Sat. Sep 24th, 2022
Racing is changing fast in esports while the real world is at a standstill

Elle Cayabyab Gitlin

When it comes to sports, 2020 is going to be one of those starlets, like 1919. People will be scrolling down in years to a note explaining that “*normal things would happen, but then we had a pandemic.” The Summer Olympics have been postponed for a year and virtually every major sports series has come to a standstill as organizers anxiously wait to see if public gatherings can resume later in the year.

Motorsport is no exception, and the outlook is bleak when you consider what slumping sales will do to marketing budgets. But as the pandemic rages, drivers, teams and series are coming together online to put on a show for the rest of us. Or, as NASCAR’s Scott Warfield puts it, to give people “90 minutes, two hours on a Sunday, distraction and get their lives back to normal.”

The move from real to online racing really kicked off in mid-March, the weekend F1 should have started its year with the Australian Grand Prix. The first events that attracted a large audience were organized by esports organizers. By week two, major racing series such as F1 and IMSA had begun to spring into action. These days, every real-world series has an esports league, so none of them are exactly a stranger to the concept. But NASCAR was the first to take its esports to the next level to broadcast TV with the start of its iRacing Pro Invitational Series. It also leads the way when it comes to giving fans something close to normality.

“Our content team, after sifting through the archives and organizing every old race from the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s, what are we going to do for the next eight weeks? Well, here’s Jeff Gordon calling the race; here’s Dale Earnhardt Jr races Clint Boyer, which people have been asking for. Sports Center reach out and want drivers to come on Sunday morning and do a pre-race interview… That’s hard to replicate. You know, it’s our 11th year with iRacing and we’ve had ten years to build and work together and make this thing real,” Warfield told me. It’s paying off: NASCAR’s production values ​​are high, as are the ratings.

Until now, the other major real-world professional racing series are adapting a little more slowly to social isolation. F1 has launched its own series of Virtual Grands Prix, using the excellent F1 2019 Codemasters game. But the sport has been less successful than most when it comes to involving its real-life stars, even allowing competitors — including names from other sports like cycling and golf for the first event — to use rider aids in its races, which also include have less damage.

IndyCar is the last to join the fray, and I think it deserves a special mention here. There is no studio broadcast here; Leigh Diffey, Townsend Bell and Paul Tracy are still calling the races, but clearly each from their own homes. Somehow it seems very pre-pandemic to me to get a bunch of presenters together in one place to call the action.

People play together

Many professional race car drivers choose sim racing for the same reason you or I do – it’s both fun and good practice for the real thing – so it wasn’t that hard for Darren Cox and Torque Esports to put together a grid that included some big names from series like F1 and IndyCar to race alongside esports pros. Some of the younger real-life race drivers, such as Max Verstappen and Lando Norris, even race for professional esports teams alongside their higher paying regular jobs and can therefore hold their own against the sim pros, who spend an awful lot of time practicing. “The problem is these aliens – they just grind it out, right? You give them the car the day before and they’ll practice for 24 hours, while the real drivers will do a few hours and then they’re done,” Kox told me. (And yes, I’m pretty sure he’s the… rFactor 2 experts “aliens” – at least that’s what the band says.)

The participation of real racing professionals is only going to get easier, which is probably a good thing for increasing the esports audience. Warfield thinks the fear of feeling left out will draw recalcitrant or skeptical racers online, and the fear of getting beaten (plus, let’s face it, lots of free time) will take real pros to the next level. “These guys and gals are essentially racers, and they’re competitive as hell. And they don’t like to lose. The kid who won our Coca Cola iRacing series race at the virtual Miami-Homestead Speedway – he drove 1000 practice laps at Homestead.”

Perhaps most encouragingly, so far everyone seems happy to be playing together, and aside from the occasional scheduling error where two races take place at the same time, no one is locking drivers up in exclusive competitions. “When you start talking about contracts, you decide to take the fun out of it. If those guys with an open wheel or a dirt track or something else want to go for a run, as long as that allows our fans to engage with it too, that is fantastic,” said Warfield.

“We put aside all rivalry, [saying] “Okay, this is for the best of the sport,” and we hope there’s no land grab from other people that upsets the balance of a community that’s been around for about 20 years,” Cox told me.

It’s not about how beautiful your rig is, it’s about what you do with it

The move online has seen a bit of a race for sim rigs, some fancier than others. Our friends at CXC Simulations, who build extremely high-end sim racing rigs, have been quite busy. Classified as an essential company because of its military contracts, it still operates, albeit in split services. “Our sales department has been very busy with interest in new simulators and our Certified Pre-Owned simulators, and our customer service has been extremely busy. We have many customers who are now becoming very active and using their simulators not only as a training tool, but also to participate in organized sim races, so we have a lot of demand, but we are somewhat limited in how quickly we can produce and ship new simulators,” CXC boss Chris Considine told Ars.

Considine also likes to share its knowledge with people who build their own constellations. “I’ve gotten loads of phone calls and emails, not just from people interested in our simulators, but also from people who may not be in the market for one of our machines, but want advice on what kind of components they should use.” need to build one for themselves at home I’m happy to share what I know because I want them to have an enjoyable sim experience and platforms like iRacing for a long time,” he told me by email.

drivers have not been shy when showing off their setups on social media, but unlike in the real world, esports really is much more about the driver than their gear. Timmy Hill, winner of last weekend’s NASCAR Pro Invitational at a virtual Texas Motor Speedway, did so with a 10-year-old Logitech G27. And Ross Chastain defeated Jimmy Johnson from an even more ad hoc lineup, including: what looks like a slightly rusty garden chair† One racer is an exception to that rule: IndyCar’s Robert Wickens, who was paralyzed after a crash in 2018. modified Fanatec wheel when he returns to IndyCar’s virtual series at a virtual Barber Motorsport Park on April 4.

Is it what the fans want?

So the drivers make the most of it, but does that translate into the fans’ enjoyment? Asking the question on Twitter garnered a few responses. The locked car setups in most series were a turn off for people like Sam Collins† On the other hand, the freedom to set up your car the way you want in IMSA’s Super Sebring race, and the resulting work of BMW’s race engineers to help their sim drivers, was praised by Design News’ Dan Carney† People also praised the sense of normality we got from the crew of IMSA Radio from John Hindaugh et al., and suggested that the virtual Grand Prix of F1 “was the most F1 way to deal with F1 esports.

I leave the last word to Will MacFarland, not least because he took the time to write me a long email after seeing one of the Porsche Club of America sim races

I will probably watch some more synthetic races, but only top level stuff. I’m also starting to wonder who is using which hardware and who is connecting to which ISP. I think it might be interesting to zoom in on, say, who’s using Gigabyte hardware versus who’s using MSi hardware, or who’s connecting to Mediacom versus who’s running AT&T. The “tribute to my sponsors” portion of the post-race interviews would be even more amusing than usual,” MacFarland wrote.

By akfire1

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