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ESPORTS DOCUMENTARY F1 ESPORTS SERIES
Whether you embrace the virtual world or not, esports have become part of the fabric of racing. Formula 1, Formula E, the World Rally Championship and Le Mans are all leading the way with their own competitions to find the best virtual racers.
The connection is more than superficial. Mclaren’s World’s Fastest Gamer runnerup Freek Schothorst has proved his worth on the team’s simulator and even joined the Formula Renault Eurocup grid in Hungary, demonstrating that esports exponents have transferable skills. So while not everyone might find watching sim racing particularly stimulating, it’s certainly caught the attention of motorsport’s elite.
That’s why the official Formula 1 Facebook page is livestreaming a four-part documentary dedicated to its sim racing competition. The F1 Esports Series looks into the selection process for the nine F1 teams (Ferrari has chosen not to take part) that have signed gamers for the upcoming Pro Draft competition.
The show’s first two episodes focused on tasks that allow the drivers to show off their talents, including a pitstop challenge, karting, and (of course) a sim race. Drivers talked about their ‘connections’ with F1, whether that be how they wanted to model their facial hair on their favourite driver’s or how their dad once worked for Ferrari. They talked about their real-world racing experience, and how budget restraints turned them towards sim racing – a basic sim racing set-up costs less than £2000, while registration and a full year’s entry in British Formula 4 is £13,500. It was surprising to find so many had raced in lower formulas and, where it hadn’t worked out, esports had become a viable alternative to the normal ladder.
Since the series is being broadcast over a social media website with over 2billion users, this was the perfect opportunity to get hardcore F1 fans interested in esports. But so far it’s fallen short.
While there was a brief introduction that recapped the F1 Esports story so far, it didn’t go far enough. There were plenty of references to last year’s competition, which was won by British teenager Brendon Leigh, but otherwise first-time viewers were left in the dark. Nothing was said about the controversy in the showdown, which took place on a virtual Yas Marina circuit. Leigh was forced to fight back through the field after being hit by a rival midway, then inherited the victory after
Fabrizio Donoso Delgado was penalised for cutting the chicane on the final lap. Leigh, incidentally, has now signed for Mercedes as its professional esports driver.
Unfortunately this context was absent in the livestream. It felt as if it was the second chapter of a story, and that the audience was playing catch-up. All told, this new format missed a trick since it didn’t feel aimed at the general F1 audience, but at a niche group who are already interested in sim racing.
That showed in the live comments section of the first episode too. While there was a minority asking how they could get involved, or how they would fare in a similar competition, the majority of the commenters clearly didn’t think sim racing was anything more than playing video games. It’s a shame, because the documentary does a sound job of showing just how much talent is involved in the discipline, and targeting it at esports newcomers might have swayed a few opinions for the better.
Makers of the documentary might not have been targeting the uninitiated when they put together the first two episodes, but they did do a good job of explaining the selection process and in engaging viewers. If you can ignore the lack of context – or take the time read up on last year’s race – the story is relatively easy to follow, and enjoyable.
And if esports still leaves you feeling cold, perhaps the real positive is F1’s willingness to experiment with creating bespoke content that is free to access via a massive social media platform.
The final episode, airing September 26, retells the live show as the ‘real’ Formula 1 teams pick their drivers for the Esports Pro Series Championship.
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