In an insightful interview with Gaming Eminence, Ray Bonkowski, Co-founder of On Demand Daily Fantasy Sports, sheds light on the revolutionary app that seamlessly blends live API data with historical play-by-play to create an unparalleled gaming experience. Bonkowski details the technical hurdles and innovative solutions, such as AI and Machine Learning, that make this possible, offering a turbo mode for expedited gameplay. He discusses the app's potential to redefine fan engagement through a mix of current and legendary players, enhancing the fantasy sports landscape. With a focus on user experience, the platform introduces social networking features and a unique community aspect with leagues, aiming to foster a deeper connection among sports enthusiasts.
GE) In developing the On Demand Daily Fantasy Sports App, you've mentioned the integration of live API and historical play-by-play data. Could you delve into the technical challenges you faced in creating a seamless user experience that combines real-time and retrospective elements? What innovations did you employ to overcome these challenges?
RB) While we developed the concept it became obvious why this had never been done before. The main challenge that we had to overcome was the timing of delivering the historical plays to the scoring engine so that it was in sync with the delivery of the live game data. In version 1.0 of our platform, we tried to keep the timing of live and on demand games the same but during focus groups we found that users wanted results faster. So, we developed a Turbo Mode option that allows users to play an On Demand contest in 20 minutes.
As for the process of utilising the historical data to create a realistic game experience the easiest approach would have been to create a baseline for each player and then have a result that is within a range of that baseline.
But we wanted to push the envelope and bring those historical moments back to life, both good and bad. If you use Brett Favre in an On Demand lineup he may throw 4 interceptions, as he did eight times during his career. He may also throw 4 or more TD passes as he did over twenty times during his career.
To accomplish this, we had to rely heavily on technologies like Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to improve the user experience and play an important role in the delivery of On Demand contests.
Artificial Intelligence is used to simulate the real-world scenarios and make the virtual experience more realistic by optimising the game mechanics. Besides being responsible for the results of our contests, our Machine Learning algorithms also improve the gameplay experience by customising gameplay for each user tailored to their preferences. This in turn improves player engagement by matching users with competitors that match their skill level and preferences.
RB) The rise of streaming services, coupled with changing generational behaviours, necessitates a change in how the industry views fan engagement.
According to Deloitte's inaugural survey "2023 Sports fan insights: The beginning of the immersive sports era" younger fans are shifting what the ideal sports viewing experience at home means: While 71% of all fans say their favourite type of sports content to watch is live events, this number drops to 58% for Gen Zs and millennials. The survey also revealed that 30% of all fans (and 46% of millennial fans) have subscribed to subscription video on demand (SVOD) services specifically for watching sports in the past 12 months.
We see our platform becoming the centrepiece of a strategy to increase fan engagement and loyalty. We are uniquely positioned to use the players of today along with players from the past to create an interactive experience that will resonate across multiple generations.
Currently NFL and college football fans have a limited window of approximately 75 days to participate in Daily Fantasy Sports contests but with our platform there is no limit to the number of days that you can join or create a DFS contest. Our patent-pending technology allows us to create a schedule of On Demand games that is no different than a typical week during the NFL or college season.
GE) The utilisation of patent-pending methods to create a live game experience based on a player's career catalog is a distinctive feature of your platform. Could you elaborate on the decision-making process behind choosing this approach over more conventional fantasy sports models? How do you believe it enhances the user engagement and enjoyment of the platform?
RB) As (American) football fans we have all had the conversation with friends about one player being better than another and more times than not this conversation is about a current vs former player. As we began working with focus groups we found that most people, regardless of generation, had a desire to use former players in their DFS contests.
One of our founders, Former Detroit Lion Wide Receiver Herman Moore, shared some information from the NFL that showed almost 80% of football fans agreed that retired players were an important part of American pop culture.
We decided to make fan engagement one of the pillars of our business model and in doing so embraced three areas that would allow us to grow and nurture our fan base:
Use gamification to engage fans;
Focus on athlete-led content; and
Give fans a voice
While there are multiple ways to use gamification to engage fans, we felt this concept best addressed the fans who grew up playing video games. These fans don’t want to just consume content, they want to have a direct impact on the results in as little time as possible.
