One thing that has unfortunately come to define my time spent sim racing throughout the 2010’s – for better or for worse – is the rare yet frustrating scenario of a permanent iRacing ban. To this day (well, last night), I’m still receiving Facebook messages from ex-iRacing members who seemed to have run afoul of a particularly trigger-happy administration group, and are wondering what they can do about the hundreds of dollars in content they’ve purchased which they no longer have access to.
It’s a valid question to ask, because when your Sports Illustrated subscription runs out, a rep from S.I. doesn’t show up at your house and confiscate all your magazines dating back ten or twenty years until you pay the subscription fee again. Yet that’s more or less how iRacing as a service has been configured; it’s a system so uncommon that most people don’t even know what their rights are as a consumer when a situation like this happens. And for the longest time, that was where things ended if you found yourself on the end of iRacing’s banhammer – you were fucked, the community would smear you as a troublemaker, and that was that.
Thankfully, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. As iRacing grew in popularity, myself and a few others ended up going down this road and established a bit of a blueprint that other iRacers can now follow should this happen to them. It’s not a 100% perfect solution, but it’ll prevent you from writing any sort of deranged-sounding emails to the staff or making thinly veiled threats of hiring a lawyer which both parties know you won’t follow up on.
So for starters, how common are permanent bans? Is this something you, as an average iRacer, should be worried about?
The short answer is no, not really.
If you live a relatively quiet sim racing life – you don’t get to know your fellow community members, you only do a few races per week, you don’t drink & sim race, and you’re just not a good enough driver to find yourself regularly trading paint with others – this isn’t something you need to worry about. Sure, you might come across one or two assholes who protest you over minor incidents at Bristol or Martinsville, but you’ll generally fly under the radar. You don’t need to be paranoid that iRacing’s going to take all your money one day.
The more involved you get in the service, however, it’s a situation that while rare, can happen without much effort on your part.
NASCAR races, in particular, get quite rowdy on the service, and it’s not uncommon for people to emulate what they see on Sunday by intentionally wrecking others who are deemed to have “disrespected them.” Protests fly quite liberally in these cases and developing a grudge against another guy – and his friends – can see the volume of protests against you quickly stack up, with iRacing deeming you’re some sort of troublemaker even if that really isn’t the case. Personally I find it odd that a game crams an excessive number of quarter and half mile bullrings into its playlists and expects its’ users to get along – handing out harsh penalties when they don’t – but that’s a topic for another day.
Certain articles in the Sporting Code, mainly 18.104.22.168, also prohibit any sort of prolonged criticism aimed at the game, so if you’re the kind of person who expects a tire model project to not take ten years – and you’re consistently vocal about it or go the content creation route because that’s your thing – this can result in problems if you’re not someone with a bit of immunity: IE, a professional driver, or a YouTube personality who can leverage a large following if things go south.
Therefore, the idea that permanent bans always indicate gross misconduct, is a myth perpetuated by fanboys who for some reason feel obligated to defend a company that doesn’t even know they exist. Which is weird, but again, a tangent for another day.
I myself know of three permanent bans among medium-to-high profile users.
The first, being iRacing Coke Series champion Ryan Luza. This was a situation both parties have since moved on from, but it’s worth bringing up for the topic at hand. Prior to his eSports prowess, Luza was a real life late model champion down in Florida and had maintained an active iRacing subscription since his early teens. A certain iRacing sponsor who shall remain nameless, straight up accused him of cheating – implying a USB telemetry logger seen at an iRacing seminar in Texas was being used for nefarious means – and iRacing basically took his word for it. Luza’s relatively young age combined with his speed on the sim was deemed to be suspicious and he was removed from the service, only to quietly return a few years later and the incident never spoken of again. Watching Coke Series broadcasts is weird given the complete 180 iRacing has pulled on this guy.
The second, and my personal favorite, a guy by the name of Chris Miller – which the IndyCar community on iRacing knows all too well. Chris had discovered the draft model in the IR-05 was borked and didn’t allow for the slingshot technique to work as it should, as well as the high line at all tracks being rendered completely useless due to the game’s sub-par tire model. Chris, as a result, farmed easy wins by aggressively blocking down to the infield grass, knowing the game’s physics were so broken at the time, nobody could actually pass him without just blatantly wrecking him. The community responded in the only way they knew how – protesting the absolute shit out of him until iRacing deemed him to be a nuisance and got rid of him – though this was short-lived as Chris owned a small computer repair shop and would simply show up under a fake name a few weeks later using a brand new PC and IP address, restarting the process all over again.
