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25-02-2022 by Maria Arnidou

Meet the #FSITeam: Vasilis Palaskas

Vasilis Palaskas: A Data Scientist in the Fantasy Sportsbook Wonderland!

Meet #FSITeam series: a close-up of the company’s team members and their own #FSIstories. We will be celebrating birthdays, sharing achievements, thoughts and wisdom through up-close and personal one-on-ones Q&As, and informative articles. Content to be making content that reminds us that the Game is Ours!

This week: Head of Marketing & People Comms, Maria Arnidou, interviews FSI’s Statistician, Vasilis Palaskas.

1) Hello Vasilis! Thank you for joining me in this Q&A session, it’s a pleasure to introduce you to FSI’s followers and peers. Let’s introduce you to our readers in your own words; tell us a little bit about you and your role in FSI.

Hello, Maria! It’s also my pleasure to be interviewed by you after our colleague’s, Thanos’s interesting interview. I’ve been in FSI for 1 year and a half now. I have mostly worked with Bill Mexias in the statistical analysis of data from Fantasy Soccer, NBA, and NFL in order to create statistical-based models to support our Fantasy Sportsbook. With the passage of time work demands have increased, and in order for us to be able to deploy end-to-end  automated solutions on a great scale, I have also collaborated with the software developers to develop and deploy the “Romana Service'' (the name of service is a very very long story!).

In the past year, I participated in the recruitment processes for both a full time position and an internship with candidates from the Athens University of Economics & Business (AUEB) Msc in Statistics for the Analytics department. During the last semester, I have been also working on technical reviews of my collaborator data analyst as his line manager, while also working on the development of our analytics solutions to broaden our Fantasy Sportsbook. All this time at FSI has been exciting and I am very pleased that I have collaborated with almost all my colleagues in FSI’s great team!

2) You hold a Bachelor in Mathematics, and an MSc in Statistics. Furthermore, you have been a member-collaborator at the Sports Analytics Group of the Athens University of Economics & Business (AUEB). What inspired your love for sports statistics, specifically?

Hmm, other than the fact that I’ve been engaging in sports either as a fan, or by playing occasionally with friends, it was my first participation in the AUEB Sports Analytics Workshop in 2018 as a postgraduate student that inspired me to follow this path. After that, I have been working on several projects in sports analytics during my master and my milestone was my diploma thesis in Bayesian modelling of volleyball match outcomes which was presented at the MathSport International 2019 by me and published in the IMA Journal of Management Mathematics. My thesis supervisor and mentor Prof. Ioannis Ntzoufras, who has made significant contributions to sports analytics on a global scale, has played a vital role in this.

3) Was a career in a sports-related industry a goal, or a… random occurrence (pun intended!). Did you have the software and betting industry in mind, at all?

I can’t say that a career in a sports-related industry was my only goal (even it was one of the most desired ones!). However, during my second semester in master’s program and mainly after my work presentation in MathSport International Conference, I realised that the sports betting industry is very appealing to me, since the betting odds are commonly based on the development of both statistical and machine learning models. So, here I am now working with sports data and developing our own custom models!!!

4) So, flashback to your interview and later on to your induction days! The company was introducing an innovative product based on athletes’ performance, a power combo of fantasy sports gameplay and sportsbook, and we sought to establish an in-house Analytics Department. What were your first thoughts about this and your mission in FSI?

What a flashback! I remember back then, the feeling of what a great responsibility it has been for me to participate in all processes related to the in-house Analytics Department of the company! My first thoughts concerned how I will use my experience in sports analytics from the academic environment  to a business environment in order to contribute to the proper establishment of this in-house department and serve our business needs efficiently. As you can imagine, it has been a very demanding experience and I am proud of myself for experiencing and overcoming all difficulties of this project. 

5) What is the greatest challenge you have faced in this position? How did you overcome it, and what did you learn from it?

I admit that the previous year in FSI was filled with constructive challenges but If I had to choose only one, I would say my experience from last winter, where while facing several difficulties, we made significant progress in the development of the betting odds compilation related to Fantasy Soccer and NBA Sportsbook markets. Also, I would add the great challenge of the EURO 2020 competition, in which daily tasks were endless, but after some great team work with all the guys, we achieved our goals!

