Reality Sports Online: Realistic League Management & Strategy
When I was asked to participate in a dynasty league at Reality Sports Online and then write an article about my experience joining and drafting in a league, I was excited to try my hand at one of the more realistic fantasy interfaces out there. While I’ve participated in Dynasty Leagues before, this one was more intense than anything I’ve done in the past, as it combines contract negotiation with traditional fantasy football. I knew immediately that I would be able to let my stat geek fly as I scoured the website for features and league types.
Quickly, as I browsed the public leagues and considered creating my own, I figured out that not only was I going to have to negotiate my way through my fantasy team, but I was going to have to sell myself to the league owners in order to join a public league! There was an assortment of leagues available, running the gambit of serious money leagues and casual leagues that are free with a subscription to RSO. I found a league that drafted at a time I could work with and sent out a request to be added to the league.
Soon, I received an e-mail from the Commissioner telling me that I’d made the cut! After some lively interactions between team members over e-mail, the rookie draft and free agent auction dates were set and I started looking around at the different features on the site. I was impressed with the number of options that league managers could use and with the complexity of league formats.
I quickly and excitedly made an excel spreadsheet with a draft/auction plan, as I’m prone to do.
Pre-Draft and League Options
I don’t run the league that I’m a part of, but for those seeking to create their own Reality Sports Online fantasy football league, there are a plethora of options available. Standard changes can be made to the league such as roster sizes, scoring, starting lineups, etc. All the things you’d expect to be able to change and fine-tune in a fantasy league, you can do so here too.
Then comes the fun part. League managers can alter contract lengths, requirements for free agents, the rookie draft rounds and rules, trading options for owners, rookie contracts, the waiver process, and many other factors that go into each and every league. During the pre-draft process, I was able to prioritize different rookies with pre-draft rankings, and had the same ability prior to the free agency auction, which came a week later.
Did I mention this league involves contracts? The existence of contracts is unique to Reality Sports Online compared to other league types I’ve tried. While I’ve played in salary cap leagues before, the 1-4 year contract options in this format is an interesting curveball to my normal auction and draft strategies. The league manager can modify the salary cap and can restrict the number of 2-4 year contracts permitted for each team. When bidding on free agents, not only does the free agent go to the highest bidder, the player may end up going to the bidder willing to commit the most amount of years and long term money. All of this happens in real time during the auction, and creates an extra level of competitiveness and complexity to the format that is engaging and fun.
The rookie draft can be edited by the league manager for the number of rounds as well as the contracts that are automatically signed. In the league I joined, our Commissioner set the rookie draft at five rounds, with automatic three year contracts for each rookie drafted. To give everyone an opportunity to sign their favorite rookies, and for the first year only, our Commissioner took the top 24 rookie picks off the board, essentially starting us in the third round of the rookie draft. This is a feature that I would not have used, but is an interesting option to have for those wanting a different way to allocate rookies in the first year. The effect was the team having three year contracts invested in rookies with very little potential for long term success, though I’m hoping that my minimal investments in Bryce Petty, Justin Hardy, and Nick O’Leary provide more dividends than I’m anticipating. The automatic three year contracts for late round rookies is also something I may not have used, but the software allows flexibility here for the league manager, and each option provides unique challenges to the draft process. Still, some excellent picks were made, such as the team that has Ty Montgomery and Matt Jones locked in at minimal salary numbers through 2017, and guys like Jeremy Langford and Stefon Diggs could pan out as well in the long term.
Free Agency Auction
The auction experience was a rapid pace free-for-all that lasted over four hours and went through 300 players, sorted out between 12 teams and 25 roster spots (plus 2 IR slots, where other owners are stashing players like Kelvin Benjamin and Jordy Nelson for the future). The period was intense, and was thoroughly enjoyable, as I tried to identify the right value for each player that came up for auction while staying under my team salary cap of $143.28 million.
