Reader Submission #145 – Can Liberty Media Get eSports Correct?

I think after Formula E’s Visa Vegas eRace disaster and subsequent dedication to a larger campaign in the future despite the obvious clusterfuck of an event, we all knew that the boys over at Formula One Management would jump into the fire sooner rather than later, hoping to go above and beyond the standard glitchfests we’re used to seeing from amateur efforts. Though details are still pretty scant, and Formula One 2017 won’t be in our hands for another day, Liberty Media have recently unveiled their plans for an adjacent eSports series using the officially licensed Codemasters title.

While there have been numerous groans over the title’s apparent lack of simulation value – a topic that at this point is pretty debatable given the so-called hardcore simulators’ lack of authenticity – our reader submission today comes from a user who believes that if anyone can pull this championship off successfully, it’s probably Liberty Media. Not relying on independent efforts, Liberty have actually gone out and recruited the correct people for the job, so there’s an actual chance this might not be a complete shitshow.

But will it result in sim racing finally landing a place in the eSports kingdom after what’s now several awkward years of botched events and a totally uninterested audience?

Hello PRC, it is I, MaldonaldoFan420. I’m sure you’ve heard the news that Formula One are looking to delve into eSports using Codemasters’ F1 2017 to hold a championship.

I completely understand if this sets alarm bells ringing throughout the sim racing landscape to a chorus of “here we go again”. Sim racing as an eSport is not a new concept, with iRacing pushing the “original eSports racing game” tagline for a year or two now, and yours truly still suffering from Vietnam-type flashbacks to the Visa E-Race. Attempts to bring sim racing to the forefront of eSports to join the likes of Rocket League, DOTA, and Counter-Strike have failed miserably and often have been downright embarrassing, so I completely understand any apprehension. However, reading through the press releases actually paints something of a positive picture.

First and foremost, this is Formula One themselves wanting to put this on.

iRacing have a pretty impressive roster of names on their service; NASCAR, IndyCar, IMSA, World of Outlaws and more are all available on the simulator. However, they appear to be little more than glorified licensing deals instead of legitimate sanctioning; maybe I just have no idea of what sanctioning actually is, but it just feels like a regular licensing deal and the aforementioned names don’t actually give much of a shit beyond that. I was able to find a Peak Antifreeze series schedule/results sheet on NASCAR.com through Google, but I couldn’t find a way to this through the main page. If you want to become a premier eSport of a certain series, it’s a bit of a problem when those series don’t actually advertise and promote beyond World of Outlaws occasionally tweeting about the WoO iRacing race going on that night.

Turning to Formula E, there’s no doubt they were behind it, but you can’t compare the popularity of F1 vs Formula E. It’s a series where washed-up F1 drivers go to die if they’re not good enough to go anywhere else, and the live events are questionable. It just isn’t popular, and if nobody wants to watch real Formula E, there won’t be an audience for a poor virtual rendition. Well, that’s not entirely true; there was an audience for the Visa E-Race, but they mostly came to laugh. The whole thing was an embarrassing memefest.

So Formula E lacks the popularity, and iRacing’s series have comparable popularity but they seem to not give much of a shit about iRacing; F1, however, is a titan of the motorsports realm whether you like it or not, and they are actively seeking to make this thing happen. And they’re into it; Liberty Media (F1’s new owners) are all about tackling new ideas to engage fans, particularly the younger demographic, and managing director Ross Brawn has straight-up said that F1 sees a lot of potential in sim racing as a test-bed for new rules and regulations. It certainly sounds like they’re dedicated and are taking this seriously, as opposed to doing a little sideshow to promote their game and then fucking off.

So F1 is huge, and they want this to happen. However, there’s a further hurdle to surmount in that this all has to go off without a hitch. We were all watching the Visa E-Race when it was plagued by technical issues, and it was fucking embarrassing. Thankfully, F1 planned out their shit and have brought Gfinity onboard to handle the technical proceedings of the competition. Gfinity know their stuff; they routinely hold LAN events for a roster of games including Rocket League and CS:GO, all broadcast live on UK TV channel BBC Three. Bringing on-board an established eSports organization like Gfinity, with experience in administrating live events for television, goes a long way to ease my mind that F1’s series will actually be well-run instead of a mediocre glitchfest.

That leaves everything down to the game itself, then, and time will tell when F1 2017 comes out in a few days. I would be massively, massively worried if they hadn’t fixed that crippling tire bug with F1 2016, but they did, so hopefully Formula One will be working with Codies to make sure everything is sound and exploit-free for a fair competition.

