It was a weekend of the impossible. While western sports news outlets are well on their way to spending the next six months obsessing over Tom Brady’s downright improbable comeback against a superior Atlanta Falcons defense in NRG Stadium during the closing minutes of Super Bowl LI, a group of dweeby teenagers and twenty-somethings traditionally holed up on a rebellious message board notorious for its influence on the 2016 United States presidential election channeled some of that same fourth quarter magic when they needed it the most. After years of being subjected to absolute, unfiltered virtual carnage, embarrassing miscellaneous growing pains, and a handful of users who desperately needed to step away from the computer screen in pursuit of self-improvement, the on-track product produced by 4Chan on Saturday afternoon was the complete opposite of the chaos that has defined the website since its inception.
Sure, mainstream media outlets may claim these childless, single men sit around masturbating to anime in their spare time, but the fifty minutes spent ripping around the Trois-Riviers street circuit on Saturday afternoon – as well as how the group got to that point – is nothing short of impressive.
Originally beginning life as a private Live for Speed server before migrating to the Xbox 360 with the Forza Motorsport franchise, 4Chan’s sim racing community has always acted as an extremely private, hole-in-the-wall alternative to RaceDepartment or Reddit, where lewd liveries and blatant trash talking were highly encouraged, in stark contrast to the extremely strict and judgemental communities managed by users who can best be described as “sim dads” – older gentlemen believing respect, sportsmanship, and brownie points are just as important as the racing itself. When the original Forza Horizon title failed to support anything but the most simplistic of online events, yet also reeled in an entirely new audience curious about the world of sim racing from their time spent in Playground’s virtual rendition of Colorado, the choice was made to instead branch out to encompass all aspects of virtual racing.
Within two years, the community had grown into a large enough entity which warranted a semi-competitive rFactor league, hosted by individuals who weren’t really experienced in running any sort of proper series, and attended primarily by radical sim racers who had grown frustrated with the ultra-strict climate of proper leagues. With Risto Kappet and Guus Verver of virtual racing super group Walk Racing – who at the time were competing in the highly prestigious Touring Pro Series – appearing alongside an already stout selection of ultra quick independent drivers such as myself, our own PRC contributor Severin Austerschmidt, and Ethan Dean of virtual monster truck fame, the 4Chan championship became an unusually talented pool of individuals for a weekly series of events that had no credibility in the sim racing landscape whatsoever.
Fostering an environment that encouraged blatant piracy, heinous insults, absurd chat macros, offensive paint schemes, and allowing every last virtue that would see you banned from a traditional online series for eternity, the inagural season of the 4Chan GT3 cup brought a whopping 52 entries to Spa-Francorchamps in the fall of 2014, with entry lists routinely staying in the high thirties until the season finale at Interlagos – a five car battle for the championship eventually captured by yours truly.
However, for all of the initial hurdles the ragtag group of sim racers seemed to overcome with ease in the creation of a private championship – such as securing a large, core group of users to participate in the full season, as well as putting down the funds for a proper LiveRacers account and routinely updating the numerous livery packs – one major roadblock still remained: nerds on the internet rarely get along with each other for more than a few weeks at a time.
As the group continued to host major online championships over a number of years, first using the original rFactor platform with popular sports car & endurance racing mods before moving to Stock Car Extreme once a pirated version was made available, it became increasingly obvious that the actual racing portion came second to specific individuals. The number of avoidable on-track incidents increased substantially, primarily caused by users who later admitted they didn’t even enjoy racing games but merely needed a group of online friends to combat long-term isolation and the lack of any social group away from the computer, while packs of racers formed alliances with one another and worked to try and chase away individuals with whom they weren’t fond of – using the online discussion board traditionally reserved for sim racing talk to instead generate distaste for other users.
The general ugliness surrounding 4Chan’s sim racing community following a successful first season was then kicked into overdrive after multiple changes in the ecosystem within a very short period of time. The lone female user quickly attracted a pack of beta orbiters to shower her in sympathy after a poor on-track performance in her own private chat channel (provided she even started the race at all), a driver allowed to return after a prolonged bout of self-loathing returned to his old behavior of intentionally smashing into other drivers before asking to play a different genre of games altogether, and server scripts were written to boot disliked drivers from the server every nine minutes; just enough to make them believe their personal install of Stock Car Extreme was acting up.
The community then imploded on itself when genuine photographic evidence surfaced of a respected series organizer – who had suspiciously stopped racing yet still frequented the voice chat server on a nightly basis – was revealed to have been using the league primarily as a way to connect with a transsexual from the United Kingdom, and fly halfway around the world for an intimate encounter under the guise of a “4Chan sim racing meetup.” What was once a thriving online racing community refusing to turn into an elaborate sim dad country club had officially become a transsexual dating application.
