This is the 143rd installment of The Labyrinthian, a series dedicated to exploring random fields of knowledge in order to give you unordinary theoretical, philosophical, strategic, and/or often rambling guidance on daily fantasy sports. Consult the introductory piece to the series for further explanation.
“I was so tilted.”
The first time I heard someone in the fantasy industry use that phrase was three years ago or so. I was talking with Davis Mattek. The lackluster performance of a player in one of his DFS lineups had him “so, so tilted.”
Although I didn’t understand precisely what he meant, I basically knew what he meant. “Being tilted” (or some derivation thereof) is such a great phrase because it instantly conveys its significance even if the full sense of its meaning is uncertain. At the same time, it’s probably important to understand the tilting phenomenon on a deeper level.
In this piece I want to think about what it actually means to be tilted.
Borrowed from poker, the concept of tilting has worked its way into DFS. When someone makes irrational and emotional decisions because of past outcomes, that person is “so tilted.” When a player is off balance in the way he processes information, he is tilted. When a DFS player chases the late slate because she was the victim of variance in the main slate, she’s on tilt.
Basically, making bad short-term decisions unlikely to yield positive long-term Plus/Minus performances is what it means to be tilted. In general, it’s almost impossible to be a positive expected value player if you allow yourself to get tilted.
In most poker books and on most poker websites, at some point you’ll come across a fuller explanation of what it means to be tilted, how to avoid being tilted, and what to do when you are tilted.
There’s one resource in particular (I think) has a lot to teach DFS players about being tilted. Naturally, it’s one that (to my knowledge) has never been linked to the tilting concept: Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ On Death and Dying.
On Death and Dying
An instant classic when it was published in 1969, On Death and Dying is not a researched treatise on what it means to be human, the meaning of life, etc. Rather, as its subtitle states, it is about what the dying have to teach doctors, nurses, clergy, and their own families — and, specifically, what the dying have to teach us about death and the process of dying.
Death, like life, is different for each person who experiences it. There is no single unifying theory of death that can make sense of it. Despite the work of researchers and academics, death cannot be understood solely be numbers or models. It is always the great undiscovered country to which eventually we all voyage. Death is a lot like the concept of uncertainty: We don’t know what we don’t know.
Nevertheless, Kübler-Ross’ book over the last 48 years has been of great benefit to many people, both the dying and the living. Based on the conversations she had with her patients, On Death and Dying provides readers with actionable heuristics and a simple (yet sophisticated) framework for understanding many of the ways in which people in the process of dying experience the end of life.
Death, DFS, and Tilting
While death and DFS aren’t inherently similar, I think that tilting is not dissimilar from dying. Tilting can be thought of as a little metaphorical death. Tilting often occurs when DFS lineups are dying — when they are basically dead even though a slate hasn’t officially ended. Tilting can occur when the dreams of winning a guaranteed prize pool have met their demise.
Basically, every DFS loss can be treated like the death of potential.
In this perspective, Kübler-Ross’ thoughts on death are applicable.
The Five Stages of Grief
Most people have heard about the five stages of grief:
These five stages were first articulated by Kübler-Ross in On Death and Dying. While many people think these five stages form a clear linear process, Kübler-Ross clearly states that the stages can overlap and that not everyone experiences each emotion.
Just as people tilt differently, so too do they grieve differently.
Here’s my working theory: When people tilt, they are probably in denial, angry, bargaining, and/or depressed. When people experience DFS setbacks but are able to accept them, they avoid tilting in a catastrophic way. Everybody tilts — the original title to R.E.M.’s song, by the way — but those who can quickly refocus and move forward in a productive way give themselves a much better chance to walk the long DFS road.
Here are my brief thoughts on how denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance relate to tilting and DFS.
DFS denial can manifest in many ways: Denying that you don’t use the FantasyLabs tools well, denying that you build trends in optimistically skewed ways, denying that you should do fantasy A/B testing, etc. DFS denial is the refusal to acknowledge that you’re not yet the fantasy player you could be.
When people have DFS denial, they play more aggressively than they should.
DFS anger is what happens when people blame professional athletes for their own shortcomings: “If Mike Trout hadn’t sucked last night, I would’ve won all my contests. F*ck that guy.” Sure, or maybe you could’ve built a lineup that didn’t have Trout in it. It’s not Trout’s fault that you rostered him on a night when he sucked.
In this mental state, people will irrationally hold grudges against athletes, refusing to play them in optimal spots merely because they underperformed in the past. DFS anger can also be directed at DFS platforms and other DFS players: “If only DraftKings and FanDuel didn’t allow me to enter so many GPPs, then I wouldn’t lose to pro DFS players.” Yeah, or maybe you could’ve just practiced proper bankroll management.
When people have DFS anger, they fail to take responsibility for the consequences of their DFS actions. Eventually, they no longer play DFS “because the game isn’t fair.” Their anger prevents them from capitalizing on the opportunities that we all have in the industry.
In reality, bargaining is something like this: “God, I’ll devote the rest of my life to serving starving children in India if you keep this cancer from killing me. Please don’t let me die.” In this stage, people attempt to negotiate their way out of destiny. In fantasy, bargaining looks like this: “My lineups were destroyed in the main slate, so I’ll double down in the late slate so I can break even or maybe even finish ahead for the day.”
When people engage in DFS bargaining, they are trying to mitigate the past or prevent the future — and neither one of those is possible. There are no deals with the DFS devil.
DFS depression is the malaise that sets in after a string of losses. When people have DFS depression, they don’t research as deeply and think as sharply as they should. Sometimes they skip slates because they’re not mentally up for playing.
While I think that sometimes taking a break can be good, it’s important to use that off time in a way that’s beneficial. If watching a movie or reading a book helps you clear your head, great. If, though, you do something unproductive or even counterproductive — like watching games in the slate you’re not playing and then getting tilted about not playing a guy “you knew was going to go off” — then that’s probably worse than just playing in the slate.
Here’s a small digression that hopefully serves as an example. Let’s say that you have started dating someone and you two have your first sexual encounter. It doesn’t go all that well. What do you do next? I think there are maybe three schools of thought:
- Have sex again with that person whenever the next natural opportunity presents itself.
- Break up with that person immediately.
- Be awkward as f*ck, dodge the person’s calls and texts for maybe a couple of days as you mope, and then just hope that the next sexual experience is better.
Option No. 3 leads to a life of quiet desperation. I see the merits of Option No. 2, but philosophically I’m a big proponent of Option No. 1. Why would I choose the path that doesn’t involve regular sex?
That’s my approach to taking slates off. Why would I turn down the opportunity to make more money? Basically, DFS depression is the state of mind in which you are turned off by the idea of playing DFS.
I think that’s a horrible mental state to have. Honestly, the best way of getting past it is probably just to play the next slate as you normally would.
DFS acceptance doesn’t mean that you are happy when you lose. It means you understand that failure is a part of success.
Last August, Success Magazine profiled FantasyLabs Co-Founder Jonathan Bales. In the article he was asked if winning and losing feel the same after a while? Bales: “They are the same.”
DFS acceptance is knowing that the magnitude of success is way more important than the frequency of failure.
People experience DFS grief (a.k.a. “get tilted”) in different ways. If you know what your tendencies are — if you know that you tend to deny, get angry, bargain, or fall into a depression when you’re in the middle of a DFS slump — then you can counteract your tendencies.
DFS is hard enough on its own. Don’t let your emotions cause you any extra DFS grief.
The Labyrinthian: 2017.48, 143