A bunch of NASCARs parked on a banked corner of Daytona, each in different esports racing team liveries.

What Makes the ERL Special?

Assetto Corsa CompetizioneiRacingrFactor 2

After the final round of the VCO Esports Racing League in 2022, our writer Luca had plenty to say about this revolutionary series that he had the smallest of parts in making a reality.

Image credit: VCO Esports

The inaugural Esports Racing World Cup took place in January and then from March to November, three seasonal championships for the Esports Racing League. It’s now full steam ahead for the second edition of the World Cup which will be held in Hamburg next Feburary.

But before that, let’s take a deep dive on what makes this series stand out in the grander landscape of virtual racing championships as a whole.

As we spoke about back in January, I detailed how the ERWC/ERL’s origins traced back to an email correspondence I had with VCO’s Florian Haasper. It started with a question; “What makes sim racing different from real world racing and which championship would encapsulate that?”.

So now after the racing action has come to an end, why does the ERWC/ERL answer that question?

Multi-Platform

There are plenty of racing games that require very different driving styles. As a result of the abundance of different games, there’s a wide range of niches. There are drivers who only compete on Assetto Corsa Competizione, drivers who only compete on rFactor 2 and drivers who only compete on iRacing. Because of this, there really isn’t a definitive way of telling who the best is.

Each of the games used in ERL have their own top level championships and subsequently the familiar leading faces. ACC has the official SRO competitions, rFactor 2 has the likes of the Le Mans Virtual Series and Formula Pro, iRacing is the home to the Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup. Plus there are countless other championships across the racing game sphere that have their own leading names.

Whoever wins the championships across those many games, which one would be considered to be the definitive best driver in esports racing? The answer really isn’t clear cut. So to find the drivers who can be the most consistent across a variety of different games that require vastly different driving styles, they’re the ones who are, arguably, the best drivers in virtual motorsport.

Pace and Versatility

When we interviewed Jamie Fluke of the Apex Racing Team, their drivers had not competed in many – if any – events outside of iRacing. They had finished runner-up on iRacing in both the World Cup and Spring Cup, but didn’t do that well on the other two platforms and didn’t even qualify for the Spring Masters.

Fast forward to the Summer Cup though, they were 3rd on rFactor 2, won on iRacing and runner-up on ACC which led them to being the top placed team for the Masters. They were forced to leave their comfort zone and are subsequently now a team that can challenge on all platforms, instead of being exclusively an iRacing team.

Plus with the structure of the seasons with the Spring, Summer and Fall Cups all having one round on each of the platforms, then the all-important Masters event on one of the three games where the champions are crowned, teams may be forced to field a driver on a platform completely unfamiliar to them.

In the Summer Cup with rFactor 2 as the Masters platform, BS+ fielded some of their strongest rFactor 2 drivers like Ibraheem Khan and Joonas Raivio. But the rules dictate that teams have to field five drivers across all rounds per season, with a maximum of three per individual event.

Because of this, they had Khan and Raivio competing on ACC instead of an ACC specialist. Therefore again, it forces the competitors to branch out beyond their comfort zones, not just in terms of platform but also car.

Variety of Cars

When the question is asked as to who the greatest racing driver of all time is, there are those who default to thinking of F1 and say the likes of Senna, Schumacher or Hamilton. But the argument can be made that Graham Hill is in fact the GOAT of racing, because he is so far the only driver to win the illustrious motorsport triple crown.

This achievement is earned by winning the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indianapolis 500 and the 24 hours of Le Mans. These are three very different types of races. As such, those who try to achieve the crown need to be very versatile. Not many real life drivers are able to go for this achievement due to how expensive and impractical it is.

But because sim racing eliminates the impracticality and majority of the expense, you see drivers hopping around disciplines constantly.

In just this year alone of ERL, competitors have raced: a Merc GT3, a V10 powered 2022 F1, an Aussie Supercar, a British Touring Car, an IndyCar, a Porsche Cup car, a Formula 4, a BMW Cup car and a NASCAR. Some have been driving more than others of course, but rarely do drivers only do the one type of car.

The ERL therefore is all encompassing, it doesn’t just fix itself on one type of car. It asks the drivers to be quick in a wide range of cars, so it doesn’t just favour an open wheel specialist, a GT specialist, a sports prototype specialist etc.

Format

As has already been mentioned, each season consists of three regular rounds on each of the three platforms and then the all-important Masters event for the top 12 teams from those regular rounds. The Masters effectively act like Majors in mainstream esports, and the regular season rounds are essentially regional qualifiers.

For people of a more motorsport over esports disposition, it may be a bit of a surprise to learn that the points built up in the three regular rounds act merely as where they run in the pecking order for the Masters. Those points are irrelevant in terms of winning the seasonal championship, it’s all down to winning the Masters.

All races are short and sweet, and with very little warning as to which track will be raced so it eliminates any huge advantage in terms of preparation.

A team’s best two placed drivers contribute to whether the team progresses onto the next stage or not. Regardless of whether it’s a regular round or the Masters, every position matters and if they progress, it’s all wiped and reset so there’s very little time to regroup before they’re back out for a short qualifying session.

Whoever has the drivers who can regroup and get back into the swing of things as quick as possible will succeed in this series. The most consistent will qualify for the Masters but the best on that specific platform will earn the top spot, which is why Unicorns of Love were Spring champions on ACC, Redline were Summer champions on rFactor 2 and Apex were Fall champions on iRacing.

But of course, with an equal emphasis on all three, the definitive best team will come out on top over the weekend of 24-26 February. Redline, R8G, Unicorns of Love, Williams, BS+, Apex, TRITON, Fordzilla, Veloce, Arnage, Burst and YAS HEAT will all gather at Rcadia in Hamburg to see which of them is esports racing’s best team.

What do you think of the VCO Esports Racing League? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!

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