F1 Racing (UK) - - CONTENTS - PAT SY­MONDS @F1rac­ing _mag face­­ing­mag

Pat Sy­monds on the strengths of Es­ports

We have wit­nessed some great races this year and both the Bri­tish and US Grands Prix pro­vided a level of ex­cite­ment and un­cer­tainty sus­tained right to the end. I was for­tu­nate enough to at­tend an­other great race re­cently, and al­though it was an­other demon­stra­tion of Mercedes dom­i­na­tion, they were closely hounded through­out the race by Toro Rosso. In ad­di­tion, to wit­ness this I had to travel no fur­ther than Ful­ham Broad­way.

I am talk­ing, of course, about the F1 Es­ports Pro Se­ries. You may find it hard to ac­cept that some­one who has been in­volved in the sport for over 40 years can get ex­cited about a vir­tual man­i­fes­ta­tion of F1 rac­ing, but be­lieve me it is good. The bound­aries be­tween gam­ing and pro­fes­sional vir­tual rac­ing are be­com­ing blurred, and the ever-chang­ing de­mo­graphic of our world may one day pro­mote a sim­i­lar blur­ring of the mar­gins be­tween sim­u­lated and ac­tual sport.

The F1 Es­ports se­ries is just two years old and for 2018 in­tro­duced the con­cept of the Pro Draft. This in­volved all the F1 teams – all ex­cept Fer­rari, that is, who seem once again to have some dif­fi­culty ac­cept­ing the changes that mod­ern so­ci­ety brings – se­lect­ing driv­ers to rep­re­sent them. They were cho­sen from 66,000 unique play­ers, who be­tween them made 400,000 qual­i­fy­ing at­tempts. Scores from qual­i­fy­ing re­sulted in 40 driv­ers from all over the world at­tend­ing the Pro Draft at Sil­ver­stone over the Bri­tish GP week­end, where they were put through sev­eral phys­i­cal and men­tal chal­lenges – the re­sults of which were scru­ti­nised by scouts from the nine of­fi­cial F1 Es­ports teams.

The com­peti­tors were sub­jected to fit­ness tests, in­ter­views as brand am­bas­sadors, kart races and of course Es­ports events them­selves. On the Mon­day af­ter the race a live show at­tended by Max Ver­stap­pen (an avid Es­ports en­thu­si­ast) an­nounced the 16 driv­ers that made the Pro Draft to com­plete the team line-ups.

Dur­ing the sum­mer break con­tracts were signed ready for the Au­tumn com­pe­ti­tion to start. Dur­ing three evenings, three races were held at each event. These cov­ered 25% of the dis­tance of a real grand prix, as driv­ers bat­tled for points to­ward the cham­pi­onship. Last year’s cham­pion Bren­don Leigh, a 19-year old from the UK who was snapped up by Mercedes, re­mains the man to beat. It is a mark of the im­por­tance of the sport that Bren­don shed 20kg as a re­sult of the fit­ness regime he im­posed on him­self to pre­pare for 2018.

The fi­nals, held in late Novem­ber, com­prised three fur­ther 25% dis­tance races, while the fi­nal race, Abu Dhabi, was held over 50% dis­tance and counted for dou­ble points. Just like in real F1, the prize fund – $200,000 this year – goes


to the teams based on their po­si­tion in the teams’ cham­pi­onship. The teams in turn have ar­range­ments with the driv­ers and pay them on the ba­sis of a re­tainer and a re­sults bonus. Also, just like the real thing, the com­pe­ti­tion is gov­erned by 63 pages of rules and guides, all of which have to be fol­lowed to the let­ter.

Per­haps the ques­tion we need to ask is whether Es­ports is a step­ping stone to the real thing or whether it is a very dif­fer­ent ac­tiv­ity that will stand on its own as a more in­clu­sive form of en­ter­tain­ment. At the 2018 Race of Cham­pi­ons, a num­ber of play­ers con­tested the EROC event with the win­ner be­ing judged not just on their sim­u­la­tor re­sults but also on lap­ping the real track in a real car. Con­sid­er­ing Bren­don Leigh had not driven any form of car two weeks be­fore the event, it was a trib­ute to sim­u­la­tion that he was even able to com­pete. On one hand we see examples such as Jann Mar­den­bor­ough, now a pro­fes­sional driver hav­ing won the Nis­san GT Academy vir­tual se­ries, on the other we have the op­por­tu­nity, through fans play­ing the games, to in­crease un­der­stand­ing of our sport.

While I think there is much we can learn from Es­ports, and

I’ve been ad­vo­cat­ing for some time that we use it as a vir­tual test en­vi­ron­ment for changes to both tech­ni­cal and sport­ing reg­u­la­tions, I also think vir­tual com­pe­ti­tion is a sport in it­self. In some ar­eas, such as Fort­nite, game­play has to re­main vir­tual. In some spa­ces, such as foot­ball games, it al­lows for in­clu­sion where that might oth­er­wise be in­hib­ited by the phys­i­cal con­straints of the play­ers. In rac­ing, it al­lows com­pe­ti­tion in a field where fi­nan­cial con­straints may pre­clude many would-be com­peti­tors from par­tic­i­pat­ing. While I doubt rac­ing sim­u­la­tions will ever reach the lev­els of pop­u­lar­ity of League of Legends, they have a place, and when we con­sider the 2018 F1 Es­ports events each achieved around 25 mil­lion so­cial me­dia im­pres­sions, we can see that place is sub­stan­tial.

F1 Es­ports also al­lows us to reach a younger, dig­i­tally aware de­mo­graphic that we don’t cur­rently speak to di­rectly but who are our fu­ture fans. Re­cent scru­tiny by Arity, a tech­no­log­i­cal re­search com­pany, found that half of US mil­len­ni­als do not think it worth own­ing a car. This is caus­ing much con­cern to the mo­tor in­dus­try and should con­cern us. We must pro­vide ac­cess to a sport that can be oth­er­wise in­ac­ces­si­ble. It is easy and cheap to pick up a ten­nis rac­quet and play, it is nei­ther easy or cheap to race a car.

To dis­miss Es­ports as ‘just a game’ is short-sighted. To em­brace it and em­bed it as part of the rich ta­pes­try that is made up by all forms of mo­tor­sport pro­vides a way to grow our sport and pro­vide a fu­ture that is as rich as our past. For­mula 1 may be the pen­t­house of a metaphor­i­cal high-rise but Es­ports may be as im­por­tant a foun­da­tion for our fans as kart­ing is for our driv­ers.

The sec­ond F1 Es­ports se­ries in­volved nine of the 10 F1 teams and in­cluded a Pro Draft

Bren­don Leigh claimed more suc­cess for Mercedes as he took a sec­ond F1 Es­ports ti­tle

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