Editor’s Note: Despite a VirtualR article stating MAK-Corp had been contacted to build a virtual representation of the Formula E vehicle for a commercial project, the team have came out on Facebook and announced they had no part in the festivities, which were instead handled by CloudSport. The article has been updated to place the blame on the correct individuals and/or entities, and my apologies go out to MAK-Corp for the blame I originally placed on them.
We all knew it was going to be a disaster from the announcement alone, but Nero did play the fiddle as Rome burned, and there’s a sort schadenfreude in watching absurdity of this magnitude unfold on live television – or Twitch, if you’d like us to get technical. The Formula E backed Visa Vegas eRace was billed as the biggest sim racing event of all time, and intended to be used as definitive proof that virtual race cars have a legitimate home in the eSports ecosystem alongside much more popular titles, but in execution, the whole thing just didn’t manifest into a product that has the potential to get people excited about what’s otherwise a relatively obscure hobby. An event that shouldn’t have left the napkin it was drawn up on, the Visa Vegas eRace instead left the eSports kingdom almost as quickly as it entered; all flash, and no substance.
Sure, ten of the world’s best sim racers are currently walking off the set with enough money to justify spending entire years of their lives in front of a computer screen, but the eRace was supposed to be far more than a celebratory payday for select drivers. Despite declining spectator counts for live motorsports events due to millennial’s complete lack of interest in motor racing – or cars, for that matter – Formula E believed a virtual counterpart was the way of the future, and used the Vegas event as a trial run for a full series powered by rFactor 2. Obviously, hardcore sim racers knew how this would play out. Falling flat among curious viewers who were willing to give the concept a shot, and suffering from massive technical glitches that compromised the integrity of the competition, it now appears figureheads within Formula E simply threw money at the whole eSports fad, and just sort of hoped for the best.
That wasn’t the smartest idea. The Visa Vegas eRace was a complete and utter joke from start to finish. Don’t do this again.
Within thirty seconds of jumping into the Twitch feed just in time for the main event, I was greeted by a generic grid girl walking across the front of the set, and the camera panned back to reveal an elaborate production graced by Dario Franchitti’s presence as a color commentator. Knowing how sim racing isn’t exactly a glamorous activity to begin with – the majority of drivers logging laps while sporting a comfy set of pajamas in their bedroom – it was a bit silly to see such an elaborate setup that rivaled most ESPN nightly news sessions, especially as this was an unproven eSport event with no following to validate this sort of ridiculous setup to begin with.
The absurdity factor got cranked up to eleven when close-up shots of the drivers unveiled they had all been sporting custom made firesuits for the one-off event; presumably to avoid the consequences of nVidia GPU’s spontaneously bursting into flames. Readers of PRC.net know full well I’m not cool with sim racers who immerse themselves in their delusions and truly believe they’re just as relevant as real race car drivers, but in this instance I can forgive them for merely being forced to play along with Formula E’s ludicrous bullshit considering how much prize money was on the line.
What I can’t forgive, however, is how little personality each of the drivers exhibited on camera. While I understand that Finnish residents are known all over the planet for their lack of emotion, it was hard as a viewer to find a sim racer to get behind for this event due to how unexciting each of the drivers were. They all looked like they’d been yanked straight out of an IT job and placed into an elaborate sim rig for some sort of promo event. Aside from the guy who took his pedostache in stride (major props on that one), and the commentators repeatedly mentioning Greger Huttu as ,“the greatest sim racer ever” without once elaborating upon his previous accomplishments, it was very difficult as an audience member to say “I want driver X to win.” The race hadn’t even started yet, and I already didn’t care about the results. There are entry level college courses that teach you the basics of story telling – such as introducing your characters and letting the audience know why this event was important to them – and yet a company as large as Formula E had failed at conveying these simple concepts on a goddamn Twitch broadcast.
This problem was magnified by the fact that the race wouldn’t start for quite some time, and generic promotional material was used as filler during the unscheduled delay. The broadcast was met with a twenty minute stoppage right as the main event was about to commence, and tech officials could be seen kneeling next to the drivers trying to rectify problems with the software. It was very amateurish for such a mammoth presentation that acted as the bastion of sim racing to the eSports community.