The auction started with a ding and each owner took turns nominating players. Unsurprisingly, a team named after the Dallas Cowboys signed Dez Bryant to a lucrative deal, while I snatched up LeVeon Bell with a long term, high value contract. Big spending was prominent early on until, as owners ran short on money, the hotly contested bidding wars died down as people filled out their rosters. Owners employed varying strategies. I chose to nominate players who I wasn’t interested in, but who I thought would be bid up so that competitors would have less money to spend when it came time to bid on the guys I wanted for my roster. Others chose to put the elite guys first. Some chose QB’s early on, while others went almost exclusively for RB’s. One owner chose not to show up at all for the auction, a strategy I don’t recommend as he ended up with Drew Stanton as his top starter.
Reality Sports Online provided a good interface for the auction. The Auction Room was easy to navigate through, and with only 10 seconds to decide whether to bid on a player or not, it was important to be able to quickly process the information given. There was a place for manual bids, or there were different options to bid up a player that you could click on. Total contract amount, guaranteed money, and the cost for the first year of the deal was all easily listed in the recommended bids, so you could quickly digest the decision you were making.
All in all, there were only a few errors made during the draft, including Kelvin Benjamin going for elite money despite his injury, and Arian Foster the same. Aside from those two issues and the owner who didn’t show up, everyone was actively engaged throughout the process and seemed happy with the flow of the auction; even though it took a long time to get through 300 players.
While there are likely many strategies people can use for this type of league, I came up with what I believe was an excellent strategy heading into the auction.
First, I used 4for4’s custom auction values and applied an Inflation Factor to each value in order to get an approximate value amount under the salary cap in Reality Sports Online. For example, in a $200 auction league, Andrew Luck is worth approximately $41. Inflating that amount in the context of my $143.28 million salary cap league, I was able to apply a factor of approximately 716,400. So Andrew Luck then became valued at just a hair under $30 million per year in this league. This ended up being a little more inflated than I anticipated due to roster size, and Luck ended up going for around $20 million a year, but it still helped me allocate my positions accordingly to keep me on track in regard to the salary cap.
Once I combined 4for4’s auction values with Reality Sports Online’s salary and contract rules, I applied percentages to each part of my 25 person roster, plus 2 IR slots as needed. Using my usual Auction approach, of spending approximately 75 percent of my cap on the starter spots, I created an auction plan which targeted players at the values I was looking for. After a little maneuvering and conceding I had a good idea of how much I wanted to spend at each position. For example, I valued my top RB at around 24 percent of my cap, or $35 million per year. I estimated that Matt Forte would cost approximately that amount based on my Inflation Factor, and during the auction, I evaluated any player similar to Forte in rankings at the price they were going for. However, I had overestimated. Elite money ended up being around $22-32 million per year for all the top positions. Since I’d planned around that, I ended up getting LeVeon Bell on a 4 year deal, and Marshawn Lynch on a 2 year deal, for a total of $167 million, or just under $50 million against my 2015 cap. I was excited to lock up two stud running backs, and while the Bell contract was high, I felt validated as I watched Julio Jones and Eddie Lacy go off the board for similar money. Once I locked down my backs, I looked at the percentages I had allotted for the WR spots, and went to work. I missed out on Julio and Dez, as they went for more money than I had allocated for the position, and I was outbid going after Antonio Brown too. I knew I wanted an elite guy, so I spent a little more than I wanted to on Demaryius Thomas with a 3 year, $70 million dollar deal. This was a little higher than I had allotted for my WR1 spot, but I was happy to lock up the Bronco star.
After I had my high dollar guys on the roster, I started eyeing some of my targets. I watched guys like Jeremy Hill and DeMarco Murray go for big numbers and I grabbed Mark Ingram on a reasonable 2 year, $20.5 million deal when it looked like his bidding war was cooling down. Then one the guys I had targeted, DeAndre Hopkins, was nominated and I crossed my fingers, hoping the bidding wouldn’t go over $15 million per year.
