LONDON (Reuters) – Esports moved fast to fill the space when the coronavirus pandemic brought motor racing to a standstill but the novelty of watching real-life drivers compete in the virtual world may be wearing off.
Formula One and IndyCar drivers can be found mixing it with gamers, professional sim racers and sports celebrities in various formats and across multiple platforms every weekend.
Rupert Svendsen-Cook, CEO of Veloce Esports, says change has to be part of the game for those wanting to stand out from the crowd, with his focus more on entertainment than the competitive element.
“Every man and their dog is trying to run their own esports series now but the novelty of just watching some real world drivers compete in a virtual race has worn off,” he told Reuters.
“It’s like ‘I’ve seen that now’. It’s got to be quite engaging, which is why we changed our format.”
Veloce, an established esports presence with Formula E champion Jean-Eric Vergne as a co-founder, were quick off the mark when Formula One’s March 15 opener in Australia stalled and the season was put on hold.
They put on virtual replacements for the Australian and Bahrain races under the #NotTheGP hashtag but changed the format from round three, doing a deal with Formula One and moving to Saturdays to avoid any clash with F1’s own virtual offering.
“We don’t actually have a race. We go head-to-head. It’s 16 drivers with a bracket league and knock-out rounds to a finale head-to-head,” said Svendsen-Cook.
“We had to carve out or own format and identity because it’s quite messy already, so many series.”
“It will certainly be always evolving. That’s the beauty of esports. Nothing stands still. It’s not like you lock that in and that’s what you do from now on. Things continue to change. You’ve got to be agile.”
Those competing in Veloce’s ‘NotTheGPVersus event on Saturday, to benefit the U.N. children’s charity UNICEF, include McLaren’s Lando Norris, Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Williams’ George Russell.
All will be racing again on Sunday in Formula One’s official virtual Chinese Grand Prix after already competing on Friday in a ‘#racefortheworld’ in aid of the World Health Organisation’s COVID-19 relief fund.
Three former F1 world champions will meanwhile be in action this weekend in the Legends Trophy race organised by Torque Esports and http://www.the-race.com as part of The Race All-Star series.
The all-electric Formula E series is also launching its ‘Race at Home’ challenge on Saturday with most of its real-life drivers taking part.
“The real life Formula One drivers are going to go back to driving Formula One cars. You can’t rely on that for your product and format going forwards, but it’s great to have them involved at this point,” said Svendsen-Cook.
“But we have a format and a product that can continue to roll. There’s no reason why #nottheGP can’t continue forever.”
Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar