A one-off invite-only event in Poland was used to test EA SPORTS WRC as an esports platform, with Joona Pankkonen coming out on top.
The Esports WRC Knockout Trophy 23, to state its full title, witnessed eight drivers with a competitive sim racing reputation duke it out for supremacy in a (yes, you’ve guessed it) knockout format.
EA SPORTS WRC Game Designer and 2023 European Rally Championship ERC3 winner Jon Armstrong, who was also the 2018 WRC Esports champion, was joined by OverTake’s very own René Buttler to call the event.
The in-person LAN event witnessed the inaugural use of the latest title in an official capacity, surely previewing an esports series next year. Of note, there’s not currently a dedicated spectator mode, or the ability to overlay ghosts in this style of competitive setting – features that can hopefully be added ahead of a formal championship.
During the competition, Williams Esports’ Kamil Grabowski, Fordzilla’s Patryk Gerber and Veloce’s Nina Pothof were eliminated at the first hurdle. Perhaps the most intriguing match-up for the first round was between Dylan Noël and John Harris – both former WRC Esports finalists and FIA Rally Star qualifiers.
The result went the way of the latter, as Gilles Panizzi fan Noël smacked a wall early in the Monte Carlo stage.
Harris, meanwhile, would then meet Guild Esports’ latest sim racing recruit Joona Pankkonen. A clash of two different platforms, with Harris an expert in the erstwhile KT Racing-developed WRC titles, and Pankkonen a two-time DiRT Rally World Series champion.
The stage went the way of the Finn after Harris kept him honest but made a few small mistakes.
The second semi-final was extraordinarily tight. Four-time WRC Esports champion Lohan Blanc, aka Nexl, faced circuit racer Moritz Löhner. Despite Löhner focusing on the Rennsport-based ESL R1 championship this season, the German was able to run the reigning rally champion incredibly close – just 0.2s in it.
In the final, Pankkonen vs Blanc, the Chilean stage seemed to suit the former, who took an early lead. As the route progressed, the French driver slid off the road, glancing a tree. He was able to continue, but the seconds lost here, followed by a two-wheeled moment later on, were costly.
Across the line, the Finnish competitor won by over 10 seconds, securing the first title on EA SPORTS WRC.
“That definitely wasn’t easy, [Lohan Blanc] Nexl has a lot of experience from the WRC championships,” said Pankkonen.
“I think I had a better day this time. I haven’t really thought about next year’s esports, but this really hypes me up for it, so we will see what happens.”
As for the plans for 2024, it’s not been confirmed how drivers can enter or if the LAN-event format will be used – but we’ll keep you updated when it becomes official.
Esports WRC Knockout Trophy 2023 champion
- Joona Pankkonen
Do you think EA SPORTS WRC could be put to good use in competitions such as the Knockout Trophy? Let us know in the comments below, or via X – @OverTake_GG.