Changes in fantasy sports centered around FanDuel and the NBA's involvement in esports

Curator's Note

Participation in fantasy sports has become inseparable from traditional sports viewership. For many, agonizing over free agents in an organized fantasy league is as integral to the morning routine as pouring coffee into a to-go thermos.  Just as drip coffee evolved into a multi-itemed Starbucks' order, so has participation in fantasy leagues.

The modern approach to fantasy sports pits player-against-player for cash rewards. Emergent website FanDuel has reimagined conventional fantasy sports - hanging its hat on both simplicity of use and daily, winnable contests. These changes, however, arrive with proposed legislature regarding sports betting. The inevitable adoption of nationwide sports betting blurs the lines between the $18 billion annually spent on fantasy sports and $140 billion on real sports. Amidst the proposed changes, the NBA demands a 1% “integrity fee” for all NBA-related wagers. The MLB has followed suit by proposing a monetized wagering model akin to the NBA’s ask – although some critics worry the demands may setback proposed legislation.

The NBA is no stranger to staying ahead of with cultural trends. First, the Brooklyn Nets entered an exclusive partnership with FanDuel in 2014, including events such as “FanDuel Night.” Second, NBA franchises have entered the esports arena by purchasing franchise spots in the North American League of Legends Championship series. In particular, League of Legends has emulated much of the successes of traditional sports: streaming weekly games and official sponsorship on jerseys is identical to changes made by the NBA. Most notably, Riot Games (creator of League of Legends) developed their own official fantasy website to engage viewers.

Internationally, the growth of esports has resulted in recognizing esports players as professional athletes and the Executive Director of the Olympic Channel noting, “…we cannot ignore the phenomenon of esports.” Emergence of NBA involvement in esports combined with the legality of sports betting creates the perfect storm looming over the world of fantasy sports. Declining NFL ratings and MLB attendance opens the door for esports viewership and new in-person esports venues, respectively. Vegas odds-makers have begun setting their eyes on Overwatch League just as they have on college football matchups. Watercooler talk may be centered around which Twitch streamer will win the PUBG tournament sooner rather than later.


Excellent post! Really appreciate your framing of DFS within the NBA’s larger moves towards esports. The blurring of lines – between fantasy sports, DFS, sports betting in general, and even sports in general – is an issue that I’ve tried to make sense myself. You address it nicely here by calling it out directly. It raises the question of which revenue streams we can even differentiate, or perhaps should differentiate, in order to draw meaningful conclusions. I also had no idea that esports betting was a growing market – it only further demonstrates the convergent trends you’ve highlighted. Definitely curious to see how DFS and esports relate moving forward, as sports betting spreads more widely through the U.S.

Thanks for the encouraging comments! I had a blast writing this piece and creating the corresponding video. You hit the nail on the head with your comments regarding revenue streams. There are a ton of implications for differentiating between sports betting and fantasy sports. The answer of, "Should we differentiate?" might not be as important as the reality of the government trying to impose restrictions on the growing industry. As a general statement, esports have been trying to emulate the successes of traditional sports for quite some time. Examples include franchising within the different games/leagues, branding, corporate sponsorships, arenas to house events, etc. One unique component here is that the vast majority of esports viewership (with the exception of the ELEAGUE on TBS) is done online, which means that players are already watching on a device that has access to sports betting.

Michael, I really enjoyed the fact that you bring esports into the conversation; I want to think more about the intersection of technology, ludology, and physical, professional sports. You don't explicitly point toward heteronormativity, though I could see how, possibly, there could be some kind of heteronormative-esque bias regarding esports as not being "properly" masculine. Is that what you meant? I would really love for you to expand upon that. I've certainly witnessed discussions about how "sportsmen" are "men" who get on the field and physically interact with each other, and that any mediating technology removes the essential masculinity. I feel like your post presents a strong counter argument -- am I on the right track?

Hi Dana, Great observations! There are plenty of articles written about women in esports and some of their struggles. Here are two that might pique your interest: - - You're definitely on the right track. One of the biggest obstacles that face esports is the prominence of cultural stereotypes stacked against female gamers. The old adages of, "Girls don't play video games!" is a reoccurring theme for most women who are interested in becoming pros. Combine that with the negativity surrounding being a female streaming and you've got an uphill battle for women in the space: -

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