In the run-up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, the IOC acknowledge the brilliance of competitive esports with the Olympic Virtual Series acting as a pre-cursor to the actual games. Did it live up to our expectations?
Photo credit: GT Sport
After being put off by a year due to the pandemic, the 2021 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo will take place. What makes this year’s Olympics interesting though is what happened in the build-up to the games, and that was the Olympic Virtual Series.
To celebrate the meteoric rise of esports to the mainstream during the pandemic, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) organised events on an array of video games covering a broad range of real-life sports, so don’t expect an Olympic sport for pro Call of Duty players. These sports included cycling, baseball, sailing and rowing. However, the most interesting selection was motorsport in the form of Gran Turismo Sport.
Motor racing has famously never been part of the Olympics, not at least since the nightmare of the 1900 Paris Games. Such categories of motor racing included fire truck, taxi, delivery van, the latter of two which had seperate events for petrol and electric. But since then as motorsport entered its golden years, the Olympics have never welcomed back car racing and it’s still frowned upon as not a real sport worthy of the Olympics.
The FIA have since rectified that by having their own version of the Olympics, dubbed the FIA Motorsport Games which had its inaugural running in 2019 at the Vallelunga circuit and after being postponed, will have its second iteration this October at Paul Ricard.
Interestingly enough, the FIA Motorsport Games also has the Digital Cup which is their esports competition, and it also utilises GT Sport. The choice to use GT Sport has rattled the cages of many self-proclaimed ‘sim racing purists’ who detest the fact that sim racing’s presence in an Olympic sanctioned event comes in the form of Gran Turismo as opposed to high-end market simulations like iRacing, rFactor 2 or Assetto Corsa Competizione.
GT Sport was the right choice
The way in which the FIA-certified Gran Turismo championships have been organised and broadcast have been second-to-none, and make it the obvious choice for the Olympic Virtual Series. Plus, it’s no secret that the Olympic Games taking place in Tokyo and both Polyphony Digital and Sony being Japanese undoubtedly factored in to the decision.
The casual viewing public will always be more aware of the more mainstream titles on consoles, even if the driving isn’t so incredibly realistic like those aforementioned simulations. It’s not like the driving is reminiscent to that of Mario Kart. GT Sport is a proven and very accessible racing game with an incredible level of competition.
Across the three races, it was Italy’s Valerio Gallo who came out on top and won gold, just holding off against 2019 FIA Gran Turismo Nation’s Cup champion Mikail Hizal from Germany. The races were exciting to watch, and delivered an entertaining experience.
A contest of mental strength and versatility
Something that the Gran Turismo championships clearly demonstrated in this event was versatility. With the physical factor not being as influential in esports, what you can do is test one’s mental strength. The IOC could have just held the one race with one type of car and track and it would have been perfectly legitimate, but since nobody is paying a load of money to acquire a car and have it flown or shipped to a racetrack and it instead be a few buttons away, it allows for more avenues to be explored.
Comparing the Olympic Virtual Series Motor Sport event to the FIA Motorsport Games Digital Cup, the OVS still holds its own. The Digital Cup had all its drivers competing in the Red Bull X2019 Competition at the Interlagos circuit, and then at Barcelona for the finals. So the drivers had merely one type of car to drive and only changed circuit once. However the OVS event had three races and three types of cars, you had the drivers tackling the Tokyo Expressway East Outer Loop in the Gr.4 Toyota 86, then Sardegna Road Track B in the GR Yaris and the final took place on the ever-beloved Dragon Trail Seaside in the Supra Racing Concept Gr.3 car.
AMENDMENT: Thanks to FIA Motorsports Games Digital Cup gold medalist Kodi Nikola Latkovski, he told us that the Digital Cup was infact made up of Semi Final races in the Fittipaldi EF7 at Interlagos, a repechage race at the Red Bull Ring in the Pagani Zonda R and then the finale was in the X2019 Competition at Barcelona.
In our defense, the coverage of the event was neglected hugely. Again, thank you, Kodi!
A glimpse of the future?
The event is a great starting block to potentially expand in the future, not only with racing but all the many other competitive esports we have come to love. Maybe the Olympics will put a call out to Rocket League players! At least, let’s hope so.
Already it seems the Olympic Virtual Series is here to stay, and the Motor Sport event was a major success. The 2024 Summer Olympic Games in Paris will most likely also have the Olympic Virtual Series act as build-up to the games. Perhaps with an expanded set of digital versions of sports beyond the cycling, baseball, sailing, rowing and motor sport like we had this year.
Esports racing has seen a meteoric rise within the last 18 months, especially due to the pandemic. The significance of motorsport not being featured as a regular Olympic yet the event being the only one in the OVS without its real-life counterpart in the real games surely means that sim racing has that strong of a presence in the future of mainstream sports.
What did you make of the Olympic Virtual Series Motorsport event? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!