The ever-increasing popularity of sim racing has led to an increased level of the commitment and time required from all those who compete in the most prestigious virtual competitions. Representing major manufacturers in competitions with six-figure prize pools can be a full-time job for many. But is it possible to succeed in esports and build the foundations for an alternative career?
F1 Esports driver Simon Weigang, who has competed for Haas and Renault over the past two seasons, raised the point earlier this month.
The biggest problem of F1esports is that one part of the grid is doing it for a living while the other part is trying to do it while building an actual career at the same time. Feels like no one ever talks about it but it needs to change.— Simon Weigang (@CRGSimon) January 6, 2021
Trying to balance a successful career in esports with college exams or a university degree is not easy. This is particularly common when we consider that the majority of the F1 Esports grid is in the 18-22 age bracket. It requires a great deal of personal sacrifice to become an esports star, however, you can say the same about the sacrifices needed to become a sporting star, whether that be a footballer or tennis player.
When there are huge prize pools and major manufacturers involved, it’s inevitable that doing sim racing simply as a hobby or as a part-time job is going to leave you at an ever-increasing disadvantage.
Is the F1 Esports system unfair?
Some people may argue it would be unfair to discriminate against those willing to commit to a career in sim racing. After all, in any sport, only the most committed reach the top and why should those willing to commit everything to something be penalized for it?
However, there are fewer opportunities for a well-paid, stable full-time job in esports – particularly in racing esports – and many of them rely on teenagers upping sticks and sometimes moving to a whole new country. And living in a different country during the pandemic can mean many esports drivers become stuck there and are unable to see their family until the international travel restrictions ease.
Their whole life can become working for a Formula 1 team, training 24/7 and giving everything, only to be dropped after a single season or sometimes sit on the bench as the third-driver and never actually race. This brutal crash back to reality can be devastating for any young driver who is dropped by a manufacturer. While many of them can bounce back, some are left with their dreams in tatters and nothing to fill the void.
Sim racing must face reality
But isn’t that just sport? Yearning for a return of the days of community-led sim racing, when it was a passionate hobby rather than a full-time job, is an unfortunate pipe dream. The popularity of racing esports is only going to increase and we’ll never return those small-scale yet immensely entertaining early days again.
There’s no way to limit how much somebody can practice. In most – but not all – cases, the more hours somebody can dedicate to a game, the quicker they’re going to be. So if somebody can do esports full-time, they will, of course, be at an advantage on any game. The system is unfair but it’s no different from real-world sport. However, there are some things that can improve racing esports that will make it fair for everybody, whether they’re competing full or part-time.
What’s the solution?
This is the tricky part. How do we fix it? Well, the professional well-funded esports teams have to accept an element of responsibility. They’re employing young people and with that, should come some moral responsibility, even in a cut-throat business. The drivers should be paid a proper wage like any other member of their sister real-world motorsport organization, with extra considerations made for those who have relocated to be closer to the factory or base, such as provided or subsidized transport and accommodation.
The drivers deserve a cut of the prize money that they win. Understandably, they can’t keep all of it considering the investment the team has placed into them, but they should be given a fair proportion. It also acts as a performance incentive for the drivers and works similarly to many real-world motorsport contracts.
The championship organizers can also weight the prize money fairly to ensure that more drivers and teams get a cut of the prize pool. You can’t give the same amount to everybody, but a less steep distribution weighting would be fairer in some championships. This was also proposed by G2 Esports' Nils Naujoks, one of the most experienced people in the sim racing scene.
I've raised this a lot in the meetings actually, that this is only viable for a few and that we need a less steep spread of prize money so that even those investing the same amount of time without the results at least get a bit back.— Nils Naujoks (@n1lyn) January 6, 2021
Many answers, no easy fix
The Pro Team Qualification championship for series two of the Le Mans Esports Series ensured that all 16 teams earned at least $1,000 for their efforts (the total prize pool was $50,000). It’s also important that the well-being of the drivers is supported by the teams who sign them. Most top teams have psychologists that work with the drivers on how to improve their mindset, and this should include how to deal with their dream dying.
Many championships like LMES also contain a ‘Pro-Am’ section, where drivers not attached to leading esports team have a better chance of success and of securing a decent level of prize money. The F1 Esports Challenger Series also provides a shop window for those up-and-coming drivers, and the minimum age limit of 16 in F1 Esports ensures that nobody under 16 is exposed to the demands of competing at the highest-level before they’re ready to properly deal with it.
The Gran Turismo World Championships are arguably more accessible and do feature a number of drivers with no attachment to esports teams and those who are simply competing in esports part-time. Although conversely, they can’t earn prize money – a debate for another day. Ultimately the issue of varying levels of commitment with top-level racing esports championships is something that has no easy fix.
The number of full-time, well-paid opportunities will continue to increase, and championships and teams can play their part. However, for now, the drivers will have to continue to decide for themselves whether or not the commitment and sacrifices required are possible and worth the glory.
What system would you propose to support esports racers? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg!