Motorsport is being saved by esports. Don’t believe me? Just hop on Twitch and look at the numbers being pulled by F1 driver Lando Norris. If you are a fan of ESPN, you may have even noticed virtual racing popping up on their flagship show, SportsCenter.
Why the Saving?
I don’t think I need to spend too much time explaining why motorsport needs to be saved by esports. Like everything else, motorsport is on hold while we all try to figure out this coronavirus thing. It’s tough to miss out on your favorite sports, but when the seasons are short, like in motorsport, it is miserable.
What seems to be unique about motorsport is that the virtual version of it produces a very similar product. If you listened to the latest episode of It’s All Fun and Games, I described virtual racing as “all the same stuff you get in the real thing, but no chance of dying”.
For the most part, this is true. One of the entry-level requirements for a racing sim is laser scanned tracks and realistic physics. As a matter of fact, a lot of professional drivers use racing sims to stay sharp and even learn tracks. These features, combined with the peripherals available, make virtual racing pretty close to the real thing.
The Leagues Get Involved
Two huge motorsport giants have turned to virtual racing to keep their fans engaged. NASCAR and Formula 1 have taken to Twitch to put on professionally produced races. They even include real professional drivers, though I think NASCAR is doing a better job of that, to be honest.
I don’t want to discount what others have done in this realm. Both The Race and Veloce Esports came out and produced outstanding racing featuring a mix of pro drivers and esports athletes before the actual motorsports series jumped on board. In a lot of ways, we can thank those guys for proving out the concept.
I can hear you asking what I consider successful, so let’s talk numbers. The first official F1 virtual grand prix pulled in at least 100k concurrent viewers from what I could see. This viewer count was a mix between drivers’ channels and the official Formula 1 channel. Other streams during the last few weeks are hitting 10k or more, all to watch virtual racing.
As I previously mentioned, NASCAR is winning the virtual racing series game. They were able to pull in a lot of current and famous drivers to compete in an invitational. They used the most popular sim racing platform, iRacing, to run the event. NASCAR got the event covered by ESPN and aired the actual race on Fox Sports 1, which is a real sports network broadcast on TV.
The numbers for the NASCAR event were insane. The virtual race brought in close to 1 million viewers and earned a 0.53 rating. That event is believed to now be the most viewed esports event aired on US TV. Take that, Overwatch League!
I take this whole thing as an outright win. We have world-class athletes who are now being exposed to esports. Better yet, we are having massive fan bases watching and taking esports seriously.
Hope in Uncertain Times
In uncertain times like now, it is easy to focus on the negatives. When I see how much attention our industry is getting as esports saves a sport I love, it brings me hope. It makes me hopeful that we are on the edge of esports becoming mainstream, and it makes me optimistic that the stigmas that can come with gaming are on their way out.
If you haven’t, you should check out some of the great races being put on. Hop on Twitch, follow Formula 1 and NASCAR on Twitter, check the races out, and otherwise be entertained!
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