Once rectified, the trio of commentators were not made aware the software gremlins had been ironed out by Formula E technical staff members, meaning the first few corners were accompanied by bland pre-race babble rather than genuine enthusiasm over the start of the competition, and it quickly set in that this would most certainly not be the launch of a new era in sim racing. Polesitter Bono Huis checked out from the rest of the field almost immediately, and the complete lack of any on-track excitement made the shortcomings of the endeavor even more apparent than they would have been otherwise
Powered by Studio 397’s rFactor 2 software, using a car model developed by the almighty MAK-Corp – a team known within the sim racing community for inaccurate cars lapping several seconds faster than their real life counterparts – and with physics handled by Cloudsport (not exactly a major player in the rFactor 2 world) the raw gameplay looked atrocious, to put it nicely. With poor lighting and blocky trackside objects stealing the show, the quality of rFactor 2’s thermodynamic tire model was simply not conveyed in the slightest through the Twitch broadcast. It looked more like a PlayStation 2 game, and that’s not going to win over an audience a decade after the PlayStation 3 launched.
A few minutes into the race, Dario Franchitti mentioned that all of the cars on the grid had been using a fixed setup, which is absolutely nonsensical considering the qualifying rounds allowed sim racers to dial in their car based on their own driving preferences, and the default setup pre-packaged with most simulator cars is literally a random batch of numbers placed somewhere between the minimum and maximum value of each specific setting. Formula E essentially wanted to hold a massive sim racing competition for the best sim racers in the world, but wouldn’t even let their participants treat it as the racing simulator they had qualified with.
Just think about how absolutely fucking retarded that is.Lap ten saw multiple front-running cars involved in a massive wreck in turn one, which should have ended the races of all involved, but viewers were instead shocked when these vehicles warped back through the barriers they flew over, and continued on as if nothing had happened. According to sim racing YouTube personality EmptyBox, the word “carnage” was promptly banned in the accompanying chat box, as Formula E struggle to control what was becoming an all-out shitshow.
Nothing says “serious online competition” like censoring your own audience for literally talking about what was occurring on screen among other viewers. We were reaching critical mass in terms of how poorly “the biggest event in sim racing” could go, and it was only the halfway point. Bono Huis was blowing everybody out, creating an absolute snoozer of a race for those who cared about the actual racing portion, none of the ten thousand viewers could stomach the ancient visuals, and moderators finally had to censor the chat box because they’d had enough of people ripping on the driving standards. Visa and Formula E were about to give away a million dollars in prize money, on top of spending hundreds of thousands to host this event, only for it to be a complete and utter shitshow.
As the mandatory pit stop rolled around and drivers flew into pit lane for a car swap – which certainly wasn’t a car swap on screen, but a generic rFactor 2 stop for tires and fuel – fans lit up the chat and began openly mocking the poor quality of the simulator. Hell, some fans didn’t even know there was a pit stop occurring, because there was no goddamn pit crew to imply that’s what was going on. Real world Formula E racer Felix Rosenqvist was in the process of reeling in Bono Huis to challenge for the top spot, but nobody was sure if this attack would amount to anything, as there had been very little noteworthy on-track action to speak of, and the layout of the fictitious Vegas circuit offered very few – if any – legitimate overtaking zones. Provided Huis didn’t shout Allahu Akbar and smash head-on into a wall for comedic relief from this dreadful event, he had the thing wrapped up.
Then Olli Pahkala started posting lap times two seconds faster than anyone had registered over the course of the entire weekend.
Formula E’s most controversial gimmick is undoubtedly the Fan Boost promotion, where those following the series can literally visit a website prior to each round of the championship and vote on a driver who will be granted a five-second, single use turbo boost for the upcoming event. Virtually everyone shit on the concept when it was first announced, yet it still remains in the rule book to this day – even more proof that the brass within the FIA just don’t understand their own audience in the slightest.
This gimmick was implemented into the Visa Vegas eRace as well, with Olli Pahkala one of the three drivers receiving an extra shot of power undoubtedly thanks to his close friends on iRacing going hard in the paint on Twitter. However, instead of the Fan Boost functionality giving Olli six seconds of additional engine power, CloudSport presumably fucked up when building the rFactor 2 mod used for the event, and Olli was able to keep mashing the boost button, over and over again. There were no third party injections involved, nor was there a phantom USB stick plugged into the rear of his PC, just a sim racer exploiting a shitty mod built by a team who have demonstrated time and time again that their rFactor 2 releases are junk.
Pahkala decimated the other eighteen participants, posting six laps in a row, two seconds faster than any other time registered through the weekend, blowing out Bono Huis’ track record qualifying lap in the middle of a fuel run, and pulling away to a cool $200,000 USD that royally pissed off all ten thousand viewers spectating the event. The biggest event in the history of sim racing, one which was initially meant to establish this little genre as a genuine eSport (complete with a full series planned in the future), had instead been decided by people voting in a poll on Twitter. Compared to the other drivers, the fan boost produced such a massive increase in power, the rest of the competitors were sitting ducks.
