I firstly want to preface the following analysis with my own thoughts: any time a major player from real-world motorsports gets involved with esports/eracing it can only be a good thing. It shows a positive analysis from the ACO around the potential of esports and they are not keen to be caught on the back foot.
Hardcore gamers can be a vocal bunch. Among the ‘sim racing’ community you often hear arguments about which platform is most realistic and putting down what they perceive to be ‘simcades’ such as Forza Motorsport.
After the announcement, I jumped on the new Discord channel created for the competition and saw comments like this:
“Can’t we just do an extra league on assetto Corsa or Iracing? Cause, forza is limited to 2 platforms and the physics are far from realistic. So could you guys please consider to use another game as well to represent the league?” - Maxerb
Others were more supportive though:
“No worries. I’m a bit surprised by all the negativity in here. Esports racing is never going to grow when different racing communities are constantly fighting to put each other down” - Veloce-ForceOne
It can be tempting to listen to all the loud noises criticising the competition, however, they are the minority. The majority of racing game participants are the ones that pick up more casual games like GT Sport or Forza motorsport. We've run events on the smaller platforms of iRacing and rFactor 2 and whilst their audience sizes are not to be sniffed at, the simple truth is: more players = bigger reach = more potential invested viewers = greater possibilities for future revenue streams and promotion.
In my experience Forza is a game that you can generally be faster on a controller than a steering wheel and pedal set. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. As a percentage of console and PC owners, how many really have access to high-end equipment that would make them competitive on a simulator like iRacing or rFactor 2 – not many at all.
I understand this championship will have online and offline elements. It’s impossible to police the use of equipment in a home setting – and even if it was possible, why would the ACO want to limit their potential reach? When it comes to the offline, in-person competitions that’s where it comes a bit tricky for me. The suggested rules imply that everyone will use steering wheels and pedals at these events meaning that someone that may be extremely fast and talented on a controller has to adapt to the very different realities of coordinating their arms and feet at the offline events. This policy set off a debate in the office about this approach!
Forza is limited to XBOX and PC. That means cutting out the highest selling console of this generation, Playstation 4. As of January 2018, the Playstation had almost double the sales according to vgchartz.com. Whereas F1 esports has separate qualification paths for all three platforms Le Mans esports will be excluding some people from participating. On the flip side, this may well be pleasing for their longstanding partner Microsoft who may hope for an increase in hardware and software sales from people that haven’t committed to the platform in the past but are keen to get involved with the championship. The offline events at Fuji, Sebring and Autosport International will allow people without access to the game in their homes to compete, however they may struggle to compete with regular gamers.
Build It and They Will Come
We already know that despite the reaction from certain parts of the community that this is likely to attract some of the world’s best eracing teams. Fernando Alonso’s team (FA G2 Esports) have already confirmed they will be entering. Where there is the potential for great prizes, well run competitions and exposure the top gamers will be excited about the possibility.
I hope that the Le Mans Esports Series goes well. Whilst it is not being run by our company, I believe the more high-end competitions the better the landscape for everyone. A city is a collection of buildings large and small and likewise with racing esports there needs to be a collection of diverse competitions. Within the growing eracing metropolis, Le Mans Esports Series is likely to be a standout competition showcasing the possibilities of linking esports and real-world motorsport providing the event management and marketing are handled well.