How realistic should simracing esports be? Williams sparked controversy at the iRacing Daytona 24

Debate: How Realistic should Racing Esports be?

Simracing esports has been in the spotlight at the start of 2023, but not for the right reasons. Controversy in the first few events of the year have raised questions over the level of realism in simracing esports. The debate has extended to the OverTake offices, here’s what we think.

Image Credit: VCO Esports

The first few weeks of 2023 saw plenty of controversy in simracing esports raising questions over the discipline’s realism. It seems that, as time goes by, simracing is drifting further and further away from its original goal. That is, providing motorsport for the masses. Be it through controversial organisational issues at Le Mans Virtual or due to professional teams pushing the limits of legality during the iRacing Daytona 24, issues have loomed large.

This all got us thinking about how simracing esports should continue in the future. Should it become its own entity, distancing itself from real-world motorsport, or remain an accurate simulation of real life? This is today’s debate topic. How realistic should simracing esports really be?

Meet the Editors

Angus is an out-and-out motorsport fanatic. Growing up in the mid-2000s watching Formula 1 and sportscar racing, he uses simracing as a way of immersing himself in the sport. By extension, he feels that esports should do its best to mimic the real-world, when it comes to both rules and content.

Luca is described as the ‘biggest esports racing fan in the world’ by VCO’s Florian Haasper. He always follows all sorts of major virtual racing events, enjoys real world motorsport as well but the competitive side of simracing is what appeals to him the most.

iRacing Daytona 24: The Root of the Issue

OverTake: This year’s iRacing Daytona 24 saw big controversy, focused on goings on in the top split. In qualifying, we saw track limit discussion surrounding use of the apron and in the race, Williams used a backmarker car to slow down its teammate’s rivals. Where do you both stand on these issues?

Luca – There are certain things you can’t do. If you do them anyway, such as driving on the apron at Daytona, that’s blatant. Then there’s the waiting in the GT class to block your fellow team’s main rivals, going against the sporting code even if there are no blue flags. I’m all for interpretation, but not when it’s something as blatant as that. It was the same as the grass dipping at Spa. There was an explicit rule against it, and people did it anyway.

Angus – From my side, I agree with the fact it shouldn’t have happened. iRacing issued a warning about the use of the apron before the race, yet the Williams Esports crew decided that didn’t apply to them. As for the car waiting in pitlane, it was an interpretation of the rules which I’m not overly upset about. What I don’t like is that, after giving the team car a slipstream for a number of laps, the driver then held up rivals on the lead lap. That is not the sporting thing to do.

OverTake: What do you think could have been done to avoid these controversial problems?

Angus – In real life there are people looking at what each team is doing and enforcing the rules. Whereas in the iRacing special events, there are no stewards. That’s the main thing they need to add. You can’t have world scale esport events without people enforcing the rules. Obviously what happened was against the rules, but you’re always going to have loopholes in the rules and that’s just sports. That’s why a team has to watch over the event keeping everyone in check.

Luca – Yes, and there should be a deterrent for breaking these rules. Because if you’re going to have a classroom of unsupervised rowdy kids, don’t be surprised when one puts a brick through a window.

Angus – Without it, it’s up to social media. The waiting in the pitlane incident was only highlighted by PabloGz’s video on YouTube. Had that not come out, no-one would have known about it. And then other teams would have joined in and it would continue happening.

Luca – One thing that I don’t understand is why there isn’t an amendment to the result. If teams are found to have done wrong during the race, their only punishment is a temporary ban. Perhaps that’s more severe than losing the race result, but there still should be a penalty or disqualification in the race results. In real motorsport, it always says ‘Unofficial Results’ because they know they can amend it afterwards. So why are they not doing it with these simraces? You could even do it in multiple splits.

Realism in Esports: Hobby Vs Pro Simracing

OverTake: iRacing Special Events have many splits, but only one is considered top-level. Do simracing and esports need separating?

Angus – For the majority of the community, we’re just out there to do our race in one of the 85 different splits and get to the end. The result isn’t actually all that important to most people. In the top split though, where there are professional teams and drivers looking to get that win, that changes the whole ethos of the race in a way. So maybe there’s an argument to put forward that regular simracing isn’t actually the same as esports.

