Colin McRae Rally: The Triggering

The Xbox 360 existed only in magazines. rFactor was over a year away from launch. And more than a decade before Twitch introduced the disastrous Formula E VISA Vegas eRace to unsuspecting Counter-Strike fans, there was the Warsaw Colin McRae Rally Tournament. Footage of the event does not exist, the personalities involved can not be found on YouTube showing off their practice sessions for thousands of hardcore admirers to study, and the game itself – Colin McRae Rally 2005 – had little in common with the franchise we now know it as today. It was both the best of times and the worst of times for the genre; sim racing was arguably in a golden age given the variety and overall quality of virtual auto racing titles coming from every direction, but the relative obscurity of PC gaming as a whole prevented objectively great driving games from attaining anything more than a niche following. You were either World of Warcraft, or you weren’t.

Yet despite massive advancements in multiplayer functionality, event organization, sim racing hardware, and the great leaps in technical prowess that we’ve seen across the gaming industry since 2005, in retrospect the Warsaw Tournament has taught us that we can always count on one variable to remain a constant; the sim racing community as a whole is extremely toxic.

Poland has a very peculiar relationship with motorsport. While next-door neighbor Germany boasts a fantastic selection of purpose-built auto racing facilities, some doubling as tourist attractions, quite the opposite is true in Poland – Tor Poznan serves as the sole major tarmac racing circuit.

Those looking for their motorized adrenaline fix are instead given choices that would be considered quite obscure across the rest of the continent. Spectators pack stadiums to the tune of fifteen thousand strong to partake in the festivities of Speedway Racing, whereas¬†regional rally championships enjoy a strong following in comparison to other countries. It’s honestly incredible both disciplines have managed to attract such large audiences and national attention among the region, as rallying is logistically impossible to cover on live television, and there’s no way short oval dirt biking would ever gain popularity in the western hemisphere – at least not to the point where gladiatorial stadiums were constructed in its’ name.

But this precisely explains why there were enough diehards in the city of Warsaw alone to hold an on-site Colin McRae Rally championship consisting of several highly talented entrants. This was an era of gaming where just owning the niche Codemasters title in the first place put you into a very exclusive set of users, and yet here was Poland essentially offering a glimpse into the future of sim racing – both the good, and the bad.

Colin McRae Rally 2005 marked the end of an era for Codemasters, as while the game was functionally sound, many avid fans of the series felt 2005 was merely a re-hash of content from the titles released before it. Truthfully, their criticisms were not far off the mark, and this explains why a few years later the series would be re-imagined as an all-encompassing off-road title. Several stages and cars had been regurgitated all the way back from Colin McRae Rally 3, whereas the driving physics made it especially hard to recommend the 2005 iteration for steering wheel users – now a rapidly expanding demographic. This was Codemasters a few years prior to their flurry of games that established them as a key player in the evolution of driving games on the Xbox 360. Colin McRae didn’t look great and didn’t drive all that great either, but nailed enough of the true rallying experience – long stages, service areas, and a decent array of content – to have a valid spot in the library of any rally fan.

That was, if you could look past some of the obvious exploits. You could wall-ride pretty effectively, as many stages featured cliffs or concrete barriers next to the road that could be abused if hit at the correct angle. Some stages were designed in a way which allowed for pretty substantial cutting, and obviously not designed with online racing as a primary concern, Colin McRae 2005 featured relatively lax track limit detection. Lastly, the vehicle reset button could be abused, spawning the car several feet ahead of its current position once a user discovered how to cheat the system. Again, this was Codemasters before they hit it big with 2007’s DiRT.

The 2005 rendition of the championship, held at the end of February, took place within a large Warsaw cinema and was put on partially with the support of both Logitech¬†and Intel. This was a genuinely large event; a precursor to the sim competitions we see on a regular basis today. Computers were arranged in a row at the front of the theater – allowing for easy walk-in spectating – and participants were able to liberally make use of the cinema’s concession stand. While the North American sim racing scene was still confined to private TeamSpeak servers and obscure message boards requiring registration, the Polish were living in 2017.

Details of the event, obtained in part thanks to GRY-Online, are scarce when it comes to the actual racing which took place. It is said that most drivers preferred the Citroen Xsara rally car, indicating the unlicensed all-wheel-drive entries based on cars competing in the WRC at the time were used to tackle the array of stages available.¬† With Colin McRae Rally 2005 including eight countries and eight stages within each region, it’s a valid theory that the three-day affair saw participants cover every last stage in the game at least once, with an additional round for the finalists on what I’d presume to be a Sunday. These guys did a lot of driving, but because this wasn’t exactly a StarCraft tournament, digging around for individual race results or rule packages won’t warrant much of anything.

What we do know for absolute certainty, was that the 2005 Polish Colin McRae Rally eSports Tournament was won by a young gentlemen named Robert Kubica.

This is unfortunately where the feel-good story about a future Formula One driver mingling with the sim community as one of their own, comes to an abrupt end. The final standings of the event ignited a tremendous firestorm on the Polish sim rally message board eRajdy.

