For as long as we’ve been running articles picking apart iRacing here on PRC.net, I’ve always alluded to many instances of the game’s highly dedicated player base taking things a bit too seriously. Yes, the game has an undeniably awesome set of stat-tracking features that serve to turn each and every race into a meaningful experience, but at the end of the day, it’s still just another video game, and there is no reason to act as if there are NASCAR scouts spectating each group of prominent drivers. Throughout my own iRacing career – and subsequent lifetime ban – one of the aspects that I’ve been extremely vocal about in regards to the community surrounding the title, is how iRacers often fail to remember that online racing really isn’t a big deal. Fellow sim racers on the iRacing servers explode over light contact, hold vendettas on certain users for forum posts deemed offensive, organize mass protests on a single sim racer for merely violating on-track gentleman’s agreements, litter the in-game chat thanking their pretend sponsors, and generally act as if iRacing has somehow transcended online gaming altogether and become a replacement for Saturday Night Short Track Racing – drama included. Some of this activity would be justified if iRacing was operating on a level similar to Counter-Strike or League of Legends, but they’re not; roughly 2,300 members are online each night – a pitiful number compared to the astronomical figures the aforementioned games reel in on an hourly basis.
It’s been admittedly tough to prove that this side of iRacing exists. Upon merely suggesting that the iRacing community can be egotistic, toxic, and overall detrimental to the state of sim racing, fanboys rush to defend software which costs several times more than the average racing simulator, and label myself – as well as anyone associated with PRC.net – as individuals with an irrational vendetta.
That is, however, until a little birdie dropped me some info about “Hero Cards.”
The ultimate cost-effective souvenir from any major auto racing event, “Hero Cards” are usually given out free of charge by each team, and essentially serve as “something for a driver to autograph if you’re a cheap bastard and don’t want to visit the T-Shirt trailer.” Traditionally, they feature a high resolution image of the car and driver on the front, with a myriad of statistical goodies on the back, and can be summarized as the hockey cards of the motorsports world. As drivers age, change teams, changes classes, and on some occasions, die, their value goes up, and they serve as a pretty neat memento of yesteryear. If I did some digging in certain portions of the house, I’m sure I could find a binder full of late 1990’s NHRA Hero Cards from when my uncle would take his Top Alcohol Dragster team to Seattle and occasionally Denver – bringing back a bunch of free memorabilia from the events that is now a portal to a lost generation.
Anyways, a guy who wishes to remain anonymous tipped me off that a certain iRacing Pro team had gone off the deep end and started printing Hero Cards for their drivers. This wasn’t like, a quick drunken Photoshop project done for shits and giggles –such as the guys who render their NASCAR Racing 2003 Season cars in old Racing Champions boxes – they were totally serious. In fact, the story went far beyond this simple art project; the anonymous user claimed that these hero cards were actually being handed out at select NASCAR Sprint Cup races by the drivers themselves.
The mental image of a couple computer nerds walking around a NASCAR event autographing pictures of their video game cars sounded like a phrase generated while playing Cards Against Humanity, but a quick Google Image Search warranted nothing but credibility to these rumors.
I’ll just let that sink in for a second. Computer nerds who race a bunch of NASCAR games online were legitimately trying to auction off autographed pictures of their iRacing liveries on eBay, as if this were some hard-to-find Jeff Gordon rookie poster. One of these drivers would be 2014 Peak Anti-Freeze Series Champion Ray Alfalla in the blue #2 Ford Fusion, though I am unfamiliar with who would be in the white car pictured above. Now I’ve met some extremely delusional people in my travels away from the computer monitor, and have also documented quite extensively the meltdowns of multiple developers who failed to see that their newest racing sim was little more than a pile of endless bugs, but this right here has set the bar impossibly high. Who does this? This is like, weird.
I mean, I think John from my nearest Subway is a pretty cool guy for having my order of Soup & Cookies ready to go at a moment’s notice, but if he signed a picture he took in NHL 16’s photo mode of his created player and was handing it out during Oilers practices… Yeah, no. Bro, you’re playing a video game. This is too much.
And then I kept digging. This straight up had to be an April Fool’s joke that arrived in my inbox a few days late. You can’t seriously tell me that dudes playing NASCAR on the internet were spending money to print out pictures of their iRacing cars and then autograph them as if they’re some sort of real life race car driver, right?
Aside from all of the pointless sponsor tags and what appears to be a genuinely nice photo of Peak Anti-Freeze Series participant Bryan Blackford alongside a Vision of Flight rep… I would truly like to know how this exchange was described by employees afterwards.
“Yeah, this dude who kinda looks like Michael from IT came in today with a bunch of pictures of his video game car, and he like, autographed them and stuff.”
Now I’ll play devil’s advocate for a second and at least attempt to defend Slip Angle Motorsports on this one. Competitive online gaming is huge, and you only have to look at the overall scene surrounding titles such as Starcraft, League of Legends, Counter-Strike, and Call of Duty to understand that there are a shitload of people who prefer eSports over traditional sports. In South Korea, professional Starcraft players are on-par with North American sports heroes such as Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, and as a whole the sheer size of these events are fucking impressive. This is hardly a Super Smash Bros. tournament held at your local comic book store.
But iRacing is not StarCraft. While flying under the NASCAR banner and boasting an impressive payout for first place in the iRacing Peak Anti-Freeze Series, sim racing as a whole has quite frankly not caught on as an eSport. When attendance numbers are down across the board for NASCAR, Indy Car, and even Formula One – events featuring real human beings strapped inside real cars – there is basically no justifiable reason for people to ever invest time into following virtual motorsports. What instead ends up happening, is that the only people who care about iRacing’s $10,000 Pro Series, are individuals bored enough to click the intrusive advertisements for the live broadcast adorning the official iRacing.com website.
To demonstrate how apathetic sim racers are towards “big time” sim racing championships, you only have to look at the view count for the last event Slip Angle Motorsports participated in. On a quiet Sunday night during a time when most sim racers would have nothing else to do other than watch YouTube videos, the ASCORS ProGeek Cup Series broadcasted a virtual event at Martinsville Speedway. The broadcast received 612 total hits – a number factoring in people who showed up for five minutes to check how their Teamspeak friends were doing before promptly leaving.
This is apparently the kind of following that validates computer nerds awkwardly passing out autographed pictures of their iRacing rides. Maybe I’m being an anal potato about this, and maybe somewhere this is all part of the plan, but from PRC’s standpoint, all this does is reinforce the fact that some sim racers take iRacing far too seriously for what it is.