I realize this is a long read, it chronicles my story of a big rise and self inflicted fall in DFS, and I share this with you in hopes it can help someone and in hopes that organizing my thoughts can help me regain my confidence as a player
Hello, my name is Andrew (I go by Stillmatic on Draft Kings), I am 25 years old and I have been a RotoGrinders user and daily fantasy player for about three years now. I have considered posting more on RotoGrinders a number of times as I love to write and obviously enjoy sports/fantasy sports a great deal but had always put it off until today because I feel that I have a message that can hopefully help someone. I am writing today to share a bit about my experiences playing daily fantasy sports, and hopefully help anyone reading who may be going through a similar time as I currently am, along with helping myself organize my thoughts along the way. Like I’m sure many of you, I started playing daily fantasy sports because I love sports and always loved competing in season long fantasy leagues, so it seemed like a perfect combination of the two. I had previously had a fairly extensive background in playing online poker as well as betting on sports, enjoying some mild success in both but never truly “breaking through” so to speak in either. I also grew up passionate and ultra competitive about basketball (at times perhaps even to a fault). Like just about anyone who starts playing DFS, I started off depositing a hundred bucks or so, quickly lost it, and was naturally upset about this and determined to find my way.
After trading money back and forth a lot my first season of play, two football seasons ago I was very short on excess money to use on DFS and decided to sell a game console and some other belongings in order to make a deposit and give things another serious shot. I was fortunate to make some good lineups (and of course run good) during that football season, and quickly had been able to turn my $300 or so that I deposited into several thousand dollars. During this time I began to really focus on the process behind my decision making and believed that the best way to continue to improve as a player would be to study the lineups of the best players in the game and learn as much as I could from the decisions they were making. I knew that players like Condia, Maxdalury (now Saahilsud), Youdacao, Papagates, Chipolteaddict, etc were consistently beating the games and quickly adopted a process of basing the merit of my player selections largely on whether or not those players agreed with the decision. I would review all of their lineups every day, and as long as the players I selected were in unison with the decisions they were making, I considered my lineup a success regardless of outcome and moved on. If the picks I made did not agree with what they were thinking, I went back through and tried my best to understand why they made the picks that they did and made mental notes of what players they may have been targeting in a certain situation. As NBA season approached, I had built up a bankroll of seven thousand dollars or so and was eager to see what kind of progress I could make.
The 2015-16 NBA season than began and before I knew it I was getting killed, had lost 1/4th of my bank roll (and as many players do I bet less on NBA than NFL due to the average skill level of the players correlating to a reduced potential for an edge). I felt that I knew basketball the best of any sport, having followed the NBA my entire life and played a great deal of it, but the lineups I was producing were not on par with what I was making in football and I was extremely frustrated. I worked tirelessly, every night again studying those same 4-5 players and again trying to understand what may have led them to make the lineup decisions they did. After the first few weeks I started to improve and could see the results coming, and before long my persistence began to fully pay off and I was up nearly fifteen thousand dollars almost entirely from grinding cash games. I would play tournaments, but by nature am a fairly conservative player who has always been drawn to safer “chalky” picks. I felt really good about what I was doing and the lineups I was making, and while some inevitable bumps in the road would follow, I was able to for the most part consistently beat the games and before I knew it I had built a bank roll of about 50k. I had learned the hard way many times in previous similar endeavors that I had taken part in that I could never afford to get complacent, always made sure to stick to my strategy, and studied the pros lineups and process every night. I was finishing up my bachelors degree at the time (which I obtained last spring) so was also very busy outside of DFS as well, but had long ago made up my mind that I would rather sacrifice partying, sleep, and all those kinds of things in order to keep working on my DFS game. I closed out the season on a high note and felt great about where I was as a player, I had also climbed my way into the top 500 of the RotoGrinders tournament rankings and began to take a little more interest in that element of the game as the season went on.
While I knew very little about MLB, I decided that summer that the next logical step for me was to try and figure that game out and work to become a profitable player at it. I was done with school and had a great deal of spare time available to devote to studying it, so much so that I would say I spent a lot more time working on MLB than I had even NFL and NBA and became obsessed with trying to beat that game. I made progress that season, but I never reached a point where I truly felt great about my lineup building process, and by the end of the season despite hundreds upon hundreds of hours invested in learning everything I could about the game, I still showed a small loss at the end of the season. Despite never truly breaking through, I played every slate and worked all summer on learning as much as I could. This was humbling but was something that I do feel was overall beneficial to my development as a DFS player.
As you can imagine I was very excited for the NFL season and while I would not say I ran very well during it as a whole (numerous weeks where my cash games were within a few points of cashing and very few where things broke the other way for me) I was persistent and found a way to grind out a small profit by the end of the season. Considering the immense amount of time I invested weekly into researching and creating my teams (I would estimate 20-25 hours a week) and the edge that I believed I had versus the average player in NFL relative to other sports, I was fairly disappointed to show a very small return on my time/monetary investment. In the grand scheme of things, the way I looked at it was that if things don’t seem to be going my way but I’m still pulling a small profit, I must be doing something right, and moved into the current NBA season cautiously optimistic.