Google Translate makes this quite a difficult read to follow, but the basic narrative is a classic underdog story not confined to any sole language. Users note that Kubica had seemingly come out of absolutely nowhere to destroy Poland’s best sim racers, with only limited time spent in the game beforehand. The former BMW Sauber driver had failed to qualify in the top ten during preliminary sessions, yet over the course of the weekend had driven just well enough to sneak through into eliminations, dethroning championship favorites such as Maja, MAdo, and Jarl during scored play. The improbability of a wildcard entry taking home a major Polish sim racing championship immediately spawned speculation of either a data entry error on part of the stewards, or outright cheating on Kubica’s part.

The majority of Polish sim racers refused to believe the best Colin McRae Rally 2005 player in the country was not one of the established leaderboard drivers, but rather a guy who didn’t even own a home computer in which to play the game, and was racing Formula Three cars in Macau just months earlier. Those who were aware of Robert’s real life racing accomplishments even attempted to argue that his real world skills would not apply in a virtual environment, and that on any day of the week a dedicated Colin McRae player should come out on top in this sort of event format. In any case, the sim racing community were not willing to allow Kubica to hold the title of champion.

As predicted, it gets ugly.

Kubica signed up for the message board under the alias “rk” and attempted to reason with the angry community members – so yes, you’re about to see a Formula One driver shit posting about sim racing with the best – only to be called “blind” and “stupid” by the community, largely unwilling to believe he’d pulled off the ultimate upset on a national stage. Yet in the face of such toxicity, Kubica doubled down and confirmed his status as a legend in the sim racing community by admitting in a short forum he did not own a computer at home and only practiced for a short time on Colin McRae Rally at a friend’s house – about forty hours total, which is really isn’t much compared to the times a dedicated Alien would spend on a game – before entering the competition.

Triggering the resident autists even further, he then takes the position of not caring about any alleged scoring issues which are the subject of debate, as in this situation he was just competing in this event for fun – it’s someone else’s job to score the event, and if they fuck up and he’s the winner, it’s not exactly his problem. He was there to enjoy himself, and as a bonus, if there was a genuine error in the standings, he’d have no problem sending the trophy to the rightful winner. At this point, Kubica expresses his disappointment in the community, whom are quick to attack an outsider for merely disrupting the established status quo of high ranking sim racers, and vows not to return.

There is much chagrin over the culprit of the upset victory, and I urge you all to dig through the full thread for the unprecedented levels of anal devastation, but eventually another user arrives to say that he was lucky enough to watch Robert drive the final competition round based on where he was sitting in the audience. Zero-soups claims there probably wasn’t any foul play or irregular scoring to begin with; Robert indeed ran an exceptionally clean set of stages – hypothesizing that the other drivers simply made too many mistakes in pushing for the national championship.

Robert of course has been chased away by the sim racing community, while the event organizers told the posters to shut the fuck up and locked the thread; the results of the championship now descending to the status of a controversial piece of trivia among members of the Polish eRally community, no longer allowed to discuss the competition in public. Was there really a scoring error on part of the stewards, or was this Kubica guy just a complete freak of nature? When the late Jim Clark first began his career in auto racing, there are stories of the 1967 Formula One champion asking why his competitors were driving so slow. Could this have been another instance of greatness taking form, albeit on a smaller level?

Fifteen months later, the posters on eRally would receive their answer on national television.

The 2005 Polish Colin McRae Rally champion and subject of intense sim racing message board debate, would make his first Formula One start filling in for the injured Jacques Villeneuve after he had complained of concussion-like symptoms following a crash in Hungary. Kubica would then earn a place in Formula One history as the winner of the 2008 Canadian Grand Prix, becoming the first driver of Polish origin to win a race in the world’s most prestigious auto racing championship. Not content with a resume consisting primarily of open wheel race cars, Kubica would then experiment with a career in the World Rally Championship, though a crash in 2011 left him with extensive injuries sidelining him for a number of seasons. Kubica is currently attempting a comeback in Formula One, undergoing a successful test with Renault.

In other words, it’s more likely in hindsight that Kubica pulled off a genuine upset in a major eSports competition, than was handed the victory as a result of a steward’s error.

Sadly, this situation is all too familiar in the world of sim racing.

Shane van Gisbergen was once asked to help refine iRacing’s Ford Falcon V8 Supercar several years ago, turning it into one of the best cars available on the service. A subsequent build broke the car, angering Shane and causing him to scale back his involvement with the team to that of a casual iRacer using the service for fun. Nick McMillen was told to leave a hosted session because iRacing denoted him a “rookie” due to his lack of playtime. 2017 iRacing Peak Anti-Freeze Series champion Ryan Luza – also a late model track champion away from the keyboard, was once the subject of a permanent ban from iRacing for allegations of cheating – only recently being allowed back onto the service.

Those are just some of the stories we know of, because the drivers are willing to use social media to make their displeasure known to the world.

There are also some great anecdotal stories regarding the same subject matter, a portion of which I can confirm just by knowing the right people. High profile drivers tag respected sim racing modders on obscure Instagram posts that the general public would otherwise never think twice about, a discreet sign of respect for their work. But they still refuse to mingle with the community on traditional message boards, sign up for leagues among the general population, or otherwise indulge in the hobby as “one of the guys.”

