Tips on how to play daily fantasy sports for the first time

Devlin D'Zmura, a news manager at daily fantasy sports service DraftKings, works on his laptop at the company's offices in Boston in September.

Devlin D’Zmura, a news manager at daily fantasy sports service DraftKings, works on his laptop at the company’s offices in Boston in September.

(Stephan Savoia / AP)

DraftKings, FanDuel and dozens of smaller daily fantasy sports websites attract players who bet that they can select a better-performing set of real-world players in a specific sport than a certain number of other people.

Unlike traditional season-long fantasy apps, the players’ performances on a single day (or week) dictate who wins the fantasy battle. If the team you’ve assembled shines, you’re rewarded with cash, the amount depending on how much you put down initially and how many people you beat. The companies generate revenue by taking a cut of entry fees.

For insights on how to play daily fantasy sports for the first time, we turned to Cal Spears, chief executive of RotoGrinders, a website that helps players devise strategies, and Jeff Collins, an Aliso Viejo resident who recently quit his fantasy-sports industry job to became a full-time competitor.


Select a service

Though DraftKings and FanDuel have differences, none are big enough to justify a user automatically choosing one option, experts said. They suggested signing up for several services — a process that requires entering credit card information and depositing at least a few dollars — and deciding which feels most exciting. Users with less time to focus on fantasy sports might prefer FanDuel, which tends to have an earlier deadline for finalizing your player selections.

Choose a contest

The services cover football, basketball, baseball, soccer, golf, competitive video gaming and more. After choosing a sport, you decide whether to compete against one user, small groups or thousands of others in a big pool.

Good places to start are beginners’ games, which have low entry fees and bar players with several victories from joining, and 50-50 tournaments, where you must beat only half of competitors to win a prize.

Preference comes down to questions like “Would you rather be against 100,000 people and have a small chance of winning a really big prize or beat one person and double your money?” Spears said.


Collins said he likes huge tournaments that have a “live” component, meaning users might gather somewhere, like a stadium, for a pivotal game.

Pick players

Here, the contention that fantasy sports contests are games of skill and thus not a form of illegal gambling comes into play.

Each player costs virtual money, and you must work within a budget to select (independent of others) a certain number of players to fill specific position requirements.

The key, Spears said, is knowing that in a 50-50 contest you probably want to select consistently decent players with “high floors” because you only have to beat half of the field. In larger tournaments, you must go for broke and take a risk with “high-ceiling” players who could be a boom or a bust.

Collins said a turning point for him was realizing that although traditional fantasy sports is about finding players matched against bad teams, daily fantasy sports is about paying attention to the cost of players relative to their performance.



It’s easier to gain an advantage spending several hours a day studying players in sports such as basketball, in which information isn’t as widely disseminated as, say, football, Collins said.

Depending on the sport, he considers weather: Will rain cancel a game? He checks Vegas odds: Who do oddsmakers think will perform well? And, of course, player injuries. Websites such as RotoGrinders and Rotoworld aggregate this data.


Reviewing player selections of contest winners helps you improve, Spears said.

“Think about why they made the decisions they did,” he said. “Why did your lineup differ from theirs? It’s thinking about whether you fully researched your options.”


Twitter: @peard33