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Gamy Theory in Fantasy Football

Game Theory, Draft Strategy, Equilibrium and the 4for4 Advantage

During fantasy football, drafting your team is one of the most exciting – and challenging – tasks. But why is it so complicated? Shouldn’t you just choose the best person available when it is your turn to pick? If only it was that easy…

To make the best decision,  you need to take into consideration not just who is available in the current round, but also who will be available later – a factor that depends on decisions made by your opponents. If you knew what your fellow drafters were going to choose, then your decision wouldn’t be so difficult. And that is where “Game Theory” comes into play.

Like in most game theory, the goal is to create a Nash Equilibrium point – a set of strategies where each player’s strategy is the best response to the strategies of the other players. Basically, changing to a different choice would offer you no better results.

In drafting, on of the most widely used strategies is known as value-based drafting, or VBD. For those who don’t know what VBD entails, here is a quick sum-up: you start with published projections for each players’ fantasy points. For each position, you choose a “baseline” or average, usually the number of points scored by an average pick player (player picked during middle/late rounds). After, you compute their projected fantasy points minus the baseline for their position, which is called their “value”. Now, we simply order players by their value and, with each of our picks, take the available player with the highest value. You may be thinking, “what’s the point of doing all of that”? And well, it shows you how much a player is worth compared to a player picked during the middle or late rounds.

Once you compute all the “values” of each player, you can move onto trying to find an equilibrium. Kevin Zatloukal, the computer researcher who compiled the evidence on drafting game theory, performed multiple simulations in VBD strategies and eventually discovered that there is in fact a VBD strategy at equilibrium.  Meaning, there is only one baseline such that no drafter can do any better, even by switching to a different baseline. As it turns out,  this strategy is not just the best for VBD: “the equilibrium VBD strategy is an equilibrium over all of the draft strategies we have considered”.

When all drafters use this strategy of calculating baselines and values, they get a reasonable fantasy team. But, it is at equilibrium so switching strategies would never give you a better team! In the end, game theory equilibrium in a fantasy football draft shows that you shouldn’t bank on beating your opponent with some fancy and clever draft strategy. Instead, expect to beat them using a value-based drafting style!


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