A distant buddy of mine happened to meet skateboarding legend Bucky Lasek out on the West Coast over the summer. Lasek was said to be incredibly appreciative of just how many people knew who he was, but more importantly expressed a serious interest in just being a part of the local culture and hanging out with the guys. Across other hobbies, this is pretty common. NHRA Top Fuel champion Antron Brown races radio controlled boats in his spare time, whereas CART champion Juan Pablo Montoya has a serious thing for R/C planes if you happen to follow him on Instagram. There are guys out there who know the notorious JPM as not an extremely aggressive yet talented race car driver, but as the friendly Colombian guy who fixes their scale aircraft.

But in sim racing? This is more or less absent; when it does happen, the star usually exits as quickly as they arrive. And this is because in the back of their minds, they know they’ll be another Robert Kubica if they’re not careful – chased out by the toxicity of their own admirers.

*Thanks to TW for sending this in, and bar_tosz for the story on Reddit.

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Exposing the Hypocrisy of Sim Racers

It’s no secret that there’s been a pretty noticeable change in tone here at PRC over the last several months – not quite an elephant in the room, but a large ominous presence that a lot have picked up on. With our origins primarily oriented around slaughtering hardcore simulators, many of our readers began to notice that the games receiving any sort of praise from us weren’t simulators at all, but mass-market pieces of software aimed at just getting people away from first person shooters for a few minutes, and into driving race cars – no matter how compromised and simplified the raw on-track experience had become. Sure, I crucified the ill-fated NASCAR Heat Evolution, and outright refused to review Kylotonn’s WRC 6 last fall, but while serious titles such as iRacing and Assetto Corsa received their weekly lashings for months on end, mainstream products from Codemasters that never advertised themselves as hardcore offerings, as well as obscure PlayStation 2-era offerings, were seemingly given a free pass, if not more.

I could easily dedicate another article to explaining our unpredictable stance on driving games, but for this topic it warrants just an introduction.

There’s an old quote from the classic Grand Prix Legends manual of 1998 that states “the first time you go out on the track, you WILL spin and crash… – and for many that’s part of the allure of hardcore racing simulators to begin with. Whereas mass-market games aim to provide some sort of all-encompassing experience surrounding the simplified on-track product, hardcore simulators are designed to generate a style of gameplay similar to learning guitar, in which becoming proficient is both the game itself, as well as the reward. The reason so many people flock to simulators in the first place, is primarily because you have to work at them, and when you finally master that new track, or tame a car that’s traditionally out of your comfort zone, there is a tangible feeling of accomplishment like no other in gaming – and it’s one you don’t exactly get with blasting through Burnout: Revenge.

The problem, at least when it comes to us here at PRC, is that we’re already at that level of proficiency in regards to racing simulators, and it generally fucks with our perception of almost all driving games that come across our collective radar. I’m personally in a very unique spot, in that on some occasions, I get to upload hotlaps on YouTube with the tagline “World Record” as part of the video title. Now, that’s certainly a humble brag on my part, but in this case it serves a very valid purpose: unlike the quote above, which claims that all those who try Grand Prix Legends (or other games boasting an equivalent driving model) will spin out and crash… I’m sorry, but that doesn’t happen over in this neck of the woods.

Grand Prix Legends is fun for a lot of people because it’s objectively hard as fuck, and the months spent mastering it are why people enjoy sinking extended periods of time into it. But maybe for a second or two, imagine that you jump into Grand Prix Legends, and you’re making it around the track and actually posting competitive times against the ruthless AI, just as if you’d hopped on your Xbox to play Project Gotham Racing 4. Or imagine if, after all of the message board horror stories you’d read about Richard Burns Rally – supposedly the toughest simulator in existence – you jumped in and won the championship on the game’s highest difficult level, never wrecking the car once and winning all but a few select stages.

Suddenly, the ultra-hardcore physics seen in Richard Burns Rally just don’t matter, because for your own personal set of skills, this game is no more or less challenging than DiRT 2 on your Xbox. What does end up mattering, is the game built around it.

Yet for the average sim racer, this concept is totally lost on them, and you’ll see across basically every populated message board, sim racing community members talking down on games that do not feature absurdly difficult driving models, almost as if they’re inferior products and should be avoided by those looking to assert their elitism over others. And this is where I’ll begin exploring the absurdly hypocritical nature of everyday sim racers.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock for several years, or are just getting into sim racing and maybe haven’t explored the back catalog of several developers, 2015 saw the surprise launch of Codemasters’ DiRT Rally – a hardcore rally simulator that was constructed by a mainstream-oriented developer in total secrecy, only to be dropped on Steam’s Early Access platform some time during the spring. Despite a lack of unique stages, even after the game achieved a “released” state, rally fans around the world simultaneously jizzed in their pants at what was finally a modern spiritual successor to Richard Burns Rally, which until then had been kept alive by an absurd amount of third party mods.

