An image of an esports driver racing at home alongside an image of an esports driver racing at a LAN event.

Debate: Is LAN or Online Better for Sim Racing Esports?

The beauty of sim racing is that it can be enjoyed in the comfort of your own home. But there are plenty of high profile events with all drivers racing onsite. What’s better for sim racing esports?

Before the pandemic, plenty of high profile sim racing events were held on location, LAN-style. These events would have the competitors driving in custom build sim rigs, stationed mere metres from each other. They provided quite the spectacle.

Then COVID happened, and all sporting events that couldn’t be held remotely had to be postponed. This is where sim racing shone, with the biggest names in real life motorsport competing from the comfort of their own homes.

With LAN and online events happening aplenty now, that got us on the OverTake team talking. Should these elite sim racing events remain online or should we have more events in-person?

Meet the Editors

Luca has been referred to as the “biggest esports racing fan in the world” by VCO’s Florian Haasper. He appreciates the idea of being able to race from home, likes sim racing’s low barrier of entry and believes in its relatively inexpensive nature of showcasing talent.

Jacob is both a fan of racing esports and a fan of more mainstream forms of esports. For him, LAN events are a sign of prestige and legitimacy, which he considers important in creating a successful and sustainable esport.

A collection of sim rigs on a stage with a monitor saying Le Mans Esports Series
The 2020 Autosport International Le Mans Esports Series Pro Team qualifier. Image credit: Autosport

OverTake: If events can be held online, why go to all the effort of hosting them in-person?

Jacob – Any esports event of any game including racing that can be held in-person should be. It’s one of the best ways to legitimise esports as a concept, it’s always in need of legitimisation. There will always be naysayers telling the world that esports is invalid.

Also, earlier this year there have been many cheating scandals in online racing, with people being concerned with cheating happening in high level competitions. That can be mitigated a lot, not entirely, but a lot, by having the competitors racing on sims in a LAN setting. You also remove the possibility of netcode issues and lag, since everyone is using the same internet.

It also just makes for a better viewer experience. Seeing the people, they’re no longer just names on the screen, you see their face with proper studio lighting rather than on their home webcam. There can be proper interviews with them and the players can interact with each other, that can bring more personal intrigue to engage the audience.

Fundamentally, people aren’t interested in just watching a name win or lose a race, they need to see the personality and whether the person they like is doing well.

Luca – On the flip side, if you can hold them remotely in this current age, it would be beneficial, right? Considering it’s becoming a lot more expensive and impractical to travel a lot, that if it’s possible to compete in the event from the comfort of your own home then more people could see that and be willing to give it a go themselves?

You have to travel to go compete in a real life motorsport event since you can’t really do that without physically being present there. With esports, the travelling can be removed from the equation entirely, cutting out the middleman.

A guy with a smile and his arms in the air whilst sitting in a racing seat.
Gran Turismo driver Valerio Gallo won the 2021 Olympic Virtual Series and Nations Cup competitions racing online. Image credit: IOC

OverTake: That’s a good point. All that travelling and logistics, surely that’s more effort than it is worth, right?

Jacob – In almost all cases, players wouldn’t have to pay for their own travel and hotel expenses, either their team or the competition organisers would handle it. There could very well be some specific examples where that hasn’t been the case, and in that case it’s a fundamental problem.

The drivers who are on the fringe of being semi pro to pro don’t necessarily have a stable income, shouldn’t be expected to pay for their own travel or own accommodation. That, for me, is where the issue would lie, and it’s easily solved by having safety nets in place.

Luca – I’ve spoken to a few drivers who have competed in Gran Turismo‘s championship. In those events, they’re not representing their teams and for the first two years at least, they had no opportunity of getting paid for competing. They were taking time away from education or work to attend these live events, not even factoring in all the hours they were putting in to qualify.

It wasn’t sustainable, and now we’ve seen that the GT World Series only has two onsite events this year. They do apparently now have a competitor’s fee that they now give drivers. But yes, 2019 when there were no regional finals, every event was a World Tour so the top drivers for the most part had to attend six events and weren’t being paid.

Having the teams and sponsors there so it can be professionalised, that’s great. But one thing that needs to happen is to not have too many. Having one every week just loses the feeling of prestige. I’m not against onsite events, I just feel like they should be saved for special occasions. To mark the final stage, so it feels earned and momentous.

