Matt Maroon, an ex pro poker player, thinks an entire sports season is too long to wait to play fantasy sports. With his startup DraftMix, he aims to make playing a fantasy game as quick and easy as sitting down for a hand of poker.
Fantasy sports is big business online. Figures vary, but estimates place the market at about $1-2 billion with 15-18 million fans following their leagues. Fantasy fans generally run their leagues on services like Yahoo Sports or CBS Sportsline (FleaFlicker is free and ScreamingSports is a good team management service). Players often pick their whole team and ride out the entire season to find a winner.
However, Y Combinator’s DraftMix is doing things a little differently. DraftMix is picking up the pace of fantasy sports by letting you play single fantasy teams head to head. They’ll be hosting games and picking winners as frequently as a weekly basis.
On DraftMix, fantasy sports fans can play single pickup games against each other for virtual dollars, with real money coming in the next couple of weeks. Open live games are listed in a lobby where players take spots in games ranging from 4 to 10 players at a time. Each player buys into a game for a fixed amount (currently only virtual currency). DraftMix also ponies up a nightly cash prize for a free game as well.
When a game is full, players pick their teams from active professional players in timed drafts. Each fantasy manager’s team is scored on their players stats in the upcoming “real world” games. Since stats are needed to find the winning team, the time it takes to finish a game varies by sport. Football fantasy games are finished weekly, since all the teams play each Sunday. Basketball can finish a bit faster since teams play daily. The manager with the most points wins the money pot, with 10% of real cash games going to DraftMix.
Now all this may sound fine playing fantasy sports for fantasy dollars, but doesn’t bringing real money into play amount to internet gambling? No, says co-founder Matt Maroon, who points to the fantasy sports exemption in the “Internet Gambling Prohibition and Enforcement Act”. The act, which was a big blow to sites like PartyPoker, specifically exempts “participation in any fantasy or simulation sports game or educational game or contest”. Fantasy sports is seen as a game of skill and played for a fixed cash prize. Although a quick perusal of the exemption leaves you feeling they’re at least bending the rules.
But other fantasy sports leagues already have similar operations, although they obfuscate the process. CBS Sportsline pays out weekly and seasonal prizes to winning players based on their level of membership as outlined in their fantasy product description. For instance, Double Diamond players can buy in for $499.95 per team, with the league winner taking home $3,500 at the end of the season. This doesn’t strike me as all to different from paying $10 per team for a single fantasy game and winning up to $90 as DraftMix does. DraftMix will eventually get into the longer games as well.
Regardless, DraftMix’s short form fantasy sports model is a sure win for fantasy fans, even if they only play for virtual dollars and keep the betting offline.