Is Fantasy sports a game of skill or luck? Can it be both? Does more skill equal more luck? Does it simply depend on the most recent win/loss streak, with opinions swaying based on individuals?
Let us start by looking at the nature of fantasy sports. It has a list of variables and a larger list of data points, it depends on not only the fantasy players’ decision-making process and ability but, also the current fitness and decision-making process of the actual players on the pitch. Factor in the remarkable unpredictability of sports, the very reason we love them, and what we have is a brew that’s frustrating and exhilarating, tedious and rewarding, heartbreaking while being beautiful.
In order to be very successful, and I say this from experience with the ups as well as the downs, you need to have a healthy knowledge of the sport with its subtle nuances and access to data points that help make decisions easier and more effective. The more data you have, the better your chances of averaging out over the course of a season, whether that is the season long format or the daily version. Similarly, the more up to date you are with the industry and its current events such as transfers, playing roster, coaching, etc., the higher your chances are of predicting accurate outcomes.
Like any sport, one game does not define a season and one bad decision does not decide a player’s potential and skill. The most successful players alter strategies and break biases all the time, even with a winning formula, results are always a nail-biting affair. What should be appreciated and understood about successful players is, how they recover, analyze, and adapt to a given situation. Good decisions have good and bad results, the same is true with a bad decision, the element of luck cannot be removed from the equation and the benefit of experience cannot be understated.
Let us now talk about luck; famously, the losing side’s excuse and the winning side’s denial. Cognitive bias, my old friend!
Luck will account for between 5 and 10 percent of wins but varies slightly depending on a few variables which we will not get into for now keeping in mind the bigger picture here. So why is this a topic of much debate? Well, because it is not really that simple. A study showed that relying on only luck will win you about 2 games a season, and another showed that a higher level of skill results in a higher level of luck. An MIT study put fantasy sports at roughly 55% skill and 45% luck, for reference the stock market is about 80% luck and 20% skill, but ask a stock broker about that and you may get an opposing view point and probably a sarcastic comment.
From the fitness level of an athlete to his psychological mindset and even the weather on matchday, there are certainly aspects of the industry that are unpredictable. The participant’s opponent in head-to-head contests for instance, will not only depend on the team that he chooses but also the team that he is playing against. A proven goal scorer is still susceptible to injury, turning him into a bad decision even though the decision itself was informed and logical.
So, what can we take away from this? In fantasy sports, like any other sport, preparation is key, and good luck is welcomed with open arms. The level judgment and research involved in choosing the best team for the job is invaluable and it is an acquired skill and will, without a doubt, help with your success in the sport much more than it will impede it. Through experience, patience and avoiding cognitive biases, some of the consequences of the ‘luck factor’ can be mitigated while inadvertently attracting its good side.
In conclusion, although luck may play a role in winning, it is certainly not the sole determining factor; the industry is still considered a game of skill because that is the part that has a higher chance of affecting returns, and it is a skill that can be taught and acquired. I wish you the best of luck in developing and honing yours.