It seems we can’t go more than a few months without some sort of bizarre eSports initiative launched by a company with more financial capital than logistical prowess. Initially teased a few days ago by none other than one of the biggest and most prestigious supercar brands in the history of the automobile, McLaren have officially taken the wraps off an eSports competition they’re dubbing the World’s Fastest Gamer; a cross-platform, cross-software championship where the winner receives the lucrative job of being “a Formula One simulator driver for McLaren” – whatever that means.
On the surface, it’s an impressive trend-setting gesture by an established automotive brand to dive head first into the world of eSports while their rivals merely roll out generic motion simulators and VR booths at major auto shows around North America in an effort to remain “hip” with the “kidz”, but unfortunately it’s also incredibly easy to poke holes in what McLaren are claiming to offer, and I can’t help but think that someone, somewhere, got taken for a ride with this endeavor.
The promotional video immediately acknowledges that unlike many other major pieces of software with a prominent eSports scene, racing simulators don’t have an overall ranking to determine who is the absolute best virtual driver on the planet, with the community split between about eight different games across no less than three different gaming platforms, so at least their knowledge of where the genre stands from a competitive aspect is surprisingly well-informed. However, we then learn that McLaren will also be taking into account mobile gamers who indulge in lighthearted titles such as EA’s Real Racing 3 – a highly contradictory move considering McLaren have billed this primarily as a hardcore simulator-oriented competition.
But then I am only left with more questions than answers. The games that will be featured in McLaren’s worldwide competition haven’t been formally announced, which is odd to say the least. Within the first hour of news in regards to Formula E’s Las Vegas event hitting the internet, we had a download link to the custom-built rFactor 2 mod and a few of the tracks they would be using for the qualification process, allowing participants to turn initial shakedown laps before news of the tournament had circulated across all major sim racing websites. And in terms of smaller championships, such as the CARS eSports Tour – officially sanctioned by the real life late model stock car series of the same name – the announcement of iRacing being used as the simulator of choice was revealed during the initial reveal. So it’s pretty suspicious that McLaren of all people are coming out with promotional material regarding their very own worldwide eSports competition, but they can’t even tell you what games are being used.
Not only that, how do you pitch some sort of series like this to a television network – which is probably the way this is going – when there will be several pieces of competing software on display at one time? Though I may be incorrect on this front, television shows may possibly fall under a different set of licensing sanctions than outlets such as YouTube; what happens if iRacing, Assetto Corsa, Project CARS, or Forza come out and say “hold up, we didn’t give you permission to use our product in this manner” – especially if they’re all going to be competing for television time against bitter rivals, or in Gran Turismo’s case, against an identical show with basically the same premise as what McLaren have planned.
It’s a bit of a licensing nightmare, only fueled by the fact that no games have been announced – just the overall purpose of the competition.
There’s also the question of just who will partake in McLaren’s competition, as the details they outline in the introduction trailer and incredibly vague and kind of defeat the whole purpose of a world wide sim racing competition. Though World’s Fastest Gamer is billed as this massive cross-platform, multi-simulator competition, it’s revealed about halfway through the video that six of the ten finalists will be hand-picked by “gaming experts” – which means if McLaren have roped in a prominent sim racing personality such as Darin Gangi to help oversee their operation, it’ll basically be just a bunch of iRacing road guys tossed into the fray, so Olli Pahkala, Greger Huttu, Bono Huis, Pablo Lopez, Martin Kronke, and Hugo Luis – spoiler alert, there’s your field.
Only four individuals will make it into the actual showcase element of the competition by winning the yet-to-be-announced qualification rounds, so in my opinion it’s more of a marketing gimmick to just toss the same cluster of iRacers who were already in the spotlight into yet another publicity stunt akin to the Visa Vegas eRace, rather than a true worldwide competition where some outsider has a genuine shot at immortality – or at least a prize that can buy lot of cocaine and some expensive hookers in Vegas.
Yet it’s what McLaren are planning to award the winner of the World’s Fastest Gamer that makes this all ridiculously hard to believe it will manifest in the intended fashion: what exactly constitutes as a “Formula One simulator driver for McLaren?” Do you get the official privilege of competing in iRacing events with a custom McLaren vehicle livery, and the tag of “McLaren F1 eSports” as your team name? If so, that’s all a bit pointless; this is something you can do yourself with Photoshop and by merely filling out the name field like a cheeky cunt – you don’t exactly need McLaren’s blessing for it, though if you take it too far and actually start to believe your own role-playing adventures, we’ll write an article on you because it’s funny as fuck.
But okay, let’s say this is a paid position at the McLaren offices, routinely giving their professional grade F1 simulator a shakedown. What would be the point? What would McLaren have to gain from some teenager who won an online contest turning laps in their Formula One simulator, and why would they actually put someone on the payroll for it as a legitimate job for twelve months, when data from professional drivers – who actually drive the real life, physical McLaren F1 cars – would be about a trillion times more suited to give proper feedback? Like, just think about this, after the first week, what would Bono Huis or Greger Huttu actually be able to help McLaren’s engineers with that Fernando Alonso or Stoffel Vandoorne can’t? Factor in McLaren’s current engine crisis with Honda, and I can’t image a multi-million dollar Formula One team would be all that happy with some random sim racer awkwardly stumbling around the offices asking for his daily go in the simulator, while the team scurries around trying to save their very real Formula One program from imminent disaster.
But unfortunately, the logistics aren’t on the same level as their aspirations. McLaren have announced they’re holding some major sim racing competition, but they can’t even tell us the games that will be used, the selection process doesn’t actually rely all that much on the actual competition aspect, but rather a “gaming expert” pulling names out of a hat, and the “grand prize” doesn’t even make sense when you consider what the vaguely described job title might entail. I’m under the belief somebody got taken for a ride, and we’ll find out exactly who, and by whom, as more details become available.