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Opinion: Why 1vs1 Racing Rarely Works

Plenty of esports racing championships employ 1vs1 racing formats, but it rarely ever works. Why is that?

Image credit: VCO Esports

Fans of mainstream esports like League of Legends, Rocket League, Counter Strike, and so on are used to the competition being framed as team vs. team. They’re never short on action. Because of this, more and more championships in the sim racing scene are adopting that same format.

Some recent examples of championships that have done this include the V10 R-League, World eX and the VCO Esports Racing League. In theory, it should work brilliantly with side-by-side action all the way through, but it isn’t often the case. So without further ado, here are the reasons why I believe racing doesn’t lend itself well to a 1vs1 setup.

Not Enough Action

When it comes to the aforementioned mainstream esports, the reason they lend themselves well to a 1vs1 situation is because the aim of the game is to engage with the other players. Take League of Legends for example; a game that requires teamwork to break the opposing team’s Nexus. With its fast-paced gameplay and high-level strategy, there’s always something going on.

The same is true of Rocket League, with the teams having to get the ball into the opposing team’s goal. So why does that not translate to racing? The simple answer is that racing is inherently reliant on the participants trying to get away from each other.

This isn’t to say there’s no action of course, but frequently in a desperate attempt to remain in the fight, drivers will make very bold moves. More often than not, they end in disaster and the race is pretty much decided there. The other party, whether they were deemed to be in the wrong or not, aren’t obligated to get off the throttle so their competitor can have a chance at challenging them.

The outcome is always that the first few corners decide the race. Then for the remainder of the race, the leader just has to drive to the finish line whilst maintaining their advantage. The viewers then just twiddle their thumbs and pray the leader makes a mistake so it becomes interesting again. The only other way a race gets decided is by the stewards intervening.

When it works, it’s brilliant. The most recent round of World eX on the Le Mans circuit, the final between Lasse Sørensen and Jiri Toman provided some really amazing racing. In stark contrast, the season opener on the Silverstone circuit had the same two drivers in the final and the race was decided very early on.

Getting Defensive

When it comes to 1vs1 racing, the ones can refer either to just two drivers on track or they can refer to teams which consist of a few drivers. The latter therefore means more cars on track and better racing, right? Well, not exactly. It has its own problems, such as the fact that it incentivises drivers letting off the throttle and driving incredibly defensively.

In a recent matchup in the V10 R-League, Red Bull and Fordzilla were facing off against each other. One of the team races was going the way of Fordzilla. Their driver Emre Cihan was leading ahead of Red Bull’s Joni Törmälä with Cihan’s teammates Peyo Peev and Gianmarco Fiduci in 4th and 5th. The points system in this race was 10-6-4-3-2-1, so Fordzilla were scoring 15 points and Red Bull were on 11.

With the race essentially already decided if Törmälä couldn’t get past Cihan, the best Red Bull could hope for was to tie. To do that, they would require their last-placed driver Liam Parnell to pass the other two Fordzilla drivers. Therefore, their 3rd place driver Yuri Kasdorp dropped back and did his best Sergio Pérez impression. Which went well.

When the race requires the winner to score the most points collectively across more than two drivers, it incentivises clumsy racing like that. Of course, it isn’t the fault of Kasdorp that the rules were the way they were which meant he was forced to drive in that manner.

The fault lies in the structure of the race. Therefore it promotes somewhat artificial racing, essentially putting up a roadblock. This does happen in any kind of racing of course, but it’s way more prevalent in races that consist of two teams. If you add a couple more teams into the equation, there’s more of a chance for more variables to impact the outcome.

How to Improve the Format?

The only way this style of racing can really be improved is by corrupting the concept of racing in the first place. Perhaps if there was a system in place to give the cars more power while they’re in a losing position, that would help. But racing fans hate gimmicky features such as DRS and BoP in endurance racing. They feel them to be artificial and not rewarding the drivers who are the most skilled.

There have been events that show 1vs1 racing can work, but it’s not close quarters racing. The Race of Champions has a great 1vs1 structure, however it mirrors velodrome cycling with the competitors starting on opposing sides of the track and it’s based instead on the time.

The same can be said for Formula E’s new qualifying format. The qualifying duels for this year have added a new layer of excitement. But again that’s hotlapping and not wheel-to-wheel racing.

Concerning the idea of 1vs1 racing, we spoke to Danny Giusa, head of cowana Gaming’s sim racing team. The competitive gaming organisation has just entered the VCO Esports Racing League. He had this to say:

While 1vs1 was or is still a great element of competitive shooters like Counter Strike, I think it never took off for sim racing because the vast majority of tracks, car classes and setup ends in a tedious amount of preparation.

On the other hand, sim racing often tries to copy real life racing and 1vs1 isn’t a supported format besides the Race Of Champions, where the format also differs quite much from circuit racing. Regardless of this, series like the VCO ERL are proving that team vs. team races are a great format to produce short and action packed racing. Maybe sim racing is just waiting for someone to bring a fresh air into 1vs1 races?

In conclusion, 1vs1 races are amazing, in theory. But in execution, nine times out of ten they don’t work. Ultimately, the more cars from as many teams on track as possible in one race, the more action there will be.

But when 1vs1 racing happens perfectly, you get some really exciting racing for sure.

What do you make of 1vs1 in esports racing? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!

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