Fantasy games have evolved over the years. From online drafts to salary caps and big payouts, regardless of the sport, fantasy leagues have grown in popularity. The multi-billion dollar industry has seen tremendous growth and, according to a 2016 study, nearly one-fifth of the entire United States population plays fantasy sports each year.
Knowing that such a large number of sports fans and gaming fanatics devote time to fantasy leagues, it’s important to stay current, and that’s just what Tim Clark and his team at NASCAR Digital Media have done with the new NASCAR Fantasy Live game.
“We had several conversations with members of the NASCAR Fan Council as we looked to make changes,” said Clark, managing director of NASCAR Digital Media. “We wanted to engage not only with our loyal players who have played consistently for a number of years, but also ones that either played for a year and stopped playing or have been NASCAR fans but never engaged in the fantasy game.”
As fantasy games across all sports have changed, Clark and his team knew that the game needed to be as realistic and engaging as possible. Therefore, the NDM team decided to make the game consistent with NASCAR’s three-stage format.
“Every lap matters in NASCAR,” said Clark. “We wanted our fans to be able to strategize like the teams and drivers have to do in real-time. Aligning our game closely with the stage racing format makes it even more exciting and keeps fans on the edge of their seats. The game is more intense this year and the scoring is simpler. We moved from fastest lap time and finishing vs. starting position differential –
things that didn’t really resonate with the casual fan – to stage winners and the opportunity for several bonus points.”
In addition to the game using the same three-stage format as the actual race, setting a driver lineup is similar to other sports. NASCAR fantasy team owners pick a lineup of five drivers and a have a sixth man, so to speak, that can be swapped in before the start of the third and final stage. Owners can’t keep the same lineup like NBA head coach could throughout the course of a season. Over the 26 weeks of fantasy racing, a given driver can only be used 10 times.
“When we decided to move away from the salary cap concept, we had to be creative in coming up with a new model,” said Clark. “We wanted to make sure that players couldn’t set their lineup after an early race and not engage, but still have success. The fact that some players were doing that was a negative, according to our fan council. With the change this year, you have to be strategic.”
The bench driver is also an all-new, important aspect of this year’s game. Had Jimmie Johnson and William Byron been on one’s fantasy team for the Daytona 500, they would have been out of the game early, but with the addition of a bench driver, that’s not the case.
“The unfortunate reality of NASCAR racing is that you can be out of it pretty quickly if your drivers are involved in a wreck or have parts failures,” said Clark. “Swapping in a driver (at any time before the start of the third and final stage) allows players to keep their team competitive and stay engaged, both with the live race and our fantasy platform.”
Players earn points just like the stars of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series do on any given Saturday night or Sunday afternoon. At the conclusion of the first two stages, the winning driver is awarded 10 points, down to a single point for the 10th-place finisher. Points are awarded that same way in the NASCAR Fantasy Live game. At the end of each race, the race-winning driver earns 40 points, second-place 35, third-place 34, and so forth.
What’s unique to the fantasy game is the opportunity for players to pick the pole winner, stage winners,winning manufacturer and even the winning driver. In 2017, players could only pick the winning driver and manufacturer.
“Bonus points are important in every race – to the driver and the fantasy owner,” said Clark. “Team owners know that the bonus points are crucial. At Vegas, if a fantasy owner picked (Kevin) Harvick to win the stages and the race, they earned 50 bonus points. The bonus points are a big incentive for our players and have really been received well.”
NASCAR’s 26-race regular season concludes after the Brickyard 400 in September, and so does the fantasy season. NASCAR crowns a regular season champion who is awarded 15 bonus points heading into the playoffs. The fantasy live game ends after the Brickyard and the winner gets a big payday – $10,000 to be exact.
The team at NDM does indeed have plans for a playoff game, but that will be determined at a later date based on fan feedback.
“Knowing that it was our first time with this new format, we wanted to wait to announce our playoff game intentions until we had a chance to get adequate feedback from our fantasy players,” said Clark. “They will have had an opportunity to get used to it and provide us with great feedback to improve our fantasy gaming experience.”
As for future improvements, Clark and his team know that the fantasy space is always evolving and expect to roll out even more exciting things down the road.
“As we progress, we’ll be able to make improvements to our game and offer even more exciting options for our fantasy players,” said Clark. “We’re thrilled with the engagement we’ve seen with this new format and the fact that anyone above 13 [years of age] can play. Our format is incredibly simple, we haven’t seen any drop-off over the first two weeks and have exceeded our audience size and engagement.”