Given the rapid expansion of all forms of online gambling, one company is trying to break new ground. GameBlazers CEO Rourke Struthers is exploring a new corner of the daily fantasy sports (DFS) industry, writes Cole Rush.
“It’s a playful approach to fantasy sports,” Struthers says of GameBlazers. The DFS platform currently offers NFL competitions.
Participants receive packages with items – football players – with multipliers. For example, a returning star could have a 1.3x multiplier. GameBlazers team owners can then use their items to build a roster of players within the salary cap.
The novel approach must deal with the existing competition in the DFS space And the spread of online sports betting and casinos. According to Struthers, GameBlazers is more than up to the challenge.
“So many dollars in this industry have gone into the gambling industry,” he says. “But look at video games in general, it’s a larger category. We wanted to take that underlying concept and develop it further to bring some new ideas to the fantasy space.”
Change the game
There is no shortage of important players in the daily fantasy arena. Chief among them are DraftKings and FanDuel, two companies almost entirely responsible for putting the industry in the spotlight. The space also spawned popular pick ’em platforms.
Struthers praises GameBlazers’ competitors and sees them as a launching pad: “FanDuel, DraftKings, they’re great products,” he says. “However, we want our players to have more decision-making opportunities to demonstrate their skills and knowledge.”
According to Struthers, there are no major differences between existing fantasy platforms.
“Everything has a consistent feel,” he notes.
GameBlazers aims to break up this formula and give its players more ways to feel in control. Everyone who signs up for GameBlazers will receive a free item pack upon sign-up. It’s not completely random, Struthers notes, but there are elements of random distribution in the system to keep things fresh. GameBlazers brought in developers from FIFA Ultimate to help with this aspect.
Participants may use their free package to set a lineup and/or purchase additional packages.
“It adds a lot more variety when you put a lineup together,” 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 draws.”
While GameBlazers’ mechanics differ slightly from those of other DFS platforms, the user experience will feel familiar to most.
“Once you sign up for the platform, you will be redirected to our Franchise Pass section,” explains Struthers. “From there you can request your starter pack. This sets the experience of opening the package in motion. You can tactilely flip any item and see which players you received.”
With items in hand (virtually, of course), GameBlazers players can directly enter a competition.
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 what features to introduce.
One such effort has led to a discussion about how best to display images of NFL players.
“We tried to include a lot of the same profile pictures that people are used to seeing on DraftKings or FanDuel, for example,” Struthers says. “In football you don’t see many of the boys’ faces, so it’s a nice opportunity to showcase the players.”
According to Struthers, GameBlazers is also looking at dynamic action shots to round out player profiles.
While images largely round out the look and feel of GameBlazers, the game mechanics and fantasy management options are the real stars of the show.
Players cannot trade items, but they can buy or sell them. This award was the result of careful consideration by the GameBlazers development team.
“Overload is a very real thing,” Struthers says. “If you implement everything too quickly, a large part of your ecosystem will be under development at the same time.” For now, we are monitoring how the market develops, fixing any problems and focusing on this area before offering new features to players. “
That’s a measured approach – words I admittedly never thought I’d use to describe a DFS startup – and it seems to be working. Struthers and GameBlazers want to create the best possible platform for all players and want to remain level-headed and focused on this approach.
The core of the idea is to make things simple and functional for players. As an example, look at a DFS player’s first moments with GameBlazers.
“You can start playing with your starter pack items right away,” says Struthers. “From a design perspective, this was important to us. There are 50 million or more fantasy gamers in the United States and only a small fraction are willing to spend money on them. It was important to us to have a free-to-play element.”
Of course, purchasing additional packs can be beneficial. “You get a wider variety of players,” Struthers said.
It’s never required and it all flows into the GameBlazers ethos.
“You are the owner, manager and coach of your fantasy franchise,” Struthers says.
Fantasy team ownership is about the long term at GameBlazers.
“We have planned contract extensions,” explains Struthers. “Our items are either permanent (until a player retires) or expire 12 months from the pack open date. A contract extension allows you to extend that player beyond 12 months. We look forward to continuing to expand this feature over time.”
In a world full of sports betting and other fantasy platforms, what is the unique appeal of GameBlazers?
According to Struthers, the concept of ownership and creation of descriptions is crucial.
“There is something for everyone,” he says. “Each level wants a different level of control. We are made for players who want more opportunities to manage their squad and make important decisions.”
He continues: “There are so many things you can do with GameBlazers that you can’t do anywhere else.” You can retain valuable players for years. You can open new packages to expand your options.”
GameBlazers also features a battle pass mechanic that allows players to level up throughout the game.
“It increases players’ enthusiasm for what they are doing in a given week,” Struthers says. “If you win when you play, you benefit and are rewarded for your time and effort. Over time it will also become a larger part of our platform.”
Target markets and challenges
GameBlazers aims to include a large portion of the population when it comes to who the platform is intended for. Struthers emphasizes the importance of casting a wide net when marketing the company.
“I didn’t want to focus on one demographic,” he says. “There are so many niche products, but we are completely open. We’re 13+ and have a completely free play element that I think will change the way people think about fantasy.”
A challenge for GameBlazers? Make a name for yourself in jurisdictions with legal online sports betting.
“A lot of the challenge comes from the sheer dollar component,” Struthers notes. “As a startup in this space, it is difficult to stand out and increase brand awareness. And when you’re dealing with states that are pouring so much money into user acquisition, it’s hard to stand out.”
Still, Struthers believes in GameBlazers and says the product has many compelling elements that set it apart from the core sports betting experience.
The list of goals for GameBlazers is long and full of numerous 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, says Struthers.
Looking to the future, Struthers says simply: “There is still a lot left on our roadmap.”