Why did Forza esports fail

Why did Forza esports fail?

Gran Turismo‘s championships have their World Final this weekend. But whilst the PlayStation exclusive has thrived in esports, its Xbox contemporary has struggled. Why did Forza fail to sustain its own racing championship?

Photo credit: @ForzaRC

When it comes to mainstream console racing games, there are really only three main players that come to mind. There’s the F1 games by Codemasters, the Gran Turismo series on PlayStation and then on Xbox, the Forza games (both the circuit-focused Motorsport games and the open world Horizon series).

Every major racing game has its own dedicated esports championship. The F1 games play host to the F1 Esports Series Pro Championship and Gran Turismo has its own FIA-certified championship, of which the likes of Jarno Opmeer and Takuma Miyazono are the respective reigning champions. But Forza hasn’t had any competitive top level racing in over a year.

The official Forza esports series was known as the ForzaRC (or the Forza Racing Championship), and it started on Forza Motorsport 6 way back in 2016. That means Forza‘s official esports series preceeded both the F1 and Gran Turismo esports championships which had their first seasons in 2017 and 2018 respectively.

Help from some experts

In that time, one driver stood out above the rest on the Forza platform. He won five championships in the ForzaRC and to top it all off, with his team Red Bull Racing Esports, also won the second running of the Le Mans Esports Series Super Final which also used Forza Motorsport 7. That person being Aurélien Mallet, or otherwise known as ‘Laige‘.

Team Red Bull Racing Esports
Mallet (middle) along with teammates Robin ‘b0x’ Betka and Zachary ‘Venom’ Taylor tasted plenty of success during the height of Forza esports. Photo credit: @mallet_aurelien

Mallet has been involved in other championships on other sims. He raced on Assetto Corsa when part of Red Bull’s V10 R-League efforts in the first season alongside F1 Esports drivers Graham Carroll and Joni Törmälä, and they managed to finish third overall that season.

He also participated in both seasons of World’s Fastest Gamer, and even attempted to qualify for the eRace of Champions finals. However it’s safe to say that as far as Forza goes, Laige is the go-to guy and was kind enough to assist us with this.

We also had input from Nathan Tague who we interviewed back in August. The now-Veloce Esports member operated the ForzaRC efforts of his own team F4H and then Lazarus.

Why was it good?

It’s no secret that the Forza games are built to be as easy to casual players as possible. Infact, whilst pretty much all major esports car racing championships mandate the use of wheels and pedals, ForzaRC went against the norm and instead had the competitors using controllers.

This may be seen as a point against the ForzaRC, but the Forza games have traditionally been more favoured to controller players. This means that the difference between players isn’t down to who has the better equipment, and therefore more people could get involved. And due to the relative ease of which it takes to go quick in the game, the competitive scene was huge. However, don’t for a second misinterpret the claim that the games are catered to casual players as to mean there’s no skill involved. Of course there is.

On that note, Mallet had this to say:

The accessibility of Forza is why it was good for esports, because it was easy to get in if you are talented enough. You just had to jump in, do laps and if you’re good enough, you can do the esports stuff.

In that regard, it’s more inclusive than iRacing because compared to Forza you don’t need to spend as much time to get up to speed, you can become competitive a bit quicker.

Due to ForzaRC’s unique approach, the typical players did tend to specialise in it. In fact, after the most recent Forza esports event – that being the 2020 Le Mans Esports Super Final – Mallet called time on his career. It’s a shame really that Forza vanished off the esports scene, because it’s a proven and capable racing game with a lot of potential to host competitive racing. So, where did it fail?

The shortcomings

Mallet highlighted a few issues that prevented the series from meeting its full potential. One of which was the spectator cameras, which were always quite style over substance whenever you watched racing on the game. They always had great stylised shots but it never really showed any of the actual action. Here’s an example from one of the Le Mans Esports races.

He disagrees with the game’s preference of looking good over functioning to show racing, it no doubt made it difficult for those spectating the event to keep up for the sake of the broadcast.

The spectator camera shows the game – and it is beautiful – but when it comes to esports, we don’t care how the game looks, we want to see the racing. That’s the main weakness of Forza, because the camera angle doesn’t show the racing at all, it only shows the car.

Another thing that played against ForzaRC’s tournament structure, it would typically run short races with a very small amount of players on track at one time. Having not that many drivers on track meant there was little in the way of action.