Luca – So I have to ask, where do we separate it? Which splits count as esports and which count as regular simracing? Is it every split except the top one is regular simracing?

Angus – I’d suggest the top split would be an invitational.

Luca – I don’t agree with that. What you’re doing then is creating elitism. The problem everyone has with Le Mans Virtual since the iRacing event was canned is that it’s now only open to the pros. Admittedly, I’m on the fence about stewards in the top split because that’s the one everyone’s watching. If the top split drivers competing are invite-only, it reflects the bad side of what motorsport is right now. And you shouldn’t do that within simracing.

Angus – What I was thinking more was you’d have the invitational split where iRacing chooses which teams enter. But at the same time, have the regular race with all the different splits. In my mind, the current top split is already elitist. Because the drivers there spend all day, every day on iRacing, doing races to get the highest iRating possible. I don’t have the time to do that, I doubt you have the time to do that, nor do the majority of simracers. So it’s not so much skill as it is having more free time to practice. And that’s elitist to me.

Luca – Yes, they’re professionals so they can spend all day doing it as opposed to us hobby simracers. But it still provides the idea that they actually earnt their place in the top split.

Exploits in Esports

OverTake: Exploits are part of esports as a whole, and real-world motorsport regulations are full of loopholes. But should simracing esports hold itself to a higher standard?

Angus – I see simracing as a perfect version of motorsport where there aren’t loopholes, cheating or underhand dodging of rules. Simracing, and esports by extension, is for me a way to enjoy motorsport without all the controversy and politics of F1 and other high-profile championships.

Luca – I’m not sure I completely agree. I like teams following a sporting code because it shows respect to others. However. Before the F1 Esports season began last year, there was an exploit where if drivers capped their games to 60FPS rather than 120, the cars would react less aggressively. I believe the McLaren drivers used this. And when it was discovered, I remember people thinking that the McLaren drivers should be disqualified because they ran the exploit. But no. It’s not like it was a known exploit and they should have stopped doing it. In my mind, if they can find an extra tenth, they should be able to take it. But once people decide to no longer allow that and they still do it, that’s a problem in my opinion.

Angus – Do you not think that F1 Esports in particular, as they use the standardised performance mode, should avoid using these secret exploits to maintain a same level of fairness? From a good sportsmanship point of view?

Luca – If teams find these advantages and there’s something explicitly said against it, yes they should avoid using them. In the case of what Williams was doing, going on the apron in Daytona was against the rules and waiting in the pitlane to block lapped traffic was against the sporting code. If there’s something that people know is against the rules, then they shouldn’t do it.

Realism and Immersion in Simracing Esports

OverTake: So should drivers be able to break the immersion if it means they can go quicker?

Luca – This all comes down to something as simple as running T-cam in racing. I remember watching a clip from the V10-R League final in Abu Dhabi and Jarno Opmeer was running T-cam, and I know that so many simracers loathe doing anything that wouldn’t be immersive or realistic. But if Opmeer is most comfortable like that and he’s trying to help Mercedes win the most money, they’re going to do that. If they’d forced him to run cockpit cam, then he’d do that.

But, if the rules let him do something that will give him a better view, then he will. That’s something I’ve always believed. You don’t have to be utterly restricted by things that only happen in real-world racing. You’re in simracing, so you can break the immersion and potentially go quicker.

Angus – I’ll agree with you on the T-cam specifically. Because it helps with a driver’s comfort as they’re driving, but it won’t give them an unfair time advantage. However, dropping framerate changes the physics of the car, so that’s more of a no-go. The only issue I have with the T-cam view is when drivers stream their point of view. As we all know, POV streams typically get more viewers than official broadcasts. So to someone watching that for the first time and seeing someone drive from the T-cam when it’s a simrace might look odd. But I’ll agree there’s nothing wrong with using different cameras to feel more comfortable in the car.

What is your opinion? Should simracing esports be more of less realistic than it is now? Let us know in the comments or tweet your opinion at @overtake_gg!

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!