Of the many labels recently slapped on the beleaguered DFS industry, forward thinking and transparency have certainly not been among them. One of the newest operators in the still-burgeoning landscape aims to change many of the negative perceptions of daily fantasy by addressing several of its more controversial – and often divisive – aspects.
Michigan-based OwnThePlay’s gaming platform is based on an overriding principle that also happens to be a hot topic in DFS circles these days – an even playing field. The start-up, which counts early-stage venture capital firm IncWell as its primary backer and is presently staffed by 11 employees, had its official non-Beta launch on opening night of the 2015 NFL season. The emerging site was just getting its legs under it when the now infamous DraftKings data leak occurred on September 27th.
OwnThePlay has thrived despite the swirl of controversy that the incident birthed, due in large part to a number of innovations especially designed to make DFS success attainable to players of all levels.
Company founder Matt Chatlin has expressed a desire to “shrink the knowledge gap between the haves and the have nots”, alluding to the contrast between the DFS player with substantial time and resources and one who has limited access to both, but nevertheless wants to make the game an enjoyable and profitable hobby.
Real-time player percentage access
The most prominent difference between OwnThePlay and the other DFS offerings may well be the one that cuts right to the heart of the industry’s September tipping point – continuous and open access to ownership percentages. In an unprecedented measure designed to effectively neutralize the most polarizing facet of DFS, OwnThePlay provides its users with live ownership data for each contest slate as its games are in the process of filling.
“We are the first and the only company in daily fantasy showing live ownership rates of athletes in real time”, Chatlin told DFN. “There’s a variety of reasons that we did that, and a variety of advantages for the player”.
Chatlin, a former poker pro who at the height of his playing days competed in tournaments across the globe, stresses that one of the company’s primary goals in making ownership information available was to “close the talent gap” between DFS beginners and seasoned players.
The openness of this data effectively removes the guesswork inherent in trying to set a sufficiently differentiated lineup, particularly in Guaranteed Prize Pool contests that often draw in novice contestants. Many of these newer players migrate over from season-long leagues, where concepts such as “pivoting” from popular selections are foreign and incongruous to the format.
While OwnThePlay admittedly did not institute the policy of open ownership data until the week after the leak, Chatlin emphasizes that the decision was not purely a reactionary one, despite the situation serving as a final impetus.
“Some conversations that we’d had internally related to this concept, but the push across the goal line was definitely the news that came out across the industry”, concedes Chatlin. However, he also asserts that the idea was one he’d verbalized as far back as during his initial business plan presentation to IncWell Managing Partner Simon Boag and his colleagues in late 2013.
To its credit, OwnThePlay has not remained complacent in their attempts to distinguish their brand, even beyond this already significant feature. The company further pushed the envelope towards a fair playing environment with its contest lobby’s “Enter All” functionality, offering users one-click entry into the full array of like-categorized contests (tournament, heads-up, 50/50 or Pick ‘Em) in a given sport’s slate for any particular day. This streamlined method eliminates another potential inequity of gameplay in DFS, one that has also come under heavy scrutiny in recent weeks.
“We are trying to attack the scripts that were used by one percent of the daily fantasy audience” (on other sites across the industry), explains Chatlin. “Our mass entry features will allow any user from any device to enter as few or as many games as they want in seconds”.
OwnThePlay’s Whole Card concept is an additional innovation designed to counteract another Achilles’ heel for DFS players of all levels—variance. Users participating in Whole Card-formatted contests select an entire real-world team on the slate as their “player” for each of their lineup’s five open slots, while staying under a $50,000 salary cap. The fantasy points accrued by the top three scoring players from each team then count towards the user’s point total for the contest.
With Whole Card, “the concept of injuries is valueless,” notes Chatlin. “Whole Card enables any user, just like ownership percentage, to close a little of the knowledge gap between the top and everyone else.” In addition to negating the disastrous effects that a key player’s premature exit has on a lineup, Whole Card’s team-centered structure largely eliminates the laborious process of having to track last-minute injury news and personnel changes in order to have a chance of cashing.
If current growth trends hold true over the long-term, the nascent fantasy site’s future is bright. Chatlin and Boag are pleased with the company’s steady ascension, which has been evidenced by the setting of new user growth and contest entry benchmarks each successive week of the NFL season. OwnThePlay remains “IncWell’s largest investment, and the one we spend the most time with,” according to Boag.
The forging of Chatlin’s diverse gaming experience with IncWell’s business and operational expertise has netted a product that appears to successfully address the most prevalent concerns of DFS players and industry outsiders alike. The site currently offers NFL, NBA, NHL, NCAA Football and eSports-themed games, with plans to begin offering MLB contests in the spring of 2016.