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What is DFS? – A Complete Overview of Daily Fantasy Sports

Sports will always be America’s favorite past-time, whether you’re watching a game with friends or actively participating. Luckily, the world of athletics allows you to become even more involved by playing daily fantasy sports. Given the growing popularity of the hobby, you may be asking yourself “what is DFS?”, or wondering how you can get started. The remainder of this article serves as a complete overview to give you all the information you’re looking for.


DFS stands for daily fantasy sports; as the name implies, it’s a variation of traditional fantasy sports or season-long fantasy. Gamers craft virtual teams via the internet or an app based on professional sports teams and associations. There’s a salary cap for each sport that one must adhere to when building lineups, and player salaries are subject to change on a daily basis. Fantasy points are awarded based on in-game statistics and each sport has its own scoring rules. 

When you play DFS, you’re essentially competing in a contest as opposed to a league. Contests will vary in entrants, total prizes, payout structures, and allowed number of entries. The majority of contests feature paid entries, so you’re putting money upfront to potentially win a share of the guaranteed prizes. 

If you’re new to daily fantasy, an important thing to understand is that contests are designed for a specific “slate” of games. Contests normally start and end on the same day, but there are exceptions for sports like golf and football as a slate might span the course of three or four days.

History of DFS

Fantasy sports are thought to have started in the early 1990s when a handful of American newspapers launched their own games. Toll-free calling systems were used to draft lineups, and the highest-scoring players were awarded by the newspapers. The first true example of DFS came about in 2007 when Instant Fantasy Sports was started – inspired by online poker. The company was rebranded as SnapDraft after being acquired by NBC but only lasted a couple of years before being shut down.

A more familiar name, Fanduel, was launched in 2009 as a unique take on the services offered by season-long fantasy outlets like Yahoo and CBS. Draftkings would follow in 2012, and the rest is history. These two pioneers have gone on to dominate the DFS industry and become billion-dollar companies. 

Nowadays, there are a plethora of platforms that offer some form of daily fantasy sports. The industry is unique in the sense that each outlet can put their own twist on how the game is played. It’s to the point where you can bet the over/under on a players fantasy score on certain sportsbooks.  

Cash Games vs. GPPs

Daily fantasy operates via contests, and the two major types are cash games and GPPs. Cash games are contests in which 50% or more of the total entrants are paid out. These contests are typically seen as double-ups, head to heads, or 50/50s. Although cash games are not as popular as they once were, they are the most reliable way to profit in DFS and strategically manage your bankroll. Ownership tends to matter less in cash games because of the 50% field payout, but it’s arguably more important to research the best spots for cash as the field will not be contrarian. 

GPPs are guaranteed prize pool contests. These contests typically have the largest prize pools, thus they’re the most popular amongst gamers. A majority of the guaranteed prizes are set aside for winning entrants, while a small percentage is collected by the platform as rake. Sites like Draftkings and Fanduel use the rake from their contests as a source of revenue; essentially, it helps keep things running for everyone. 

Most GPP contests payout between 18-25% of the total entrants. This number is typically around 20% and can easily be determined by dividing the number of paid placements by the total number of entrants. GPPs are the primary focus for most fantasy sport-related content because there is more strategy involved and the rewards can be life changing. 


Popular Sports

It’s subjective to talk about popular sports in daily fantasy because everyone has their own taste, but there’s no doubt that some sports see more gameplay than others. Everyone hears about fantasy football, of course, but fantasy baseball and basketball are also very popular. 

Fantasy sports have evolved to encompass everything from league of legends to tennis. Popularity and total prizes are usually positively correlated, so sports like football and basketball bring about the juiciest contests.


Football is arguably the most popular fantasy sport, regardless of whether we’re talking DFS or season-long leagues. The large user-base can be attributed to the exposure that fantasy football gets on major networks like Fox, CBS, NBC, and more.The NFL is one of the few leagues left that regularly has its games broadcasted on national television, and fantasy football is a frequent topic. 


Fantasy basketball has seen rapid growth, largely in part due to how many games are played. Basketball, of course, is fast paced, and so the constantly changing lineup scores make for a thrill on every slate. Both Draftkings and Fanduel have an active NBA DFS community, although you won’t hear much about it from the media. 