6) You have been working on statistics and analysis for several sports, among which Soccer, American Football and Basketball, while you have also published a paper about athletes’ performance in Volleyball. Do you have a “favorite” sport to work on, and/or a favorite athlete?

Even though I have worked in the data analysis of several sports, I don’t really have a preference. This may sound as an “easy-way-out answer” but each sport has its own difficulties and it requires different handling from the analytics perspective. 

7) What are your future goals? As part of the FSI Team, and as a professional in general?

As part of the FSI Team, my future aspirations are the development of advanced statistical-based odds compilation for our Fantasy Sportsbook across several US Sports, and the provision, through our platform services, of the markets that the US audience will demand. As far as the analytics department is concerned, a stepwise expansion of our department would be good through full time jobs and internships (e.g. as we did last year, we once again offer an internship position to a student from M.Sc. in Statistics at AUEB). Finally, it would be very nice to attend as well as participate in several conferences to demonstrate our work and be close to all cutting-edge approaches used in the industry.

Concerning my personal future aspirations, I would like to be more and more engaged with several subfields of Data Science processes as well as be even more familiarised with the best practices commonly used in ML Engineering pipelines which also will efficiently serve the engineering dependencies of our statistical models deployment.

8) Statistics are everywhere, from society and business, to everyday life and sports, while “data is king” (dethroning content, at that!) especially considering modern life’s interconnectivity with the world wide web. Is this why you chose this career path? Or was it just “love at first sight” with Statistics?

My first contact with Statistics as well as Probability theory was during my Bachelor in Mathematics when my engagement with these obligatory courses made me understand how all these theorems can have a practical impact, compared to other courses which did not appeal to me to the same extent. After that, I took several applied courses related to computational statistics to be more and more familiarised with this subfield since I had been aware of the demand of statistics in several business sectors. Thus, yes, the current business demand has also played a role in this career path.

9) Vasilis Palaskas in 2022: what do you consider to be your biggest personal achievement, your greatest flaw, and your very own “superpower”?

My biggest achievement for this year outside the working environment, was the publication of our research related to sports analytics with AUEB Sports Analytics Group in a highly acclaimed journal and the parallel work in our second project  in the same field (to be submitted soon!).

My greatest flaw is my tendency to do things by the book. Ok, I know that it is not feasible every time in a business environment but it would be nice.

As a superpower, I would say that I mostly act proactively in many situations trying to avoid several potential issues.

10) Congratulations for your Publication! We are looking forward to the next one! And if you could have a “real” superpower - the Marvel and DC Universe kind - what would that be??

Despite the fact that I am fan of both universes, I would strongly choose Batman as my favourite superhero because of the mystery behind his personality and his capability to do things without having any superpower. The Batman movies with Christian Bale were my favourite ones.  However,  If I had to choose also from the Marvel universe, I would choose Dr. Strange.

11) It’s been some time that we have been working from home now, but still, even remotely, what’s your best moment in the workday - the one you look forward to, and why?

One of my best parts during a working day when I was in the office, was my coffee break with colleagues [of course, my “work bestie” Ippo(kratis Takopoulos) was accompanying me on a daily basis!] at the coffee shops near the office. As far as working from home is concerned, the best part is during daily catch up because we all have fun and relax and it reminds me how great it would be sometimes to work from the office all together.

12) Finally, what’s your advice for the young people starting their careers now and to all the aspiring Data Scientists out there? What is it that you are looking for in the company’s next hire for your Department?

Based on my experience until now, I would suggest to aspiring Data Analysts/Scientists to try to develop their storytelling skills to several business stakeholders (“Give me the data, and I will tell you a story.”). Also, it would be very beneficial to try developing knowledge in new fields on a daily basis, to “push” their  learning limits because Data Science is in rapid growth nowadays. Apart from the above suggestions, the behaviour as well as flexibility of a candidate are also extremely important.


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