Yet despite the fanfare, DiRT Rally’s reception slowly changed over a period of what felt like about six months months. Originally praised by the community for daring to take aim at a niche market and picking up where other rally simulators had left off over a decade earlier, Codemasters were soon slammed by those who initially supported the title. While there were indeed questionable physics oddities that arose at high speeds – mostly due to insane sideforce values, an undeniably honest oversight in the grand scheme of things – rally fans were now blasting DiRT Rally for being “simcade” and “not a real simulator” because the car was working with them, rather than against them. And truth be told, the world records you can find on YouTube depicting DiRT Rally being driven to the absolute limit are pretty preposterous – so I’ll give you that.

Yet the same existed for Richard Burns Rally.

But rather than joint outrage and the dreaded S-word thrown at the classic rally simulator, almost a curse word in some parts, the same sim racing community eager to rip apart DiRT Rally for a few physics oddities, chastising Codemasters for swinging big and having a genuine physics oddity that could be dialed out with the community’s voice aimed in the right direction, as well as a patch or two to fully rectify things, ultimately remained silent when footage like this of their almighty rally simulator – depicting the same general problems exhibited by DiRT Rally – began to surface.

We can dig deeper, and we will. Though it’s pretty common knowledge by now, it must be said for the sake of the topic at hand that the original release of Richard Burns Rally was highly unrealistic from a physics standpoint, and several different modding teams have basically deconstructed and rebuilt the game from the ground up, including a complete restructuring of the game’s underlying driving model. Regardless of whether you’re a Czech Plugin guy, a firm believer in the NGP physics patch (hi, this is my category), or subject yourself to the torture of downloading the yearly monolithic RSRBR add-on compilation – not to mention those which I haven’t included – Richard Burns Rally needs extensive third party patchwork to behave in even a slightly realistic fashion behind the wheel, and it’s pretty much required downloading for any sim racers who may fancy a few laps in RBR. Sim racers who call Richard Burns Rally home, or merely have the title installed to be called upon during a rainy day and nothing more, do not bat an eyelid over what is a pretty monumental inconvenience of downloading several gigabytes of files just to have a piece of software worth playing at the end of the day.

Yet when the same amount of community patches and third party fixes are required to get the PC car collecting simulator Shift 2: Unleashed up and running, Slightly Mad Studios are suddenly slammed by the same sim racers – who willingly inject gigabytes of fixes and upgrades into Richard Burns Rally – as incompetent developers who are incapable of releasing a finished product, and that they should not need patches upon patches to fix their game. I must apologize for this, as in hindsight, it’s an incredibly stupid stance to take. Why is one game that’s only worth playing with an extensive amount of community patches praised, while another is basically tossed in the proverbial trash, when the vanilla versions of each simulator are both highly unrealistic and rely on the community’s work equally?It’s a question that you can either choose to answer, or keep going down the metaphorical mineshaft of hypocrisy, as it only gets worse.

We now shine the spotlight not on iRacing, but the iRacing community. For those who are maybe new to the game, or new to sim racing, as a guy who was most active on iRacing from late 2011 to the middle of 2013, what I’m about to say might be news to some, or a mere tidbit for fellow veterans. iRacing in its infancy looked remarkably different than it does today, and though the game never drove quite right behind the wheel regardless of what alleged tire model improvements and revisions were applied to the simulator, the mentality powering it during the early years was drastically different compared to what we know iRacing to be today. iRacing once lived up to its ultra-hardcore reputation.

At one point in time, the concept of fixed setup racing – where all participants are given an identical garage configuration for a given event, allowing driving skill to determine the victor – absolutely did not exist on iRacing, meaning that every single member on the service was required to spend their lunch break at work, or spare blocks in high school, reading up on race car dynamics and setup tricks to ensure their on-track success in what is widely considered to be the most popular hardcore racing simulator by a country mile.

However, after a smorgasbord of factors subtly pushed iRacing to reel in new customers by the truckload, including but not limited to members complaining that they were getting trounced by real race car drivers and amateur crew chiefs who knew their way around the garage area, did iRacing implement fixed setup racing – as had been seen in their last commercial release, an officially licensed NASCAR title. Fast forward several years to present day, and fixed setup racing for a fraction of the original race distance is now overwhelmingly popular, with feature-length “open setup” events reduced to sparsely populated affairs. This would not be out of place to implement in something like NASCAR Heat Evolution, in which the core audience consists primarily of casual stock car fans and teenagers, both of which whose lack of setup knowledge can be gracefully forgiven, yet this same mentality is occurring within the group of enthusiasts these games were built for in the first place.

So you have these people dropping hundreds, if not thousands on PC equipment, not to mention the cost of a subscription to the most hardcore simulator on the market and all of the content they feel is relevant to their interests, only to publicly admit they have zero interest in actually diving into the enthusiast aspects that play an integral role of the game. These people will actively knock a title such as NASCAR Heat Evolution for not allowing setups or caution flags online, but then pay double, triple, even quadruple the price of Evolution’s admission to participate in a quick 25-lap sprint race on iRacing with no caution flags and uniform setups.

I promise this gets better.