Extreme toxicity arising from the situation saw even the most neutral of 4Chan sim racers packing up their stuff and vowing never to return – the scheduled championships at the time dwindling to embarrassingly low levels of participation.
Facing the complete destruction of a community that once defiantly stood up to the politically correct side of sim racing, and offered a unique hole-in-the-wall joint to discuss the genre without being viciously attacked by fanboys down-voting you into oblivion, or power-tripping moderators liberally throwing around the ban hammer, the decision was made in early 2017 to resurrect the GT3 championship which temporarily put 4Chan on the map as a chaotic yet immensely competitive online league, primarily as a last ditch effort to revive the positive elements of the community for one last hurrah. The points system would be intentionally ridiculous, the schedule would visit tracks which encouraged destruction in an online setting – such as the claustrophobic Lime Rock Park and Macau circuits – and the mod itself would be a clusterfuck of 3D models and physics, making use of the Ultimate GT3 Compilation 2.0 instead of a high caliber release.
There was simply no effort put in whatsoever to create a compelling on-track product, only to bring people together for what was intended to be a final celebration of sorts before the community was put out of its misery.
The first event of the season produced a fifty minute duel between myself and Ethan Dean, with my Audi running out of fuel on the final lap. The chat server reacted to our race-long battle as if they had been watching a NASCAR event; with third and fourth place giving updates to the rest of the participants from their front row seats to the action. It was a surprisingly compelling on-track product for a racing series created out of spite, and oddly enough, the number of overall incidents had been significantly lower than first expected. Rather than descending into an all-out war in the post-race discussion, everyone seemed pleasantly surprised that something thrown together as a joke went so goddamn well.
The next event, held at the Potrero de los Funes Circuit in Argentina, unified everyone in their hate of the complex temporary street circuit, though the unpredictability led to a situation where merely stringing together a decent sector – or even a full lap at that – would allow you to make radical gains on your opponent. The final results were not a reflection of who had been able to dial in their setup the best over the week of practice, but who could survive fifty minutes at a track none of us had even heard of and were still struggling to memorize.
Once again, it was a radically different result than everybody had been expecting. But was a succession of successful races little more than a complete fluke, or had group of sim racers from 4Chan finally gotten their act together and moved on from the terrible phase of toxicity?
The following week, we would have the answer to that question.
The third round of the 2017 4Chan GT3 series brought participants to Trois-Riviers, Quebec – a very short regional street circuit traditionally holding a round of the NASCAR Pinty’s Series each season, with no less than three ninety degree corners accented by sharp barriers jutting out onto the racing surface, and a treacherous hairpin marking the end of each lap. This is a circuit that even the most accomplished of sim racers struggle with due to how unforgiving the first sector of the circuit can be, and yet this was round three in a championship designed for casual sim racers plastering anime women on their vehicles – some of whom would be racing on an Xbox 360 controller and at the mercy of the endless concrete walls with an inadvertent twitch of their thumb.
In a ten minute qualifying shootout nobody expected to even manifest itself in the first place, due in no small part to a massive thirty car field spread over a circuit which took just a minute to complete, the lead spot on the grid was eventually determined by just nine thousandths of a second – going down to the very last lap turned in the session. This kind of gap is unheard of in top level sim racing, much less a group of guys on 4Chan just sort of fucking around.
And yet here was 4Chan putting on a show.
And though the race itself featured no lead changes, the final twenty minutes of the event saw the two race leaders separated by just a second – an attack spearheaded by a pink & white McLaren adorned with cartoon girls – despite cars that had not once been balanced by league organizers in an effort to retain a level playing field, as the series itself was constructed primarily as a joke. This kind of white-knuckle racing was not possible thanks to just two talented drivers at the front of the field going for broke, but an entire field of 4Chan users who traveled to one of the most difficult circuits in sim racing armed with used wheels and Xbox 360 controllers, and somehow kept their composure for almost an hour of driving at speeds over 200 km.h.
We weren’t just hauling ass in a quest for bragging rights; even the lapped traffic, drivers participating in the event for shits and giggles, were somehow managing to keep their cars in one piece and pointed in the proper direction – with no more or less retirements than could be expected from a proper online series where everyone gave a shit.
All of this, from a website the media describes as an overwhelming amount of single men masturbating to anime.
It was an impressive group accomplishment for a community that desperately needed to pull off something like this; yes, they had brought 52 cars to Spa in the fall of 2014 for the biggest rFactor race you’d never heard of, but over a period of years, they also chased away a large portion of their core userbase due to inexplicably poor driving standards, unnecessary internal drama, and private transsexual encounters. Being able to place a rebellious group of sim racers – some of whom don’t even own plastic steering wheels wheels – on one of the most difficult street circuits in the world and having it play out in a compelling race everyone was glad to be a part of, is nothing short of phenomenal.
And yet meanwhile on iRacing, people are paying top dollar to get wrecked only a hundred feet after the start/finish line…