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?
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.
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.