An image of Jeffrey Rietveld racing for Team Redline at the ESL R1 event in Katowice.

How Variety could Save Esports

ESL R1 took place this weekend. The major LAN event ushered in a new era of simracing esports. Or did it? GT3 cars raced in a sprint format on famous circuits such as Spa and Hockenheim. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it describes almost every racing game – and esports event – of the past five years. I’d argue that esports could do with a splash of variety.

Image credit: ESL R1

This weekend, Rennsport debuted the first round of its revolutionary new esports competition. Amid many other esport competitions in Katowice, simracing found itself in the spotlight with ESL R1.

Although the more creative knockout round format turned heads, it doesn’t change the fact that to the casual viewer, it was no different to other simracing competitions. GT3 cars took on famous international circuits, Spa-Francorchamps and Hockenheim, in short-format sprint races. This is seemingly identical to the ACC or iRacing events we see broadcast.

This lack of deviation from the norm certainly affected the event’s online following. Intrigue for this supposedly revolutionary event amounted to a current total of 24,000 views and 750 likes on the Day 1 stream. But the Day 2 VOD currently has 100 fewer likes and 4,000 fewer views. It seems excitement wavered for some after once more seeing GT cars on known tracks, “Not this again.”

Compare these numbers to those of the Asian Le Mans Series’ first round which also took place this weekend and you’ll soon notice a disparity. Just like ESL R1, the weekend featured 2 rounds over the weekend, yet this small, regional feeder series captivated over 100,000 people on each YouTube stream. It’s clear to see simracing esports has a viewership problem that needs addressing if it is to grow.

Simracing Esports Needs Variety to Grow

One thing ESL R1 is doing right in a bid to elevate the simracing esports scene is its format. Unlike other major events, it is setting itself apart from motorsport by featuring short sprint races and a knockout system. This builds excitement throughout the event rather than creating dull stints that dissuade potential fans from watching.

However, if simracing esports is to grow, it will need to forget the idea of replicating real-world motorsport altogether. Yes, GT3 racing is popular in motorsport. But esports needs more variety to set its own path to success.

Simracing has so much to offer when it comes to content. Insane one-off virtual prototype creations that never make it to the real world. An infinite number of recreated racecars from today’s motorsport scene. Road cars from past and present. Even old models lost to the past, be they infamous or anonymous. The list goes on when it comes to circuits. Forget Spa, simracing has access to both fictional venues and oddball locations.

This is the variety of vehicles and circuits simracing esports should be using. I would definitely tune in to an esports competition in which I could watch a race unseen in real-world motorsport. But when I tune in and see a GT3 race at your standard European circuit, I don’t stay for long. In fact, I can watch replays of SRO GT3 races every day of the week, I don’t want simracing to be more of the same.

A Proven Concept

Last year, the simracing community witnessed first-hand that it can do without GT racing at Grade 1 circuits. Throughout 2022, GP Laps hosted the Historic Road Racing Championship dedicated to shining a light on an alternative style of simracing.

The series saw big names from the simracing world race on a number of old-school street circuits such as Le Mans, Targa Florio and the Isle of Man TT course. The cars were old, open-top sportscars from the 1950s as part of a mod for rFactor 2. The result was a successful championship which, despite little marketing, a small team of organisers and no prize money, attracted respectable numbers.

Furthermore, early on during the Covid-19 pandemic, The Race hosted a weekly series of simracing events. Featuring a number of rarely seen vehicles such as the Norma LMP3 car, and most famously, the Brabham BT44 F1 car from 1974, it did well to create its own niche. Admittedly, this so-called All Star Series was unique in the way it put infamous racing talent into competition. But, its unique format certainly played its part as the series inspired the great simracing boom of 2020.

It would be fantastic to see more mainstream simracing esport events make the most of the variety the virtual world offers. I for one would love to watch the likes of Luke Bennett and Josh Rogers go head-to-head in tough-to-handle classic racers. It’s easy to fight in GT3 machinery, but fighting the car as well as your opponents shows true skill.

What do you think is the best direction for esports racing to take in the future? Let us know by sending a tweet @OverTake_gg or leave a comment down below!

A petrol head and motorsports fan since the early days, sim racing has been a passion of mine for a number of years. The perfect way to immerse myself in my true dream job; racing driver. With lots of experience jotting down words about the car industry, I am happy to share my passion for pretend race cars here on Overtake!