GT3 racecars on a banked racing track.
Image credit: Porsche Newsroom

What is Happening to Sim Racing Esports?

A vast range of sim racing esports events are seemingly falling by the wayside. Our resident sim racing esports enthusiast Luca is saddened by it, and is pondering as to why.

Rewind the clock back to early 2020 when the pandemic began, and it was a dark point for many people. With everyone having to stay home during lockdowns, there was more than enough time on people’s hands.

Of course, the motorsport season was kicking off and the drivers who had been extensively preparing to race were now left without any racing. In comes sim racing, where many of them could do it within the comfort of their own home. There, the interest in sim racing exploded.

Fast forward to today, and sim racing esports are a shell of their former selves. Of course, by no means will it ever reach the heights of peak 2020, but the low bar is still too much for many series to overcome.

So what has happened? Why – for one reason or another – are so many sim racing esports championships failing?

F1 Sim Racing

The first big current mess in competitive sim racing esports, F1 Sim Racing – formerly known as F1 Esports – have really fumbled the ball big time. We should have been four races in to this current season, which began at DreamHack Winter in late November.

But with radio silence even in the days leading up to the start of the season, concerns arose. Then on the day it should have begun, turns out that F1 and the organisers ESL had not finalised the contract and there were still disputes. They compromised and ran the solitary race of the two they were set to run.

Then the second event set for 15-16 December was cancelled. We cannot say for a fact who is to blame for all of this. But with still no official schedule, you have to wonder, what is going on? It seems our guess is as good as the competitor’s guesses.

What is happening would be unprofessional enough from the smaller independent leagues (e.g. PSGL and WOR) but even those guys have a handle on things. Infact with F1 and ESL still allegedly quarrelling, those aforementioned communities are the places to be to see the top F1 Sim Racing competitors.

F1 Sim Racing/F1 Esports had always been consistently the most viewed of all sim racing esports. To see it fall into such disrepute is horrendous, and is really worrying for the wider scene as a whole.

Le Mans Virtual

We all remember the debacle that was last year’s 24 hours of Le Mans Virtual. It was already a controversial event with the partnership between ACO and the infamous Motorsport Games as it resulted in the canning of the Le Mans 24 hours iRacing Special Event.

Then the race itself was marred by server crashes and disconnects. Even F1’s poster child Max Verstappen was not immune to the ire of rFactor 2‘s issues. He was understandably not happy after they disconnected and all their hard work was moot when the organisers did not give them their lost laps back.

Since then, the announcement of the licenced Le Mans Ultimate game said that the next season of the Le Mans Virtual Series would take place on the new title. Initially set for release in December before now releasing on 20 February, it meant the season would not begin in September when the previous two did.

But of course, we all know where we are going with this. Motorsport Games and their troubles are very well documented, and there are questions now as to whether Le Mans Virtual will happen now if MSG can even survive to the release of Le Mans Ultimate. That is not even considering if the game will be at all playable or up to par quality-wise.

ESL R1

Now we come to the series on the game that is still in its beta phase. Rennsport came out of nowhere, and all of last year played host to ESL R1. There was enough said about hosting so many rounds with only a select few tracks available, and a few other criticisms including significant pushback due to hosting an event in Saudi Arabia.

But ultimately it all comes down to the fact that Rennsport is still nowhere near being ready for public release. With all the money being poured into R1 but the game not being publicly accessible, one has to wonder why they are doing that. There is no eco-system with the game.

For a closed off series like R1, it is bad enough that the majority of people still do not have access to the game. But for Rennsport‘s second major esports series – the Porsche Esports Carrera Cup Deutschland – it is open for anyone to enter into qualifiers, in theory. But again, with keys only being selectively handed out, that is even more of a slap in the face to those who cannot play Rennsport.

Ultimately, when the game has its open beta release and full release, a lot of the criticisms may subside. Plus maybe people will stop assuming it is just a GT3-only sim like ACC, since there are TCR cars and plans to add an LMDh car.

Gran Turismo World Series

Next we come to the Gran Turismo World Series, which has been going since 2018. With two primary championships run in that time being the Manufacturers Cup and Nations Cup, it has been hugely successful. Like many series with onsite events, it was heavily affected by the pandemic.

Since then, only four events (two Showdowns and two World Finals) have been onsite. In 2022, that was in tandem with three sets of online broadcasted events but for this year, only two events took place. A far cry from the height of the series, with six onsite events in 2019.

When the 2022 season concluded, we wrote an article on how the GTWS could have stepped up for 2023. But if anything, it regressed with just the two events. Plus, viewers and competitors were not a fan of the shake-up to the Nations Cup format, going from an individuals to a team event.

Of course, Polyphony can only host the number of events they can get the budget for. But if it ends up only being two events again for next year, one must wonder if the GTWS really justifies its existence.

What Is Thriving?

With the introduction of the onsite SRO Esports Sim Pro Series, Assetto Corsa Competizione‘s flagship championships do not seem to be going anywhere. The ACC community is going from strength-to-strength even with the follow-up to the original Assetto Corsa on the horizon.

Then you have WRC Esports. Even a year without a title due to the WRC licence going from KT Racing to Codemasters, they seem ready to pick up the slack. What these series seem to have are organisers and developers working in somewhat harmony, something that cannot be said for a lot of the previously mentioned series.

NASCAR’s own esports series has incredible investment, with Coca Cola as a title sponsor and Logitech onboard as a brand partner. They even have their finale held onsite in the NASCAR Hall of Fame, with last year’s champion Steven Wilson taking home over $100,000.

All of this proves that there is interest in top level elite sim racing. Yes, it is no secret that with sim racing acting as a way to democratise the experience of racing, people are more willing to want to experience it themselves.

But whilst many members of the sim racing community may rejoice at the ‘esports’ scene crumbling, it is really not such a good thing. For those who bemoan the existence of sim racing esports with “Why would I watch it when I can do it myself?”, why do you not go play football instead of watching the World Cup?

Of course there are plenty of rightful criticisms of the events that are exclusive to pros. The lack of a Le Mans open community event for casual sim racers and a game only accessible to those in esports is an issue. Many sim racers may not enjoy watching those races, but it does not prevent them from enjoying it themselves aside from those aforementioned examples.

For those of you who have forgotten, sim racing is not just a way for those who want to replicate motorsport in their bedrooms, but it is also a viable career path for those who do not have the money to go racing for real.

If anything, the lower entry barrier in sim racing makes it even better than real world motorsport. As it is truly the best drivers who rise to the top, not the ones with a deeper pocket. Sim racing esports deserves better than what is happening right now.

What do you make of the shortcomings befalling many sim racing esports championships? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!

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