Viewers were furious, and these weren’t just assmad fanboys upset that it wasn’t iRacing or Assetto Corsa used for the competition. Formula E provided live timing during the event, and long before Pahkala had crossed the finish line & been declared the victor, avid sim racers realized the integrity of the competition had been jeopardized.
Olli Pahkala was awarded the top spot on the podium despite never being in contention for a large portion of the race, and clearly benefiting from an issues with the software brought on by a meaningless Twitter gimmick that should have never been implemented in a test of driving skill in the first place, with shots straight out of Las Vegas Nevada depicting an obviously frustrated Bono Huis. I’m sure his mom will probably give him shit for looking like a mad cunt in these photos and not acting like a professional regardless of the circumstances, but the dude has every right to be pissed the fuck off.
Formula E hosted what was supposed to be the biggest competition in the history of sim racing, yet the outcome was determined by a popularity contest on Twitter, and some guy taking advantage of flaws in a car built by a shitty rFactor 2 mod team, clearly demonstrating Formula E and Visa had no idea what the fuck they were doing at any point during this endeavor.
Huis threw a completely justifiable hissy fit at the stewards, begging them to review the software – as well as the lap times – because all ten thousand viewers watching at home knew precisely what had happened. A Twitter poll won Olli Pahkala the race, and the increase in horsepower didn’t even work as it was supposed to. To rectify the problem, the FIA stewards promptly issued a twelve second penalty to race winner Pahkala, handing the win to Huis.
Now the FIA stewards were in even deeper shit. On top of using an outdated piece of software none of the viewers found compelling in the slightest, and determining the winner of the competition with a Twitter poll, they penalized a guy who wasn’t actually cheating, but in a fantastic display of heads-up driving realized CloudSport royally fucked something with ten laps left in the biggest sim race of his life, and abused Formula E’s own incompetence in choosing a content creator to dominate the competition. On what planet do you penalize a driver for merely making the most out of the organizer’s incompetence?
Olli Pahkala won the race because Formula E couldn’t do half an hour’s worth of research when it came to holding an online sim racing competition, and had a six figure payday taken away from him because CloudSport are shit and the FIA stewards were outright embarrassed at how things had gone. Studio 397 said so.
Bono Huis was officially confirmed to be the event champion roughly an hour later by event organizers, with their social media pages conveniently leaving why the guy in third on the broadcast was suddenly awarded first prize. Obviously he’s all smiles now given how much $200,000 USD can do for any single person on the planet, but how we got to that point, and what this was all supposed to do for sim racing in the long run, will warrant a much different response than Bono’s happy mug.
Let’s start with the obvious; Formula E and Visa have more money than brains. That much is apparent. Despite all of the message board chatter painting CloudSport out to be an incompetent mod team, two giant entities threw a mountain of money at amateur rFactor 2 modders to create pieces of content that would be used in a competition with one million dollars in prize money handed out to the participants. These guys can’t even get the right people to conduct a virtual racing event without everything going awry, so it makes you wonder how many boneheaded decisions are made behind closed doors when it comes to the real thing, whether it be Formula E, or Formula One? You know, the biggest racing series in the world.
But onto the core topic of discussion, this event was supposed to launch sim racing into the eSports scene in a pretty profound way. There were vague hints at plans to conduct a full season of competition alongside the real Formula E championship in the future, marking the first time sim racing would be in the spotlight and listed among titles such as League of Legends in terms of legitimate eSports parterned with major corporations. Judging by the audience reaction to this clusterfuck of an event, Formula E would be foolish to continue with these plans, regardless of what deals have already been made behind the scenes. Viewers laughed at the awful graphics, poked fun at unexciting personalities during the trophy presentations, and aggressively berated the overall production, forcing moderators to begin censoring discussion of the event while it was still underway, before users launched into an all-out assault when the champion was determined by a Twitter poll and an improperly constructed virtual car.
If Formula E move forward and introduce a full season of eSports competition after this landmark disaster, it’s merely definitive proof the executives in charge of making decisions for the brand have lost all touch with reality. The Visa Vegas eRace was an embarrassment both to eSports, and to sim racing; an ambitious project that at no point was a captivating viewing experience any sane person would want more of.
I do not want to extend a genuine round of applause to just Bono Huis for taking home the top prize in the Visa Vegas eRace, but to all fellow sim racers who rolled off the grid; putting up with Formula E’s never-ending series of bullshit decisions must have been infinitely more challenging than 20 laps in a shitty CloudSport mod.