Sim racing in competition has long been a neglected child in the eSports community, but in recent years there has been a lot of catching up. In this article we will explain Simplace vision of sim racing eSports.
Sim Racing eSports a Billion Dollar Business
In recent years, the global media has received increasing attention for eSports. eSports is essentially a video game that is played competitively at a high level and where spectators are present, either online or on location during an event. Gaming where a lot is at stake. We're talking a billion-dollar business here: At some events, the prize pool contains over $ 25 million, with millions of hours of viewers on video streaming platforms like Twitch.
It is not something new. As early as 2000, Jonathan Wendell (aka Fatal1ty) won the Cyberathlete Pro League and the World Cyber games circuit in Quake (a first person shooter shooting game) and made over a hundred thousand dollars a year in prize money and a fortune in marketing his brand. Even I made over fifty euros a week with Wireplay TOCA 2 tournaments! The future was bright.
In the early days, the potential was limited by connectivity and was mainly related to specific games such as Quake or Starcraft. The online network was key for these shooting and strategy games, and it still is today. The only difference is that there are many more titles and more diversity.
The development of sim racing
The racing games we can all remember also had a competitive side. Already in 1998 the first world championship of Grand Prix Legends took place. It was not about large amounts but there were twenty great drivers who drove the Formula 1 cars of Jim Clark, Graham Hill and Dan Gurney from 1967 on a 28.8k modem with steering wheels or sometimes even joysticks! Soon competitions came for TOCA 2, Grand Prix 2 and Super Monaco Grand Prix. A small but growing community of competitive players emerged, focusing mainly on driving fast lap times. Racing against each other in those days of mediocre internet connections was quite difficult.
A few years later, an important shift took place. That was due to the NASCAR 2003 game from Papyrus (the same people who made Grand Prix Legends). It was a big hit. Not only did the game look fantastic, the net code improved allowing 43 players to be on the court at the same time. This formed the basis for setting up leagues and championships, creating sim racing heroes.
But where were the F1 games then? Well, that's a good question. Despite the launch of the EA F1 series, FOM digital rights made it difficult to create a multiplayer environment. That held back F1's growth in the racing esports society. rFactor quickly changed that with the ability to build modifications. Players soon started developing their own F1 mods to meet the needs of the community. The genre quickly grew with hundreds of competitions.
Gamers are switching to reality and vice versa
We do not really see that growth in the prices. In 2008 there was GT Academy, based on the hugely popular Gran Turismo, where the winners were allowed to switch to real racing. This opened the eyes of many: the gamers behind the screen can also race seriously in practice. The skills are comparable, the alertness is the same. That in contrast to all other esports.
New platforms emerged over the years. iRacing, the successor to NASCAR 2003, created a competitive infrastructure with a strong base of drivers. They recently announced a hundred thousand dollar prize pool for 2019. The dynamic platform rFactor 2 is perfect for endurance racing, but was also used for the Visa Vegas eRace by Formula E. That is still the largest prize pool ever with $1 million. The Visa Vegas eRace also allowed professional electric-class drivers to participate. It was not about nauseous amounts. For example, Mahindra driver and IndyCar driver Felix Rosenqvist took home $100,000. That is also worthwhile for a professional driver!
Huge reach and growth
This year has seen incredible growth. Not only in terms of players, but also in terms of views and engagement. F1 Esports took place for the second year. That generated an audience of about four million viewers on television and digital. It delivered great content for F1's growing digital platform, aiming to reach the younger, less accessible fan.
Gran Turismo took GT Sport seriously for the first time this year with eSports. After finals in the US, Europe and Asia, the World Finals recently took place in Monaco. More than three million viewers watched the finals through various platforms. Often titles with many users, such as Gran Turismo, have a hard time attracting viewers as they are seen as casual games without much authenticity in the scene. What made GT Sport so strong was the interesting format. They didn't stick to the rules of the real racing world, but opted for ten times more tire wear and three mandatory pit stops in a ten lap race!
Almost every automotive and racing class follows eSports closely. Porsche wants to help develop the ecosystem, McLaren is developing its own Shadow Project, the ACO has started the Le Mans eSport Series in partnership with Motorsport Network, WRC has a world champion, NASCAR produces the eNASCAR Heat Pro League with 704Games and Blancpain has its own title with Assetto Corsa Competizione. This is just a small selection from the spectrum and shows the diversity and the potential.
The golden era is here!
Racing games have the ability to generate new racing fans. Many young fans grow up with this: they are not interested in traditional motorsport through the traditional routes. And if you have to carry a huge bag of money even for karting, why not just get into sim racing? It is accessible, fun and more competitive than any racing class in the world. Oh, and if you are good, you will probably make more money.
So what does the future hold? The traditionalists may see sim racing as a threat, but I think it is mainly an addition to real racing. A mix of eSports and real races draw fans to circuits - at least that's what we hope.
Significant amounts are involved in this genre, it's a perfect match for ad parties who mistrust popular shooting games like Counterstrike or the complexity of League of Legends. Racing is fun to watch, easy to understand, and has many similarities to practice. Not only that: the automotive world is changing and must invest to reach new audiences.
We (Simplace) are incredibly enthusiastic: we are on the eve of the golden age of sim racing!