Why esports racing runs far behind other esports

Why esports racing runs far behind other esports

Five key learnings sim racing must adapt from big esports titles to get out of its niche.

Photo credit: Kunos Simulazioni / assettocorsa.net

From the excitement of an overtime on the last Counter-Strike map, to the shock of a baron steal in League of Legends and the tension of a fight until the finish line in sim racing: I enjoy all kinds of esports.

Being a follower of many different scenes, I notice that esports racing is still undeservingly quite a niche scene. And I am honest with you: It will probably never reach the viewer counts of the big esports titles. But still, there are several aspects of other esports that sim racing should pick up to reach the broad audience it deserves. Here are five of them I find specifically important.

1. Establish big names in the esports scene

When I think about big esports titles, there are several names of legendary players, like Oleksandr ‘s1mple’ Kostyliw or Lee ‘Faker’ Sang-hyeok, instantly popping up in my mind. In many esports, certain plays or mechanics are even named after their inventors. Producers of esports broadcasts understood that storylines of rise, fall and redemption of certain players enthrall the viewers and get them even more involved in the scene. It gives the sport an interesting narrative layer, as this example of CS legend Nikola ‘NiKo’ Kovač shows:

But when it comes to esports racing, I rarely stumble upon these stories. Most broadcasts put their focus around previous race results and plain numbers rather than digging deeper and presenting the person behind the wheel. If esports racing wants to reach a similar hype around their personalities, their stories must be told, as it is already done in other esports.

The success of content creators like Benjamin ‘Tiametmarduk’ Daly, James ‘TRL Limitless’ Doherty and Jimmy Broadbent show that people are not only interested in sheer talent, but unique personalities as well.

2. Who is behind the mic?

But there are not only people behind the wheels to be presented. A great example of binding the audience to their broadcast by establishing interesting on air talents is the League of Legends European Championship, LEC. It is the highest competitive league in League of Legends in Europe, similar to the Champions League in soccer.

Each of their casters and hosts has their own distinct personality which makes them unique in the team. Eefje ‘Sjokz’ Depoortere, the main host of the LEC, is known for her professionalism, while Aaron ‘Medic’ Chamberlain is common as a beast of a hype shoutcaster. By also creating content with the broadcast crew, the LEC gives people a reason besides the actual esports to tune in and stay engaged with the league.

The music video “I want the LEC back” shows how it’s done properly. The video showcases all broadcast talents and their special traits, while remaining true to what unites them: passion for the game.

Clearly, sim racing does not have the same funds as the LEC. Nevertheless, it should learn from them and put their commentators and on-air talents more in the focus. There are some iconic personalities in the scene already, but you rarely get to know more about them. Let’s not only present the talent behind the wheel. There are so many interesting personalities behind the mic to meet, for example charismatic Le Mans expert Ben Constanduros or Luke ‘Actrollvision’ Crane, who started shoutcasting for fun and is a professional esports and real racing commentator today.



3. Teach the audience

Research has proven that a key motivation of esports viewers is to gain knowledge which they can use for their own game. Many esports broadcasts have added regular segments of deep analysis to educate the audience in an entertaining way.

I would love to see more deep analysis during esports races. Show us how a driver made a bold overtake work, why the divebomb at the start failed and teach us about the perfect strategy and how to develop it. Make the audience tune in because they know they will have an advantage in their next race by watching the broadcast.

4. Make smaller events more meaningful

Let’s move a bit away from broadcasts and have a look at the greater scheme of esports racing. What makes the scene unappealing in my opinion is that there are many fragmented tournaments, each held by different organizers and following their own rules and formats.

To make the scene more viewer friendly, standardized formats are key. I don’t want to learn the rulebook and points system before I watch a race, just to learn everything from scratch again for the next event.

A ranking system
A ranking system similar to Counter-Strike could be applied to both players and teams. | Photo credit: Screenshot taken from pro.eslgaming.com

Also, I would love each tournament and racing league to have an impact. A great example for how this can be done is Counter-Strike, where each tournament contributes to the ESL team ranking, depending on its size and quality. The rating then has an effect on invitations for big tournaments like the majors.

By transferring this system to sim racing, even the smaller competitions would get an important contribution to the scene besides their mostly small prize pools. Imagine smaller iRacing tournaments influencing the qualifying for the world championships. That would instantly make them more exciting and meaningful.

And iRacing already has the tools to do so! Based on their performance, drivers gain or lose iRating after their races. However, the ranking only very rarely affects invitations for big events or world championships at the moment. Giving the elo system more meaning could make every single race count.

5. Embrace the racing lifestyle

From the greater scheme of how esports racing is connected and organized, let’s move to another layer above: the general attitude of our scene. Sim racing still does not know its place, whether it wants to be the virtual edition of real racing or a completely separate genre on its own. In my eyes, there is a smart way to combine both and create a unique experience for the audience.

Once again, I get back to the LEC, which has separated itself from other LoL broadcasts in recent years. The league shaped its identity by embracing a hip and young ‘lifestyle’. Thereby, the LEC created its own unique identity the target audience connects with, while still remaining true to the game itself. Just watch the unbelievable rap battle they produced to get an idea of how to blend its cool identity with esports.

Esports racing should follow the example. Racing has always been more than driving a car. It is passion, dedication, a lifestyle. Show us more about the fascinating cars, the thrill before the green lights, the fascination about the drivers’ bravery. Even if all of this is virtual, the fascination remains the same.

So, instead of starting the broadcast just before lights out and ending with the chequered flag, tell me about the cars being driven in the competition beforehand. Tell me about what makes the track so outstanding, why it has so much meaning in the scene. Use the fascination that motorsport has built throughout decades to make people passionate about the virtual counterpart as well.

These are just five suggestions on what sim racing could learn from other esports. Do you agree with them? What is your take on the topic? Tweet us your opinion on Twitter at @overtake_gg!

Born and raised close to the Nürburgring.