Tuesday, 21 Sep 2021

Oxford professor says maths formulas can help you win at fantasy football

An Oxford professor has explained how being good at maths can help boost your chances of winning fantasy football.

If you think you have what it takes to manage a real football team, you can test it out virtually with the popular game played by millions every season.

For those who are unfamiliar with the concept, it's basically an online competition where users act as managers and select players they'd like to be on their fantasy team. You then score points based on the actual performance of the players you've selected.

It sounds nerdy but is actually really fun to play with friends as you draft your dream squad and compete with other fantasy teams.

But how does maths factor into this?

In a YouTube video uploaded by Oxford University mathematician Joshua Bull, the idea of maths telling us how to win fantasy football is explored, so get ready to take some notes because this could come in handy.

Every year, the Fantasy Premier League takes place, and around seven and a half million people compete which makes it a pretty big deal to say the least. Joshua was lucky enough to win the competition last year and often gets asked if it was because of his maths skills that he won.

In a nutshell, you start off with a budget of £100m and choose a team of 15 players using that. You’re only allowed no more than three players from each club and every week you choose from 11 players that you think will do best, and they score virtual points for real game performances. Whoever you choose as your captain will also score you double points.

In the video, Joshua says that “being a strategic thinker is definitely a benefit” and that “mathematical models are a great way of exploring more complex systems” – which is in this case, fantasy football.

His strategy came from these clever mathematical hypotheses:

  • Choose a few expensive players and stick with them
  • Give players a chance – don’t ditch them after one week
  • Make transfers based on getting rid of underperformers, not just bringing in players who did well last week

To sum up the video, Joshua touches on team strategy, transfer strategy, form over fixtures and captain strategy.

For team strategy, choose 5-6 costly players + cheap fillers over 1-2 costly + mid-range, for bench substitution, players @Home over players @Away. Formation is also not really a factor (choose best based on your players)

When thinking about transfer strategy, remember form over fixtures and transfer out the underperformer over transfer in last week’s best performer.

In terms of captain strategy, fixtures over form, and if it’s a tie, home over away.

See, that’s not too difficult, right?

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Although Joshua wasn’t necessarily writing down any complex equations, he was still thinking mathematically.

Speaking to the University of Oxford blog he said: “You can apply the exact same logic to fantasy football. So, you’ve got all of this data out there and you want to know how making your team choice is going to impact on your points.

“That’s the kind of thing that you can quite happily model mathematically. These are the things I was thinking about, even if I wasn’t writing down equations.

"Some people actually are writing algorithms for fantasy football though, with some being more successful than others.

“All the teams play once and then you can make transfers. You can only make one or two changes per week. If you want to make any more than that it starts costing you points – you have to pay a forfeit.

“So, there’s a real optimisation problem where there are players you might want to bring in, but it’s not necessarily easy to say ‘I want them in my team, so I’ll get them in my team.’”

It’s really all about questioning whether to pick very few expensive people or have less of those expensive players and more of a balanced team, which is basically a bit of a maths problem.

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