With lucrative brands such as nVidia, Sparco, and Thrustmaster footing the bill for what was supposed to be Assetto Corsa’s most important and prestigious online championship ever held in Kunos Simulazioni’s little simulator that could, today’s Eurogamer.it Assetto Corsa Championship race at Imola instead highlighted why the software itself has attained so many critics in the years since its arrival on Steam in the fall of 2013. Though the high-profile broadcast duo of Matteo Lorenzetti and Shaun Cole of The SimPit did their best to provide an entertaining auditory backdrop for the series’ first event on the calendar, exhibiting a very natural chemistry that was the lone highlight of the three hour livestream, we’re at the point where sim racing just isn’t working out as some sort of headline eSports event in the manner a lot of people expected, and on top of the numerous flubs of both technical and on-track varieties, the reasons many avoid using Assetto Corsa as a serious league platform were unfortunately on display this afternoon.
I was privileged enough to view this event in real time, but the Imola round of Eurogamer’s championship isn’t even worth a tape-delayed viewing for shits and giggles; this endeavor wasn’t bad in a comical sense, where a selection of memes will arise from the various oddities that popped up throughout the broadcast – it was instead a kind of XFL bad; nothing about the on-track product itself, nor the presentation, was enticing on any level. If this is the pinnacle of traditional online sim racing championships – none of this one-off Vegas eRacing stuff, but what we can expect to see from major sim competitions in the future not named iRacing – this simply isn’t going to ever catch on.
The driving standards were poor, the presentation was limited by Assetto Corsa’s lack of live/replay/live functionality, numerous delays left viewers waiting around for several minutes at a time, the commercials lasted far longer than what would be considered reasonable for an online stream, and the race itself wasn’t competitive in the slighest – a winner had been determined only a handful of laps into the event.
It just didn’t work. Back to the drawing board.
What you see is the opening shot all five hundred viewers were greeted with at the start of the broadcast. Generic EuroTrash electronic music blared over Matteo Lorenzetti and Shaun Cole’s lengthy introduction for several minutes, with the Twitch chat aggressively demanding the music to be turned off, effectively neutering any sort of proper reveal the broadcast team had carefully planned out. Instead, users were forced to merely take in the static shot of Imola’s main grandstand section, which had been plastered with an obnoxious amount of nVidia ads. Given this was a 1988 version of the San Marino Grand Prix, seeing the entire location re-branded with Sparco, Thrustmaster, and nVidia ads, looked absolutely silly. I understand that there was this weird retro-modern vibe the series was trying to achieve, pairing the Lotus 98T with a collection of historic tracks that had been given a make-over to appease the numerous primary sponsors, but in execution it gave the whole event this really strange atmosphere.
Every team in the field had also been given extremely radical liveries that directly contrasted the simplistic designs seen on the actual 1986 Grand Prix grid, so it was difficult to understand what was supposed to be accomplished here with the Eurogamer championship from an aesthetic standpoint. Here you had historical cars on historical tracks, but re-imagined with modern liveries and intrusive sponsorship branding, which of course was then hastily plastered on the Stream’s overlay – the giant billboards giving out Sparco discount codes obviously weren’t enough.
There was also seemingly a massive push by event organizers to make the trackside landscape appear more populated than their original releases as free add-ons for Assetto Corsa, though upon closer inspection – as you can see in the shot above – this resulted in a ton of identical safety marshals sporting bright orange jumpsuits copied and pasted just a few feet from one another.
After an introduction period that dragged on for far too long, and numerous lengthy advertisement breaks that quite frankly weren’t necessary, Qualifying eventually did get underway well after the advertised start time, prominently displaying a major issue with the broadcast itself. The Eurogamer stream exhibited a single-digit framerate for the duration of Qualifying, which made the action impossible to follow. I’m not trying to embellish or make things out to be worse than they really were for dramatic effect; the stream was comparable to illegal hockey or football streams you can get at FirstRow Sports. Halfway through the session, the chat had turned into a frenzy of people taking shots at the framerate, because the footage was basically unwatchable.
What you could see if you were willing to put up with the poor quality of the stream, simply wasn’t compelling. The overlay was blocky and unorganized, the action on the track showcased Assetto Corsa’s spotty netcode, with cars warping all over the place like hovercrafts and repeatedly glitching into the ground prior to the Variante Alta chicane, and driver images came with poorly photoshopped fake fire suits over each picture. For a major championship, everything about the viewing experience was decidedly amateurish.
Shortly before qualifying ended, the Stream was taken offline, only to resurface with an absurdly long advertisement break featuring repetitive Thrustmaster product demonstrations aimed at the Flight Simulator crowd, as well as a recycle of the series’ long-winded promotional trailer, which at this point had been played four or five times throughout the broadcast as filler material.
Upon finally returning to Imola, the gap between the end of qualifying session and the start of the race itself had stretched to almost thirty minutes of non-stop adverts – as if we’d been sitting through a real-world weather delay. Alas, we were told the wait would be worth it, as these were the top sim racers in Europe hand-picked by series organizers to compete for very expensive prizes, such as a top-of-the-line nVidia graphics card, Thrustmaster racing wheel, and Sparco racing seat, among many other rewards. Despite the technical hiccups and other miscellaneous delays, the on-track product – what everybody was here for – would supposedly speak for itself.
