Fantasy Movie League: fantasy sports for people who don’t care about sports
There are only a few weeks left in this season of Fantasy Movie League, and I hate it all. I’m desperately trying to work my way up the leaderboard. But as I learned last season, I can’t predict kids movies. And in a game that’s all about box office predictions, that’s a problem.
So naturally, as a tech writer, I reached out to Fantasy Movie League creators Larry Tobin and Eric LaVanchy for some insider tips in hopes of avoiding another week of being dumb. bad side of Twitter. They remained frustrated about the inner workings of their game, but they were eager to share the story of how Fantasy Movie League was born.
“No one took the fantasy gaming platform and tried to expand it into the entertainment space. Not like that. Not some kind of salary cap style fantasy, traditional fantasy sports style game,” says Tobin.
Fantasy Movie League (or, to use the all too apt abbreviation, FML) is like other fantasy sports you may have played. Each week, you receive a budget to define your programming. Then things happen in the real world and you wait for the results to come. Only, your lineup is eight screens in a cinema instead of a team, and rather than following a series of sports, the results are based on the weekend. US box office results.
Movies are expected to bring in a higher gross screen cost, so FML is all about how best to spend your weekly 1,000 movies. The goal is to make the most money, but to do that you need to weigh the value of everything on offer. You will get extra bonuses if you choose the movie that has the best cost/performance ratio and the best overall cinematography possible.
I didn’t think it looked too complex either. But that’s before you start tracking similar movies released in previous years, theater counts, weekly dropouts, or any other number of statistical details that you think should help you more than they do. Not that I’m bitter.
It all started when co-founder Matthew Berry – current ESPN fantasy sports guru and former Hollywood screenwriter – approached Tobin about a fantasy league not built around sports. Tobin’s background was in building early fantasy sports platforms for Yahoo, and together with LaVanchy, they brought that expertise to a different kind of fantasy league.
“In the North American market, there are 210 million people who identify as movie fans. That’s actually bigger than NFL football,” Tobin says.
The player base has also grown exponentially in the 18 months since the launch of FML. LaVanchy and Tobin say the movie theme gives them a huge head start with younger players and a more even gender split. And that’s about ease of play.
“Pick your movies. Pick them by doing a bunch of research and figuring out where we messed up the prices. Or because you love Tom Hanks. And you want it on three of your eight screens, right? People are playing at all levels,” Tobin says.
I obviously made a mistake on the side of spreadsheets, prediction models and frantic research before the deadline. Not that it helped the performance of the Top Rope Superplex. But the fact remains that pro-level prediction chatter is entirely community driven. Forums are one of the best sources of information for gamers, and the young game even has its own folklore.
“One is about the third-week rebound for horror movies,” Tobin says. (That is, horror movies will do better than expected in the third week after release.) “Some people are firm believers that you should never bet against animation, that you always want to go with the lively outing on its new weekend, on its release weekend.” (I took “Ice Age” last season. It didn’t go well.)
“We were a little surprised at how much the community has grown and developed,” LaVanchy says. “The message boards and the leagues that people encouraged, and the kind of bonds that were made there. It’s the kind of intensity of this passionate fandom, it was something that we weren’t necessarily certain that it would translate into sports.”
I must have had one more crack asking for advice. While they didn’t give me too much information on how they manually price each movie on offer, they did hint that it was no easy feat to keep it competitive.
“We have a process that starts around 10:00 a.m. on Sunday morning here and ends around 3:59 p.m. on Monday afternoon, so we can enter prices before 4:00 p.m. We calculate the expected values and we have become through our process and with the people who are working on it. We’re getting pretty good at it,” LaVanchy says.
With just two weeks to earn $12 million on the current leader, that doesn’t look good to me. And yes, I blame “Trolls” for that. The next season of Fantasy Movie League is set to kick off in two weeks. After all, there is one thing he has in common with sports. There is always next season.