So let’s talk about the Assetto Corsa community for a bit here. When we first caught wind of this title’s existence in late 2012, and eventually got our hands on it in 2013, many including myself believed this would be the spiritual successor to the original rFactor, as ISI had grossly mismanaged rFactor 2 into a death spiral, and Kunos Simulazioni essentially promised a modding paradise that spat in the face of iRacing’s horrendous tire model with glorious vanilla content. For a period of time, it was the PC simulator set to dethrone iRacing, and early adopters such as myself were convinced that as long as enough people could be swayed by such a phenomenal driving experience, this would be everybody’s new home.

Yet while we all sat around waiting not-so-patiently for the simulator to be deemed finished in the eyes of veteran sim racers, as basic things like flag rules and the ability to jump the start had yet to be implemented, fanboys swore up and down that regardless of how much it lacked, this game was a true simulator, and even ex-Need for Speed fans had finally seen the light of PC racing simulators – now becoming sim racing converts thanks to the little Italian developer that could.

But in an ironic twist of events, Assetto Corsa was literally turned into Need for Speed by the community of veteran sim racers and recent converts despite acting as if they were somehow “above” EA’s arcade racing franchise. The most popular third party modifications for Assetto Corsa are not highly detailed race cars as you’d expect from a simulator, but open-world maps that allow you to explore the scenic backroads of Banff, Alberta – just as you’d do in a traditional Need for Speed product – or dart between passenger cars on public roads – again, a very Need for Speed-like scenario. Again, these creations all come from people who for the most part were trying to get away from the supposedly less serious environment of console arcade racers, only to mod Assetto Corsa in a way that turned it into a console arcade racer. Go figure.

Let’s shift into fourth gear.

Codemasters were awarded the official Formula One license in 2009 after a bit of a virtual F1 drought once Studio Liverpool pushed out their final release, F1 Championship Edition for Sony’s PlayStation 3, and truth be told, the first handful of games bearing the Codemasters logo honestly weren’t very good. Though Formula One 2017 is a masterpiece, the first few releases were clunky as hell, featuring awkward vehicle physics, poor penalty assessment, and a set of AI drivers that honestly just weren’t that good, especially when compared to what Codemasters were doing on the off-road spectrum at the time with the DiRT series of releases.

Yet what drew the most criticism from Formula One fans weren’t the driving physics, the penalties, or the AI – it was actually the tracks. Codemasters threw some dubious replica circuits into their yearly releases, with the Nurburgring in particular being a complete disaster; far too banked and wavy for what we’ve become familar with over the years thanks to the joys of laser scanning. But while sim racers had no problem slagging off Codemasters for tracks that were in some cases too wide, or in other instances featured absurd elevation changes that bore little resemblance to the real deal, they also had no problem turning around and ripping every single track from the entire game for use in their hardcore simulator leagues – some of which are still being converted again and again today for use in more modern simulators.

And sure, while it’s fairly easy to dismiss sim racers ripping Codemasters tracks for use in more hardcore-oriented simulators as the cheeky modders being resourceful, this too can also be dismissed as pretty blatant hypocrisy when you peel back the layers of mental gymnastics keeping it in the shadows.

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed by now, but Formula One as an organization don’t exactly co-operate in the slightest with the modern crop of simulators on the market. iRacing are lucky to get a McLaren or a Williams entry here and there, and maybe ISI can pull a partnership with Marussia out of their asses, but for those in pursuit of an authentic Formula One experience, they’re left with two options – the officially licensed Codemasters game, which hasn’t really been constructed as a simulator, or a community modification for an already established racing sim. And it’s here where things get really tricky.

Formula One 2017 is quite good this year, but it’s also a mass-market Codemasters game, and I think there’s a valid argument to be made about it’s authenticity if gamers with an Xbox or PlayStation controller can wheel the cars around the circuit with all assists turned off. However, in being awarded the exclusive license to the world’s most prestigious racing series, there’s always a chance that maybe they’re not far off, especially with the current crop of Formula One drivers being brought in to playtest the thing every once in a while. Fifteen years ago, Michael Schumacher turning laps in F1 2002 on the PlayStation 2 in front of the TV cameras may have been little more than a marketing stunt, but we’re now in an era where basically every driver on the grid at one point was a teenager playing Xbox in his bedroom, and they know how important an authentic video game representing the sport is when it comes to reeling in new fans. So while it’s not wrong of some to say that Max Verstappen is only playing F1 2017 for a mandatory promotional appearance, it’s also not out of the realm of possibility to assume both himself, and others like him, are passing along some valuable info to Codemasters, and the game may be more accurate than the elitists would like to think.

But of course, sim racers eschew this theory altogether, occasionally proceeding to rip the car models from the same Codemasters Formula One games they’re happy to publicly trash, and then task some guy in his basement with zero technical knowledge of Formula One race cars whatsoever to create the car physics. In extreme cases, this has led to outright hilarious situations that really display the incompetence and hypocrisy of the community, in which sim racers would rather play an rFactor 2 mod that’s eight seconds faster than the 2004 pole time at Interlagos, than a Codemasters game where a car from the same season is only half a second up on the track record, because rFactor 2 calls itself a hardcore simulator in the description of the product on Steam, and F1 2017 doesn’t.