The third, is myself. This one’s a less entertaining story than the other two; content creation is what got me in trouble. iRacing “didn’t agree with” the articles I’d written criticizing several elements of their service, tracked down my name, and got rid of me by citing section 22.214.171.124 of the sporting code. Extremely high profile YouTube personalities are immune from this sort of punishment, as banning, say, Jimmy Broadbent, would result in tens of thousands of angry tweets aimed at them and a small PR nightmare that might make rounds on more mainstream gaming publications, but smaller content creators can and will be given the axe if it’s believed there won’t be any sort of backlash from it. Like Chris Miller, I found ways back on.
Given what has transpired in the iRacing community throughout 2020 and into 2021, it’s hard to deem these situations warranting permanent bans – when we have iRacers making YouTube vlogs threatening to kill their middle school teacher, it puts things like blocking down to the apron into perspective – yet it’s worth knowing what to do if you find yourself in an equally retarded situation.
So you’ve been permanently banned from iRacing.
You’re upset. In your eyes, you didn’t deserve that punishment – and based on what I’ve outlined above, your intuitions are probably correct. You now have no way of racing with your friends anymore, Assetto Corsa just doesn’t cut it for you because you’re more of a NASCAR guy, and the hundreds of dollars you’ve spent on content have all gone to waste – DLC purchased for a game you’re no longer allowed to play. You’ve resigned yourself to the fact that NASCAR Heat will have to suffice (for now), but you’re curious as to how a company can just keep hundreds of dollars you’ve paid them to drive cars and tracks you no longer have access to – and you kind of want that money back since that seems a tad scummy on their part.
Where do you go from here?
Let’s talk about iRacing’s content structure. This is something you need to understand first and foremost as it provides a leg for you to stand on, and is integral to a refund argument.
Because the game is subscription-based, iRacing’s content licensing model has been authored in a way where you technically don’t own any new car or track you buy – you instead rent a license to use it in their game, while your subscription is active. This is where the slang “iRenting” comes from, and you’ll see it used quite liberally in sim racing forum posts from the early 2010’s. The first generation of sim racers read the fine print and it was a hot topic of discussion among many sim communities when iRacing first got off the ground. Paying for the license to drive their Ford Mustang, means you as a consumer have the right to ask “what about my Ford Mustang” if the service actively prevents you from signing into the game at all.
As signing into the member site now gives you an error – your account has been suspended – iRacing is denying you access to the money you’ve spent on the rights to drive that Ford Mustang, not to mention whatever else you paid for.
Think of this process as a series of gates – the subscription to iRacing being the first “gate”, and the cars and tracks you’ve bought being the second “gate.”
You’ve paid to unlock the second gate, but the first gate is now permanently locked on you and the shopkeeper won’t let you in. What, exactly, has your money gone towards?
The answer is nothing, which means this practice is not legal. There’s a reason why, if some e-thot blocks you on OnlyFans because her husband found out she was sexting you on other platforms, your subscription is automatically refunded. Doing anything else would be illegal in pretty much all western countries. You can’t just take a customer’s money under the pretense you’d provide him with something in return, and yet not give him anything.
There are two ways in which iRacing can proceed here.
The first, and most painless option, is to simply let you back on the service. In most cases, this is the preferred option as many situations that originally warranted either a lengthy suspension or a ban, in hindsight probably aren’t as bad as iRacing has made them out to be and a simple phone call to a live steward can clear things up. This indeed is an option as several of us, even those who have merely had forum privileges revoked (I think my buddy Chris falls into this category), have spoken to iRacing staff over the phone.
The second option is to give you a full refund for all non-consumable items you’ve purchased on the service. You aren’t entitled to the money you’ve spent on, for example, hosted sessions or subscriptions from 2013, but cars and tracks, absolutely yes. And I think we all know that the cost of cars and tracks can quickly add up to several hundred dollars worth of content based on how long you’ve been on the service.
It’s a lot more money than most people are willing to admit.
The problem is, iRacing will often fight this and give you the runaround over email, which isn’t uncommon practice in the video game industry – ex-Star Citizen players have reported similar issues when requesting refunds on their end, to the point where an entire subreddit was created to help you navigate the numerous emails and bogus statements you’d receive from the “refund specialist.”
