, meaning there are not many who truly understand the mental grind from playing DFS. As a result, it’s hard for me to find others to talk about the mental grind with since few people get it. I tend to shield my friends and family from the swings of DFS because frankly, trying to explain it would be too difficult.

Imagine going on a date and trying to explain a stat correction to her that pushed you out of a top finish. Or trying to explain to your friends the emotional toll that no late swap has on you when there’s been a scratch right at lock. In both scenarios, you’d sound like a crazy person to the outside world.

95% of the people in my life probably have no idea what DFS entails. And the trouble with that is for the most part, I don’t really think people understand the mental aspects of DFS. I’m grateful for the friends I’ve made from DFS over the years with whom I can discuss these aspects with. And I’m grateful for the RG community, with whom I’ve had some discussions with about the mental side of playing.

Doing DFS content is also another layer where now my thoughts and advice can potentially impact the finances of another player. That’s a huge responsibility and not one I take lightly. I have been the subject of some DFS hate Tweets/comments because of my picks that didn’t work out but that’s a topic for another day. If you’ve ever done DFS content, you understand.

So why is this DFS niche hobby so much mentally tougher than another hobby like stamp collecting or knitting? Well for starters we have money on the line, which adds to the stress. But I think the biggest aspect is that in DFS, it’s binary – you either win or lose. There’s no in-between. In stamp collecting and knitting, you really don’t have winners or losers.

Final Thoughts

Now my goal in this blog post wasn’t to complain or try and have anyone feel sympathy for me. My goal was to just have an honest, open conversation that I feel doesn’t get discussed enough. And by blogging about it, I hope it encourages others to know you’re not alone if you’re feeling this way and that it’s completely fine to talk about it.

The hardest part about the mental side of DFS is that there’s no “answer” on how to address it. I’ve watched a lot of interviews with DFS pros and often times, the interviewer will ask the DFS pro if they’ve ever gone through swings in their DFS play and how they got out of it. There is never one consistent answer from the pros, because the truth is there’s no actual real answer. Some pros may tell you to scale back your daily action until you’re out of your funk. Some may say to take a mental break. Others may suggest playing through it and working your way out of a funk. And if anyone were to ever ask me, my answer would be, “I don’t know.” I feel like that’s the best answer you can give someone, because that’s the truth. How you handle the mental aspect of DFS is a personal preference.

I’ve spent a lot of this blog talking about the mental toll from DFS when you lose. But there is a mental hurdle even when you win in DFS. I’ve seen (and personally experienced) times of winning where I believe I’m unstoppable, then hit a downswing. Before I know it, I’m making sub-optimal decisions to chase my losses. This is where bankroll management really is important and to remain humble regardless of your recent performance because DFS is a humbling game.

So if you were to take away anything from the blog post, I hope it would be this – in my opinion, DFS is a game of skill, luck, and mental fortitude. I think the RG community is amazing one, and the tools here are some of the best in the business. I have every intention to continue grinding because I really do believe in the tools and people behind them. At the same time, I’m learning it’s okay to be honest with yourself and that it’s healthy to take breaks when you need them.

Thanks for reading. May variance be on your side.

About the Author

  • Allan Lem (fathalpert)

  • Allan Lem (aka “fathalpert”) began playing fantasy sports in high school and transitioned to DFS in 2015. He graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Economics and lives in California with his wife and two kids. Allan got his break in the industry covering Preseason NBA content and has since helped with NBA, Summer League, MLB, and Preseason NFL content as well as overseeing the RotoGrinders blog program. He dreams of winning a big tournament so he can try cashing one of those giant cardboard checks at his local bank. You can follow Allan on Twitter @allanlemdfs.

Comments

  • FitFantasyGod

    Incredibly necessary article, thank you.

  • txwayz

    Outstanding article!

  • akayer19

    It’s like my life, summed up in a few minute read.

  • johnnyjakes

    I think people would look at losing differently as long as they come to terms with a few hard truths

    1. With more people playing DFS now, the competition is greater, which inherently, decrease your odds of winning

    2. The amount of information available to the general public, both paid for and free content, is greater than ever, which again, inherently decreases your odds of winning

    3. I think the statistic is 50 percent of the worlds wealth is encapsulated by the top 1 percent of the population – translate this to DFS – The top 1 percent of players earn likely 50% or more of the
    money earned. Again, unless you have a really big bankroll, the odds are stacked against you

  • Gboxer23rene

    Amazing!!

  • Mateo_Epstein

    RG needs more of this and less of the “touts” complaining about coaching and players.

  • mandrzejewski

    • Ranked #81

      RG Tiered Ranking

    This is an outstanding article and really something I (and I am sure a lot of us) can relate to.

  • jlazarus44

    Great article brother – thank you!

  • jrvela20

    • 540

      RG Overall Ranking

    As a current school psychologist, this blog was astounding.

  • Lilybeanfoot

    Great article.

  • bhdevault

    • Lead Moderator

    • Blogger of the Month

    Awesome read, well done Allan!

  • Gundymullet12

    Thanks Allan, I appreciate your honesty and opening up a tough conversation. I will definitely take with me, many of your points. I hope you have continued success and enjoy the ride!

  • illinibob1977

    Nailed it.

  • mtamayo2

    True story

  • bwe11s

    Great article!
    Well said 😉👍🏼

  • Colinlynch57

    • 346

      RG Overall Ranking

    • Ranked #75

      RG Tiered Ranking

    Facts. Great content 🔥💯

  • TyWebbAces1980

    Thank you for this.

  • Lauter2012

    Wow!! Great article. That 1st part hit home 100% and the rest was right on the money… for me atleast. I’m currently hitting the slumps. I’m semi new to dfs and I put more work in than most I’m sure. I hit big during NBA restart (1 large and 4 or 5 decent). It was honestly the most $$ I’ve had at once in my life. I thought “I made it”. Then NBA ended and I began NFL. I maxed entered every big tournament each week and spanned my props/parlays… and I am now back to where I started and it does not feel good. Just as u mentioned, I am now having to pay closer attention to my bank roll management and switch up from GPP to cash games in an attempt to profit something, to hedge my loses. .. its strange, bc RotoTracker says I’m still in the positive (by about what I’ve originally won afew months ago) but yet its not in my FD account or bank account.. I even dipped into the tax money I had set aside, chasing.. but I love DFS and grind on I shall. Again, great article and thanks for being honest/sharing.

  • Wallstruss

    Thanks for the great article!

  • Wllsr5

    Appreciate you being so open even in this day and age where it is okay now to be open about mental stress it can still be difficult to talk about it openly but I appreciate you being open about this side of DFS most times you have to shake it off and focus on the next tournament again thank you.

  • ssilberman2012

    unbelievable read

  • cmac17554

    Thanks Allan. It’s important for grinders to know it’s ok to talk about this side of the game and that they have a platform to do it here without judgment. Taking a break doesn’t equal weakness.

  • littlebrows

    article was dope

  • Othersideofthegame

    Well Said!

  • jpjk1lla

    Good stuff! I’m lucky I binked the very first showdown of the year (chopped 1st with thousands of people but still it was a nice start) otherwise this year would be even more mentally draining than it already is! I have come to the point after 5 years of dfs that I’m perfectly fine being a break even or even slightly losing player because I only play large field GPPs and A) it’s a fun hobby and B) I’ve got to hit the big one someday right?? LOL

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