What do you think, PRC? Could this be it? It’s hard to have my hopes up too high, but there are many more positive signs this time around.

My bold prediction is this.

I think from a viewership standpoint, it will do very well. Unlike the aforementioned iRacing championships and Formula E disaster, Liberty Media have, oh, I don’t know, the biggest potential audience in the world for an eSports equivalent to Formula One. For example, if these guys were to put up the live feed of a race for their 3.6 million Facebook followers alone, the audience numbers would dwarf all past sim racing events combined, and then some. That’s before we factor in the inevitable coverage of the races from SkySports F1, the YouTube streams, the highlight videos, all of that fun shit which comes with holding a premiere eSports championship. The numbers are absolutely there for the suits at Formula One to say “we spent X amount of money and our product reached Y amount of eyes like we had planned.”

But will it be the final catalyst to help catapult sim racing into the spotlight?

I don’t believe so. At the most, it will be a somewhat solid online championship with no major controversies, one which is used as a testing ground for future Formula One rule changes. That’s it.

This is something we haven’t covered on PRC until now, but the guys over at Sector 3 partnered with Mercedes-Benz a few years ago to conduct a similar eSports championship, and these are races that are still going on to this day – the most recent being Sunday’s round at Zandvoort. With events streamed on the official Mercedez-Benz Facebook page – boasting a whopping 20 million potential viewers – the broadcast itself reeled in 155,000 individual views, an impressive statistic for any online championship, regardless of the game being played. These are FIFA or Super Smash Bros. tournament numbers, so a job well done to Sector 3 on this regard. Numerically, they are the undisputed leaders in the sim racing eSports scene at the moment. That’s right, in a surprising twist of events, the guys that built Race 07 are slaughtering iRacing at their own game, while not even bragging about eSports in their promotional material.

But despite 155,000 eyes on the software – objectively good numbers – what if I told you that this has done absolutely nothing to generate interest in the game, and that interest in the title has actually fallen dramatically over the past couple of months. The audience size equivalent to a full-capacity soccer stadium are taking in these events, but at the end of the day, only a couple hundred people are playing RaceRoom Racing Experience when all is said and done – a number even more shocking when you consider this game is actually free of charge and has pretty reasonable system requirements. So all of the dickwaving over view count means precisely nothing, because in this particular instance – even though the game is fucking FREE –  it’s declining in popularity.

This is proof that regardless of whether your title can be obtained and played by anyone for free so long as they have a modern internet connection, the on-track product is good, and partnerships have been made with marquee car companies and/or racing series, the average gamer just outright doesn’t care and probably will never care for sim racing. It’s too difficult for the normies to pick up because you basically need hundreds of practice laps just to get any sort of enjoyment from the software, and at the end of the day, real world racing exists. Why would a normal person whose interest in motorsport can be described as “passing” watch and get involved in fake DTM, when they can just watch real DTM and then go on with their day once the race ends?

And it’ll be the same with Formula One’s eSports championship. The average person, one who’s not already a simulator enthusiast, but rather a semi-casual auto racing fan, would rather watch Lewis Hamilton in a real car for a few hours and then continue with what they were doing previously; Greger Huttu is not going to inspire him to pick up F1 2017 and dive head first into the competitive world.

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45 thoughts on “Reader Submission #145 – Can Liberty Media Get eSports Correct?

  1. Sim racing will remain inaccessible to the average Joe as long as it requires anything more than a regular gamepad/controller. No matter how cheap FFB steering wheels get, they’re still a hassle to store, setup, and use. For the most part, any game that requires an extra peripheral only succeeds when the game experience is worth the hassle. Rock Band/Guitar Hero overcame this by the fact that they used popular music and encouraged a fun party-style multiplayer experience. Dance Dance Revolution mats were easy enough to roll-up/put away and also encouraged a party-like multiplayer (or even with a single mat, everyone would watch and wait their turn). Just Dance and other Kinect/camera-based games benefited from the fact that the camera only gets setup once and you’re good to go forever and even if you have to recalibrate it, it’s quick and easy to do.

    More than anything, all of the other games that require special peripherals are easy to learn, fun to watch, quick to jump in/out of, and very quick to setup. Sim racing isn’t fun for anyone else in the room to watch, it’s difficult to learn, takes lots of time for each race, and requires TONS of fiddling to get the FFB to feel right for the wheel. On top of all of that, most people don’t like tweaking and tuning vehicle setups for hours on end just for a single track/race event.