This is the sim racing community in a nutshell. These people are happy to exhibit an elitist bravado over the rest of the overall driving game scene by bragging about the time invested into alleged hardcore simulators, but at every opportunity instead prove themselves to be mere posers who are apathetic towards any actual enthusiast elements.

They imply they enjoy the aspect of “figuring out a car”, but within the confines of their own message boards admit that they are blissfully unaware of what anything in the garage area does, and flock to online race events that closely mimic what you’d see in a console lobby run by teenagers. They knock mass-market games that sell well and are reviewed even better, only to rip all the content from them, and despite claiming that their simulator of choice offers a more competent set of physics, instead hand the development of said vehicle attributes to a random motherfucker sitting in his basement with a demonstrably poor understanding of the car’s basic performance traits. And while one game gets a free pass for being unfinished and requiring truckloads of community patches to become both realistic and playable, another doesn’t. They also love to look down on games that don’t meet their standards of realism with pseudo-slang like “arcade” and “simcade”, but in doing so fail to recognize that it’s an admission that they aren’t proficient behind the wheel and are judging a game by how many times they spin out and embarrass themselves, not its all-encompassing verisimilitude.

It’s no wonder developers have mostly gotten out of this sub-genre, save for a few stragglers. This is a fanbase that is literally impossible to please.

Sim Racing is Wonderful: A Tribute to CrowbCat

Outside of sim racing, everyone’s got their own external interests, and yours truly is no different. I stumbled upon CrowbCat’s work browsing 4Chan one evening, and was promptly led down a literal rabbit hole of YouTube content, in which lengthy montages of video clips from other sources conveyed pretty elaborate story arcs that outlined botch video game releases, or pieces of technology that received elaborate marketing pushes, only to fall flat on their respective faces. As someone who runs a very basic WordPress blog and nothing more – I’m probably the only guy in this whole sim racing media gig to not have an accompanying “official YouTube channel” and a steady stream of videos to support his written content – I was captivated at how someone speaking no words at all, and following no hastily edited script throughout his videos, could convey the same kind of abrasive realities as what we’ve been doing here for just under three years now at PRC.

So rather than give you another weekly tirade explaining why the hobby of sim racing is often more disappointing and confusing than it is rewarding and engaging, instead I embarked upon a small personal art project this afternoon to convey that message through what are otherwise non-traditional means for us. Under the title of Sim Racing is Wonderful, I have provided a montage of short clips in rapid succession from prominent sim racing YouTube channels, as well as the occasional mainstream-oriented gaming outlets, to showcase through the community’s own words and actions why there are a cluster of rogue sim racers who call places like PRC home, and openly voice their disdain for their favorite hobby.

The video, which is three minutes in length, begins with a bite-sized recap of InsideSimRacing’s review of Formula One 2017, yanking key lines from the thirty minute affair. Both John Sabol and Billy Strange Jr. shower the Codemasters game with praise in what is easily ISR’s most positive review of any video game or simulator in the ten year history of the online show, only for Strange to questionably double back and recommend the “hardcore sim racers” – who would otherwise be salivating at the sheer volume of positive elements and quotes from the review of this year’s Formula One game to wait for the title to go on sale before purchasing the game, almost to appease viewers who may become agitated at a mass-market racing game usurping the already established PC sim racing hierarchy.

Following the intro frame, choice quotes from spokespersons for the three biggest simulators on the market – iRacing, Project CARS, and Assetto Corsa – are presented to the viewer, followed by some of my own personal favorite issues with the respective pieces of software that I’ve found on YouTube over the years, such as iRacing stock cars being able to drive and pass opponents while hanging nearly upside-down off of the catch fence. This is to show the very stark contrast between the egos of developers in talking about their game to the general public, and the crafty marketing department tricks which rope real world racers into openly boasting about the authenticity of the software, versus what is actually occurring when the average sim racer starts diving deep into these games.

The montage then transitions into a personal selection of some of my favorite public sim racing outbursts over the years from both media personalities and everyday sim racers, displaying how the level of respect between virtual racers seen in most online sessions, is simply nowhere near what the community tries to imply to the outsiders looking to get in on the action. Instead, we see things for what they really are: middle-aged men with shitty tempers. This is not uncommon out on the physical race track, in fact in many instances it’s actually quite justified, but to see it manifest so quickly over virtual circumstances is a bit much for what’s at stake, and it’s a bit embarrassing.

Next, I’ve included a few choice examples of how the YouTube personalities in our hobby – those who provide highly in-depth reviews on pieces of software and hardware in advance of the scheduled release date, or conduct small driving/racecraft seminars for budding sim racers – are often poor drivers themselves. I’ve tried not to go too far into this territory, as the two personalities I’ve used in my montage are exceptionally nice people behind the scenes and deserve every last click they receive on their respective websites, but it just goes to show that in many occasions, personalities a large part of the sim racing community trusts for highly informative reviews, at the end of the day aren’t very good at the games they play, and that’s kind of a strange dynamic for a hobby primarily centered around enthusiast websites and pushing virtual cars to the absolute limit.