The best way to proceed is to simply state that you’d like a refund for all non-consumable content – IE cars and tracks – as based on your local consumer protection laws they are actively denying you access to the money you’ve spent. You paid specifically to drive a Ford Mustang in their game, and now aren’t being allowed in the game at all. You have a right to know what’s happened to the money you’ve spent to drive that Mustang – not to mention the other cars and tracks you’ve paid for the license to use.
They have to do something about the money you’ve spent on the rights to drive the Mustang, this isn’t something they can just keep in limbo indefinitely, and they are obligated to pick option A or B.
Failure to do so, and you’ve got a pretty open/shut case in small claims court. Once this is pointed out to them, refunds are quickly arranged.
This also applies to short-term iRacing suspensions, but that’s a can of worms that just… keep this between us, okay?
Now, there’s a second element to this whole scenario which presents itself. Even after a permanent ban – which may or may not have been under dubious circumstances – the relative obscurity of sim racing as a genre means there isn’t exactly an iRacing rival on the market.
Stock car fans who find themselves unable to play iRacing are stuck between the casual-oriented NASCAR Heat series, and modding a game that is nearly two decades old. Road racing enthusiasts discover that while Assetto Corsa does have a few platforms for organized online events operating in a fashion similar to iRacing, these platforms are still indeed growing and don’t offer the colossal numbers or variety of car classes that iRacing does – if SRS says everybody’s racing Porsche Cup and Skip Barber that month, your options are to assimilate, or wait six weeks for the season to change over in the hopes you get something more interesting.
This means a lot of people are naturally curious how to circumvent iRacing bans, if only to continue getting their NASCAR fix, or race with friends that are too stubborn to try other sims (sorry Chris). And it’s relatively easy, just time consuming and potentially costly. There is, however, a surefire way to do it.
To the best of my knowledge, and based on my previous experience in pulling this endeavor off successfully, iRacing’s background software checks for four main elements.
- Your name
- Your IP address
- Your MAC address
- Your motherboard
The initial step is to register for the game using a burner email and VISA pre-paid card via some sort of online portal. This allows you to set your own name on iRacing to… whatever you’ve typed in on the VISA card… as well as designate any region you’d like. Personally I’ve used the zip codes and addresses of pizza joints since they’re publicly available online and don’t need to be written down – you just google the pizza place you used. As you need funds for content or a subscription, you just replenish the card with whatever you need, or set up a paypal account with the burner email and transfer funds from your actual account, to the burner variant.
The second step can be more convoluted and costly. A quick fix, is to simply change your IP and use a brand new gaming PC. As mentioned earlier in the article, Chris Miller had owned a small computer repair outlet and would simply construct new PC’s out of spare parts he had lying around, allowing him to circumvent system-level checks to find himself back on iRacing within days, if not hours. I followed this path myself simply because so much time had passed and I indeed received a new gaming PC about a year prior to attempting this stunt, and it straight up worked. I ran completely undetected for about three months, and had I not made a YouTube video about how bizarre the ARCA Menards Impala was to drive – resulting in psychotic iRacing fanboys with anime avatars ratting me out – would still be on the service.
So if you’ve been out of iRacing for a few years due to a permanent ban and recently purchased a pre-built PC, or have some spare parts kicking around for a dedicated iRacing rig, you’re probably good to go for round two – and you can just keep doing this indefinitely as needed.
The more cost effective way is to change your MAC address and motherboard, but I can’t guarantee this will work as I’ve never personally tried it. If Chris is still around these parts, you’re best asking him.
Regardless, you can easily be racing with your friends again, under silly monikers or just generic-sounding aliases. We did it, I’ve watched other people do it, and in both cases it was pretty easy.
Their security measures aren’t nearly as intense as they’ve claimed, and even stuff like IP addresses are not monitored as thoroughly as they probably should be. I won’t name names, but I’ve congratulated people on winning league races, only to discover that person simply didn’t care for racing at Martinsville that week, and their friend from across the continent was instead signed in on their account and decimated the field. I have no idea how frequently this occurs, but it’s indeed a thing.
Personally, I’m under the belief that permanent bans from any game should only be reserved for extreme circumstances involving player safety or bizarre external affairs. The more you hear about scam sim companies, guys in the scene calling others’ employers to try and get them fired, or video games being used as platforms for child sex predators, it’s difficult to justify lengthy suspensions or bans because someone crashed into another guy’s virtual race car and called him a poo poo head one too many times.
That being said, if you find yourself in this situation, you have rights as a consumer. A carefully worded email can put a few hundred dollars back in your pocket.