Limerick research suggests skill necessary for Fantasy Football success

Is making the right choice in Fantasy Football luck or skill? A Limerick study suggests it might be the latter
Limerick research suggests skill necessary for Fantasy Football success

Fantasy Premier League might need more skill than previously thought.

Kevin De Bruyne or Bruno Fernandes? Mo Salah or Harry Kane? The decisions facing a Fantasy Football manager can be all-consuming.

But is making the right choice luck or skill? A Limerick study suggests it might be the latter.

The study from researchers in the University of Limerick (UL) has identified “the underlying tactics used by the top-ranked competitors” among the seven million players of Fantasy Premier League (FPL).

Identification of skill in an online game: The case of Fantasy Premier League has been published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS ONE.

FPL sees punters assume the role of managers and pick a squad of real-life players from the Premier League.

Researchers at the Mathematics Applications Consortium for Science and Industry (MACSI) in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at UL have produced data that suggest an element of skill is involved in the game.

“FPL on the surface appears to be an extremely simple game in that one should just choose the most talented footballers for their teams and see what happens,” said lead author of the study Joseph O’Brien, a PhD student based at MACSI.

“However, in this study we analyse the results of competitors over multiple years and find that there are in fact groups of ‘managers’ that consistently perform extremely strongly, suggesting an element of skill.” 

The study looked at publicly available data to extract information from around 40 million webpages, describing the actions taken by the top one million ranked managers.

Through analysis of the data, a number of clearly defined strategies that differentiated successful managers from their less fortunate peers could be identified.

Mr O’Brien stated: “We could immediately observe many different strategies used by managers and in particular there were multiple points in the season in which successful managers acted in an extremely different manner to those lower ranked, almost as if the thousands had come together with a ready-made game-plan.” 

Aaron Wan-Bissaka - key to a successful season.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka - key to a successful season.

The study found that despite managers being able to choose combinations from over 600 unique footballers, there were multiple stages in the season when the teams from these skilled managers converged to appear highly similar.

Using machine learning tools the researchers were then able to identify those players that were crucial in the make-up of successful teams.

“We were amazed to find that for most of the season the key player in successful teams wasn’t Mo Salah or Kevin De Bruyne but rather Aaron Wan-Bissaka – a player in his debut season for Crystal Palace, due to his extremely low price and surprisingly efficient scoring (he completed a £45m transfer to Manchester United the following year).

“This combination allowed him to be a consistent ‘enabler’ for managers to have more expensive players elsewhere.” 

Mr O’Brien added that the research demonstrates clear characteristics present amongst the highest ranked managers suggesting “a pathway to success for competitors in the game with particular emphasis on long-term planning and identification of optimal enabling players”.

The researcher has also noted the possibility for future applications of the research.

Mr O’Brien stated that “interesting questions remain as to whether the techniques we propose in this study may be used in similarly identifying signatures of successful competitors within other domains including e-sports, entrepreneurship, and scientific output”.

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