This might surprise you, but fantasy sports actually originated from baseball. What started as a fun idea in the early 1990s has turned into highly competitive, skill-based game. MLB DFS is similar to NBA in the sense that there’s a plethora of games, so there’s no shortage of fantasy slates. Baseball is one of a few sports that could feature multi-game slates in one day, thus giving you a greater chance to win it all. 


Fantasy golf has taken the community by storm in recent years. The PGA recently signed a deal with ESPN+, and since then, it seems like more of your everyday people are getting interested in golf. Now, I don’t know if this has increased the number of fantasy players, but there’s more exposure to pro golf now than ever before. PGA DFS is unique because most slates span the course of four days, or a whole golf tournament. This makes for a constant sweat as gamers hope for 6 out of 6 golfers making the cut and placing high. Outlets like Draftkings and Fanduel are aware of the increased interest in golf, so there are plenty of great contests available for the sport. 

The popularity of a given fantasy sport can easily be determined by looking at Rotogrinders ranking summary.   There are over 45,000 people actively playing DFS, with the bulk of those dabbling in football. NBA sees over 25,000 active gamers, while MLB and PGA both see over 11,000. 

DFS vs. Sports Betting

You might think to yourself, so how is DFS any different from betting on sports? Truth be told, it’s a lot different, but there’s also some similarities. Most state courts recognize that daily fantasy sports are a “paid game of skill” as opposed to betting, but it took many legal challenges to come to this conclusion. 

Both DFS and sports wagering were outlawed for quite some time due to the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992. The great marketing push of 2015-2016 brought fantasy sports to a new light; lawsuits rolled in for a variety of reasons, but ultimately helped to classify DFS appropriately. 

Gambling is strictly an activity of chance. When you place a bet, you know right away that there’s only two potential outcomes – you either win or lose. You can argue that there’s skill involved in interpreting odds, but there’s still an uncertain outcome as you’re only competing against the bookie(s). 

In fantasy sports, you’re always competing against other people. There’s less chance involved because the interpretation of stats, matchups, and recent performances to build lineups is skill based. Despite money usually being involved, it’s clear that DFS can be free, while gambling always requires money. 

The graphic below highlights three major differences between DFS and sports betting. 

dfs vs. sports betting infographic

There’s a fine line between fantasy sports and gambling, but that doesn’t mean you should spend unnecessarily. Bankroll management is imperative in fantasy, and you can still develop a problem if you’re not careful. I advise reaching out to your local hotline (1-800-GAMBLER) if your play starts to impact other areas of your life. 

The Leverage of Draftkings and Fanduel

At one point, there were legitimate concerns that Draftkings and Fanduel would monopolize the daily fantasy market. Although the companies remain separate, they attempted to merge in late-2016 – a move that would give them a 90% total market share. The merger looked like a great idea on paper, but the Federal Trade Commission quickly blocked the idea by alluding to the aforementioned monopoly. FTC officials argued that the outlets are each others largest competitors, and that a merger would leave no market share for others in the niche. 

In 2022, it’s clear that Draftkings and Fanduel continue to have huge leverage over the daily fantasy sports industry. A lot of gamers will play on both platforms, while others are partial to one over the other. Despite a large number of active users on each site, it’s clear that Draftkings has a larger contest selection than Fanduel, likely due to the 2 million + monthly active users. Both companies have mobile apps and web-interfaces that gamers can use to play. 

With the rapid growth of fantasy sports, it will be interesting to see how long these two powerhouses can keep their stranglehold on the industry. Innovative companies like PrizePicks, Underdog, and SuperDraft are starting to gain traction and could potentially shake-up the market share. 

Getting Started

Now that all the basics have been covered, it’s time to get started. The first thing to do is decide where you want to sign up initially. Both Draftkings and Fanduel offer a variety of casual contests so you can learn the game before you jump into the deep end. Feel free to reference my DK review and FD review if you’re having trouble deciding what suits you. 

Once you’re signed up, it’s time to start entering contests. You’ll want to start off with casual contests, which are always labeled as such. These contests prohibit professional players from entering, so you’re only competing against players of similar skill. If available, play in as many free contests as possible so you can limit risk throughout the learning process. 

Focusing on the sports you know best is a great way to get started. For example, it makes no sense to enter a nascar GPP if you’ve never watched a nascar race in your life. In doing so, you’re already putting yourself at a disadvantage. Learn the scoring rules inside and out for the sports you’re passionate about and you’ll quickly gain a better understanding of the game. 

