Let’s take a step back this week before going all Buddy Rich.
Reading about the failed launch of NRL Fantasy this week leading to the announcement of a parallel competition starting in round 4 has been a sobering reminder that fantasy sports is a hard service to operate. Fan Hub Media was awarded the contract to both the AFL and NRL fantasy competitions around six months ago. In that space of time, they had to adapt the code they had already written to deliver the Luxbet salary cap comp to the AFL and NRL environments and meet a much larger set of needs with a bunch of new league and social media features, plus matchday games, plus create mobile apps from scratch, plus build a paywall behind which they could park a bunch of new content which they also had to support, plus build private draft league applications which are even more complex than salary cap. All these things had to be written, tested and bedded down in between strategy and progress meetings with league suits in Melbourne and Sydney, plus dealing with Telstra management and all their needs as well. In six months. Mm hmm.
In short, I was fully expecting this sort of thing to happen. If you thought shifting providers away from VirtualSports after their ten years of service running the previously official AFL and NRL Dream Teams was going to be smooth as a baby’s bum, then you haven’t been paying attention. Even fantasy sports luminaries like CBS Sports have had massive fails in launching new code in the past, as with the 2012 relaunch of their iOS app, but are now counted among the best of breed. VS (a.k.a. VaporMedia) had some similar teething problems back in the day too, and we fantasy coaches lived through them okay and bounced back better than ever (not to mention FanFooty had its fair share before the advent of the cloud!). In fact, based on FanFooty’s early traffic figures for 2014, we were poised for a bounce back this year from the problems that started two years ago when the byes were introduced, with match liveblog traffic up 80% year-on-year.
That is not to say that it was a bad decision by Telstra, acting on behalf of the AFL, to change providers. You might swear something to this effect if you lose your team as some have done in NRL Fantasy, but the bigger picture is what I look at. VS was the root cause of the 2012 bye issue that caused the current drop in general popularity of AFL fantasy, because they twigged too late that the rules should have been changed to prevent an avalanche of donuts. It is healthy for everyone that there is some competition to drive innovation, and that will still be true once the initial problems subside and Fan Hub has time to steady all the spinning plates. You could certainly argue the toss about time frame, but Telstra don’t have limitless budgets to fund the three to six extra months of development that was probably needed to make everything tickety boo before first whistle.
I am posting this now because I expect there to be some wailing and gnashing of teeth next week, as the AFL Fantasy platform will probably not cope with the added demand of lockout-mageddon. The decision to give everyone unlimited trades after round 1 will look wiser as the days go on, and hopefully prevent a disaster like the parallel comp concept. The NRL boys took one for the team so Fan Hub will have learned some lessons, but it’s a bit late in the piece to be implementing them now and the numbers are even larger in the AFL for fantasy – already 126,000 coaches with completed teams. (By way of comparison if you count the IDs of new teams in the VS system as an indicator, AFL Supercoach has over 165,000 registrations so far, and AFL Dream Team would not be much over 20,000 at this still early point.)
My advice would be: set your team as early as possible, i.e. now, and don’t mess with it in the last few days lest the gremlins eat your team!