Tournament Structures and What DK MUST Do To Help Today's Low Stakes Grinder.

Let me start off by saying I love draftkings. They were my first true DFS love (well, if we don’t count Alphadraft… they only had E-Sports anyways). Their payout structures were amazing (no more than 20% for first, 2x min cash). They had $3 moonshots with 100k+ guaranteed for most of the year (dipped below as the season came to an end). I don’t recall if the small buy in contests were ever 150 entry max (I’ve been playing on DK for awhile but never took it serious enough to notice stuff like this until summer of last year), but for me they’ve at least always been 50 entries. Shortly into 2017’s MLB season, they rolled out a “20 entry limit” for all contests $4 or under and recently they banned the top pros from playing in contests with an entry fee lower than $5. I think there are a few ways to look at this and I don’t see it all as positive or negative. I’m going to attempt to illustrate some of the problems that still exist in the current DFS environment and what both sites could do to fix them.

I guess I should back this up a bit (IF YOU DON’T WANT TO READ A BIOGRAPHY SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH).

Let me introduce myself. I’m DSofM. I live in Canada and my dream growing up was/is (I’m not really sure right now) to be a professional poker player. I was pretty serious about it too, it’s even written in my grade 8 yearbook (maybe my dad wasn’t the best role model). So when I was of legal age (which luckily in Canada comes two years quicker than in our neighbours to the south), I began my quest. I mean, I had practiced and played online already but I never got too serious with it financially because I was worried about losing any money I did make and felt the time invested wouldn’t have really been worth it if I had it all taken away once I had to confirm my identity. I grinded online small stakes but didn’t make it too high up the ladder. I peaked as a winning player in 50 NL before I found I more lucrative option; playing live poker. People had already been saying for years that online poker was dead (I mostly agree with this stance now, at least for cash games). But playing live is still very much alive and well. The only challenge with starting out with live poker is having the bankroll for it and being comfortable winning/losing hundreds of dollars (woah, big shot!). Over my first summer of transitioning to a “live pro” I had a win rate of $22.80/hr and I honestly don’t think the games I played in were that great (based on location/availability/things I’d heard about other places). Now how does any of this tie into DraftKings? Excellent question (oh crap, am I talking to myself right now?).


In poker, there is a clear path to your dreams. Sure, it’s difficult as hell, and 99% of the players never make it to the very top (I think that’s true in pretty much everything), but many players can be profitable at various stakes. The journey is simple in poker. You start at the very bottom (1c2c cash games, or 10c/25c tournaments) and grind your bankroll up. You play against players that are around your approximate skill level until you are significantly better than them (at which point your bankroll will have grown significantly) and you can move on to higher stakes. This is a rinse and repeat process, and time invested generally equates to noticeable results once you have a significant sample size. The problem with DFS is that this isn’t how low stakes players build their bankroll, and it creates an even steeper slope for anyone trying to beat the game long term. From the moment I started playing DFS, at the very lowest of stakes, I was playing against the Michael Jordan of DFS. I didn’t realize it at first, but I was. That problem has been reduced with the new changes to ban all players with over a million dollars in earnings from playing in low stakes games, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a bunch of solid pros still lurking in these games while also playing high dollar buyins. The primary difference between DFS and poker is that the player doesn’t have to “play” the games. All they have to do is build lineups and enter them into contests. Why wouldn’t a high stakes pro increase his ROI by a few % points by clicking his lineups into the low stakes stuff? I’m not condemning them for doing it, the rules weren’t well thought out from the start and the pros who did this really didn’t do anything wrong. I think the site has an obligation to protect newer players and low stakes players though, and I believe DraftKings is starting to agree with this. I still think they could make it better though. Besides the pro’s in the micro stakes, there are TWO major issues that need to be addressed: #1 is the tournament structures and #2 is the inability to climb stakes in tournaments because of how they are currently structured.