    Sim racing will get a broader audience and player base when wheels are more “standard” (ie, I don’t have to worry about one guitar working “better” than another one in Guitar Hero, so why should I have to worry about differences in FFB strength/fidelity between Logitech and Thrustmaster?). A good sim title with a bundled wheel with good settings out of the box with mostly shorter 10-15 minute races for spec racing series. This removes the need to spend ages finding the right wheel settings and then hundreds of practice laps refining the vehicle setup as well as allowing other drivers to try out the game quickly without getting frustrated or bored.

    Basically, this is the audience that F1 2017, GT Sport, and Project CARS 2 will be trying to reach… the same audience that the “hardcore sim racers” will be busy shouting down and turning away.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I agree that it is not accessible to all gamer, but neither is F1 or racing in real life for all drivers.

      If things turn out right, sim racers would have tuners, mechanics and a whole team that would stand behind him/her, in the same manner as there is in a real life team. Their job would be to set up rigs, tune and adjust the “car” to the race, and get the best out of what the game offers.

      There are already sim-driving-coaches and teams doing things very seriously, so just because competitive sim racing is not for you and me, there is definitely a potential market and interest in it, that justifies an official sport

      For me, the most important aspect, is the coverage, commentators and availability of the broadcasts. Imagine Martin Brundle commentating a 20 lap sim race, and having it broadcasted on a non race weekend where fans are starving for some action. This i would watch for sure, and maybe even pay money for

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  2. Besides picking Gfinity, it all looks promising. Gfinity messed the last Forza Championship up pretty bad, with lacking and changing information so although they might be good at shooters and other games, they did not get racing quite right on Forza. This could be because of the game though, but picking the right people is not as simple as it may sound. They ought to involve the passionate community more (if they haven’t already)

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  3. No James, the lack of simulation value is not “debatable” just because a perfect sim hasn’t been created.

    In F1 games you beat understeer by adding MORE lock, you beat wheelspin with any sort of opposite lock no matter the speed or lenght of the reaction, you mash the downshift button to get maximum engine braking without rear lockups or damage.

    Sure, many serious sims have cars with performance problems, usually too fast once setup by a fast player… But the driving isn’t completely backwards. These games are rubbish and don’t get ANYWHERE close to even a generic single seater feel.

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  4. Deandre Harris, claims to be victim of Nazi hate crime in Charlottesville and has crowfunded over $150,000 for his pain and suffering via GoFundMe. Truth: attacked with club and got his ass stomped out. #Maga #AltLeft

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  5. “even though the game is fucking FREE”

    No it’s not free. Try warframe or paladins on steam. Now those games are free. R3E is a demo at best labeled as free.

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    1. As for taking part in competitions, the game is completely free. All cars and tracks are provided. You have to buy stuff if you want to drive on single player on on private leagues.

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  6. Fantastic. What could be more tedious and boring than wasting a Sunday watching F1?
    Spending an evening watching people online clusterf*cking every turn on an F1 computer game. Superb.
    My life is complete.

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              1. At least this guy drives in a first person view rather than that twat Blackpanthaa. Bouncing off every Armco in chase view camera slagging off a game’s handling. What a bell end.

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                1. Mad that blackpanthaa also knows pcars and sms are a scam? No matter how good or bad of a racing game driver you are, with some intelligence anyone can reach that conclusion.

                  Liked by 1 person

          1. guys who only do lap videos or other things get no subscribers, traction or publicity. They are often faster and far better drivers. I have two I like but won’t mention to avoid annoying commentary, but they haven’t uploaded videos in a month. One is more focused in iRacing, the other has plenty of rf2, assetto, ams, and even nr03 videos.

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  7. You guys know that since the beginning of F1 201X the top guys are cheating?
    Yes its true – its pretty simple to cheat in F1 201X

    Grip Hack, Speed Hack, Engine Hack, KERS Hack (infinite KERS ie.), Weight Hack, everything easily programmable via Cheat Engine. There is even a guy selling it for 5 bucks.

    Sad truth is:
    Where there is a championship about good money, there will be many trying to cheat their way to victory.
    Very well seen with Rudy van Buren, he was 100% using cheats in rF2 McLaren competition.
    No one knew this guy sofar and suddenly appears.
    Sidefact: Most cheaters (%) and cheat creators come actually from the Netherlands.

