The biggest racing esport you never knew

The biggest racing esport you never knew

KartRider is one of the most successful esports racing games in the world.

Reading time: 4 minutes

What if I said you probably never heard about one of the biggest racing esports in the world? An esport that has been around for about 15 years, with prize pools of up to $70,000 and tens of thousands of viewers. Dive into the world of KartRider.

What is KartRider?

In case you never heard of the game at all, let’s give you a quick explanation of KartRider first. The arcade racer is quite similar to Mario Kart. It has several popular game modes which are focused on getting items and power-ups for your kart to leave your opponents behind.

The most competitive mode, however, is played without items. In Speed racing you need to drift to gain “Nitro” which boosts your kart. Since this mode has fewer random factors, it is also the preferred one when it comes to KartRider esports racing.

KartRider’s design is very colorful and kind of looks like a game from an arcade. But don’t let the looks distract you from the gameplay. In its competitive game modes, KartRider is about perfection. You have to find the right balance between drifting for boost and still taking the straights and turns perfectly. Meanwhile you also must watch out for your opponents who actively try to bump you off your racing line and thus leave you behind.

Unlike any other big racing esport, KartRider is being played with a keyboard only. Players thus can’t give detailed inputs like they would with a gamepad or a wheel. This actually makes the challenge of finding the perfect racing line even bigger.

KartRider
Source: Nexon

On the surface, KartRider may look like a game for children. But at its core, it is a highly competitive racing game. In fact, it is the most popular racing esport of all time in Asia.

A long legacy

How did KartRider become such a big success? Let’s have a look at its very beginning.

The arcade racer was published in 2004 in Korea and took over the country by storm. Surveys say at least 25% of the south Korean population have played the game at least once.

Very soon competitive tournaments emerged. The game was immediately picked up by the Korean e-Sports Association KeSPA and had its own competition in the very first KeSPA Cup in 2005.

After the great success in Korea, the game was also published in China and Taiwan with the name “PopKart”. It was very successful in these countries as well. However, it couldn’t reach the hype in Korea.

As the game and its esport grew more and more in Asia, developer Nexon also tried to expand to Europe and America. They released a mobile version called KartRider Rush for Apple mobile devices in 2011. Nexon also published the game KartRider Dash which was only available on Facebook.

Both games were not as successful as Nexon had hoped. They were removed from Apple’s AppStore and Facebook in 2014.

The biggest Korean racing esport

But while KartRider couldn’t find a broad following in the West, South Korea was absolutely bananas about the arcade racer.
After its success in the first KeSPA Cup, more and more tournaments took place and an entire esports scene emerged.

In 2005, the KartRider League was founded which has been home to the best racers until today. KartRider League is held twice a year over several weeks. While the prize pool has been around $20,000 for most editions of the league, there were events with big bucks on the line.

The “Nexon KartRider Dual Race League” in 2017 had a prize pool of some $70,000, the largest in KartRider’s history so far.

The most successful player of all time is Moon “Booster” Ho Joon. He won seven KartRider League titles, his first one when he was ten years old. Besides KartRider, Booster has also played the real-time strategy game StarCraft II professionally.

New horizons

Until this day KartRider is the most successful esports racing game in South Korea, the mecca of esports.

But developer studio Nexon is about to start another try of expanding to the West. In May 2020 “KartRider Rush+” was released on Android and iOS. The free-to-play game sticks closely to the original game.

Also, Nexon wants to bring another KartRider game to PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. “KartRider: Drift” is set to be released in 2020.

Are these games finally going to bring the KartRider hype to Europe and America? We would love to see that happen!

Teaser source: Nexon Inc.

Maik Jahn
born and raised close to the Nürburgring.