Once you start winning consistently in free or casual contests you’ll be ready to start risking more money. For some people, the next step up might be cash games, but you can also start experimenting with low-stakes GPPs and single entry contests. At this point, you’re going to start utilizing as many outside resources as possible, whether it be ownership projections, optimizers, trends, or even written content. 

Understanding the Process

The DFS process will be different for everyone but generally adheres to core aspects like bankroll management, contest selection, and lineup optimization. I plan to cover this process in detail at a later time, but I’ll give a rundown of the basics below.  

Bankroll Management: 

Your bankroll is the money that you have available to you for DFS purposes. Managing your bankroll is the key to success in DFS as overextending can put you in a hole very easily. Most people will deposit a lump sum as their initial investment and play within their means until a certain monetary goal or ROI is achieved. The goal, of course, is to profit or consistently build off of your initial deposit. 

Managing bankroll is player dependent. For example, you might risk playing higher stakes if you’ve built your bankroll to 10X its initial value. On the contrary, you might tone down your entries or play smaller contests if you’re on a losing streak. Ideally, you never want to hit zero from your initial deposit, thus forcing you to make another deposit. 

You can keep an eye on your bankroll through the transaction history section on Draftkings and Fanduel, but there are better ways to visualize this. Creating an excel sheet that tracks all aspects of your play is widely considered the best way to do this. You can find several tutorials online with a simple Google or Youtube search. There are also tracking softwares like RotoTracker that do the hard work for you. 

Contest Selection: 

Selecting the right type of contests is one of the most important factors in daily fantasy. Contests vary by total entries, max entries allowed, total prizes, and the players you’re up against. Understanding max entry limits is crucial. The huge contests we know and love are normally 150-max contests, meaning any player can enter 150 lineups. It’s fun to chase the big prizes, but you need to understand that you’re at a disadvantage when you don’t max enter a contest. 

Another aspect of contest selection is the payout structure for a given contest. You want to look for contests that payout >20% of the total entries, while not having too top-heavy of a structure. Look for minimum payouts that are 2x the entry fee. Also look for contests that pay out 10% or more of the grand prize to 10th place. A contest that checks these boxes is usually not too top-heavy. 

Lineup Optimization: 

You will often hear people in the DFS community talk about building the optimal lineup. The optimal lineup is essentially the perfect lineup for a given slate, or the most possible fantasy points scored. A slate’s winning lineup will not always be the most optimal lineup, but sometimes it’ll work out that way. 

Optimizers are frequently used to build lineups based on player projections. These projections are built on statistics, matchup history, recent form, and a variety of other factors. FantasyCruncher, SaberSim, and LineStar are among some of the more popular optimizers, but there are plenty of services out there. 

The idea with lineup optimization is to achieve the highest possible fantasy score per dollar spent. An athlete is optimal at their position when they score the highest number of fantasy points relative to their salary. In simple terms, your lineup is optimal if you draft the highest scoring player at each position. 


The DFS community is robust and rather close-knit compared to that of the sports betting community. Gamers can monitor their competitive progress using RotoGrinders’ ranking system which awards points for GPP winnings. Several forums, discords, and telegram channels exist for the sole purpose of giving DFS advice. 

One unique aspect of DFS is that you can bounce ideas off each other as a sort of “team”. A lot of DFS teams double as businesses that offer their own projections and models. Most of these businesses operate on the premise that their founding members are professional DFS players. 

The community is interesting because the masses of casual players tend to follow the best spot based on projections offered by the top outlets. This can create a slate where players are over-owned and easily avoidable to gain an advantage. 

Some of the more popular names in the industry include Stokastic (formerly Awesemo), RunPureSports, LineStar, DFS Army, and ourselves at DFS City. 


Daily fantasy sports are a rapidly growing alternative to season-long fantasy sports. Throughout this article, I’ve covered everything you need to know about DFS, but this is truly a starting point. Plenty of outstanding content exists that covers game theory and strategies for each sport. 

Next time someone asks you “what is DFS?”, feel free to send them this article. Understanding the game is important so you give yourself a fighting chance when getting started. Feel free to reference the other sports related content on our site – we thank you for reading!