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Forging a new path in daily fantasy sports


Amid rapid expansion in all forms of online gambling, one company is attempting to blaze a new trail. Rourke Struthers, CEO of GameBlazers, is carving out a new corner of the daily fantasy sports (DFS) industry, writes Cole Rush.

“It’s a gamified approach to fantasy sports,” Struthers says of GameBlazers. The DFS platform currently offers NFL contests.

Participants receive packs of items – football players – with multipliers. A star running back might come with a 1.3x multiplier, for example. GameBlazers team owners can then use their items to field a roster of players within the salary cap.

The novel approach must contend with existing competition in the DFS space and the proliferation of online sportsbooks and casinos. Struthers says GameBlazers is more than up for the challenge.

“So many of the dollars in this industry have gone to the gambling side,” he says. “But look at video games in general and it’s a bigger category. We wanted to take that underlying concept and iterate on it, bring some new ideas to the fantasy side.”

Changing the game

The daily fantasy arena has no shortage of major players. DraftKings and FanDuel are chief among them, two companies almost solely responsible for launching the industry into the limelight. The space also gave rise to popular pick’em platforms.

Struthers praises GameBlazers’ competitors and sees them as a launchpad: “FanDuel, DraftKings, they’re great products,” he says. “We want our players to have more decision-making opportunities to showcase their skills and knowledge, though.”

There isn’t much differentiation among existing fantasy platforms, according to Struthers.

“There’s a homogenous feel to all of it,” he observes.

Rourke Struthers, CEO of GameBlazers

GameBlazers aims to break that formula down and give its players more opportunities to feel in charge. Everyone who signs up for GameBlazers gets a free item pack on sign-up. It’s not completely random, Struthers notes, but there are random distribution elements in the system to keep things fresh. GameBlazers brought developers from FIFA Ultimate to assist with this aspect.

Participants can use their free pack to set a lineup and/or purchase additional packs.

“It makes for a lot more diversity when you’re setting a lineup,” Struthers says. “You don’t have the same player items as everyone else. The multipliers make the game more dynamic and there are fewer opportunities for ties.”

While the mechanics of GameBlazers are slightly different from other DFS platforms, the user journey will feel familiar to most.

“Once you sign up for the platform, you’ll be brought to our Franchise Pass area,” Struthers explains. “From there, you can claim your starter pack. This kickstarts the pack opening experience. You get to tactilely flip over each of the items and see which players you’ve received.”

With items in hand (virtually, of course), GameBlazers players can jump right into a contest.

A polished platform

GameBlazers doesn’t want to bite off more than it can chew. Struthers and the company carefully choose what to work on and which features to roll out.

One such effort has led to discussion about how best to showcase NFL player images.

“We’ve tried to take a lot of the same profile images that people are used to seeing on DraftKings or FanDuel, for example,” Struthers says. “In football, you don’t get to see a lot of the guys’ faces, so it’s a nice way to showcase the players.”

Struthers says GameBlazers is also looking into dynamic action shots to round out player profiles.

While images go a long way in rounding out the GameBlazers look and feel, the game mechanics and fantasy management options are the real stars of the show.

Players can’t trade items, but they can buy or sell them. This distinction was the product of careful deliberation from the GameBlazers development staff.

“Overload is a very real thing,” Struthers says. “Implement everything too quickly and then you have a big stretch of your ecosystem under development at the same time. For now, we’re seeing how the marketplace plays out, fixing any issues, and focusing on that area before we start throwing new features at players.”

That’s a measured approach – words I never thought I’d use to describe a DFS startup, admittedly – and it seems to be working. Struthers and GameBlazers want to make the best possible platform for all players and they aim to stay level-headed and focused on that approach.

The crux of the idea is to make things simple and functional for players. Look to a DFS player’s first moments with GameBlazers for an example.

“You’re able to play with your starter pack items right away,” Struthers says. “From a design standpoint, that was important to us. There are 50 million or more fantasy players in the US and only a small fraction are willing to spend money on it. Having a free-to-play element was important to us.”

Of course, purchasing additional packs can be an advantage. “You get a better variety of players,” Struthers says.

It’s never required and it all feeds into the GameBlazers ethos.

“You’re the owner, general manager and coach of your fantasy franchise,” Struthers says.

Ownership over a fantasy team extends into the long term at GameBlazers.

“We’ve included contract extensions,” Struthers elaborates. “Our items exist either in perpetuity (until a player retires) or they expire 12 months from the pack open date. A contract extension allows you to extend that player beyond 12 months. We’re excited to build on that feature over time.”

Why GameBlazers?

In a world of sports betting and other fantasy platforms, what’s the unique appeal of GameBlazers?

According to Struthers, the concept of ownership and description-making is key.

“There is something for everyone,” he says. “Every layer wants a different level of control. We’re made for players who want more opportunities to manage their roster and make decisions that matter.”

He continues: “There are so many things you can do with GameBlazers that you can’t do anywhere else. You can retain players that have value for years to come. You can open new packs to expand your options.”

GameBlazers also has a Battle Pass Mechanic, allowing players to level up as they play.

“It gets players more excited for what they’re doing in a given week,” Struthers says. “As you win, as you play, you get benefits from doing so, which rewards you for your time and effort. It’ll become a bigger part of our platform over time, too.”

Target markets and challenges

GameBlazers is meant to encompass a wide swath of the population in terms of who the platform is made for. Struthers emphasises the importance of casting a wide net in marketing the business.

“I didn’t want to focus on one single demographic,” he says. “There are so many niche products out there, but we’re wide open. We’re approved for ages 13 and up and we have an entirely free-to-play element that I think will change how people think about fantasy.”

One challenge for GameBlazers? Making its mark in jurisdictions with legal online sports betting.

“A lot of the challenge comes from pure dollar share,” Struthers notes. “Being a startup in this space, it’s hard to differentiate yourself and get brand awareness out there. And when you’re dealing in states that have all this money pouring into user acquisition, it’s hard to stick out.”

Still, Struthers believes in GameBlazers and says the product has a lot of compelling elements to set it apart from the core sports betting experience.

What’s next?

The list of goals for GameBlazers is long and flush with various improvements and features.

“We’re looking to integrate more partnerships, add items to our digital store and potentially get real-life items.”

The biggest item on the roadmap, however, is a native mobile app. That’s coming next year, Struthers says.

Looking ahead, Struthers says, simply: “There’s a lot on our roadmap.”

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