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Inside Fantasy Baseball at ESPN

Jennifer Lonoff Schiff | March 19, 2015
What's more exciting to a baseball fan than the start of a new season? To many, it's the start of fantasy baseball season. Indeed, some might argue (and have) that fantasy baseball, where individuals manage hand-picked teams of MLB players and compete against others using player statistics to score points, has become more popular than Major League Baseball.

Waram: We have our own data center that we share with other properties at the Walt Disney Company that's located in Las Vegas, in a colo facility down there. [We use] the cloud for some things, like the new scoreboards that we have coming out with our redesign. But for the most part, the high- availability, high-throughput system is all run through our data center in Las Vegas. Have you ever had an issue with the system going down, even just for a few minutes? Ever had any problems with statistics?

Waram: We've had outages, absolutely. But we're very vigilant. [ESPN has a disaster recovery plan in place.] And we're [made] aware of small issues very, very quickly, especially statistical ones. A lot of people play these games very closely. We're listening to fans on Twitter and on Facebook. When they see problems, we react to them very quickly. Do you have people arguing with you about statistics?

Waram: Oh, absolutely. Less so in baseball, because there's more of the concept of the official scorer. In [fantasy] football, there are debates that rage for weeks. There are some legendary plays, like fumbles at the back of the end zone where the defense touched it but didn't get credited with a touchdown. They were credited with a safety. Things that swing people's head-to-head games in one direction or the other. And [people] have a very strong opinion of what statistically should have been the outcome. You've been with ESPN Fantasy for 15 years. What have been some of the major changes to the site over that time?

Waram: In the early days, it was us trying to use as much of the statistical content that was available to us and put that in front of fans. We wanted to have a really robust, configurable system, and that's what we worked on a lot in those early days, to make as many different ways for people to play.

You know, the amount of customization that a league manager can do is in the hundreds of thousands of different ways to play Fantasy Baseball. We wanted to be able to accommodate that.

Then when we moved into the mid-to-late 2000s, everything was about making sure that people could be mobile with this stuff. That's been the big one.

[More recently], it's about alerting fans and making sure that fans are plugged into what they want to be plugged into — more personalized content around the games themselves. The games have remained largely stable, in the game play aspect of it, at least on the league manager front. But we want to be able to get people information about the players on their team in a timely fashion.


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