Sunday, April 08, 2007

Fantasy Baseball: ESPN vs. Yahoo!

I've played fantasy sports for more than ten years now. A lot of that has been on ESPN. I've spent a lot of money of fantasy teams. Two years ago I started playing a little on Yahoo Sports as well. Their service is free, but it was clearly not as good as ESPN's.

What's interesting though is that this year there seemed to be some pretty fierce competition between ESPN and Yahoo. ESPN started making their fantasy baseball free for the firs time. They reduced the features and eliminated prizes. They kept around more complicated leagues with prizes, but of course they had a price.

Yahoo continued to expand their features. They how had live scoring, something you had to pay for in the past (and something ESPN has had for several years.) They've also added more bling to their interface, with drag-and-drop rosters.

But now something kind of funny has happened. Well at least it's funny to a programmer like me it's funny. ESPN clearly was unprepared for the popularity brought on by making fantasy baseball free. They had simplified the free version of things, but kept most of the features from the $20-30 version. They've had so many problems. On the first day of the season, there were frozen rosters, wrong scores, broken waivers. They've sent out some emails apologizing for the many problems:

To all of our ESPN Fantasy Baseball players,

We wanted to be sure you had the latest update on what is happening with ESPN Fantasy Baseball, and what we're in the midst of doing to get things back on track for you.

We have every resource, including our full technical team as well as additional specialized technical and quality assurance personnel, working to resolve these issues.

Based on extensive ongoing work and testing, we expect to have the problems affecting Fantasy Baseball resolved by Wednesday. It is possible that between now and then testing could reveal complications that would push the resolution to later in the week. However, we are confident in targeting Wednesday and are taking every step during that time to ensure that the solutions we provide for you will be complete and long-lasting.

While it may sound simple, the core problem lies in issues with transaction information being processed incorrectly and at incorrect times - which presents complexities as data progressively compounds.

Here's the latest on what is being done:
  • We have made significant progress finding and working towards a fix for the core problems responsible for roster irregularities and incorrect waiver, free agent and other transactions.

  • Due to the nature of software, thorough testing must be performed to ensure that the solutions we implement will fully resolve the issues and preserve the long-term integrity of the game.

  • To do that, we have created parallels of ESPN Fantasy Baseball leagues in a development and quality assurance environment -- simulating the live game activity.

  • In this environment we have been, and continue to run extensive testing of potential fixes for the core problems. There are approximately 70 different variations of our game currently in use, and we are simulating all of these.

  • In parallel, we have programmers and technicians troubleshooting problems that have created scoring and standings irregularities - isolating and testing potential solutions.
  • Please know -- it is not just rhetoric when we say we continue to work non-stop to resolve this. We owe you the fastest, most effective and stable solution - and that is our sole focus.

    We will continue to communicate with you as there are further developments, and you will hear from us again no later than Wednesday at 3 p.m. ET.

    We apologize again for the frustration you've experienced and appreciate your continued patience.

    You are our number one priority.

    John Kosner, senior vice president and general manager, and the entire Fantasy team

    Ouch! I like how they've now created "parallels of ESPN Fantasy Baseball leagues in a development and quality assurance environment" and "There are approximately 70 different variations of our game currently in use." Sounds like there are configurations that they didn't test -- at all. They didn't have unit tests for it or functional tests by QA. They've resorted to cloning live data to do their testing against. That's really not good!

    I had thought that simply weren't prepared for the scale, but it sounds like their problems are deeper. Talk about an embarrassing situation for their engineering group.

    Oh, and for what's it's worth -- I have two ESPN teams, and one Yahoo team. They're all doing crummy so far. My hitting has stunk, though my pitching has been very good. I'm not worrying though. I figure my guys will start hitting. Hopefully ESPN will have their problems worked out by then.

    1 comment:

    Anonymous said...

    What do you imagine 70 variations really means?

    If they were counting scoring variations, you'd think there'd be more than 70.. If it were game rules like roto vs. head-to-head, then it'd be much less than 70.