Drone racing, simulated baseball among new fantasy sports offerings

US Sports Gambling Giants Rely On Innovation To Survive Uncertain Times

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In the recent weeks, daily fantasy sports leaders DraftKings and FanDuel have rolled out a number of new products and partnerships.

DraftKings most notably announced a new alliance with Major League Baseball (MLB) to develop an innovative fantasy product. Earlier in the month, it also confirmed a deal with virtual sports developer Inspired Entertainment.

FanDuel meanwhile forged into uncharted territory via a joint endeavor with the Drone Racing League (DRL).

The two companies have branched out considerably since the US federal prohibition on sports betting was repealed in 2018, of course, moving beyond their original DFS products. Although they’ve retained their fantasy focus, both now have online casinos and sportsbooks in multiple states.

FanDuel initiates DRL partnership

On April 2, FanDuel offered its players a free drone racing contest with $3,000 in prizes. The contest followed the site’s usual daily fantasy format, but the sport in question was atypical.

Drone racing sits at the intersection of conventional racing sports and esports, where competitors maneuver radio-controlled quad-copters through complex three-dimensional courses. They fly from a first-person view using VR headsets fed from stereoscopic cameras mounted on the drones.

There are several professional and semiprofessional drone racing leagues, but the DRL is the most established. It has held four seasons of competitions since its inception and attracted a number of mainstream sponsors.

The DRL has taken the esports aspects of drone racing to a new level by developing a highly accurate flying simulator called DRL SIM, which models the exact drones used for its real events. The sim (available on Steam) is accurate enough that DRL uses it for annual tryouts, awarding a $75,000 season contract to the winner of a series of open global tournaments.

FanDuel’s free contest allowed players to create lineups of racers in this year’s tryouts using official DRL data.

DraftKings rewrites MLB history with Dream Bracket

DraftKings’ new project launched last week, consisting of a simulated baseball tournament called Dream Bracket.

Dream Bracket is a joint endeavor between DraftKings, MLB, and Out of the Park Developments (OOPD) — the company behind the eponymous baseball management simulator.

With MLB’s approval and data, OOPD created a 32-team bracket consisting of the 30 current teams and two special all-star squads. Rosters feature 26 of the most notable players from franchise history, and each is simulated using the statistics from their best three real-world seasons.

Players from a century ago are therefore competing alongside modern stars. In some cases, multiple “versions” of the same player exist for different teams representing different eras of their career.

The virtual matches will be played out across several weeks, with the Championship scheduled for May 4-5. Each game is simulated using OOPD’s software and is streamed on Twitch and the MLB website.

Dream Bracket is likewise free to play, at least in this first incarnation.

Virtual sports supplant real sports… for now

DraftKings has already taken its first steps into the world of virtual sports betting. It announced last week that it had signed a deal with Inspired Entertainment, a major provider of such games for European sports books.

Virtual sports are very popular in Europe, especially now when most real sports leagues have suspended or canceled their seasons. Several operators have been attempting to introduce them to the US market too.

Inspired already had a few deals in place in New Jersey prior to DraftKings. Bet365 is foremost among these as the first US operator to offer virtual sports products within its online sportsbook rather than its casino.

There are, however, a few challenges that DraftKings and other US operators will face while foraying into the virtual sports arena.

For one thing, the products themselves are mostly designed for the European market. Soccer is a major focus, for instance. That’s beginning to change, though, as Inspired has developed new products for American tastes. One of these, NFL Alumni Legends, is similar to Dream Bracket in that it features historical players rather than current or fictional ones.

Regulatory approval a big issue

The bigger issue with virtual sports in the US online gambling market is that they are functionally casino games despite the cosmetic resemblance to sports betting,

European regulators don’t seem to mind that. It’s the norm there for “virtuals” to appear as a tab in online sportsbooks and for operators to present available bets in the same format as those for real events.

Most US states, however, treat online casino and sports betting separately. Those that have legalized both require separate licenses for each and tax them differently. Even though bet365 received permission from the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement (DGE) to offer virtual sports in its sportsbook, the agency still classifies them a casino game.

FanDuel may run into some regulatory problems of its own if it intends to offer real-money betting on drone racing. Not all states with legal sports betting allow esports, and many have not yet decided one way or the other. DRL’s unique mixture of digital and real-world action make it complicated from a regulatory perspective.

Innovation is rarely without its hurdles, however, and these challenges aren’t insurmountable. Sports betting and online gambling are still in their infancy in the US. Companies and regulators alike are racing to adapt to this new world, and the development of new products like these is a fundamental part of that.

- Alex is a journalist from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, Canada. Now site runner for Online Poker Report, he has been writing about poker and the online gambling industry in various capacities since 2014.
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