Early on in the NBA season I ran into some trouble due to not fully understanding the teams rotations and players new roles on various teams, but before long had developed a much better feel for things and was finding success. One of the keys to my NBA DFS game has always been watching as much basketball as I can, when I get home work the first thing I do is fire up the computer and research more into the slate, and than as soon as the games begin I literally will watch just about every game from 7 to around 1 AM or when ever the games finish up on a given night. I do this for two reasons: 1. That I simply genuinely love watching NBA basketball, and 2.That I feel that by watching every game from any team around the league I become comfortable with understanding how a team is likely to cycle through its rotations and what roles players have on each team. This type of schedule makes for long (and when you lose often very stressful) days, but I was so dead set on finding any edge I could and winning that I was willing to do anything that I felt might help me do so. As the season went on I built a bank roll big enough to where I felt comfortable entering some higher stakes tournaments (such as the nightly $300 3 ball or $400 power dribble), and initially found modest success in them but never really broke through.
That is until one day late in December of 2016, when I was finally in a position to win a big tournament after a few years of trying (and in the end always feeling like it would simply never happen for me). Unfortunately it didn’t that night either (damn you, Julius Randle) and on the very last play of the Lakers versus Jazz game I fell to second behind Rotogrinders own (and one of the nicest people I have come across in the DFS world I might add), Eric Crain. I entered the fourth quarter of the game an immense favorite to hang on and win the tournament (Eric himself would later remark on twitter that I probably had a 95% chance to win), but Randle was on a mission that night and even banked in a three at the shot clock buzzer late in the game that helped see Eric pass me by .5 points to win. I dropped from making $50,000 to making $20,000 in the blink of an eye, and considering that extra $30,000 represented a good chunk of the money I had worked to build up for the last year and a half, I was at the time very upset about it. I now look back at that situation and realize how thrilled I would currently be to have that same problem happen to me right now.
What that finish did do for me however was give me something of an irrational confidence in my tournament game. I had always played tournaments throughout my DFS career, and had previously had my share of success in them, but had never been a “tournament player”. I wasn’t the type of person that would mass enter 150 lineups into a contest or join the big $1500 dollar tournaments or anything like that, I simply played a few lineups in them nightly and figured if it was my time to shine it would happen, and if it wasn’t than I was content to grind cash games where I was most comfortable. After that second place finish I had moved into the top 250 of the rotogrinders rankings, and the more I thought about it, I felt that if I was good enough to consistently beat the cash games (in my entire NBA DFS career I had a total of 1 losing ROI months from 2014-2016), and was clearly doing fairly well in tournament play, why wouldn’t it be a good idea for my to start focusing a lot more on them? After all, most of the best players make a large portion of their earnings in tournaments, and when you read and hear about the great players it’s almost always reading about what they have accomplished in tournaments, qualifiers, and of course the holy grail, live finals. I became determined to have success in these areas and decided that I was going to start dedicating as much time as I could to learning multi entry and high stakes tournament strategy. My ranking and standing in the community eventually became almost more important to me than my actual profit/loss, and I was absolutely determined to see Stillmatic at the top of the leader board in the big tournaments to the point where I began to feel an irrational need to prove to myself and others that I was one of the best fantasy sports players around.
Previously I had always invested roughly 80-85% of my buy ins for a night into cash game with roughly 15-20% of my buy ins being reserved for tournament play. Now I was altering my strategy, I was going to start investing roughly half of my money a night into tournaments. I was going to multi enter the big tournaments, and I expected myself to be able to learn how to convert to being this kind of player seemingly over night. As part of this new strategy I was now investing roughly $1000 in multi-entry tournaments a night, another thousand or so into higher stakes tournaments, and was trying to transition from a player who typically had at most five lineups in play to one who now was trying to manage as many as 100 lineups. I would have lineups that were straight up dead (had players who may not even have been active), I would have lineups that were not anything I would every feel comfortable submitting, and in the back of my mind I knew all of this, but continued doing this at high stakes regardless because I felt it was a required step in my “evolution” as a fantasy sports player. This bright idea arrived in my head around January of this new year, and unsurprisingly that was my first losing month of the NBA season. I didn’t lose anything crazy (roughly 5% of my bank roll), and I never bothered to look into what was working in my game or not working in my game that month by going through and checking what games I was/was not having success in (if you don’t do this already, I highly recommend using the RotoGrinders DFS analyzer tool and doing this with your own results), so I simply chalked the losing month up to variance and moved into February.