Instead, we had to restart the event three separate times.
The first accident took out the field before a majority of the cars had even crossed the start finish line, warranting a complete restart. It was a virtual re-enactment of the U.S. 500, CART’s disaster at Michican in 1996 during their attempt to create a rival event to the Indy 500, which saw nearly the entire field involved in an incident on the pace lap.
The second restart produced a very similar accident playing out just after the start/finish line, with only five cars making it to the Tamburello curve within striking distance of the leader – the rest once again involved in a growing cluster of wrecked Lotus grand prix entries.
The third and final restart produced similar results, though a decision was made by race control to continue with attempt number three of the event despite a car in the top five completely blowing the Tamburello curve, ping-ponging off the external concrete barrier, and flying back onto the racing surface before taking out a number of cars, which you can see behind the pause menu in the picture below (look just under the word Corsa in Assetto Corsa).
Instead of being granted a slew of hilarious replays depicting the opening lap chaos, the commentary team of Matteo Lorenzetti and Shaun Cole instead had to awkwardly tell viewers that limitations of Assetto Corsa simply did not allow them to show replays to the audience and then snap back to real-time as they would in a simulator like iRacing or rFactor 2, basically admitting that the software they were using for the Championship was inadequate for online broadcasting purposes.
Not only were there no replays to speak of, the pair also had to make quite clear that any on-board footage – where dashboard gauges were clearly visible – were not representative of the actual car’s performance at that very moment; limitations in Assetto Corsa do not accurately transmit rev counter, turbo dial, or speed indicator data when spectating an opponents’ vehicle, so those watching the feed in an effort to learn how to take a certain corner like the best sim racers in Europe, couldn’t actually learn anything.
Two laps in, another wreck takes place, this time among some of the front runners. The best sim racers Europe had to offer – hand-picked to partake in the series – were mostly incapable of driving these cars, instead opting to just monster truck over the massive kerbs and simply hope for the best – which became increasingly apparent as the laps clicked off and more drivers fell victim to their own lack of talent. Many drivers would run wide in certain corners or make what appeared to be very amateurish mistakes, with competitors often embarking on impromptu lawnmower impersonations, which led viewers in the Twitch feed chat began to make comparisons to public lobby racing.
The continuous mess playing out behind him allowed notable Assetto Corsa personality Hany Al-Sabti to literally walk away from the field, building an enormous gap between himself and second place while lapping everyone up to sixth throughout the sixty lap affair. Polesitter Tuomas Tahtela was a non-factor in the event and crashed multiple times, unable to keep the Lotus 98T under him, while Jakub Charkot – who qualified just behind Al-Sabti in third – spent the majority of the Grand Prix trailing Al-Sabti by several seconds, never once coming within striking distance.
With Hany Al-Sabti seemingly the only entry on the grid who could click off multiple competitive laps in a row, the snoozer of a race became even more insufferable when it was revealed that Al-Sabti’s decision to select medium compound tires had allowed him to complete the full race distance without a pit stop, as opposed to the majority of his opponents who were pitting for fresh rubber. I’m not trying to take away from Al-Sabti’s victory here, as he obviously came prepared and absolutely deserved to win the event with his performance and strategy today, but as a viewer, I would have liked to seen a race of some sorts. This was not a race in the slightest; it was a parade of virtual cars that was over well before the contest had reached the half-way mark.
And I can’t say I’m the only one who feels this way, either. When the Eurogamer Twitch feed suddenly cut out at lap 24 of 60 and was offline for about thirty seconds, the live audience dwindled to just 289 viewers once we got going again. nVidia, Thrustmaster, and Sparco have a non-existent return on investment in sponsoring this championship – those are horrible numbers for any sort of online event broadcast.
In the coming days, Eurogamer – which seems to be a major European gaming outlet – will obviously talk up their Assetto Corsa Championship as some resounding success with “a few first-timer issues”, but as you can see from the recap above, the event itself was anything but. There were plans to have weekly round-table discussion shows, massive sponsorship participation from high-profile companies, and an ultra-competitive group of sim racers helping to push the series forward into the realm of eSports, but today’s Grand Prix of San Marino was honestly brutal.
The massive sponsor banners were far too intrusive for what little purpose they served. The race itself needed to be restarted three times because the best sim racers in Europe could not drive straight for more than a hundred feet without wrecking. One guy walked away from the rest of the pack and nearly lapped the whole field. The commentary duo had to explain on several occasions that shortcomings of Assetto Corsa didn’t let them present the race in a manner that would be appealing to viewers, despite the website giving a glowing score of 90 to the PC version of Assetto Corsa. Technical issues created major delays in programming, with the longest reaching an elapsed time of almost thirty minutes, on top of several smaller breaks with excruciatingly long advertisements that simply weren’t justified given the audience of around five hundred at its absolute peak. Does this sound like something a vast array of gamers would willingly watch in their free time? Of course not.
We’re running out of attempts to get these endeavors right, as companies like nVidia, Thrustmaster, Visa, Peak Anti-Freeze, and Sparco aren’t going to stick around for long if they continue to throw a whole bunch of money at people to organize this stuff, only for the result to be so underwhelming and downright boring.