Fantasy cricket: A game in full swing

By Isabella Aslam

Fantasy gaming is making a name for itself in the world of sport, and some say there’s no rest for the wicket in cricket. Isabella Aslam speaks with The Cricket Draft Co-Founder, Dante O'Reilly, on the launch of his new fantasy sports product, ahead of the T20 World Cup.

You’ve just launched The Cricket Draft, congratulations. Can you tell me a little bit about the company?  

Lots of people will of course be familiar with Fantasy Premier League and the amazing success that they’ve had; The Cricket Draft is pretty similar. We’ve developed a game where users build a squad of 15 or more players, and from that squad they pick 11 players for the start of each game week. They have a budget of £2m ($2.78m) to select their team, with various prizes available for the winners.  

The Cricket Draft is launching ahead of the ICC Men's T20 World Cup this Saturday at 11am, running until the middle of November. People can sign up now to build their squads in time for the first game. There is the option to join after, but they would miss out on the first week's points.

Was this a venture just for yourself or did you set this up with business partners?  

It began at the start of the quite miserable lockdown period. I've always been such a huge sports fan as you know, Izzy, and a buddy who I played a lot of cricket with over the years wanted to run this idea by me. John Welch, my Co-Founder, is really the mastermind behind this whole thing. He used to play a similar game run by The Telegraph newspaper. It was the only fantasy cricket game in the UK and they had an amazingly dedicated following, of which John was one. But in 2019 they discontinued the game. So, John gave them a call and said “I love this game! Why are you stopping it?”

They said it just wasn’t for them anymore and asked if he wanted to have a go doing it. John had a big hole in his life (a cricket-shaped hole), so he called me with the idea of us taking it on ourselves and doing something great for cricket fans. The idea was to build something that really drives fan engagement for cricket, and give something back to the fans. I would say it’s a sport with a very large following, but it’s been slow to embrace technology or develop for the future; so, we felt like we could do something cool here. John was the cricket expert and I helped him develop the business and commercial aspects of it.  

In terms of popularity in fantasy games, how in favour is fantasy for cricket specifically, compared to other sports like football, US sports or esports?  

Cricket is the second most popular sport in the world after football, and it lends itself well to fantasy sports because the assessment of performance is pretty quantifiable versus football, where it’s quite a subjective decision on who's playing well

Cricket is the second most popular sport in the world after football, and it lends itself well to fantasy sports because the assessment of performance is pretty quantifiable versus football, where it’s quite a subjective decision on who's playing well. In general, it’s a very data-heavy sport, you’ve got some really hardcore cricket fans out there and it deserves to have a good fantasy game built for it.  

And for those with attention spans on the slightly shorter side, let’s say the tournaments generally last for a matter of weeks, maybe even a few months in comparison to football seasons that can be quite lengthy. But for some reason despite all of that, and despite cricket being one of the most popular sports in the world – largely because of the Indian contingent – there are almost no other games out there offering a good value fantasy sports game for cricket.  

What differentiates you from Dream11, MyTeam11 or CricketXI? If these aren't your biggest competitors, who are?

We don’t have any clear competitors. It’s slightly different in terms of building a full squad, managing that squad throughout the season and gaining as many points as you can. Naturally, the most common competition comes from the Indian market, given the size of the fanbase there; a country of a billion people where nine hundred million are cricket-mad. 

Dream11 could be considered our competition in India, however, that is more of a single game format with a betting angle to it; but in terms of a pure competitor to us, there are very few out there. Some of the nuances of our game, like the data users have at their fingertips, and the way you can select players from around the world and across a tournament, makes it a much more managerial game; with values moving up and down, a bit like Football Manager, so that is what differentiates us from any competition.    

What are your main focuses with the launch of The Cricket Draft, in its infancy?  

As we commenced in the summer, running a pilot for the inaugural ‘The Hundred’ competition in the UK was the priority, it was really successful so we want to relaunch properly now for the T20 World Cup. As a global tournament and the biggest cricket competition on the planet, this means we can branch out to new fanbases across a range of countries. We are totally driven by getting new fans engaged in the game. There’s the Indian Premier League, Australia’s ‘Big Bash’ and the T20 in the Caribbean – there’s so much going on that we believe we can be a part of. And of course, there isn’t anyone focusing on the UK, so this is where it started for us. We are really focused on winning the UK market and offering a great game for the UK fans. I think it's naturally going to get much bigger. 

So primarily it came from your love of cricket, as I know you play it yourself?  

Exactly, it’s a game built by fans for the fans. We are both just really passionate about cricket. Doing something like this when you can merge business with your passion, it's the dream. I work in the city as an investor and John is a coach and a teacher up in Cambridge, we both have full-time jobs so there’s been a lot of late nights and weekends getting the game to where it is.  

Is The Cricket Draft free-to-play or pay-to-play?  

Exactly, it’s a game built by fans for the fans. We are both just really passionate about cricket. Doing something like this when you can merge business with your passion, it's the dream

We have got a few avenues we could go down in the future, but for us it’s been important to offer The Cricket Draft as a free-to-play game for the fans. When The Telegraph ran this game, they had a pay-to-play model; I think it was something along the lines of paying £5 to enter a team for the World Cup. So, we could go with that. For us, at least while we are getting off the ground and trying to expand our footprint, it’s more about acquiring as many users as possible, so that is why we are offering it for free.  

The other option is to offer a freemium service. There is a huge amount of functionality and data that we could provide to users on how to improve their squads and performances. So, we could put that behind a paywall, but for now, we just want everyone to have the best experience possible. The final option is to work with sponsors and generate advertising revenue. We have a lot of ideas on how to increase the functionality of the game and develop the model to generally make it more enjoyable for the fans, and a more immersive experience - watch this space.

What are these ideas?  

There's a bunch of things in the pipeline that we are thinking about doing, but for now, we are just keeping it pretty simple.

You mention statistical data and ways in which to maximise player performance. What software or company provides this for you 

We partnered with an amazing guy who's become our technical director, Ed Kerr, who built a similar game for Rugby, called The Rugby Magazine, it’s well worth giving it a try! He helped us on the technical side and built the game from the bottom up. Alongside this, in terms of our data feed for the game, we use a company called CricViz [the globally sophisticated and comprehensive cricket database], which is a sports analytics business. They provide all the information on performances, results and additional analysis on top of it.   

Finally, Dante; what are The Cricket Draft’s main plans for 2022?  

In a nutshell, expand the company. We are starting big with the T20 World Cup and there are still hundreds of tournaments out there. So, 2022 (for the first part) will mean offering more tournaments for fans worldwide, so we can engage as big an audience as we can and continue to grow our global footprint.  

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