We then travel to both the 2016 iRacing World Grand Prix Series, as well as the 2017 Formula E VISA Vegas eRace, two events that were intended to showcase the absolute best drivers within the sim racing community, both fields competing for a substantial cash prize – both of which providing a purse exponentially higher than some American IndyCar events. Without taking the video on a tangent, both races descend into chaos; iRacing’s best sim racers are subjected to a comical first corner crash no better or worse than the “public lobbies” they’re trying to avoid, whereas the eRace showcases three greedy drivers making a beeline for one position, only to cripple their vehicles in a laughably bad wreck which showcased to a live audience how technologically inferior this hobby is compared to other video game genres. In both instances, they are two shining examples that show off how even at the very top of the ladder, online races are immature crashfests.

No sooner do the cars stop rolling do we travel to the world of over-priced hardware, as clips of a man in his late twenties confessing to building a simulator by means of multiple credit cars and payday loans are intertwined with YouTube personalities revealing the cost of high end toy steering wheels, and explaining how these computer toys are made up of industrial strength equipment – which to any reasonable adult is pretty absurd for a computer toy. Taking place after a montage of the disastrous games and generally unwelcoming community, the selection of clips are meant for the viewer to question the motives behind willingly investing well beyond one’s means in such a toxic and anti-consumer hobby.

We are then presented with an interview featuring iRacing’s mastermind David Kaemmer circa 2008, in which he reveals iRacing to the mainstream masses at GameSpot, proudly telling the team of scenarios in which real drivers had used the brand new iRacing software to practice for upcoming events, and it actually made them faster out on the real racing surface. Fast-forwarding about eight years, we are then brought to a livestream featuring Aston Martin factory driver and 2016 World Endurance Championship GTE class winner Nicki Thiim, who after conversing with a friend about real world setup tricks that don’t work in iRacing, declares iRacing’s physics to be shit, contradicting the preceding interview with Kaemmer completely.

With the montage winding down, Marco Massarutto of Kunos Simulazioni appears once again to explain how he took great pride in gaming journalists labeling his team’s flagship work, Assetto Corsa, to be the “Gran Turismo of the PC.” This exchange is interrupted by footage of the Xbox One version of Assetto Corsa, in which a user merely restarting the race causes his race car to explode into the stratosphere from his pit stall – a far cry from the polish and classy feel we’ve come to known from the Gran Turismo games. The viewer is left to decide whether his comments in regards to the status of his game are egotistical or delusional.

Lastly, we are presented with none other than Dale Earnhardt Jr. describing how gamers should appreciate the authenticity of what racing simulators have achieved on a technical level, and the sim racing scene altogether. Revisiting the clips featured over the previous three minutes, these closing comments seem farcical in hindsight.

Is it an ugly three minutes, and will people proceed to call for my head? Absolutely.

But unlike past PRC articles, I didn’t even have to write anything to get my point across. It was already on YouTube for the world to see; I just compiled it.

 

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.

Delivery Driver with a Pipe Dream

There’s running a Twitch channel, and giving viewers the option to donate a pound or two towards your endeavor if they feel inclined to give back in some fashion for the hours of entertainment you’ve provided them, and then there’s outright asking your audience for the funding to purchase a full-fledged race car. When we last profiled iRacing Twitch personality Jason Jacoby here on PRC, the 27-year old Domino’s Pizza delivery driver from Georgia had revealed his one-of-a-kind sim racing cockpit to the world based upon an actual late model stock car chassis provided by a local race team – though his efforts were overshadowed by just how he’d acquired the funding to build such a monstrosity; payday loans and credit cards. Approximately eight months and 1,700 subscribers later, Jacoby is back in the iRacing community spotlight, this time asking for $13,000 to jump-start his real world racing career. With a GoFundMe page entitled “A Pizza Delivery Boy’s Big Dream”, Jacoby is now openly accepting donations from fellow sim racers in the hopes of acquiring a Legends car to campaign at short tracks across the eastern portion of the United States.

The roadsters are a pricey entry level stock car racing class, though they can be configured to run road courses and dirt ovals as well, which makes them so alluring for sportsman competitors – they can be raced practically everywhere.

The description of the campaign, which I encourage all of you to read in full, is nothing short of preposterous for someone approaching their thirties. Embarking on a long-winded life story, Jacoby details his time spent in a private NASCAR Racing 2003 Season online league as Dale Earnhardt Jr’s personal backup for one event, before outlining his experience driving street stocks many seasons ago in which his car constantly suffered from mechanical issues. This is actually the most reasonable part of the entire crowdfunding pitch, as it appears Jason does possess limited real-world experience and merely wants to get back into the sport, however he fails to provide photographs or results sheets from online transponder websites such as myLaps to provide a sense of validity to his claims – which is usually standard for when drivers are trying to secure funding for the upcoming season.

While technical failures are a part of real world racing, companies want to know that at the very least, you won’t be a rolling safety hazard to your competitors, nor be upside down and on-fire. Jason hasn’t provided tangible evidence of that.

He’s also failed to provide evidence that your money will be used in a wise fashion, which is rule number one when creating a crowdfunding campaign and asking strangers for money. In a video uploaded just a few short days ago, Jason proudly shows off a brand new Chevrolet SS ARCA Series show car he plans to turn into another elaborate sim rig, obtained for the low price of just $2,000.

