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  • Writer's pictureKevin Jones

Navigating the Game: WalterPicks CEO on AI Evolution in Fantasy Sports and Betting

In an exchange with Sam Factor, CEO and Founder of WalterPicks, Gaming Eminence unveils the pillars of WalterPicks' industry prowess. The interview navigates WalterPicks' adept handling of challenges, emphasising the centrality of quality data in fortifying their AI technology. Factor illuminates the platform's evolution from traditional fantasy football predictions to personalised player stat projections, propelling them into the realm of sports betting. The conversation highlights WalterPicks' commitment to injecting a business-oriented, decision-centric approach into the entertainment landscape, delivering tailored insights. From precision-driven organic growth to a savvy creator-first social media methodology, the interview elucidates the influential role of AI in sculpting the future of fantasy sports and sports betting platforms.



GE) Considering the rapid evolution of machine learning algorithms, how has WalterPicks adapted its technology to stay at the forefront of providing personalised sports insights for fantasy managers and sports bettors? Can you share some specific instances where your team had to navigate challenges or pivot the approach to align with emerging trends in AI and sports analytics?


SF) Our vision at WalterPicks is to build the most powerful fantasy and betting insights platform in the world. Iteratively improving our underlying AI technology has, and will continue to, play an important role in our ability to achieve our ambitious vision.


One thing that often gets lost in the topic of AI and machine learning (which is one of many branches of AI) is the importance of the underlying data that powers AI. The quality of data is by far the most important aspect of any useful AI. In other words, the most advanced machine learning algorithm trained with bad data will be magnitudes less useful than a basic machine learning algorithm trained with great data. We are in the midst of a boom in the advancement of AI technology, mostly due to advancements in Natural Language Processing (another one of the many branches of AI that is a key component of generative AI), but it is crucial not to lose sight of how critical quality data is.


For this reason, one of the best ways WalterPicks has been able to stay at the forefront of AI-powered sports insights is that we have placed a high importance on the quality of our data. This is true in terms of cleaning advanced player data so it can be used most effectively for predicting each individual statistic, but also as we have scaled our user base, we have been able to leverage our own unique databases from data that we get from user actions within our app.


When I founded WalterPicks 4 years ago, our machine learning model "Walter" was built specifically to predict PPR (point per reception) fantasy football points. A pivotal shift for us involved moving beyond generic fantasy projections to a more nuanced approach, projecting all of the individual player stats that directly impact fantasy points. This adaptation dramatically improved our ability to give personalised insights based on varied league and scoring settings, while also making it much easier for us to expand into the world of sports betting.


GE) In the highly competitive gambling industry, where fan engagement is crucial, how do you see WalterPicks' AI-powered platform not only providing insights to users but also enhancing the overall experience for fantasy managers and sports bettors? Are there particular features or strategies you've implemented to ensure sustained user engagement and satisfaction?


SF) A part of our mission at WalterPicks is to make fantasy and betting more fun and entertaining, as that is a major reason why most people play fantasy and sports bet. We believe that the decision-making process for a move in fantasy or betting (who to draft, who to start, who to trade for or trade away, who to add or drop, or who to bet on or bet against) is a core piece of the entertainment. This is why WalterPicks does not just provide a median projection that tells fantasy managers or sports bettors exactly what decisions to make but also range of outcome projections and insights that can better explain the potential risk and reward of certain decisions. Part of the reason fantasy, betting, and sports, in general, are fun is the fact that sports have very high variance. One of the keys to sustained user engagement at WalterPicks lies in our commitment to tailoring insights to individual preferences, risk tolerance, and playing styles.


Another related but slightly different strategy that has helped ensure sustained user engagement and satisfaction at WalterPicks has been our focus on building for the novice user, who might be initially overwhelmed by and lack confidence in fantasy or betting. The WalterPicks app helps the novice fantasy manager compete and enjoy fantasy right away while also helping more experienced fantasy managers and bettors enhance their experience and decision making with advanced data and AI-powered insights.


GE) WalterPicks has gained significant traction, reaching impressive milestones in terms of installs, social followers, and app store rankings. Could you shed light on the key strategies employed in growing your user base organically, and how do you foresee the role of AI technology in continuing this momentum within the dynamic landscape of fantasy sports and betting apps?


SF) Organic growth is absolutely essential in this industry with the cost of customer acquisition so high with paid media. Our creator-first social media strategy at WalterPicks started over 3 years ago and has entailed recruiting and training a team of over 32 content creators for the NFL/Fantasy Football season who each run individual WalterPicks accounts. This strategy has been tremendously successful, our team has created over 20,000 videos, reached over 1B impressions, and grown over 1.2 million followers over the last 3 years. This strategy has also played a major role in driving over 1 million app installs, reaching number 3 in the sports app rankings, and has been a great boost for retention.


Most of our organic social media growth has been on TikTok where we continue to grow rapidly, but there is still room for even further growth as we continue to expand to new platforms like Instagram, Snapchat, and Youtube. A big reason our creator-first strategy has worked is our team is able to iteratively improve their content and learn content strategies that work at a really rapid speed because of the amount of content we are posting and learning from on a daily basis across our entire team. As someone who started in the fantasy sports industry as a content creator and writer over 8 years ago and who still creates content today, I was and still am uniquely positioned to lead such an ambitious strategy. I am incredibly proud of what our creator team has been able to accomplish, not just in terms of followers, impressions, and engagement, but also in terms of consistency and our ability to build a real connection with our audience and iteratively improve the quality of our content over time.