So we’ve identified some of the problems, how are we going to fix them? One of the biggest offenders is the tournament structures, and the payout structures that come with them. I will start by saying that I have a theory about why the payout structures are this way, and I’m sure people will say something like “well if you were good you could just beat the games anyways”, and sure, that may be true. The main problem is that the structure creates a lot of people stuck in the middle and doesn’t reward people for cashing OR binking a tournament like it should, given the difficulty to achieve these feats. I’m going to use the 7.5k Solo Shot from August 11th as my point of reference. It is an 8823 player contest (so we’re already shaving $1300, or 15%, off the top, more on that later). This contest pays a measly $500 to first (or 6.66%), and has 1139 players min cashing for 1.5x ($1.50) which equates to $1708.5 in min cashes (approx 20% of the payout). So now you have 75% of the entrants getting no money, and the next 13% getting min cashes, which basically means 88% of the people in the tournament have come up empty, since a 1.5x min cash is pretty abysmal and you’d have to sustain a ridiculous win rate to profit on 1.5x min cashes with 15% rake. Then we have even bigger problems at the top of the ladder. A 6.66% payout for first is simply not enough. I think it needs to be minimum 10%, and then with flatter payouts and fewer min cashes. I took a screenshot of a recent PokerStars lobby that had a $7500 (technically slightly more) prize pool and here’s what the payouts look like. In my ideal world, these aren’t quite perfect either, but it’s a lot more rewarding to cash and a lot more rewarding to finish at the top, though some of the finishes between place 50-100 become slightly less lucrative. Here’s a direct comparison between the Stars payout structure and the DK payout structure for a contest with the same prize pool. A few notable differences would be that on Stars you’re only being raked 10% as well, and you’re sacrificing a bit of the middle ground to have a better reward for min cashing and a better reward for finishing near the top.

So I’m not going to say the Stars payout structure is the best possible solution, but I think it’s better. A slightly less top heavy tournament that was slightly more rewarding to spots 20-100 would probably be my ideal setup. I think that the way that tournaments on DK are set up now are basically structured to create a lot of marginal winners or losers. A few people will break through but with 15% rake and a 1.5x min cash I think the majority of us are going to be stuck in the mud until DK manages to rake us to death. I hope I’m wrong about that, by the way, but when I really look at the numbers there it seems kind of grim.

Here’s what DraftKings needs to know about low stakes MME players, and what they need to change to facilitate healthy growth from micro stakes to medium stakes:

I think that me and my fellow low stakes MME’rs are a little misunderstood. We don’t hate 50 entries. We don’t even hate 150 entries. We hate playing for very small buyins against the best players in the world. This has been fixed somewhat, with the new limits put in place, but pros can still enter the $4 Four Seamer, which is kind of the bread and butter tourney for a low stakes grinder to get a reasonable size prize pool. If DK ever wants players to grow and challenge the pros at higher stakes and pay higher raked BI games, they need to help us out a bit. Let me paint a bit of a picture for you.

Right now the $4 20 max is the lowest MME tourney before you get to the $8 rally cap. So logically, you would grind your BR up until you had enough buyins to play the $8 rally cap from entering the $4 tourney and the smaller ones as well (even though currently they all kind of suck, more on that later). Ok, seems simple enough, so what’s the issue? Let’s say you’re a reasonable person and you want to risk 2% of your BR on tournaments each night (probably nitty for other sports, but understandable for MLB). So if you want to only play 2% of your roll in a $4 20 max ($80 total), you’d need a bankroll of around $4000 to enter in everyday and have a very low ROR (risk of ruin). Now, I think I’m a successful winner in the $4 games and I want to move on to the next level up. How much am I going to need to acquire to have a reasonable bankroll for that game? Well, it’s double the buyin ($8), but it’s also 7.5x the amount of entries (150!) [side note: I firmly believe if you aren’t MMEing a GPP you’re dead in the water so I’m operating under the assumption that you MUST enter the maximum amount of entries in each tournament possible (or 2x the maximum if you have a good brother). Ok, so 150×8 = $1200… per day. But I only want to play 2% of my roll, so I need to 1200×50 which is… $60,000. So in order to climb just ONE level in stakes I need my bankroll to go from $4,000 to $60,000 when the highest stake GPP I play will only offer, on an insanely good day, a $10,000 first prize and 95% of the time it’s half that at best. How can I possibly climb? Seriously, I beg anybody that reads this to explain how I can jump those stakes in a reasonable way. Until DK makes a change here there really is no point in having aspirations to do this professionaly unless you already have a $60,000 roll or plan to be the luckiest human alive.