As someone who participates in grassroots racing myself during off-weeks from our big car, I find this to be the most particularly insulting portion of this crowdfunding campaign so far; it costs significantly less to build and campaign a hornet or mini-stock at NASCAR-sanctioned tracks – the proper steps for Jason to take in order to pursue his dream of becoming a race car driver – than to purchase a show car and turn it into a proper in-house simulator setup. Pulling a page from my own personal sponsorship package I hand out in the off-season, the following are 100% authentic numbers regarding the cost of getting into a local entry level class and running a full season. I am left totally bewildered – as should others considering a contribution to this campaign – as to why he feels the need to ask sim racers for money to launch his racing career, when it was absolutely doable from the start out of his own wallet (my first season was self-funded while working at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which pays less than Domino’s), and he instead chose to purchase an expensive toy for his bedroom, on top of the other toy he’s still in the process of paying off.

You are an absolute fool if you give this guy money, because there is zero guarantee it’ll go to the correct places.

Like last time, I once again must point the finger at the sim racing community – in particular the equally delusional iRacers – as there appears to be an abundance of grown men unable to see the situation for what it is, instead encouraging and enabling Jason to pursue this avenue to obtain funding for a drive in a real car, with the end result being nothing short of cringetacular. Wander through his YouTube channel, and there’s a shocking abundance of users in the comments section of every video who don’t seem to be all that bothered by these unconventional, nonsensical attempts to get into real world racing, nor do they seem to care about the amount of money spent for little to no gain, and in what ways this money was obtained. Buying elaborate toys with money you don’t have was traditionally a way to end up on the front page of TheDirty and earn yourself a pretty shitty reputation across Scottsdale, Arizona, but in the sim racing community it’s instead somehow a way to attain acceptance and praise from your peers. How not one responsible adult has stepped into the fray to inject some common sense into this trainwreck speaks volumes about the iRacing community.

It’s also pretty wild that none of these supposedly mature sim racers willing to spend an arm and a leg on iRacing have notified Jason that live streaming himself on pizza deliveries is actually in violation of Georgia’s recording laws. If a customer complained, this guy at the very least has the potential to lose his job, and that’s in an ideal scenario. Maybe it’s my manlet powers taking over, but if my pizza guy shows up to my door with a hidden camera and he’s streaming to his buddies on YouTube, I’m going to make sure he’s not going to be anyone’s pizza guy for much longer. This isn’t cool.

When we last ran a story on this particular iRacing Twitch personality, many of our readers criticized me for supposedly “bullying” an autistic child. Sadly, the lot of you are incorrect and need to head back to the metaphorical drawing board. Jason is three years older than yours truly, and he’s putting himself out there as a public sim racing personality. These aren’t private streams for a few close friends to goof off with; these are open broadcasts that anyone can watch – and now donate to.

I’m in a unique situation in that I’m essentially on the career path Jason aspires to be on, and I’m pretty disgusted by what I’m seeing. Do you want sim racers to look like man-children attempting to indulge in some boyhood fantasy? Because this is precisely how you do it.

Grassroots racing is easily affordable for anyone with a full-time job, regardless of how little their workplace pays. I was employed at Enterprise for just over three years, and had absolutely no trouble campaigning an entry-level car out of my own pocket without the use of payday loans, credit cards, or other miscellaneous shady adventures. Granted, I didn’t have an elaborate simulator setup to pay off, but that’s a choice I made ahead of time – I thought it would be more reasonable to head out to my local track and risk sucking major ass in the hopes of chasing a childhood fantasy, than to blow all my disposable income and then some on a fake cockpit inside my bedroom. Financially, it was also the cheaper option of the two. So for me to see this guy drop upwards of an estimated $23,000 to play computer games in the hopes of launching a real racing career, when he could have gone out and actually launched a racing career at his local track for a fraction of that amount – without the long-term financial problems – I’m about a step or two below having a full-blown anuerysm at this point.

Then there’s the crowdfunding campaign. Look, everyone has their own way of asking for sponsorship funds in the off-season, but coming to the sim racing community and essentially asking them not just for sponsorship, but to buy you a brand new race car – after they’ve been made aware that you’ve already blown through a significantly large amount on a fake race car – with zero credentials other than “I raced a long time ago and my Grandpa said I was good but our car sucked” is some next-level shit. It would be one thing if this guy had a season or two under his belt and could point to statistics online that proved he was decent, because then it’s just a sim racer trying to leapfrog a few classes and acquire a more serious batch of sponsors (which there’s nothing wrong with, it’s actually smart), but that isn’t the case here. You essentially have a computer geek begging for hand-outs, when there is absolutely no reason he couldn’t have funded an amateur ride himself… Save for that useless ARCA show car he blew his money on instead.

When you’re on YouTube as a twenty seven year old man having your mom conduct fake post-race interviews with you, it’s hard to believe this is anything other than a delusional iRacer surrounded by an equally delusional crowd of online friends, unable to tell him he’d crossed the line. Do not contribute to this crowdfunding campaign.