Kicking Rocks: You Get What You Pay For
It's the long-overdue return of Kicking Rocks and Howard Bender has some fantasy frustrations to vent as both a consumer and a member of the fantasy sports industry.
The first Kicking Rocks of the 2019 MLB season comes to you from a place that is based half in frustration as a consumer and half in embarrassment as a longstanding member of the fantasy industry. After completing a draft on the ESPN platform last night, it is my belief that, as a consumer, you get exactly what you pay for and as a member of this industry, a site as grandiose as ESPN should strive to do better. The fantasy industry pulls in millions, possibly billions, of dollars in revenue for companies like ESPN and Yahoo and while they offer a home for our fantasy leagues at no cost, that should not excuse them for half-assing their products.
This angst has been vented on Twitter over the past 24 hours and based on the response, I believe I can speak for the people. Well, most of them.
While taking part in an 11-team NL-only league on ESPN, my strategy going in was to draft as many multi-position players as possible with the hope of maximizing at-bats throughout the season. Ian Desmond qualifies at both first base and the outfield and with Freddie Freeman already on-board, the software put Desmond into my corner infield slot rather than the outfield. Kiké Hernández , who qualifies at second base, shortstop and the outfield, joined my team a few rounds later and was slotted in at shortstop. Then came Adam Frazier who qualifies at second base and outfield as well. The software placed him at second base. So far, so good. No complaints. If I drafted other middle infielders next, my expectation was that either Frazier or Hernandez would be moved to the outfield.
This is where it then got a little funky.
I drafted first baseman Wilmer Flores . Instead of putting Flores at the corner infield and moving Desmond to the outfield, the software placed Flores in my utility slot. Second baseman Starlin Castro joined my team and landed as the middle infielder, but when I selected shortstop Orlando Arcia , instead of moving Hernandez to the outfield or Castro to second and Frazier to the outfield, the software put Arcia on the bench. It made little sense to me, but stupidly, I assumed the software would right these wrongs once other players at the positions were drafted. And we all know what happens when you assume.
The draft continued and I added shortstop José Iglesias and 2B/3B Erik González and this is where it all went haywire. While I was hoping to land a second catcher and a pair of middle relievers to my roster, ESPN shut me down. I had three middle infielders on my bench, a corner-infielder in my utility spot and despite having two middle infielders eligible for the outfield, I was sitting with two open roster spots in the outfield. Suddenly all the hitters who did not qualify in the outfield disappeared from my draft board. When I filled my final pitcher slot, all the pitchers disappeared. We had three rounds to go and rather than fill out my team the way I originally intended, I was forced to draft three players I had zero interest in acquiring just to close out my outfield.
Are you serious? How does a company as big as ESPN have such a crazy bug in its system this close to Opening Day? Are you telling me that no one complained? No one reached out to them and said this is a problem? No one? Buehler…? Buehler…?
Now maybe this is something the commissioner of the league could have rectified. I do not know as he never made an effort which means you know exactly what the next edition of Kicking Rocks will be about. But to be a company as big as ESPN, a company who nickels and dimes its subscribers with a variety of pay wall hurdles to read an extra sentence somewhere, you can’t tell me they didn’t have beta testers available to give these “system upgrades” a run-through. That’s garbage.
As a result of this and past experiences on both ESPN and Yahoo (remember when someone running Yahoo Fantasy decided it would be cool to grandfather in Kyle Schwarber ’s catcher eligibility for no good reason?), I avoid these sites as best as I can. I don’t hold any ill-will towards either company and consider myself a friend to many who work for both. The problem is there is not enough care that goes into the product.
Who cares if there are some bugs in our draft software? Draft season only lasts for about two months anyway. And who cares if a few people complain? Look at all the people who come back so they don’t have to pony up a fee to CBS or RT Sports?
It’s like an airline that would rather pay out families for a few untimely deaths rather than spend the money to recall all of their defective planes. The big sites will quietly take their lumps now because they expect everyone to forget by the time the next draft season is upon us. As a consumer, I’m appalled. As a member of this industry, I am embarrassed. They need to do better.