There are many esports racing series to choose from – but this is why F1 Esports beats eNASCAR hands down.
Photo credit: F1 2020/Codemasters
If you’re from the USA and you’re asked to name a motorsports series, the chances are that NASCAR will be the first to spring to mind. The sport has always been a massive hit, vying with other top-level sports like the NFL and basketball for top viewing honors. However, you would have to ask a lot of Europeans before you found one who gives the same answer. Over here, F1, WRC and various forms of touring cars rule the roost and while most motorsports lovers are aware of NASCAR, very few would call themselves fans.
In the virtual world, the story is very much the same. Despite existing since 2010, the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series still fails to hold the allure of, say, the F1 Esports Pro Series 2020 in Europe. As one such European, I am here to explain why this might be the case.
“It’s just driving round and round in circles”
Let’s just get one thing clear – the subheading above is in quotation marks for a reason. It’s the most common complaint about NASCAR as a spectacle but is not an opinion I share. Or at least, not anymore.
As a youngster in the late 90s, I was getting into gaming as it – like me – was in its infancy. My titles of choice were Grand Prix 3 and Colin McRae Rally, and I played both games to death whenever I had the chance. They were a thrilling challenge to me – the F1 games and tracks perfectly reflecting the races I watched live on TV, and the rally title allowing me to thread a Subaru Impreza through the most challenging, muddy stages imaginable.
Then I tried NASCAR Racing 3, and the contrast to other games was blinding. Unlike the intricate tracks and stages of my other beloved games, this title had me literally driving round and round in circles on unimaginative ovals. Bouncing the car off the wall was the quickest way round, and there was little to no variation race to race. Like many others who compared the series directly to F1, I instantly wrote off NASCAR as a lost cause, and buried myself in the titles I knew best.
A new-found respect?
Fast-forward more years than I care to admit, and I’m playing iRacing. After countless races exhausting the supply of cars on offer, I stumble across NASCAR and find myself selecting one and entering a race. I wasn’t expecting much, but what I got was a pleasant surprise. The field was packed and tight, the track bumpy and challenging, the car fighting me and requiring levels of concentration I hadn’t imagined. It was fun.
Finally on the hook, I elected to follow the eNASCAR series. Surely the top-level pros battling it out in such a high-octane sport would be the greatest esports series to date, right? I went in open-minded, but soon discovered that my admittedly uninformed younger self had hit the nail on the head right away.
A confusing start
Part of the beauty of traditional series such as the F1 Esports is that they follow a points system that anyone can understand. Points are awarded depending on your race finishes. At the end of the series, the driver with the most points wins. It is fair and above all, simple.
As a contrast, the eNASCAR system is rather peculiar. Yes, points are earned depending on your position, but every finisher receives them, with 40 going to the winner and 1 point going to 40th place. The 1-point difference ensures that the standings remain close – as does the fact that only the best 12 results from the 16 races count towards the championship. This means that drivers can afford a few horror races without jeopardizing their championship chances.
Yet for the top players who make it to the ‘play-offs’, their points are reset. Then going into the ‘Championship race’, the four leading contenders have their points reset yet again. Yes, it guarantees a four-way title fight in the final round, which is exciting for fans. But doesn’t the format make a mockery of the races that came before? A championship contender could be out of the running in the blink of an eye – much like Ryan Michael Luza in last year’s final:
The sport quickly becomes a game of Russian roulette, undermining the time and effort spent by the main players to get this far. With $100,000 on the line, this is a step too far.
As a contrast, the F1 Esports championship saw Jarno Opmeer take the title after a dominant season. While it is true that the final race lacked the drama of an eNASCAR-style four-way fight, Opmeer deserved the points advantage he had going into the event. Had the points been levelled and then, for example, Nicolas Longuet swept in and claimed the title due to a freak incident, it would have felt wrong. The best driver would have been cheated out of the victory and prize money he deserved, all in the name of excitement.
Less is more
When I watch an esports series played at the highest level, I want to be wowed by the skills on display – and in this respect, F1 Esports is second to none. While admittedly more daring and optimistic than in real-life sport, the overtaking is precise and calculated because the drivers know that one mistake could result in a damaged car and ruined race. This creates tension for the viewers – the build-up to an overtake can last several laps and is a sight to behold when executed well.
What. An. Overtake! @G2Frede takes the lead of this amazing #F1Esports race 😲— Formula 1® Game (@Formula1game) December 16, 2020
Watch this with us:
📽️: https://t.co/sd6W0SdAp2 pic.twitter.com/vSeIzU6Mkx
eNASCAR is a completely different animal. With 40 cars packed tightly together, overtakes are so frequent that it is impossible to keep track of them. During the first race of the current 2021 season at Daytona, there were 50 lead changes in the 100-lap race. While this might sound like a thrilling spectacle, I find that the action is cheapened slightly – a move for the lead on lap 20, for example, will almost certainly seem irrelevant just a few laps later.
It’s anyone’s guess which driver will actually cross the finishing line first, which rather detracts from the suspense for me. I enjoy races that tell a ‘story’, whereas eNASCAR sometimes feels more like a random sequence of meaningless events.
Variety is the spice of life
Part of the allure of the F1 esports is also the ‘global’ feel of the series. The calendar features tracks from around the world, ranging from tight street circuits like Monaco and Baku to high-speed, purpose-built tracks like Spa and Silverstone. The variety on offer makes for a diverse and interesting series – especially when the unpredictability of wet weather races is thrown into the mix. For tips and tricks to drive to such contrasting circuits, check out our tutorials for Monaco and Silverstone:
Sadly, eNASCAR is again left lacking, as the circuits are predominantly USA-based ovals. The anonymity of this layout makes it difficult to identify one track from another. Also the thrilling curved ball of rain is removed from the equation as races only take place in the dry. Ultimately, the track plays a very minor part in the overall eNASCAR show, whereas in F1 Esports, it is crucial.
Authenticity is key
Perhaps all this explains the need for eNASCAR to manufacture excitement into the series through a host of rules and a points system that ensures the racing stays close. Whereas many will be hooked by the seemingly ‘unpredictable’ nature of the eNASCAR championship, others may find it fake and contrived. If that sounds familiar, I suggest you try out F1 Esports or even other seies such as the 2021 Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup. Here, you can savour authentic racing that rewards skill and consistency over a season rather than randomness in the season finale.
Of course, there are two sides to every story – if you want to hear why eNASCAR is the greatest esports racing series out there, check out my colleague’s article which argues just that:
Are you in the F1 Esports or eNASCAR camp? Or do you prefer another esport entirely? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!