The message appeared on Ryan Beer’s cellphone app late on the final Monday night of September.
It read: “YOU’VE WON A TRIP TO LAS VEGAS AND ENTRY INTO THE FANTASY FOOTBALL CHAMPIONSHIP!”
Beer could not believe it. He shared the news with his parents, Ron and Lori Beer of Columbia. He quickly sent text messages to his brother, Eric, and his girlfriend, Emily Garcia.
The experience was so surreal that Beer wanted to verify what had happened. He scurried to the Internet to look up that weekend’s final results in the FanDuel Fantasy Football Championship. He called for confirmation at the Las Vegas hotel that would host the championship weekend.
It was, indeed, real. Then, during the second weekend of December, Beer and his girlfriend headed to Las Vegas for a three-day, all-expenses paid vacation. Beer returned home with a 48th-place finish and the $25,000 prize money that went with it.
“Really unbelievable,” Beer says of the return he received on his $13 investment into the contest.
Beer is not your typical fantasy football player. The 22-year-old Blythewood High and South Carolina graduate has followed pro football closely for a few years, but has never been one to crunch numbers and spend endless hours figuring the odds of inserting one player into his lineup over another.
Despite being a local fantasy football player previously, Beer was a neophyte into the world of online fantasy sports. He learned of the FanDuel contest from a friend and allotted $25 to spend for the entire NFL season. Single-team entree fees at FanDuel range from $1 to $100 weekly.
Through the first three weeks of the season, Beer posted $1 entry fees each week. Then he splurged in week 4 and paid a $10 entry fee. Players can select any eligible players, who are assigned a dollar value, such as $4,000 for Denver quarterback Peyton Manning. A team of eight players and a team defense cannot exceed $60,000 in salaries.
That week, Beer played a lineup of San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers; running backs Le’Veon Bell of Pittsburgh and Matt Asiata of Minnesota; wide receivers Antonio Brown of Pittsburgh, Keenan Allen of San Diego and Steve Smith of Baltimore; tight end Heath Miller of Pittsburgh; kicker Nick Novak of San Diego; and the Houston defense.
“When those couple of guys that aren’t worth a lot do well,” Beer said of getting big games from Asiata, Brown and Miller, “that’s how you can really swing something.”
When Beer also got big performances from Rivers, Allen and Smith, his name stood atop the leader board among 24,000 entries that week. In winning, Beer qualified to participate in the championship weekend as one of 100 regular-season winners. A $2 million prize went to the overall winner, $1 million for a second-place finish and $15,000 to the last-place finisher.
Beer arrived on Friday and was housed at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas hotel. FanDuel hosted parties for the participants and their guests, and Beer prepared his lineup Saturday just before dinner. He figures the online game is about “51 percent” expertise and “49 percent” luck.
The championship competition included only afternoon games played Dec. 14. The competitors gathered in a ballroom at the hotel where TVs showed live game action and another giant screen updated the fantasy results instantly.
“It was pretty lax throughout the day because (the fantasy totals) change so much,” Beer said. “One play can change five different people’s scores. So, you pretty much have to just relax and watch the games until it gets close at the end. That’s when it gets pretty intense and some crazy things happened.”
Beer stood between 40th and 60th place throughout most of the afternoon. With only one NFL game still being played, Beer was in 52nd place, which would have paid $20,000.
Then the “crazy thing” happened. The game between the New York Jets and Tennessee – teams with 2-12 records – appeared to conclude on a failed Hail Mary attempt by the Titans. After an officials’ review, one second was placed back on the clock, and Tennessee attempted a final hook-and-ladder play.
When Tennessee receiver Delanie Walker – the last leg on a series of laterals – gained 33 yards to the New York 9-yard line, Beer gained four fantasy points and pushed his final position to 48th and an extra $5,000.
Beer said he spent a small part of his winnings on Christmas presents, and plans to grow the remainder in savings accounts. He also is certain to re-invest a few dollars in playing online fantasy football again next season.