    Sadly no one is really doing anything against it, see Counterstrike, everyone saw Flusha cheating in those demos, yet he has not been banned sofar. There was also strong indication that a guy cheated in RS6, yet he was not excluded. It’s a huge shame, but eSports actually increases cheating.
    You can compare it to the “Tour de France” or “Bodybuilding” where most guys are doping there way to the top.

    Gamers shouldn’t support eSports, it’s destroying gaming (fun) as we know it as it increases the amout of people that use cheats. Also people should condemn devs that are not at least trying to stop those cheaters properly (Anticheat software, permbans, etc.).

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  8. Sim racing will never catch on as an e sport when people can watch the real thing. Simple as that. You’ll never convince the vast majority of motorsport fans that watching guys imitate real racing on a computer is worth their time (and it isn’t).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. it doesn’t have to be beat real motorsport. Sims are games in the end, and esports are based on games played by people on LAN and those tournaments are watched home through streaming.

      So far sims are doing esports wrong because the streams are based on online competitions. Go watch csgo, dota2, etc. and in those tournaments you see the real people, like it also happened in the las vegas formula e sim race.

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      1. What’s the difference between those other games you mentioned and driving sims? You can’t do the things you do in those games in real life whereas a sim is an attempt to “simulate” (usually badly in the case of the games on the market today) real racing. So yes, it does have to compete with real, in the flesh racing. Actually seeing the player doesn’t make it more interesting when it’s some dude sitting in front of a computer screen. Once again, the vast majority of race fans do not care about these racing games, so watching such a thing would be of no interest.

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        1. yeah, you don’t get it. These are still games, it could be sims with real or wacky racing rules, but if the game is competitive with high skill ceiling, and pro players get highlighted, it gathers a following to be watched through twitch or youtube streaming. But it needs to be a tournament with players at LAN, not playing from their home.

          Esport games only compete with esport games, not with real sports.

          “Actually seeing the player doesn’t make it more interesting when it’s some dude sitting in front of a computer screen”

          I take it you’ve never watched an esports tournament to realize it isn’t just a dude sitting in front of a computer screen.
          If the event is organized nicely then it will keep the following.

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          1. No I really don’t understand the appeal e sports, I’ll admit that, but you’re missing the point that racing games present a different challenge. There isn’t a large number of people interested in these games to begin with and people interested in racing are unlikely to be drawn into watching.

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            1. Is because the only tournaments/leagues in racing games are just online multiplayer games. CS esports grew as LAN party tournaments. Is very rare for something in racing or sim racing to be organized like that.

              But when you get such a tournament for sim racing the way it is done for other esports games, then sim racing esports can gain traction in terms of fans and followers.

              That’s what iracing should organize, a LAN tournament with their american players. They have money and there are many iracing players from usa. Then broadcast the whole event on twitch. But with real people, otherwise having the players just play from their home it will never be interesting, they have to be there in the studio.

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  9. eSports works great for stuff like Tekken, because it’s crazy, over-the-top and incredibly tense to watch what amounts to a 3D chess match as each player adapts to the other’s moves. You don’t need to know a *thing* about the game itself to “get it”. It also helps that the matches are short and immediately engaging.

    Compare that to the snooze-fest of watching sim racing. You really need to be borderline obsessional to find it entertaining in the slightest.

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    1. because so far all the attempts at broadcasting races are just amateur attempts. Get someone with a bit better tools and creativity, also in terms of casting, and you get a nice race for the spectator. But is worthless to do this with players racing from home. They need to be all in the same room and ocassionally show the players as well. You may think what for, but it adds to the excitement and appeal of watching a sim race stream.

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      1. I think you’d be right if, for instance, you threw a few actual F1 drivers in there (young guys like Ocon, Verstappen and Vandoorne presumably) and let them go at it vs the sim drivers.

        You’d have to make sure the real F1 drivers gave a damn and actually tried to compete (as opposed to fucking around and wrecking).

        What would be really cool is to require all the current F1 drivers to participate and assign them cars randomly. Marcus Ericsson in a Mercedes W08, that sort of thing. I guess there’s a lot of ways they could spice it up, but I honestly don’t believe many people are going to care about a virtual race which only involves a bunch of simracing nobodies.

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        1. The thing is that isn’t just a a race of sim racing nobodies. It will grow to several known and popular sim racers taking part in sim racing tournaments. Esports in other games happens almost every month when there’s a tournament. So people get familiar with the players over the time. That’s how things grow, both for players and spectators.

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        2. Do you watch the AMG Mercedes esports Events? The races do include a so called gentleman driver from the AMG DTM drivers. Only a few can keep the pace of the simracers.

          Like

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