As for the second part of your question I do believe AI will play an increasingly important role in continuing our momentum within the fantasy and betting industry. Zooming out of the fantasy & betting industries for a second, I believe, in general, the role of AI technology will be critical for most businesses to embrace, and I also believe many businesses will use and implement AI in ways that are not useful and potentially even detrimental to their intentions.


Where I see AI playing an important role is in dramatically increased efficiency across a wide variety of tasks and domains, such as marketing, engineering, and hiring (just to name a few). There are a growing number of tasks that used to take a team of people to accomplish that now only take 1 person, or that used to take 6 hours for 1 person and now takes 6 minutes. Teams and organisations that recognise and leverage this are gaining a major competitive advantage and improved profitability. I also believe there will be exciting use cases for how WalterPicks will be able to leverage our unique data sets to build innovative and powerful new features within our app that are powered by advancements in generative AI.


However, I think we are also starting to see AI being implemented in ways that are not useful and/or potentially even detrimental to their desired goals. This is true both with the internal business applications where AI can be relied on too heavily for tasks or decisions that are better suited for a human but also with product functionality that leverages AI without actually solving any user problems or providing any value to end-users. I also believe we will see many attempts at innovative AI technology that are good in theory but fall short due to a lack of quality data, as well as many companies branding themselves as AI simply to benefit from the current hype for fundraising purposes (similar to what we saw in recent years with Web3 and NFT's).


GE) As WalterPicks continues to innovate with features like the draft tool, trade analyser, and player prop evaluator, how do you balance the integration of advanced AI algorithms with user-friendly interfaces? In your view, what role does user experience design play in ensuring that the powerful insights generated by your platform are accessible and easily interpretable for both novice and seasoned users?


SF) As WalterPicks introduces advanced AI-powered features such as the draft tool, trade analyser, and player prop evaluator, maintaining a balance between powerful algorithms and user-friendly interfaces is paramount. Our approach involves an iterative design processes, incorporating user feedback and data about the behaviour of users within our platform to refine interface elements and make complex AI-driven insights more intuitive and useful. We never assume (as much as we hope and try) that our initial UI/UX decisions will be the best design decisions, and are constantly analysing how we can improve in this regard.


In my view, once you have the powerful AI insights functionality in place, the user experience and design are the most important element of ensuring the functionality of the platform is useful, intuitive, and accessible for both novices and more experienced fantasy managers and sports bettors. If we fall short on the experience and design, it likely will not matter how great the functionality and AI insights are.


GE) With the increasing reliance on data-driven decision-making in the gambling industry, how do you envision AI evolving within the next few years, and what potential impact could it have on the landscape of fantasy sports and sports betting? Are there specific areas of AI development that you believe will be particularly transformative for platforms like WalterPicks?


SF) There is immense potential in the future evolution of AI within the fantasy and betting industry.


Firstly, AI will continue to play a transformative role in refining and improving the accuracy and usefulness of predictive models. In the last 10 years or so, it has primarily been the large gambling and DFS operators leveraging machine learning and AI to appropriately price lines and enhance security in terms of preventing cheating and identifying which bettors should be limited. Now, with products like WalterPicks, we are starting to see the playing field become fairer, with AI-powered insights more easily accessible for fantasy managers and sports bettors. I believe this trend will continue, with several positive impacts such as increasing engagement and entertainment in the fantasy and betting experience, making fantasy leagues more competitive and realistic to win despite zero prior experience, as well as helping bettors win more and become more profitable.


One concern I have is that as sports bettors leverage AI-powered products like WalterPicks to become more profitable, we may see sportsbooks limiting bettors at an even higher rate. Hopefully, if this happens, it will lead to faster adoption of betting exchanges (which are ultimately better for sports bettors) and/or force retail sportsbooks to adjust their approach to limiting successful sports bettors on their platforms.


I also think generally, as AI continues to evolve, companies leveraging it well will become exponentially more efficient compared to companies not using it at all or using it in misguided ways. For WalterPicks, continued advancements in generative AI will speed up the development of innovative features catering to the dynamic needs of users on platforms like WalterPicks and will help unlock new generative AI-powered features that were previously impossible to conceive. As AI continues to evolve, the impact on fantasy sports and sports betting will extend beyond predictions, influencing areas such as user personalisation, risk/bankroll management, and playing a significant role in determining the platforms we do or do not use.


About our Contributor:

Sam, a 2019 graduate of Ithaca College with a degree in Math and Psychology, taught High School math through Teach For America for two years. In 2020, he founded WalterPicks, an AI-powered fantasy football app with 600,000+ installs and 8,400 5-star reviews. Sam led WalterPicks' social media strategy, growing it from zero to over 1,000,000 followers in 2.5 years. A former math teacher turned entrepreneur, Sam, a lifelong fantasy sports fan, now motivates a team working on the future of sports insights and entertainment. Visit https://www.walterpicks.com/


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