The danger of having not enough cars on track on a live broadcast means sometimes there’s nothing happening, which is why series that follow a format of short quickfire races with very few cars tend to run their races off broadcast to edit out any negative space. A prime example of this being the V10 R-League.

A typical Forza Motorsport 7 lobby can hold up to 24 players. They had the right idea in having sprint-style races, and making players have to get to grips with a load of different types of cars. But then onto perhaps the most crucial thing that killed ForzaRC.

Lack of communication

With Forza being an Xbox exclusive (and also now on PC), they are under the control of Microsoft. Do you know of a streaming service that Microsoft owned? Yes, Mixer. Naturally they wanted to try and get as much traffic there as possible. But unfortunately, it failed and went under.

The series was broadcast on Mixer, which paled in comparison to Twitch, YouTube and even Facebook when it came to sharing the series. Plus it didn’t help that Forza had their own dedicated social media channels for the series as opposed to using Forza‘s own social media, which is just such an own goal for series that are the official championships of major games.

With championships that are the esports versions of real world racing series like F1 and MotoGP, they’re high profile enough on the name alone that you could possibly get away with having dedicated accounts and mention them a few times on their main social media channels. But Gran Turismo for example, they’re always pushing the FIA-certified Gran Turismo championships across all their socials. Why Forza tried to keep it in its own bubble, who knows?

Nathan Tague told us that the qualification process was always overly complex, it did the people involved no favours. He also touched upon how the competitive Forza scene pretty much came to a grinding halt in time for the world to start paying attention to the brilliance of the virtual racing world, and they did themselves no favours by not regrouping and taking advantage.

ForzaRC offered something different in a very cookie cutter world of racing esports. Team based competitions are some of the biggest in the world of esports and I think Microsoft/Turn10 did really well in identifying this and having the format reflect that. It was a true team effort with some great teams involved. The format was a little too contrived and the qualification process left more questions than it answered.

I think honestly it’s a massive massive effort to salvage Forza esports now. They have no competitive player base, 0 credibility as a result and a product, based on FRC in LA that nobody wants to watch, which means they can’t sell it either. So unless Microsoft wants to chuck insane amounts of cash at it, I don’t ever see it working. They’ve absolutely killed it by doing nothing in two years whilst everybody else made massive steps forwards.

By the time that the interest in sim racing happened, the first edition of the Le Mans Esports Series Super Final had proven to be an immense success and the organisers of Forza probably saw that as a great means to discontinue their own championship. They saw their game being used by the championship that was officially sanctioned by the ACO, and it seemed too good to be true. Spoiler alert, it was.

After the second Le Mans Esports Super Final in September 2020, the ACO and Motorsport Games noticed how universally well received the Le Mans 24 Virtual was, and that event used rFactor 2. Fast forward a year later, the Le Mans Esports Series has become the Le Mans Virtual Series, and it now takes place on rFactor 2, so the Forza guys had put all their eggs in one basket and it had not worked out.

Can ForzaRC return?

We certainly hope so! But it needs a huge overhaul. With Forza Motorsport 8 still probably a year away from the release, people at Turn 10 Studios can still tweak the game to function better as a competitive esports platform and the organisers can get their act together.

One thing the Le Mans Esports Series did better as a Forza-based title over the actual ForzaRC was challenging the players and teams involved in a very unique way. In the 2019 LMES Super Final, all teams were allotted a set amount of in-game credits to buy every car they required for each race, so it forced teams and players to think about spending their credits wisely and if a certain car for one race was worth spending all that extra money on if it meant they’d have to buy a cheaper car for another race that perhaps wasn’t as good.

The ForzaRC really lacked imagination, it took risks and played it safe in all the wrong areas. It was a perfect series of misjudgements that really failed to capture the imagination of the esports racing world. If it did return, seeing Forza take advantage of what really sets the games apart from its competitors and challenge players to spend their credits wisely not just on the cars but also on applying the right performance modifications, it could really do wonders.

Right now, to bring back Forza esports would be a huge task. Mallet has retired, many of the other competitors have flocked over to other platforms, and Microsoft didn’t see the viewership they needed to see it worth continuing.

But if they could improve the spectating options, change up the format to have a lot more players in their races, make it much more straightforward and vastly improve communication and engagement, there’s no reason why we can’t see ForzaRC come back and it be a success. It may have been the ugly duckling of esports racing championships, but it can just as easily become a beautiful swan.

Would you like to see ForzaRC return? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!

Luca Munro
Biggest esports racing fan in the world.