February came and went, and so did another chunk of my bank roll. This time I lost around ten thousand dollars in the month (roughly 10% of my bank roll at the time). At this point I should have clearly seen the a bright red caution flag, but I was so determined/stubborn that I decided to move into march with the same tournament centered strategy. Prior to March I had had a few solid tournament finishes, but knew that overall I was still not doing very well and that my tournament game was still not where it needed to be. March was the month of the Draft Kings NBA live final, and I had become obsessed with trying to qualify for it. Even though previously qualifies were something I had only dabbled in for small buy ins, I now was investing hundreds of dollars a night into trying to finish first among a large pool of players to win a seat into the live final. I felt that qualifying for one of these large live finals would somehow prove that I had “made it” as a fantasy sports player and that if I was unable to do so that I would always be “just a guy” in the industry. March was also the month of a number of big NBA year end tournaments on Draft Kings, many of which had very high stakes buy ins.
Despite not having success in January or February, March seemed like a month where I could potentially break through and make a name for myself, and I very nearly did early in the month. In a large field (18k player or so) $33 tournament I managed to finish 12th (and just 6-7 points off the lead) and was the highest finishing lineup that had Lebron James over Russell Westrbook. It pains me to even write this, but Lebron James sat the entire 4th quarter of that game, and had he of played there is a very strong chance I would have won that tournament along with its $100,000 top prize, particularly considering my lineup also had Iman Shumpert who also sat the 4th and was a mere 7% played. Rather than be happy to have finished high in the tournament and made $4,000, I was instead upset thinking about what could have been had the Cavs game been just remotely close. I had previously numerous other close calls throughout my DFS playing career that I haven’t and won’t touch on here, but the general idea was that I started to wonder if something “big” would ever happen for me and after yet another close call, I eventually hit a point where I was almost trying to force a big win to happen.
I started investing even more into qualifiers and tournaments, I started losing even more money, and before I knew it I was down almost $25,000 in the month of March. Another thing that all American’s know March means is that it was now tax time, which meant that I had to write a check for $44,000 to the government to pay taxes on my winnings from the previous year. Having just graduated from college, the most income I had previously made a year was roughly 10 to 15 thousand, so while in the back of my mind I had always known that the tax man was coming and that I would have to pay out quite a bit of money, it was still higher than I had expected. The feeling of writing a lump sum check for that amount of money that I had worked every day through all the stress and swings of DFS for was not something I had ever experienced, and was frankly something I was not emotionally prepared for. That I had to write the check out right after having my worst losing month by far of my DFS career made the burden of it all almost unbearable, and it’s honestly still not something I have been able to fully recover from.
The large losses I suffered in March now brought me to three straight losing NBA months (including the huge losses in March), I had just written a check to the government for over a third of the money I had earned throughout the previous year (though I now possessed quite a bit less of it than I did when 2016 ended), and I was totally down on my luck. It was at this time that I finally went and reviewed my results that I had put off doing out of stubbornness. The results from January, February, and March showed that while all the while I was thinking I was playing poorly and/or running bad, at the cash games I had always excelled at I was… winning money. In fact, I had shown ROI results of between positive 15-20% in my cash games in all three months, but was losing so much money to the tournaments I had pressured myself into believing I needed to excel at, I was still losing large sums of my bank roll. Had I of simply stuck to my usual strategy of focusing the majority of my buy ins on cash games, had I not become more focused on “proving” to myself and others that I was an “elite” fantasy player, I would have been doing what I had always done, grinding things out and making money.
So if the majority of this happened a month ago, why write about it now? I write about it now because the effect of this on my psyche is something I am still feeling both in DFS and outside of it. My confidence as a player has been shaken, my self-esteem has been shaken, and I wanted to write about my experience to other people who love fantasy sports as much as I do so that perhaps they can learn something, and perhaps by sharing my experience I too can learn something. I think that all too often in life we as human beings become fixated on goals and illusions of grandeur that are simply unrealistic and/or unnecessary. It can be so easy to get caught up in proving that we are the “best” that we may forget what makes us great as a person, husband, friend, DFS player, or any of the many other roles that a person may play in a lifetime. Personally I became so fixated on climbing the tournament leader boards and seeing “Stillmatic” at the top that I never stopped to really think about how impressive what I had accomplished as a cash game player earning a peak profit of around 130k was. I never stopped to give myself any credit and appreciate what I was doing. Instead I became so caught up on “proving it” to myself and others through a virtual leader board that I tore down a large portion of my bank roll and my self confidence.
Currently I am back to the grind, trying to build up both my confidence and my bank roll like I’m sure many of you also are right now. I may not have as big of a bank roll as I did a few months ago (after paying taxes and all my mistakes I’m down to roughly 1/4 of what I was at my peak), and I may currently not be as confident as I was than either, but I am determined to try and build both of these things back up. I am also determined to take things in stride, not try to force this process, and get back to doing what helped me find success in this industry in the first place. We may never see Stillmatic’s name at the top of the leader boards, it may never be a name people fear playing against like they would Youdacao or SaahilSud, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t be a damn good player. And that is exactly what I plan to get back to being.