Ever since daily fantasy sports barged onto the scene a few years ago, a consistent concern and criticism has been that a small percentage of well-financed, highly skilled players dominate the contests with dozens, even hundreds, of entries and wind up hogging the lion's share of prize pools.
The major DFS companies, DraftKings and FanDuel, have taken steps to mitigate that reality, but it's debatable whether the efforts have been effective.
Sensing a niche in the daily fantasy market for truly casual fans, some smaller daily fantasy operations have explored ways to give less sophisticated fantasy players a better chance, and one company trying to tap that market has established a few Maryland outposts.
Eaglestrike Fantasy Sports, based in Williamsburg, Va., is in the early stages of marketing and developing a daily fantasy experience that is far less time-consuming and certainly less complicated than traditional DFS. The daily fantasy experience most fans have become familiar with usually involves assembling teams of players at various positions within the constraints of a salary cap. It's like putting together a sports jigsaw puzzle and requires a fair amount of research.
Eaglestrike features some of that same challenge (more on that later), but the differences between Eaglestrike and classic daily fantasy sports are even more drastic -- you can't play this game on a computer or mobile device. In traditional DFS, cyberspace is the only place where you can play.
Instead, you have to physically make your way to where Eaglestrike terminals are located, usually in a bar, to get into the action for its contests.
In the immediate Baltimore vicinity, there are two spots with Eaglestrike terminals -- at the Tilted Kilt Pub and Eatery on Honeygo Boulevard in White Marsh and Tuggies Tavern on Tuggies Road in Pasadena. There are approximately eight other spots throughout the state in Crofton, Frederick, College Park and elsewhere.
Overall, Eaglestrike is in seven states: Virginia, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Minnesota and Colorado, as well as Maryland.
Eaglestrike is perhaps best described as a no-heavy-lift, less-intense version of DFS, especially when compared to the familiar national companies that routinely offer contests with prize pools in the millions of dollars.
"Our customers are truly casual fans who want to spend $10 or $20 in a bar on a Sunday watching the games and talking some trash with their buddies," said Adam Flore, who is an Eaglestrike consultant and has been its chief spokesman.
"We will never attract the guys who make up the high-volume players on the big websites. Our customers will never be spending thousands of dollars every weekend trying to win millions. Our customers might spend $50 at the most trying to win a share of a few thousand dollars."
However, Flore pointed out, while Eaglestrike players won't be winning life-changing money, they may have a far better chance of at least winning something.
Here's an illustration:
Throughout a six-month period on Draft Kings, the top 5 percent of users accounted for 32 percent of the entry fees and earned 46 percent of prizes, according to the website. That type of user result has been typical throughout the short history of daily fantasy sports.
Eaglestrike user statistics obviously represent a far smaller sample of participants, but they do paint a far different picture. The top 5 percent of Eaglestrike users accounted for 12.06 percent of entry fees and earned 14.79 percent of the prizes, according to figures Flore shared.
So far, total entries for contests have been "a few hundred," he said.
One aspect of its contests Eaglestrike is trying to promote is that most users can enjoy some success. Among users who have entered at least five contests, 92 percent have won some amount of money, according to Flore. It's that taste of winning that the company hopes keeps customers coming back.
While Eaglestrike requires some skill (it would be helpful to know the New England Patriots' Tom Brady is likely to have better quarterback statistics than, say, the New York Jets' Josh McCown), there's far more randomness -- a tactful way of saying luck -- built into its contests.
In an NFL-based contest called Select Three, the participant simply picks three NFL players -- period. It could be three quarterbacks or three running backs. Doesn't matter. You are simply trying to assemble a mini-team that scores as many fantasy points as possible.
You have all week before the real games begin to make your selections on an Eaglestrike terminal. Then on game day, you can watch the giant leader board in your local bar, or on your computer or mobile device, as you compete against other Eaglestrike players around the country.
A more challenging contest called Select Eight requires participants to pick a more typical fantasy lineup of eight players at various positions but with no salary cap constraints.
In order to play, participants are required to register in person at a terminal, and when entering a contest, they have to slide cash into a bill acceptor and make their picks on the premises. Fees cannot be paid with credit cards. For prizes less than $250, participants get paid where they play. For larger payouts, a check is sent through the mail.
So far, entry fees have been mostly $7 and $10; on the big DFS websites, entry fees can be in the thousands of dollars. Entire Eaglestrike prize pools have been in the low four-figures.
Considering the logistics of participating in an Eaglestrike contest and the relatively modest money involved, it's plain to see that the emphasis is on in-bar entertainment rather than becoming rich.
In addition to pro football, the terminals can offer contests for other sports, such as MLB, the NBA, NASCAR and golf.
"We know there is a market for the casual fan," said Flore, who indicated the Baltimore area is a target market for more terminal locations.