A lot of people have been eagerly anticipating some kind of lengthy tirade in regards to what’s being billed as “The World’s Biggest Sim Race” – otherwise known as the Visa Vegas eRace – but truthfully, I haven’t put much thought into it. In fact, I hardly care about the event to begin with, and maybe that’s a sign this whole thing probably won’t fling sim racing into the eSports spotlight as many mainstream outlets are predicting. But alas, with only a few sleeps remaining until the event kicks off, here we are. Let’s talk about this now.
If you’ve missed the countless articles discussing the matter, or immediately stopped paying attention the moment Formula E was mentioned, there’s something big about to happen in the world of sim racing. The FIA have decided right now is precisely the correct time to jump on the virtual racing eSports bandwagon despite auto racing fans losing interest in real world motorsports, and essentially commissioned MAK-Corp – yes, the same modders behind the horrendous Williams FW26 we reviewed a few weeks ago – to build a virtual rendition of the 2016 Formula E championship for rFactor 2.
With the enormous marketing push only a sanctioning body such as the FIA could muster, an online competition sponsored by the credit card company Visa was announced, and after a fairly traditional set of qualifying rounds – which were dominated by all the regular faces of top level sim racing – guys like Dom Duhan and Greger Huttu will be beating the shit out of each other in a half-assed rFactor 2 mod, live from Las Vegas, for a chance at $300,000 USD. Last place in the one-off event nets you a cool $20,000, so it’s safe to say that a Friday night coke binge with an escort named Shayla, and the subsequent seizure that will undoubtedly follow during the event itself, will at least pay for most of the participants Vegas escapades.
Goofy creative writing aside, this is indeed the biggest racing simulator competition in the history of the genre, and all ten of the talented sim racers who have qualified for the event know damn well that merely rolling off the grid is a life-changing moment; the enormous amount of time they’ve spent plugging away at their favorite simulators despite concerns from their family and friends in regards to their obsession will physically manifest itself into financial stability for the next decade at the very least.
Unfortunately, while the prize money alone may see sim racers such as Aleksi Elomaa or Enzo Bonito return to their families in Europe in posession of a small fortune, I cannot imagine a scenario in which the Visa Vegas eRace propels sim racing into the eSports spotlight. Simply put, these types of promotional races are often total shit-fests, and with the FIA filling 20 of the 30 grid slots with Formula E drivers who have displayed they seriously don’t give a fuck about virtual races nor the personalities from the sim racing world, there’s a large chance we’ll be looking to forget this ever happened as soon as it’s over.
Though I’m usually against almost everything Kotaku puts out, the Australian spin-off of the publication have penned a fantastic article displaying the events which transpired when the entire field of Formula E drivers – the same people who will make up more than half of the grid on Saturday for the Visa Vegas eRace – were placed into the virtual cockpit of MAK-Corp’s rFactor 2 mod earlier this year. None of them gave any flying fucks whatsoever, with the entire field careening into barriers, spinning each other out, and generally treating the game like it was Burnout: Revenge. The write-up is as hilarious as it is sad, with author Alex Walker mentioning “it doesn’t seem like Formula E will be using rFactor 2 much in the future.” Unfortunately, they’ve done the opposite, taking note of how atrocious the presentation above ended up being in execution, and believing that hosting the exact same event all over again – but this time with ten extra sim racing nerds on the grid – will suddenly change everything.
And this is the norm for promotional events, regardless of how much money is on the line. Over on the iRacing servers, the crew traditionally hold an annual Race of Champions event each year, rounding up a fairly large set of professional drivers who publicly claim to call the service home for both legitimate training purposes and off-season leisure activities, letting the overall victory donate to the charity of their choice on iRacing’s behalf. It always descends into chaos, and as a whole is pretty embarrassing for iRacing as a company. They go through such extreme lengths to claim a whole bunch of real drivers are consistently making laps on the service, only for the complete opposite to be demonstrated – it’s a clusterfuck that isn’t worth the ninety minutes of your time.
Real drivers don’t give a shit about these stupid little sim racing events because their day job is to throw their ass in a real car and dance inches from death with every little fuck-up they make behind the wheel, not sit in front of a PC chilling out on Teamspeak and munching on a few bonbons. They have no obligation to take this seriously, and it’ll become immediately apparent on Saturday that some didn’t even practice. Mark my words.
And I’m not basing this off of one Kotaku article, or some hilarious little crash compilation someone made a few years ago on iRacing. Throughout the 2016-2017 Formula E season, a portion of the grid have been participating in numerous fan challenges, where a few lucky audience members get to join about eight or nine real Formula E drivers for what’s basically a private sprint session in rFactor 2, and in many cases the audience members actually fare much better than the Formula E drivers themselves.
I mean, it’s really fucking bad. I’ve included the titles of each clip so you can head over to YouTube and check it out for yourselves; Formula E drivers give no fucks about this stuff, and neither their attitudes nor their sim racing skill set will change overnight. This is basically what we’re going to see in Vegas on Saturday, except people will be throwing very justifiable tantrums because it’s much more than just fifteen minutes of fame on the line.
Now, for the ten sim racers who did bust their asses to earn a spot on the Vegas grid – as there was indeed a lengthy qualifying procedure that properly resembled top level sim racing – I can’t imagine what’s going through their heads. Sure, even last place will leave the facility with more money than they know what to do with, but there’s still a difference between three hundred thousand dollars, and just enough to take a nice vacation with their families upon flying back to Europe. I’d hate to be Greger Huttu, leading the event with five laps to go, and get wrecked out of contention by an actual Formula E driver, three laps down, who hadn’t even made laps on the simulator for practice and was merely instructed to show up and smile for the mandatory promotional event. Because that’s probably what’s going to happen.
And if it does – which is very likely – that will be the nail in the coffin for sim racing’s chance to be a legitimate eSport. Let’s be real, some of the top level iRacing championships paraded around the sim racing community as the pinnacle in online competition have been anything but, with track blocking wrecks and RAM hacks dominating two of the service’s premier series – which typically struggle to attain more than a few hundred viewers each round compared to the millions which tune into Rocket League or League of Legends tournaments. People are barely going to real auto racing circuits, to the point where Formula E tickets were actually free at one point, so I’m a bit lost as to what’s making anybody think these same people who have seemingly lost interest in auto racing altogether will willingly want to watch a bunch of sweaty nerds bash into each other within a video game? It just doesn’t make any sense.
Sim Racing will definitely experience it’s birth as a competitive eSport on a world stage in Las Vegas this weekend, but anyone with a functioning brain can tell it’s going to crash and burn just as quickly. The Formula E drivers will show up, not give a shit, smash into each other, drastically affect the outcome of the race to the point where even people just tuning in out of boredom will get pissed off at what’s unfolding on the screen, and most will laud the event as a complete joke where racing took a back seat to carnage and confusion. Nobody will be left wanting more, some will comment on rFactor 2’s dated visuals compared to other video games on the market in 2016, and yet developers will still sit for years to come wondering why sim racing hasn’t taken off on a global scale.