James Baldwin has had a burning passion for gaming since his early days when he started karting. But karting alone is not what has brought him to this point. He is not an ordinary racer. James Baldwin is the World’s Fastest Gamer.
James Baldwin pushes the pedal to the metal and the motor roars as the tyres of his car burn rubber into the asphalt. He’s practicing. He’s focused to the maximum, since he is soon to drive his first GT race. Baldwin has had a burning passion for gaming since his early days when he started karting. But karting alone is not what has brought him to this point. He is not an ordinary racer. James Baldwin is the World’s Fastest Gamer.
How to surpass a dream
World’s Fastest Gamer (WFG) is special competition. The main idea behind it is to close the breach between real world racing and Esports Racing.
“I think, if you are wanting to use sim racing as a platform to get into the race seat of a real car, then WFG is the best competition out there by some distance,” Baldwin says. “So you should definitely aim for this competition, and the key skill you need to win this competition is adaptability.”
Most esports athletes dream of being the best in their game. Sim racing is no exception. But WFG aims to find the best esports racer out there, no matter where they learned their trade. So, for each season the champions of the biggest video game titles and racing simulations are invited to compete. Gran Turismo, iRacing and Assetto Corsa are as much part of this competition as mobile games represented by GEARS.Club.
The twelve competitors undergo a two-week training combined with different competitions. Only four can make it to the final – a real-world race in highly motorised GT cars.
Unlike most esports racing competitions the WFG attendees don’t just fight for money, but for nothing less than a job in the real world of racing. It gives these competitors the chance to live their passion and overcome monetary as well as physical borders, as sim racing is a cheaper and safer way to gain the necessary skillset.
Breaking virtual borders
The first season’s winner, Rudy van Buren, got signed by McLaren as a driving simulator pilot in 2017, helping the team to develop the next version of their F1 car.
While van Buren kind of stayed in the field of sim racing, Baldwin made the leap beyond the virtual borders.
His prize for the second season was a $1 million real racing contract with R-Motorsport for endurance races such as Daytona and Spa-Francorchamps along with tournaments at Le Mans and the Nürburgring.
World’s Fastest Gamer wants to prove that the real racing economy can profit from the comparably easy accessibility of sim racing.
“You’re not going to play in the Premier League because of your FIFA gaming skills – Motorsport Esports is the only type of gaming where your skills in the virtual world can transfer across to the real thing,“ to quote Millenial Esports CMO Darren Cox, who has brought WFG to life.
As a child of both worlds, James Baldwin knows this to be true as well: “On my particular journey, karting taught me the majority of what I know when it comes to driving. But I know people who are also at the top level, such as Brendon Leigh for example, and he did not do any karting. So that is proof that both journeys, depending on the individual are both capable of producing a top-level driver.
“The advantage with the sim racing route is that it is a lot cheaper! Karting gives you the sense of speed and the physical aspect, but in every other way, if you have the right equipment, sim racing is a much better tool to use. But ideally if you can combine both, then that is the ideal preparation.“
A journey among giants
To prepare the WFG contestants of season two perfectly, they were chosen, instructed and advised by van Buren and racing legend Juan Pablo Montoya. “Having the pair of them, as well as Jann Mardenborough on-board to guide and help us throughout the competition was massive,” Baldwin says. “Juan was the person who got me into racing when I started watching at 4 years old, so I was worried that meeting my hero may have been a disappointment, but it was in fact the opposite.”
The mentors surely had a difficult task to solve, as all of the contestants were at different skill levels at the beginning of the two-week period. Nevertheless, the course offered a steep learning curve for each of them.
“They gave us a lot of advice in many different areas, how to approach driving the race cars, told us about different techniques to use whilst driving the race cars, how to act outside of the race cars. There were so many areas they helped us develop in, and having the wealth of experience, especially Juan, allowed them to do this.“
Montoya, mostly known for his time as an F1, Indy 500 or Daytona pilot, is really into sim racing himself. He even was a contestant at the WFG Miami spin-off event where he left all his opponents in the rear view mirror, taking home the title.
The old-timer definitely knows about the skillset which made James a winner and says: “One of the things that really drove me personally to decide on James is that he was just a little more complete. Whenever James got out of the car, when things weren’t perfect […] he owned up to his mistakes but was still confident in himself. He’s grown a lot over the course of this competition. The big thing with him is that he really wanted to learn. He takes advantage of everything you tell him and applies it and that made a big difference.”
Happy ever after or the start of a new journey?
Baldwin now has a tough schedule to prepare for his upcoming challenges on real racetracks ahead of him. But do the winners of WFG truly leave their sim racing origins behind? First season winner Rudy van Buren also drove in the Porsche Supercup for some time. He has now signed with Mahindra Racing in the Formula E to be a simulator pilot again. Additionally, the Dutchman is an avid streamer.
Other WFG attendees made it to the Formula 4 Series or stayed true to their sim rigs getting signed by esports teams such as McLaren F1 esports, Mercedes F1 esports and Fernando Alonso Esports.
James Baldwin, on the other hand, has just announced that he will be racing for Jenson Button’s McLaren GT team in the GT World Challenge Endurance Series.
That still doesn’t mean he won’t stream or compete in the future: “For sure I am now and will continue to still compete within ‘sim racing’. It has made me a better driver since I started in 2017, I am convinced of that. […] In between the races and aside from the real racing preparation, I will be sim racing as much as possible. If Max Verstappen and Lando Norris have time for it, then I definitely should!“
So even if a sim racer makes their step into the real world, they don’t seem to forget where they come from. What WFG has definitely proven is that motorsport is a sphere where esports and reality can grow together and profit from each other.
Lots of fuel for the future
By becoming acknowledged as a second route to real racing, esports in racing sims is evolving as well. “You can still make a very healthy living from top level Esports too, such as F1 Esports”, explains Baldwin. He’s got a point. Prize pools in esports racing keep growing. F1 Esports reached $500,000 in its third season in 2019. Season three of WFG has just been announced, providing a one-million-dollar-price once again. The specific job opportunity has not been fixed yet.
It will definitely be exciting to see what lifechanging prize purse might wait for the next World’s Fastest Gamer. One thing is for sure: The borders between digital and real world have never been thinner than in the world of traditional and digital motorsport. World’s Fastest Gamer has contributed a great deal to that.