The Big Data Behind Fantasy Sports: Q&A with Valéry Bollier, CEO of Oulala

October 28, 2015

2:00 pm

While the gaming industry is rarely associated with big data science, Valéry Bollier and Benjamin Carlotti challenge the statement, explaining the ins and outs of creating a massively popular fantasy football company Oulala based on complex mathematical matrix and numerous statistical variables.

Learn about the big data behind the fantasy sports and ways to overcome the negative stigmas existing around certain niches from first-hand experience.

1. Could you briefly introduce yourself and your company?

Oulala Games was created three years ago by Benjamin Carlotti – financial background in the sports industry –  and myself – 20+ experience in digital marketing and iGaming. Now we have over twenty people in staff at our office in Malta.

We have been working since then to create the most innovative fantasy football game on the market. After two seasons running Oulala for free, we recently launched a monetized version of the game.

We believe that the main purpose of fantasy sports is to prove to your friends that you know sports better than they do. Therefore, the results need to be as close as possible to football reality.

To manage that, the game uses lots of mathematics and computing power behind the scenes to help translate the actions on the pitch into numbers in the game. This required a significant amount of further testing to ensure that our algorithm was a close match for reality and that the footballers that had the largest impact on the result of a match also scored the highest in our game.

It is this extra complexity and accuracy that makes Oulala stand out as the only current fantasy football game that is a genuine skill game.

2. Why fantasy football? What inspired you to create a company in this niche?

Oulala

While working as a Marketing Director for Zeturf, I realized that younger clients (18-35) were expecting a different user experience than older generations. They had been raised with video games and therefore wanted monetized games that could be as fun as the ones they had on their gaming consoles.

I also realized that despite the growing demand for monetized games, some strong natural barriers prevented the two natural actors from colonizing this vacant space. Firstly, iGaming operators love “already optimized” business models and are rarely keen to experiment with new products or markets. Secondly, the video games industry, on their side, would have not been allowed to enter this market because they are still seen as a pastime for minors. This is despite games like GTA already being considered to be too violent for this market.

I therefore decided to focus on this blue ocean niche. As I was trying to understand what the perfect product would look like, I meet Benjamin Carlotti. He had just arrived from the United States, had studied this new and growing market (daily fantasy sports) in great depth and wanted to create the first European football DFS game.

3. On starting out: what is the most important lesson you have learned while building your own product from scratch?

Churchill said that, “Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm”. The great man could definitely have also been a digital guru because this quote sums up the iterative process of growing a startup. The world is now so uncertain, we therefore need to constantly experiment to try and fail many times before finding a successful path.

A great example of this would be the maths that underpins our game. Big data is a buzz word that we hear in the media most days, but the reality is that it takes a huge amount of thought, experimentation, analysis and then more experimentation. I often feel that most readers just think that “we did the math and…” but in reality it is a very intensive and exacting work.

4. What distinguishes Oulala from other companies in the online gaming/fantasy sports niche?

As I mentioned above, we worked for six months with a team of statisticians to build a mathematical matrix that makes the results of our game as close to the reality of a football match as possible. We then tested our scoring system for more than a year to prove that Oulala was a real skill game. We are still constantly looking for ways to improve the algorithm as this is the cornerstone of our game.

Our scoring system includes 70 football statistics, compared to around 10-16 for our competitors. Each criteria is weighted based on the player’s position (goalkeeper, defender, midfielder, and striker), to stick even more closely to the reality of a football match.

We use live data from a company called Opta. They monitor the contribution of each footballer on the pitch in real time, before passing the data to us. It then goes through our algorithm to update the scores of each player in almost live action. This means that anyone can monitor the progress of the players in their squad during the games every weekend. As the footballer contributes on the pitch, his score alters inside our game within about 30 seconds. We have had players tell us that they knew something big had happened in a match because their Oulala points moved before the live text service they were following could keep up. Obviously, typing and updating a webpage is a slower process than can be managed by algorithm and data processing.

Additionally, Oulala is also the only truly European game. Our clients can create teams with players from the 80 football teams competing in England, France, Italy, and Spain. The data comes in live from across Europe, through the system and to our players screens seamlessly. Thanks to our exclusive live substitution feature, Oulala is the only real second screen game.

5. How did you manage to grow your fan base? Any particular online marketing advice?

We are not product focused, we want our customers to have a great time! We are less concerned with having the best product than we are with building a happy and loyal community. It may seem like the same thing but it is a radically different approach. Some companies are so in love with their product or service that they no longer worship their clients. At Oulala.com, we are having a constant conversation with our community so that we can listen and learn from them. In a way we could say that they are the boss! I would advise all businesses to be honest and loyal to your clients. You can’t expect loyalty from someone if you do not give them yours.

6. There is often a negative stigma about fantasy sports. What strategy did you apply to overcome it?

Is DFS simply a new iGaming activity? It’s obvious that it is a monetized game and therefore should be supervised by a legal authority, but at Oulala we think that daily fantasy sports should be called “moneytainment” and not “iGaming”.

Why? The mechanism of the game is very different. Fantasy sports is offering a platform where adults can challenge other adults on their sports knowledge, with money involved to stimulate interest. Fantasy games are real skill games and not a luck game disguised as a skill game. It is key to understand that in fantasy sports, money is not the prime goal – pride is!

Fantasy is a very social game and people deeply want to win and show off. For a fan, it’s a great kick to finally have a tool that enables him to prove the supremacy of his football managerial vision.

To answer your question, we simply capped the maximum amount that someone can place in a league. We therefore see ourselves a bit like a carousel owner where people will buy a ticket – put money into a common pot – to have fun and compete with their friends from work, sports clubs, university and other places. If they grab the teddy bear at the end of the rope – meaning that they won their league – they will get a free ride.

7. What are the company’s plans for the future?

For Oulala, 2016 should allow us to fully benefit from our long preparation. We just launched our marketing plan in the UK and have already an impressive amount of partnerships in preparation. In a few weeks, we will also launch a white label solution of our game – a plug and play solution for anyone wishing to enter this fast growing new market. We are also already preparing our Series B funding (around £7 M) for the end of the season.

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Dianna is a former ESL teacher and World Teach volunteer, currently living in France. She’s slightly addicted to apps and viral media trends and helps different companies with product localization and content strategies. You can tweet her at @dilabrien

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