In uncertain times with motorsport events being cancelled or suspended around the world, esports is ready to fill in the gap and scratch our collective racing itch.
A lot can happen in a short space of time. Within a few days, the landscape of the 2020 motorsport season was devastated with events all over the world being cancelled or suspended thanks to the covid-19 outbreak. Questions still loom over how race championships will handle the rest of 2020, but these unique set of circumstances provided the ideal springboard for a different style of racing entirely.
March 13th, Formula E champion Jean-Eric Vergne sent out a call on social media asking his fellow drivers whether they’d be interested in running a sim championship. The same day, The Race announced they’d be running an All-Stars Esports Battle. The result? On March 15th, race fans were treated to a smorgasbord of fantastic esports racing from sim racing all-stars and international track stars alike. Esports stepped in to save the day.
The Race All-Star Esports Battle saw the likes of Max Verstappen and Simon Pagenaud do battle with the World’s Fastest Gamer Rudy van Buren and reigning F1 Esports Champion Brendan Leigh. While Vergne and Veloce Esports’ Not The Aus GP pitted Stoffel Vandoorne, Lando Norris and Esteban Gutierrez against YouTubers and sim stars like Willne, Araava and Jarno Opmeer. Fans of Jimmy Broadbent got a whole afternoon of Jimmer action with the YouTuber electing to join both events.
In difficult times, the motorsport community never fails to make the most of the situation. We’re very good at coming together and these events really showed that. But what does this mean for esports?
The esports industry is booming. Global competition has exploded in recent years across the board with international gaming champions gaining ‘hero’ status within their fanbases. However, despite the growth, the global backing and the sheer spectacle that esports can provide, there’s still somewhat of a stigma surrounding it. Speak to people about esports and frequently it won’t be taken seriously. The idea that it’s still ‘just teenage boys playing games in their bedrooms’ is still fairly pervasive and frankly, that’s just not the case. But perhaps events like these can help change the public opinion. After all, with household motorsport names comes an army of new fans.
For instance, award-winning motorsport photographer Lou Johnson spends a lot of her time surrounded by race cars but has never given a second thought to esports. “It was always something for other people. I’m not a gamer, so I never really considered actually tuning into a stream.” Now, however, she’s already planning to tune in again. “It’s so much fun to watch and definitely not just for gamers! The interaction on the live stream was brilliant. It really adds to the coverage and helps bring the community together.”
The numbers are impressive too. During The Race’s live race broadcast, over fifty thousand viewers tuned in making them the largest gaming channel on YouTube at the time. Veloce Esports gained over six thousand followers on their YouTube channel in the build-up to Not The Aus GP with almost twenty-five thousand viewers on their YouTube stream. Over on the Veloce Esports Twitch channel, over twelve thousand people tuned in. An impressive feat for a channel that began the stream with just eight thousand followers. Both events had other channels streaming their content so combined viewership numbers are going to be substantially higher – Lando Norris had over seventy thousand viewers on his stream of Not The Aus GP.
Some of these will be esports fans, but a lot will be motorsport fans following their favourite driver into something new. For platforms like Twitch, this could represent a huge new market potentially filled with people who may have otherwise not even considered looking at their site.
The Race has already announced more esports racing will be happening on their channel next Sunday, and as an established esports team Veloce Esports will no doubt have more esports content on the way. A purely digital sport that can be run online and broadcast across various platforms is perfect for the current global situation. Particularly when it attracts such a vast pool of talent and can be accessed for free across the world. And realistically, there isn’t going to be any ‘IRL’ (that’s ‘in real life’ if you’re unfamiliar with the acronym) racing for a couple of months at the very least. All of this stands the esports world in good stead to carrying on filling the racing void and I for one, am looking forward to that.