Brothers living in fantasy rugby land

Most of us have had them: Those eureka moments down the pub with your buddies when the beers and creative juices begin to flow and answers to everything, from world peace to the meaning of the universe, suddenly seem within easy reach.

Michael and Bart Storan have been those guys. Where they differ is the fact that they followed through on their lightbulb moment. It started as just two brothers and fantasy sports enthusiasts deciding to take a punt. Where it ends remains to be seen.

Their idea? Fantasy Rugger.

OK so they weren’t the first to alight on that concept, but they are confident that they have taken online oval ball strategising to lengths that haven’t been seen before and the approaching Rugby World Cup marks a seminal moment in their idea’s development.

Michael Storan moved to London some years back to pursue a master’s in economics and he was working for a leading independent provider of strategic market research when the fantasy rugby idea became an itch that he just had to scratch.

“I was there three years and thinking what the next step would be and thought, ‘let’s take a punt on this’. This is full-time for me. Over the last couple of months, I’ve been doing bits and pieces here and there to keep the wolf from the door and just building this up.”

Michael is chief executive, his brother Bart works in digital marketing and is handling that side of the operation, and a chief financial officer has been brought in to keep watch over the in-demand credit card. In total, six people are now devoting much, if not all, of their time to it.

Earlier and existing fantasy rugby games were frustratingly basic, like Ataris in an iPhone age. Players could choose a Dan Carter and five wingers and rack up the points with little merit afforded to intrinsic matchday metrics such as turnovers or rucks hit.

Fantasy Rugger has tried to incorporate all that, to offer an experience more representative of the game and one with the added complication of salary caps and other squad limits built into the framework to make the user really think about their choices.

“We are all from a sporting background and we all played Fantasy Football and NFL and felt they were brilliant. The one in the Premiership takes account of defenders getting clean sheets and midfielders scoring goals. Assists.

“We were thinking it was great that there was all these rugby stats out there, but rugby is a very different game. The (fantasy) games out there were just rewarding tries and assists. Everybody was just picking Tommy Bowe, George North, Jack Nowell, or whatever.

“We thought, ‘why doesn’t this happen?’ So it started with us thinking if there was anything we could do and then we just got carried away with ourselves. It was great fun. We were gathering all the stats that we could and we put them into a game that actually makes a bit of sense.”

The legwork involved has been astonishing.

To do it they needed stats — and lots of them. Opta were the only people they knew who had them and they won’t sell their mines of information to a fantasy sports operation. So there was nothing for it but to compile the lot of it for themselves.

What they have now is a database stretching back five years with rucks, mauls, line-outs, turnovers, and all the rest besides recorded and catalogued. In total, a staggering 17,000 players across every professional completion, domestic and international, have been analysed and dissected.

The workload should have turned people off, but it hasn’t.

When the Storans approached another old friend and told him what they were working on, he jumped at it and is now their chief designer. Ian Madigan has been another central cog, attending weekly meetings and providing an expert voice on the individual player stats.

The process has clearly excited them and blue sky thinking is still the order of the day on those rare enough occasions when they aren’t knee deep in the coding room or attending other pressing business details ahead of the Rugby World Cup.

“When we started off, we said we wanted to do the rugby and we are at the stage now where we are pretty proud of what we have done and we are thinking ‘why can’t we do GAA?’ There’s no one, from what we can see, really doing GAA.

“The fantasy football market is obviously massive in the UK, but there is nobody really doing it for Ireland and the Irish market. If you look at other sports, fantasy is a fantastic way of bringing people into the game.

“If you look at the NFL, what they say is fantasy can reach a bigger audience. If I support the Patriots and they are losing I am still interested in the game because maybe one of the Steelers guys is on my fantasy team.

“Rugby is trying to grow and there is a big audience in America and who love fantasy sports games. This could help rugby grow. That’s obviously a punchy thing to say, but we do have all these wonderful kinds of ideas.”

Right now, it’s all about the Rugby World Cup.

A soft launch during the Six Nations attracted 15,000 individual users. They were pretty pleased with that, but they are leveraging social media sites to draw in considerably more for a global tournament that they hope has the potential to really kick this thing on.

“If someone has a couple of million to throw at it,” says Michael Storan, “send them my way.”

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