Facebook Instant Games, which is Facebook’s platform for live games inside the Messenger app, gets its first fantasy sports game today—and it isn’t from ESPN, DraftKings, or FanDuel. It’s from Toronto-based media company TheScore.
TheScore Fantasy on Facebook Instant Games has contests for NFL, NBA, NHL, and English Premier League, and says more sports are coming. The games are mobile-only, accessible only using the Messenger app. The contests are free, can only be played against your Facebook friends, and have no monetary prizes. Instead, the focus is on competing with your real-life friends for bragging rights.
“The thing we’re most excited about having this game on Messenger is that it’s a social platform, and for us, fantasy is an inherently social game,” says TheScore president and COO Benjie Levy. “Look back 10, 15 years when ESPN and Yahoo Fantasy and CBS were really getting their legs, the game was about playing with your friends, challenging them, trash-talking them… When the daily game launched a couple years ago, somehow that switched into ‘win a lot of money’ and it was $10 million and $20 million… Now you’re seeing those guys refocus on the fun of the game.”
Yahoo Finance got an exclusive advanced demo of the game. The interface is cartoony and inviting, and drafting a lineup takes all of two minutes. (Draft, acquired last year by Paddy Power Betfair, has taken a similar approach.) You can only play against your own Facebook friends (so if none of your friends are using it yet, you’re out of luck) but you can also set a lineup and simply see how you do against the entire field of lineups. (As you can see from the screenshot below, I didn’t fare so well on my first try, beating out just half of the 609 other players.)
Simplicity and no monetary prizes
Indeed, fantasy sports companies have shifted their marketing approach from ‘win money’ to ‘play with your friends’ in the past year, especially after legal scrutiny and court battles that resulted in DraftKings and FanDuel, the leading “daily” fantasy sports (DFS) operators, having to pay $6 million fines in New York for false advertising.
TheScore, founded in 2012 and based in Toronto, is mostly known for its app, which offers sports news and scores. The company says it does not consider itself a DFS company, nor does it think of its new Facebook game as a DFS product.
TheScore is a far cry from the sophisticated contests offered by DraftKings and FanDuel, with generous salary caps and extremely simple, pick-up-and-play drafting: pick just five players on a roster. For NFL, that means one quarterback, one running back, one receiver, one tight end, and one flex. On other fantasy platforms you typically must choose nine or 10 players. Serious users of those games will likely find TheScore too basic.
Levy says TheScore’s game is, “not necessarily targeting newbies vs sharks, which was something that really came out in the DraftKings and FanDuel context… This is about being able to connect with your friends and playing a lightweight, easy game.”
Facebook Instant growing its game library
Facebook Messenger has 1.3 billion monthly active users. Instant Games launched a year ago and now has more than 70 games. Tetris launched on Instant Games last year and Angry Birds is coming in early 2018. The platform is still in beta, so all games go through an approval process with Facebook. Game developers don’t pay Facebook to be on Instant, and Facebook doesn’t pay them, but Facebook announced in a blog post in October that monetization tools for Instant Games are coming.
Facebook confirmed to Yahoo Finance that TheScore is the first fantasy sports game on Instant, but otherwise declined comment.
Competing with the big fantasy giants will be difficult for TheScore, which is tiny in comparison—especially if DraftKings and FanDuel flock to Facebook Instant. But being first out of the gate on Facebook’s platform might help secure it a foothold, especially outside the US, since Instant Games is global.
TheScore, with its free-to-play, no-prize, friends-only approach, is an entirely different kind of proposition anyway. Some sports fans who have avoided trying daily fantasy amid the explosion in both buzz and negativity might think this is a purer, less intimidating option.
Meanwhile, NFL primetime television ratings declined in 2017 for the second season in a row, a factor that could impact the entire fantasy sports industry in the next year. After all, fantasy football was long thought to be a boon to the NFL, on the reasoning that people are more likely to watch a game if a player in that game is on their fantasy roster.
Might the decline of the NFL hurt the popularity of fantasy? Benjie Levy isn’t concerned: “I don’t see whatever might be happening on TV as driving any kind of impact on the fantasy game.”
Daniel Roberts is the sports business writer at Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @readDanwrite.