In the years since esports racing has come to the forefront, many events in that time have contributed to its evolution. Here are the five we believe were the most revolutionary esports racing events ever.
Image credit: VCO Esports
There are esports racing events going on all the time. Fans of competitive racing on sims are spoiled for choice. Whether it’s GT cars or Formula cars, on a sim like iRacing or a more accessible console title like Forza, we’re never short of entertainment.
But since we are in the golden age of esports racing competitions, how did we get here? What were the cornerstones that got us to where we are today? We’ve narrowed it down to five of the very best.
1. Vegas eRace
This was perhaps the first time the idea of sim racing ever occurred to many mainstream racing fans. In collaboration with Visa, Formula E hosted a sim race around a fictional street circuit in Las Vegas. It featured ten sim racers and all of the 2016-17 season’s Formula E drivers, and they all competed for a share of $1,000,000!
It was Bono Huis who came away the winner after a software bug denied initial on-road victor Olli Pahkala, who was found to have used too much boost. The sim racers had the edge over the Formula E drivers for the most part. However, then-Mahindra racer Felix Rosenqvist was able to hold a candle to them. This wasn’t as much of a surprise as it seems, since he was an avid sim racer.
It was the first major competitive racing event of this scale and with it came some realisations. A shift in attitudes towards professional sim racers was noticed. Prior to this event, it was assumed that racing drivers could be quick on a sim and avoid being shown up by their virtual counterparts.
Not only that, but this event also set into motion the professionalisation of the sim racing world. It also saw the meshing of the virtual racing world with the track racing world. Even though GT Academy had proven sim racers could become track racers, the Vegas eRace was widely considered to be the turning point of the relationship between racing and video games. This single event showed that drivers who competed on sims didn’t necessarily have to take to a track to make a career out of it.
2. eRace of Champions
While we did just say GT Academy was the original sim to track program, the eRace of Champions has proven time and time again to be rather more of a spectacle. Sim racers entered into qualifications. From these, the best four would compete under the watchful eye of the many competitors in the Race of Champions.
First taking place in 2018, the competitors were promised a place in the Race of Champions itself if they won. The winner would line up alongside Rudy van Buren, who had just won a competition called World’s Fastest Gamer and was to become McLaren’s Formula One sim driver.
In the end, it was Enzo Bonito who came out on top ahead of inaugural F1 Esports champion Brendon Leigh. After competing, Bonito returned to the event the following year and ended up racing against the likes of 2014 Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay and 2016-17 Formula E champion Lucas di Grassi. Enzo beat both of them!
Other fortunate sim racers to have competed in the event include Bonito’s eROC champion successors James Baldwin and Jarno Opmeer. Runner-up to Opmeer in the 2022 edition was Lucas Blakeley. However, it was the Scotsman who claimed the limelight by beating four-time F1 world champion Sebastian Vettel in one of the heats. All that with next to no on-track driving experience.
The eRace of Champions does wonders for showcasing the level of talent that simracers have.
3. Le Mans 24 Virtual
During the initial COVID lockdown, plenty of events popped up that real world racers competed in. Veloce Not The GP, F1 Virtual Grand Prix, All-Star Series by The Race, the IndyCar iRacing Challenge, the list goes on. But none quite had such an effect on the scene as the 24 hours of Le Mans Virtual.
A year prior, the first attempt at translating Le Mans to the world of gaming was the Le Mans Esports Series which used Forza Motorsport 7. It was an amazing concept and was truly ahead of its time with its format. However, the first Le Mans Virtual on rFactor 2 was a huge hit due to the driver talent involved.
There were 50 entrants in the LMP and GTE classes, each with at least two drivers from the real world. There wasn’t a stone left unturned when it came to inviting the biggest names in the world of racing.
As we mentioned earlier with the Vegas eRace, the real-world drivers do often trail their sim racing counterparts. With Le Mans Virtual, though, their importance is very clear. Many of the real-world drivers who also compete in real life endurance racing often have to coach their less experienced teammates.
There’s a phrase in endurance racing, “you are only ever as good as your amateur driver”. Well, those experienced pros are now playing that role and having to get good on a simulator, being taught by gamers. It truly pushes these drivers to understand the ever-growing importance of sim racing and the role it plays in their careers. Speaking of which…
4. Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series
Now for perhaps the most controversial entry. All the other events that had track racing pros racing in a virtual environment were self contained. These events wouldn’t have any effect on their real world programs. But the minds behind the scenes of the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup sought to change that.
Starting in 2021, teams from the Pro and Silver categories would nominate one driver to compete in a one hour endurance race on Assetto Corsa Competizione the day before their main race. The virtual races actually counted for points in the championship, with the top three from each class in both races earning points in the team’s championship.
The reaction was rather mixed, with even some of the biggest sim racing fans thinking it wasn’t a good idea. Not every professional driver is involved in sim racing, so putting even the smallest amount of points in a sim race that may impact a real world racing championship is still something many fans don’t feel 100% onboard with.
Nevertheless, it carried on for a second season. In fact, the organisers doubled down on the concept by upping the points from 3-2-1 for the top three finishers in each class to 5-4-3-2-1 for the top five per class. Still, these points only contributed to the team’s championship. This way, they don’t impact a driver’s personal championship campaign if they just can’t get the hang of sim racing. It would certainly be interesting to see a car racing championship built from the ground up with an equal importance on track racing and sim racing.
5. VCO Esports Racing World Cup
The Virtual Competition Organisation have always pushed the envelope. Given esports’ lack of limitations that real world motorsport has to contend with, they aim to experiment. The inaugural Esports Racing World Cup was held back in January, and it forced drivers to leave their comfort zones.
Most drivers in esports tend to stick to similar types of cars or specialise in one platform. But VCO leader Florian Haasper saw the direction that esports racing was heading. He saw the potential in an all-encompassing championship unbounded by platform or being merely the virtual by-product of a real world series.
Teams from all around the esports racing world compete together on not one, but three different racing simulators: iRacing, rFactor 2 and Assetto Corsa Competizione. It is truly the teams with the drivers who can be the most consistent and versatile across all the sims that come out on top.
There is immense crossover in esports racing unlike more contemporary forms of esports. Drivers can switch from rFactor 2 driving single seaters and in a few clicks, be on iRacing with LMP cars, and then onto ACC in GT3 cars. No matter the car, track and platform combination, drivers are expected to be quick, even if the driving styles needed are vastly different.
Borrowing its format from more mainstream forms of esports like Rocket League and League of Legends, the ERWC led onto the Esports Racing League which consists of three seasonal cup championships using all the sims and it all will culminate in the second edition of the Esports Racing World Cup with the 12 best teams.
Which esports racing event do you think was most revolutionary? Tell us on Twitter at @OverTake_gg or in the comments down below!