So, how do we fix this? Honestly, this is a tough one for me. I think we need to have more entries available and higher prize pools offered at the 25c, 50c, $1 and $2 levels and have the big named pros banned from $2 or cheaper contests, no matter how big the prize pool is. I realize these tournaments prize pools have dropped in guarantees quite a bit recently and I think that could be revived if they allowed higher entries into them. One of the reasons they’re seeing fewer entries is the horrible prize structure and small guarantees. Does it appeal to a casual player to play a 25c tournament with a $100 first prize? Of course it doesn’t. What they need to do is make the 25c and 50c tournaments higher variance top heavy tourneys. On the day that I’m writing this section, a typical slower day for MLB due to 2 slates, they filled 4 quarter arcades (a 1k gtd, 500 gtd and two 300 gtds.) So this could’ve easily been a 2k guaranteed quarter arcade instead of a bunch of crappy ones with small prizes. Make the 25c tourney a 3k guarantee with $500 for first. People will fill this contest. Who doesn’t want to throw in a quarter for a shot at $500? That’s the appeal to the casual player. Make the 50c tourney a 4k guarantee with $800 to first. Make them both 50 entries. On a similar note they filled 5 solo shots today (5k gtd, 1.5k gtd, 750 gtd 500 gtd and 100 gtd). Those contests made up 9233 entries for some pretty dull tournies. If you had a 15k-20k gtd $1 solo shot with 150 max entries I think you could fill it and get people excited. Balance out the pay structure a bit more in this tourney (10%-15% first place, 2x min cash, less spots paid than our current structure). The $2 contest can still remain a 20 max (or maybe even just a 10 max), make it more of a niche for someone that wants to play low stakes but doesn’t want to slam in 150 lineups to think they have to compete. Next up is the $3, $4, $5, whatever amount this ends up being next year. It NEEDS to be 50 max MINIMUM. Let the sharks back in, give everyone 50 entries and give us some 150-200k guarantees. We need a way to bridge the gap between the $4 and $8 stakes, and this would help significantly.

In closing, I do firmly believe that DK thinks they have the best interests of the casual player in their heart, and they’ve given us some reasons to believe this is the case (they’ve added more micro stakes tournies, they’ve attempted to keep the best pro’s out of the smallest games). But in doing so, they’ve effectively killed the dream of climbing up the stakes in DFS in 2017. I believe they need to change their mindset on “protecting” lower level players via limited entry and instead restrict ALL players with a very high amount of winnings from playing ANY buyin that is $2 or less and then increasing the entry limits in those stakes to allow more low stakes grinders an opportunity to compete at MMEing with players of their skill level while also making the contests big enough, fun enough and not tough enough for a casual player to feel comfortable entering in. Thanks for reading this, I hope that at the very least this creates discussion. I hope that the people in my position are vocal if they share my opinions and I hope that we can create a healthier tournament structure as NBA approaches or even potentially just for next year’s MLB.



p.s. I wrote this over a couple weeks and so some of the days that are referred to as “today” will not actually be the same day as the day the blog is posted.

About the Author

  • hautalak

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    I’m in the same boat as you and rarley enter anything over the $4 mark. I love the quarter games but you are right the prizes are not great. You are still playing some pretty good competition in them. 20 max for a quarter contest is ridiculous! I do not understand why they do not think these would fill if made larger? The 20 limit ties into sizing as well. I think they want to strong arm you into having to pay more per contest. That is a losing proposal IMO. $1 is people’s favorite price point. These things would fill like crazy if only prizes were better. You have outlined a lot of things that could improve DK but they already have their mind made up. I’ll give them credit for making some changes and adding more game styles though.

    One thing I will say is the NFL is a different beast. They know its their bread and butter so everything there looks to still be ok minus the 20 limit.

    Only way to realistically build your BR as a low stakes grinder is to bink one and usually at the $3/$4 or higher level. People might still say cash but the edge is limited there now for a multitude of reasons. All you can do is enjoy DFS the best you can.

  • makeitra1n

    Wonderful essay bro.I legit agree with just about everything you said.

    But you’re forgetting one thing…they’re a business.they want to take your money not accommodate you.they don’t want you to use brm they want you to spend all you have then max out credit cards then take out loans to pay off the credit cards by putting more money in dk or fd.

    The whole reason they have an 8 dollar 150 is so you spend 1200 if you want to max it.you think they don’t know 1 dollar 150 is a very popular and desired gpp?

    But again 100% agree with your thoughts.join the crowd lol

  • DSofM

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    @makeitra1n said...

    Wonderful essay bro.I legit agree with just about everything you said.

    But you’re forgetting one thing…they’re a business.they want to take your money not accommodate you.they don’t want you to use brm they want you to spend all you have then max out credit cards then take out loans to pay off the credit cards by putting more money in dk or fd.

    The whole reason they have an 8 dollar 150 is so you spend 1200 if you want to max it.you think they don’t know 1 dollar 150 is a very popular and desired gpp?

    But again 100% agree with your thoughts.join the crowd lol

    I think they are probably aware that a $1 150 max would be popular, but they misunderstood the complaints from lower stakes players. Their solution was to level the playing field via entry limit instead of removing the sharks and I think that was an incorrect decision.

