Formula Eesports' real and virtual racing competes in a variety of markets

Formula Eesports' real and virtual racing competes in a variety of markets

This weekend the Formula E London E-Prix took place at the ExCel exhibition centre, the only top-level indoor and outdoor track in international motosport. It may not quite have the reputation of F1, but the sport is rapidly growing in popularity.

It''s not just about electric cars, but also about virtual cars. On Friday night the second Accelerate esports championship took centre stage at the London E-Prix. It was broadcast live on Twitch and YouTube, with drivers going head-to-head to win a share of 100,000.

During the epidemic, Formula E''s esports division expanded, requiring racing fans to engage online. Now that''s changed to broadening the audience of the sport, enticing fans to watch the real E-Prix through a love of video games and esports.

"It''s not about developing a media product that is theoretically a competitor to our core race," says Formula E''s gaming director. "It''s about developing something that engages a fresh fanbase for us and allows a broad audience to engage in the sport."

"I believe it was a success for us, and we''ve seen a real gain, especially in this season, as we''ve increased the number of participants in this competition, and how many people from all over the world are participating in Accelerate."

What''s especially impressive is how advanced simulation racing has evolved in repurposing the real world of driving. The Accelerate London Final, for example, was performed on a virtual copy of the real track at London''s ExCel, which was specifically designed for the esports event.

RFactor2 is now available in Accelerate''s gaming arena, where sim runners are set up for their competitors complete with their sponsored teams. These same sim runners are also available in the event''s gaming arena for the public to test.

"You''re racing on official Formula E tracks, in official Formula E cars, and the experience is, outside of actually getting behind the wheel of a car, as close as you can get," says Holmes-Daly.

The two sides of virtual and real racing have certain bearing on one another, but Holmes-Daly is keen to make esports racing a unique experience.

"We want to utilize the core bits of Formula E IP in our gaming and esports activations," he adds. "We want to try and replicate our really cool qualifying duel format, we want to replicate attack mode. These core bits to our IP, we want to show them off in a game setting because that''s new, that''s exciting. It''s different for athletes.

"The ideal scenario is that we give the Formula E IP a licence with an existing fanbase. They learn more about Formula E, they compete in an esports competition, they get more invested in Formula E, maybe they then enter a race and become a superfan. That''s why we''re here."

So, what is it a matter of getting a professional esports champion?

Jarno Opmeer is the esports world champion in Formula 4 and 2021, and has won the Accelerate London Final. In 2017, the Dutch driver was inducted into the Renault Sport Academy. He''s since transferred to sports owing to his strong ability on test simulators.

"It''s just natural for me to keep on track, but I''ll go to a completely different path," he adds.

"Normally you want to be practicing every day. Anything from three to six hours usually makes you improve slightly day over day. I believe consistency is probably the most important part."

Virtual racing has the benefit of not being limited by budgets, testing days, and more. And, if you crash, it''s considerably less expensive.

"I feel like real life racing was a lot more turbulent," Opmeer said. "For esports, you can, of course, practice as much as you can, but you''re also willing to exercise as much as you want, otherwise you''re not going to be winning."

"I think there''s a kind of requirement for real racing drivers to adapt basically every time they go into the car," says the author. Because real life racing is so much more dynamic with everything, particularly the weather."

Because of his experience as a real life racing driver, it''s also evident that sim racing is reproduced in real life, although Opmeer doesn''t anticipate many esports drivers moving to real driving, although it''s been done by former F1 esports driver Cem Bolukbasi.

"I think it''s absolutely feasible," says the driver. "I think some people have already done it. But I think it''s much harder than a lot of drivers.

"It''s probably too hard to jump into a car right away. I''d think anyone will go directly from esports to F1, or even F2. I think you should definitely start lower and learn how to get there."

Cooperation with Holmes-Daly believes that promoting esports drivers to real racers isn''t a key goal of the Formula E esports program.

"That''s still a really admirable goal, and something that will be incredible if we can tell the Cinderella story and get someone through that path," he adds. "But the amount of people that can really transfer their skills is a very small number."

Formula E esports are also distinct from other esports, like League of Legends and Rainbow Six: Siege. Unlike other leagues, Formula E intends to compete for the same audience, which allows avid motosports to understand the skill of racing competitors.

"This motorsports esports world is the only place in which, theoretically, you''re good at the sport, and you''re also good at the main sport," said Holmes-Daly. "That doesn''t happen anywhere else, though, if you''re good at FIFA, it does not mean you''re a good footballer. But if you are a good sim racer, theoretically you''re a good driver. "So that''s really unique."

Formula E is equally well-known: its unique feature is attack mode, in which drivers may steer off the racing line to gain a boost in power. That''s why F-Zero has a great answer. And that makes Formula E a great sport.

Yet, where other esports are rampant with toxicity - although there is a lot of support for women - that''s so far been less of a problem with Formula E.

"With our partnership with the FIA, these esports competitions at the highest level are really rigorous," Holmes-Daly. "And that stops a lot of the toxicity because people understand where they stand and ultimately don''t want to jeopardize that." And the FIA can be brutal as they need to be at times."

Despite the fact that most lap timings are usually reserved for racers and cars. "You''re not in races where people can really screw up your lap time, and so the only person you can really be irritated at is yourself," Holmes-Daly.

This is also leading to a more inclusive esports environment. The FIA Girls On Track programme aims to support young girls and promote gender equality in esports. That''s had a positive impact on sports, however.

"Anecdotally, I can say that Accelerate has a lot more female participants," said Holmes-Daly. "Through initiatives at Formula E like Girls On Track, where we''re actively trying to engage more women and girls in the sport, by getting them at every race along to the gaming arena, and by empowering them to learn more. "It''s exactly how you do it right there, you just give them opportunities and experiences to inspire them."

Holmes-Daly''s ambitions for Formula E esports are that it may be as inclusive as possible and open up racing and gaming to those who would not normally have access. The esports events are also subject to the same sustainability scrutiny that''s at the core of Formula E.

Opmeer failed to hold off last year''s Accelerate champion Frede Rasmussen. "I don''t think it''s sunk in yet. I''m certainly glad I got it done, because it''s unlikely that you have days like this."

Today is P2 in Formula E. @G2Frede was to fast to defeat.

Formula E esports have a bright future ahead, with both real and virtual sports reaching new audiences.

In gaming itself, Holmes-Daly is open to working with game designers to add Formula E to existing motosports titles. Perhaps changes might be made early as the next season, especially considering issues at RFactor2 developer Motorsport Games.

"Conversations are ongoing for season nine," he says. "We don''t have any partnerships locked in at this point. So not much I can really talk about there at this point. But we''re having conversations with lots of people for season nine."

Is it possible to have a formal Formula E game in the future?

"I''ll never rule it out," Holmes-Daly says.

"Does it make sense to create a game at this point, when real the aim is to increase your existing fanbase? Or is it appropriate to license your IP into an existing game with an existing fanbase to try and ultimately collect some of that fan base? The latter is possible.

"But it''s definitely on the table. We''ve already had discussions with game developers about it. I''d expect it to happen," said the developer.

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