While watching a late season Monday Night Manningcast game, Chad “Ochocinco” Johnson talked about a Pro Bowl format that would feature current vs past players. He and Peyton debated who he would want as his QB and that was the moment I realised that our platform could enhance the way DFS contests have been played.
I was able to create a contest then add Peyton Manning and Chad Johnson to my lineup that delivered a victory, in about 20 minutes, over another user who used Tom Brady and Randy Moss in their lineup!
GE) The concept of the Random Play Generator and the variable range of historical plays is intriguing. How do you strike a balance between maintaining a realistic representation of a player's performance and introducing an element of unpredictability to keep the contests exciting? What kind of feedback have you received from users regarding this balance?
RB) As we set out to build the engine that powers our platform, we didn’t have to look far for examples of striking a balance as our internal team have all played fantasy football and DFS for years. We’ve all experienced that goose egg from the WR who couldn’t catch a pass or the RB that left the game early.
As Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning weave their way into our everyday life we have to remember that it compresses how results are delivered. If I go back to the Brett Favre example from an earlier, he played 173 games between 2000 and 2010. During those 11 years he attempted 5,818 passes, threw 273 TD’s and threw 176 interceptions. A user could go through that catalog of plays in about 155 contests but with our implementation of the Machine Learning RPG Algorithm based on the variable range we can deliver over 4 Trillion unique combinations of plays.
The feedback has been amazing. Users have commented about how realistic the commentary is which should be expected as it is the actual commentary provided for the plays since the 2000 season.
GE) Beyond the technological aspects, Legacy Fantasy Sports has integrated social networking features and DFS IQ into the app. How do these additional functionalities contribute to the overall user experience, and how do you envision them shaping the landscape of daily fantasy sports apps in the future?
RB) Social networking is becoming an indispensable part of the lives of sports fans and holds a promising market for leagues, teams and athletes. Our goal was to provide a greater opportunity for them to reach fans, engage them and increase brand awareness by bringing their former players back to the game.
We’ve done this by creating a user-friendly environment where content can be easily accessed and shared, and conversations can take place.
The final piece of the puzzle was the implementation of real-time notifications, leaderboard and reward levels. These features allow users to be competitive in the social environment. While the leaderboard focuses on the points scored during contests the reward levels track the number of contests that you join or create and provide a path that is similar to one that an athlete would follow in their career.
DFS IQ was another step in providing sports fans with the information they are looking for in one location. For the NFL we have partnered with the team at FantasyPros to provide our users with breaking news to go with the schedule/scores and daily transactions.
Other DFS operators are slowly implementing social aspects to their platforms but are limited due to the nature of the product. Given the leagues stance on DFS and the participation of players in paid contests, we wanted to provide a non-gambling, family friendly option to sports fans and the players.
GE) The idea of Leagues within the app introduces a community aspect to the gaming experience. How do you foresee the community-driven features impacting user engagement and retention? Are there any unexpected insights or success stories from users forming leagues that stand out to you?
RB) We started our journey by wanting to change HOW & WHEN sports fans play Daily Fantasy Sports.
Our initial release reached 250,000 downloads in 100 days and the feedback we received from users was amazing. The initial release included the concept for leagues but what we found based on feedback is that users wanted more of a community.
In our current version we decided to expand the boundaries of content creation for everyone that enjoys Daily Fantasy Sports, giving users a dedicated space to shine. Our leagues allow creators to monetise their existing user base while having the freedom to create challenges and communicate with them in one central location.
The leagues will also allow companies that have avoided marketing efforts associated with paid DFS contests to reach sports fans in an environment that doesn’t require a season long commitment.
About our Contributor
Raymond Bonkowski, a seasoned executive with 30+ years across diverse sectors, currently serves as the COO for 1-800-LAW-FIRM and On Demand Daily Fantasy Sports. His standout leadership and expertise extend to technology, finance, supply chain, marketing, sales, research & development, and corporate strategy. Noteworthy for turning organizational challenges into opportunities, Raymond's commitment to excellence has left an indelible mark on every venture. In the legal industry, he played a pivotal role in leveraging conversational AI and Machine Learning to elevate the 1-800-LAW-FIRM brand. Recently, his passion for Fantasy Sports led to the innovative On Demand Daily Fantasy Sports, nominated for prestigious industry awards. Visit https://legacyfantasysports.com/