My strategy for contract length, once I allocated how much I could afford at each roster spot, was to try to assess what players were young enough to be around long term, and had enough potential to be worth more in the coming years than they are now. DeAndre Hopkins is one of the players that I had pegged as a guy that could be worth elite money next year, but might fit into my upper-mid-range dollar amount that I had allotted for the WR2 spot this season. Bidding started. The opening bid is always 1 year, $500k. Quickly it ballooned up to $8 million per year contracts, and I happily clicked on the 4 year contract increases as they came, keeping up with the rest of the flock. The cool thing about the interface is that while you’re clicking to bid up a player, you can easily assess what a manual bid would be. This way, if you know a player is going to keep going up and up in value, you can skip the incremental bids, and get right up to where you value the player. For me, it was right around $15 million per year.
When the $8-9 million range still contained a continuous flurry of bidding activity, I decided to weed out the pretenders and entered a manual bid for 4 years and $50 million, averaging just over $12 million per year. Now I was in a bidding war with only a couple other owners, and soon the bidding slowed to a crawl. With each passing bid, I watched intently as the 10 second timer clicked down, only to be disappointed by a last second price increase. The price inched up toward my maximum number, and when I finally clicked on the 4 year, $60 million bid, I said out loud to myself “this is it; this is the most I’m willing to go.” I held my breath until the timer clicked down to zero and the interface flashed that my team had signed Hopkins. Right at my budget price.
The auction went on in such a fashion, and I tried to assess value where I could. I ended up loving my starting lineup, though I didn’t save a lot of money for the tight end position and will be banking on Antonio Gates after he comes back from suspension. I have a nice combination of youth and veteran leadership on my squad, and took a gamble that I’m hoping will pay off hugely when Joseph Randle became available for 3 years and $22.5 million.
My preparation and auction strategy worked well for me, and the interface was helpful, though fast paced. It mimicked the quick decision mentality that I assume is required of a real life NFL General Manager in a way that I don’t think anything else I’ve tried does. These are big numbers, and a bad decision can handicap your team for up to four years.
Overall, the auction was a lot of fun, and I’m excited for the team that I have. Looking through my pre-auction strategy, I was glad I came in prepared and was happy with the results. I ended up with young guys like Teddy Bridgewater and DeAndre Hopkins on four year deals, and veterans like Marshawn Lynch and Mark Ingram on two year deals, since I’m less certain of their long term value.
With my team in place, I’ll be moving on to free agency, where all the players not nominated for auction wind up. Right now, I don’t have roster space, but I decided to try a transaction anyway. When I selected the player I wanted to bid on (Bills TE Charles Clay), I offered him the minimum of $500k. To make room on my roster, I have to conditionally drop a player, so I chose a backup TE (Jace Amaro) that I’m not very confident about using for the first four games while Antonio Gates is suspended. The interface helpfully tells me exactly what the transaction will do to my salary cap, but since I’m looking at low dollar, one year deals, this isn’t going to hurt my ledger. I finished the auction with a full squad and $9 million in cap space for 2015. For now, my attempted free agent acquisition is pending, but time will tell if I offered enough for Clay’s services. Throughout the season, waivers are still used, but with the added wrinkle that if you pick up a waived player, you pick up his contract as well. Otherwise, free agency is essentially a bidding war all over again.
This process has been a fun experience, and I’m not only excited about this season, but also about forming a long term bond with my league-mates. Because this is a dynasty league, I anticipate many more interactions with each person in my league and probably some wheeling and dealing as the season gets underway and some teams look to win now, while others start looking toward 2016. Here’s hoping that my team will be in the former category.
I would recommend using Reality Sports Online for any fantasy football owner looking for a little more advanced method of play and anyone looking for an added level of planning and strategy. I highly recommend going into the auction with a team budget and plan, with a fair amount of preparation ahead of time, and I think that using an Inflation Factor on 4for4’s custom auction values is an excellent way to maximize your game and get an idea of value at each position.
Don’t forget to check in with Scott Pagel and I on the Discuss Your Team Forum all season long for member questions and community building. I’d love to hear from anyone else who tries this exciting and innovative fantasy format.