  • celtics2448

    Great, great write up, and agree with basically everything. As a GPP only player, it’s becoming impossible to actually have a net profit in the long term (at least in MLB). I used to be all about the 25% cashing, and being fine with 1.5x, but when the payout structure is just as horrible at the top as it is the bottom, it’s making me play way, way, way less than i used to. Hopefully this is just an MLB problem because the NASCAR and NFL games i play seem way more reasonable.

  • DSofM

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    @celtics2448 said...

    Great, great write up, and agree with basically everything. As a GPP only player, it’s becoming impossible to actually have a net profit in the long term (at least in MLB). I used to be all about the 25% cashing, and being fine with 1.5x, but when the payout structure is just as horrible at the top as it is the bottom, it’s making me play way, way, way less than i used to. Hopefully this is just an MLB problem because the NASCAR and NFL games i play seem way more reasonable.

    Yep. I tried to power through it, telling myself it was variance or whatever but I’m going to reduce my MLB volume drastically if things don’t change next year.

  • TakeoverTarget

    Nice work I think you nailed the top part but as far as the low money games 10,25 cent games should actually be not 20 max but 10 max because they should be a learning ground for new players or people that just want to play for fun and not have a lot riding.Even with 20 max the new player can’t compete with the guy who is more ex player.as far as the $4 four seamer goes I enter about 4-5 a night and on memorial day i was lucky to get 2nd place $3000 if not for that day i would be about even for the last 3 months. because $80 a day is not something i want to do i’m good with my $25 dollars a day in various low games knowing that the $4 game is rigged against me long term based on who i’m playing against the” sharks”.

  • DSofM

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    @TakeoverTarget said...

    Nice work I think you nailed the top part but as far as the low money games 10,25 cent games should actually be not 20 max but 10 max because they should be a learning ground for new players or people that just want to play for fun and not have a lot riding.Even with 20 max the new player can’t compete with the guy who is more ex player.as far as the $4 four seamer goes I enter about 4-5 a night and on memorial day i was lucky to get 2nd place $3000 if not for that day i would be about even for the last 3 months. because $80 a day is not something i want to do i’m good with my $25 dollars a day in various low games knowing that the $4 game is rigged against me long term based on who i’m playing against the” sharks”.

    I hear what you’re saying about the low stakes contests but I feel the prize pool is too low that way and it doesn’t draw interest.

    Maybe they should make better beginner contests for the new players so they can learn the game, but I think that making the 25c, 50c even lower entry would just kill the games entirely.

  • sochoice

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    I think this is a great blog and an important topic, but I have one disagreement with your points. Before I get to that, let me say I’ve read lots of your stuff and find you a thoughtful and insightful writer. So, please don’t take any of this personally as the issue I have is pervasive on the forums. Ok, now that I got the niceties out of the way, I think you hit upon something that is a fundamental misunderstanding and problem with many DFS players these days. People think they “should” win (and often win big) and if that doesn’t happen, then it is someone else’s fault and often people point the blame at the sites themselves. They (read a collective they) feel like there should be unlimited contests available to every player of any skill size, all payouts should be massive and no one should have to compete against “sharks”. It just doesn’t work that way – both in DFS and in life as well. DFS is not easy. It is hard. It was hard for today’s sharks when they were new players. It is hard for us when we have to play against better players as well. To use your words, it just isn’t feasible (or necessary) for “contests to be big enough, fun enough and not tough enough” all at the same time. In my opinion, to survive in DFS requires a ton of tools in your toolkit. One of them is being able to hold one’s own against better players as someone will always be better than me, you, anyone else in a particular contest. Grinding this way is hard I know, but it is the only way to get better. If I/you/anyone else doesn’t get better, constantly gets beat by others and sees our bankroll dwindle to zero, well then it just wasn’t meant to be.

  • DSofM

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    @sochoice said...

    I think this is a great blog and an important topic, but I have one disagreement with your points. Before I get to that, let me say I’ve read lots of your stuff and find you a thoughtful and insightful writer. So, please don’t take any of this personally as the issue I have is pervasive on the forums. Ok, now that I got the niceties out of the way, I think you hit upon something that is a fundamental misunderstanding and problem with many DFS players these days. People think they “should” win (and often win big) and if that doesn’t happen, then it is someone else’s fault and often people point the blame at the sites themselves. They (read a collective they) feel like there should be unlimited contests available to every player of any skill size, all payouts should be massive and no one should have to compete against “sharks”. It just doesn’t work that way – both in DFS and in life as well. DFS is not easy. It is hard. It was hard for today’s sharks when they were new players. It is hard for us when we have to play against better players as well. To use your words, it just isn’t feasible (or necessary) for “contests to be big enough, fun enough and not tough enough” all at the same time. In my opinion, to survive in DFS requires a ton of tools in your toolkit. One of them is being able to hold one’s own against better players as someone will always be better than me, you, anyone else in a particular contest. Grinding this way is hard I know, but it is the only way to get better. If I/you/anyone else doesn’t get better, constantly gets beat by others and sees our bankroll dwindle to zero, well then it just wasn’t meant to be.