Jacob – Yeah if you’re having one every week, then it needs to be a driver’s full time job. If you’re expecting them to go to different in-game person events in different places every single week then yes, needs to be their job.

In the case of Gran Turismo, it’s kind of a travesty that they overworked them and didn’t support them enough. The organisers are funded by Sony and had FIA certification, those are two huge entities with a LOT of money. They could have definitely afforded to appropriately compensate their esports drivers if they wanted to have a serious esports competition.

That’s part of the issue over the lack of professionalisation of sim racing esports, which has improved massively since 2019. But it’s borderline scandalous that these companies want to have an esports competition, forcing them to attend in-person and not appropriately pay their competitors.

A person on a sim racing rig with a few others around them.
Apex Racing Team’s Kevin Ellis Jr competing in the ESL R1 Spring Season Opener. Image credit: ESL

Luca – On the note of logistics, I was following the VCO Esports Studio interview with Kevin Ellis Jr and he made a good point about how in more mainstream forms of esports, players can bring their own preferred keyboard and mouse without great difficulty. For sim racers to do that, the equipment haul would be huge and it could be the difference between succeeding and not.

But even using all the same equipment, it costs the organisers a lot. I don’t know how much it cost ESL for just the twelve sim rigs at the R1 Spring Season Opener event in Katowice, but overall the entire event I’m told cost more than the combined year-round prize pool in both the R1 Spring and Fall seasons.

Jacob – If the competition is financially strong enough like F1 Esports or ESL R1, drivers could in the lead up to a finale submit their own equipment preferences to the organisers. But for competitions that mandate the same hardware, teams can acquire the same setup so their drivers can get used to it.

The best drivers should be able to adapt to the change in environment and equipment.

OverTake: On another note, if you’re going to have an onsite event, surely you pick a good location, right?

Luca – Funny you should say that. When F1 Esports began, they had the semi finals at the Gfinity Arena and then the final alongside the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Since 2020 it’s all been online, but in the two years between, every onsite round was at the Gfinity Arena.

There are rumours that they will be taking a much longer season around the world with F1 supporting them at multiple Grand Prix, which is amazing sounding. But having every single event at the one location, just frivolous and makes it feel pointless. If you’re going to go to the lengths to have all the sim rigs set up, make sure it’s in a variety of locations so not only people who can travel to London get a chance to attend.

It would be like a musician only performing at Wembley multiple times. Or F1 having 12 races at Silverstone. As controversial I know this is going to sound, I’d rather have just online events than loads of LAN events at the same location.

A shot from a paddock and a structure with 'Fanatec Arena' at the top of it.
The Fanatec Arena is built in the paddock of any GT World Challenge Endurance Cup event. Image credit: SRO

Jacob – Having a different location in each round like what they do for the SRO Esports Sim Pro Series can incur costs and makes life difficult for multiple drivers, just like we were touching upon earlier. Also carbon footprint obviously.

There’s a happy medium that can be found. Let’s use F1 Esports for an example with the format they’ve had for the past few years of four rounds with three races each, have the first three rounds in the same location like the Gfinity Arena and then the last round where the champion is most certainly going to be crowned, make that the prestigious one.

Perhaps at a Grand Prix or if you wanted to keep it within London, Wembley. There are certainly ways to put it into a different location just for the finale, and I think that’s a much better way of doing it rather than constantly changing it every single time. That’s just more costly, a higher carbon footprint, more work for the organisers.

OverTake: So what’s stopping more sim racing onsite events from happening?

Jacob – Fundamentally, the interest isn’t there for most racing esports at the moment. Esports will always be a marketing vehicle and rarely do these onsite events make the money back for the organisers, and the prize pools won’t be big enough for the most part.

Luca – Many top mainstream forms of esports don’t really have a real life equivalent that most people would choose to watch instead. Sim racing, it’s in the name. Maybe the only way it can succeed is being alongside real life motorsport.

Person sat down on a platform with two monitors above, one saying 'FIA certified Gran Turismo Championships Nürburgring World Tour' and the other showing some racing cars.
In 2018 and 2019, Gran Turismo‘s championships raced alongside the Nürburgring 24 hours. Image credit: Gran Turismo

Which out of LAN and online sim racing events do you prefer? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!

Biggest esports racing fan in the world.