DraftKings’ Update To “Player First Initiative” Is Only Small Step In Right Direction

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The unveiling of a new batch of updates to DraftKings’ Player First Initiative marks just a small step in the right direction for the company’s relationship with its players. And with the recent PASPA ruling paving the way for legal sports betting in the United States – a market that DraftKings appears set to dive into – moves like this are sorely needed.

If DraftKings has any hope of thriving in what promises to be an uber competitive industry, it needs to do all it can to repair what can only be described as a tumultuous relationship with its player base.

The problems with DraftKings’ player experience

For DraftKings, things started to going off the tracks from a player experience perspective in 2015 when one of its employees, Ethan Haskell, accidentally released segments of data that he, nor anybody else, should have had access to before rosters were locked. Haskell’s slip-up proved that he did, in fact, have access to data that gave him a potentially unfair advantage, which is exactly why all hell broke loose when he won over $350,000 on rival site FanDuel later that same day.

Although Haskell was cleared of the charge that he used the information to gain an advantage, and thus kept his winnings, the DFS world was forever changed. As a result of the scandal, FanDuel and DraftKings jointly decided employees would be banned from playing DFS on any site. It seems relevant to mention that despite his success as a DFS player, Haskell decided to stay on as an employee at DraftKings, giving up what, on the surface, appears to have been the start of a lucrative career.

For recreational DraftKings players, whether Haskell actually used the information or not is irrelevant. In the immediate aftermath, it wasn’t a fun experience playing contests while wondering in the back of your mind whether they were actually fair, or something untoward was going on behind the scenes.

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There have been other player concerns, too. From rake increases (of an already high rake) to less-than-stellar loyalty programs, all the way to questions about whether enough is being done to prevent high volume players from literally winning all the money – including at micro-stakes – DraftKings never manages to garner rave reviews from players.

Needless to say, that is a big problem from a competitive perspective.

How the new additions to the the Player First Initiative will help

As I mentioned at the top of this piece, a couple of the items in the newest addendums to the Player First Initiative are overwhelmingly positive. For example, barring high-volume players from premium low-stakes contests is great news for recreational players. Here are the stipulations, per DraftKings:

  • The highest-volume DraftKings players are barred from contests with entry fees less than $3
  • The highest-volume DraftKings players are allowed to enter contests with entry fees between $3 and $5 if the guaranteed prize pool is greater than $25,000

Additionally, DraftKings has enhanced multi-entry contest limits in a couple of ways:

  • All contests with an entry fee less than $5 will remain 20 entry max
  • To allow players to experience the excitement of entering up to 150 lineups in a single contest, DraftKings will offer special mini-MAX contests with low entry fees

No matter how you slice it, these changes reflect DraftKings’ willingness to listen to its players, which to be quite honest, we haven’t seen much of in the past. Kudos to DraftKings for continuing to expand and iterate the Player First Initiative but, as always, things could still be further improved.

The DraftKings player experience pipedream

If I was in charge of DraftKings’ player experience, I would immediately focus on improving two things: the company’s transparency, and the consistency of contests. In my view, transparency has always been one of the biggest issues with the DraftKings player experience, and I have a personal anecdote that reflects exactly why.

In 2017, I qualified for DraftKings’ Fantasy Hockey World Championship in Miami. At the event, Jon Aguiar, who at the time was Director of VIP Experience, made a big speech in which he said something standard like, “If you need anything at all, please just ask me – I’ll do whatever I can to help you out.”

Okay, I thought. I’m a huge craft beer fan, and there were no local craft beers available at the bars in the main DraftKings watch room. However, I knew the hotel in which the event was being held offered many Florida beers, because I had ordered one in the lobby bar. I figured, why not ask Jon if we could get a case of Tampa’s Jai Alai IPA brought up to the room? It probably wouldn’t be that difficult, and he did specifically say he wanted to make sure everybody had a great experience.

So I walked up to Jon and asked him if there was any way we could get the hotel to give us some Jai Alai. He looked at me sleepily and said, with a dismissive shrug, “No, we get what we get at the bar.” I stood there for a second, thinking there might be more, but he turned away, and I walked off in disbelief. He not only didn’t try – he didn’t even give trying a second thought.

That, I thought to myself, is not a very good Director of VIP Experience. In March of 2018, Aguiar was demoted to Senior Product Manager. All I have to say is, it took them long enough. Yet this kind of attitude persists within the company, and reflects in its products and player experience.

I also have a real-time example of how DraftKings’ contest consistency can be improved. When I started writing this article, I pulled up the DraftKings lobby to see what the prize pool of today’s MLB mini-MAX contest looked like. At 3:00pm ET, the one mini-MAX tournament on offer was a few hundred entries short of filling, and indeed it filled by 3:30pm. The contest had a $10K guarantee, with $1500 going to the winner.

I’m sorry, DraftKings, but this is totally and completely inexcusable. It’s painfully obvious that although there was time and effort spent putting together the new addition to the Player First Initiative, it’s being undone by the fact there’s evidently zero effort being put into offering a contest that meets the player base’s demands. It should be an easy, simple procedure for DraftKings to monitor and manage this kind of thing, and they completely failed three days into the new initiative. I’m miffed that they continually let this kind of thing happen, over and over.

Just not there yet

In the end, you can see that while DraftKings has made some strides towards improving their player experience, they are still a long way from truly delighting and surprising their customers – something only the best of the best can deliver.

Maybe one day. A player can certainly dream, right?

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JD McNamara

JD is the founder of Content Aces (so he writes a lot of things for the Internet). He also enjoys poker, sports, film, science fiction, and is a huge fan of the Toronto Blue Jays.

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