    I certainly agree that not everyone can or should win, and at least for baseball I’m not sure if I am a winner long term or not. As someone that plays(or played, kind of inbetween ATM) poker professionally, I see the same behaviour in the game from horrible players that think they deserve to win.

    What I can say is that the system in place right now fosters a lot of losers/breakeven players and a very small amount of people that profit and I think the contest structures do have a lot to do with it. I realize the contests can’t be bigger/funnier/softer, which is why I suggested lowering the pros ban to $2 entries so they can help enter more $3-$5 games and create a larger prize pool for them. It’s not an easy fix for sure, not everyone can be happy and I might even be part of that group but I wanted to start a discussion because I think DK can be better.

    Thanks for the constructive criticism/opinion though, you do have many good points.

  • rayzethesky

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    Great points. It’s good that DK has been willing to make changes to keep the users playing longer term, and hopefully they can fix this issue now before players give up because they can’t progress. And while it doesn’t affect quite as many people, they’ve done the same thing at the next level – it’s a major leap to go from maxing the $8 to playing the $50-$70 mid-tier contests. What happened to the $20-$33 level? There’s no upwards momentum for anyone, so it’s either stay afloat at your current level or die trying. Obviously many dfs players will lose, but the dream of building a good bankroll has to be attainable to keep the serious players involved.

  • anilprao88

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    Great blog. Don’t know where this idea that you have to max a GPP in order to have a chance at being profitable in it comes from though. That notion is ludicrous.

  • Brent0514

    It is like those thoughts came straight from my mind. I have been looking at the NFL Week 1 tourneys, and quickly realizing there aren’t enough GPP’s in the lobby at 20 entry max for me to play the same number of lineups I played during NFL season last year without having to play some higher stakes tourneys. I can’t believe that even the $2M gtd ($3 buy in) NFL tournament is 20 entry max.
    The part I don’t get, is that if so many of us regular people see how obvious these changes are, and how big of an impact they could make, how is it that people who are intelligent enough to create and maintain successful DFS sites don’t see it? I have a hard time convincing myself that they don’t.

  • doonsrule1

    Great article. A+++++++++×

  • DSofM

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    @doonsrule1 said...

    Great article. A+++++++++×

    Thanks man!

  • superstars92

    I think a lot of the reasons for why the tournament structure is the way it is and why the prize pools are the way they are is DK must have backtested some things to see how to optimize the number of users playing without taking a chance of an overlay.

    For example, when you say like DK can fill out the QA in a series of 1k, 500, 300, and 300 in your article, I agree this means they can fill out one of 2k and have a bigger top prize. However, given they didn’t have a bigger top prize and could still fill out 1k, 500, 300, and 300 would bring them the same rake as a 2.1k (1k+500+300+300) person QA but guarantee them a smaller chance of overlay because in case they couldn’t fill out the 2.1k pool, they would get some some possible overlay, where if they split it up, even if the last 300 pool is not filled, the amount of total overlay would be less since the first 3 tournaments were filled.

    The key is instead of the 1k, 500, 300, and 300 player pools, can DK go for say a 3k QA (greater than the 2.1k total entries), which means an even bigger first prize and also guarantee them more rake too (so it’s a win win – win for the player’s playing and win for DK with a bigger first prize and bigger rake). I’m guessing they must have done some research and found that to be no, so that’s why they split the contests the way they do as they want to “reduce risk” on the overlay. This applies for contests greater than the QA too, but I am just using QA as the example since you used it.

    I agree that letting the 3,4,5 contests be 50 max will increase the top prize, since the overall number of participants will increase. However, perhaps by doing this, it will increase the chances of a “shark” winning, and that might be more harmful for the average player in the future. Thus, in order to account for this, they must make it only 20 max, which means lower total rake collected but it also means a better chance for an average player to compete. Yes, it also means a lower top prize, but maybe that’s an ok enough of a top prize for an average person. Perhaps average players will even 20 max themselves, but they won’t 50 max, and only sharks will 50 max. I’m sure a lot of thought has been put into this.

    Of course, I am just speculating here, but I’m just giving you the pros and cons and why perhaps things are the way they are.

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