The shift of eSport from the periphery to the mainstream is something that can no longer be denied. Year on year growth stands at around 15 percent, and these days, you don’t have to be a gaming geek to have heard of League of Legends or CS:GO. Where things get really interesting, however, is when eSport and traditional sport intersect – or sometimes, collide. The most obvious examples are FIFA and NBA 2K, both of which have a thriving eSport scene that even attracts TV coverage. However, virtual F1 motor racing has also proved wildly popular, as much with spectators as with drivers.
From the cockpit to the console
Last year, we all had to find new ways to entertain ourselves. Lockdown was the great leveler, and even applied to the world’s top sports stars. There were also sports channels desperate to find something with which to fill their schedules. When some of F1’s top drivers took it upon themselves to take the World Drivers Championship into cyberspace, it was an ideal solution. The FIA quickly formalized proceedings, while pro racers like Lando Norris and Charles LeClerc were joined on the virtual grid by celebrity racers like Arsenal soccer star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
A little more than 12 months on, and the real-world sporting landscape is practically back to normal. The F1 circus is once again transporting 1,000 tonnes of cars and equipment from country to country each week, and spectator numbers, both trackside and on TV are as strong as they’ve ever been. Yet virtual F1 racing refuses to die, and the hardcore fans it cultivated last year are hungry for more.
Enter the F1 eSports Series Pro Championship
Norris, LeClerc and others are still racing one another and their celebrity friends each week as a fun side show to the real F1 action. However, the F1 eSports Pro Championship is taken deadly seriously, and this year’s virtual action gets underway on October 13. There will be 12 races contested over the course of four weekends, with the final race taking place on December 16.
The destinations will look familiar to F1 followers, and include three of the new circuits that appeared on this year’s F1 calendar. Don’t miss the rollercoaster style experience of the Zandvoort circuit – its banked corners even caused former F1 Champion Sebastian Vettel’s heart to miss a beat when he drove it for real, and it is just as spectacular in cyberspace. It’s not just the circuits you will recognize in virtual F1. Each of the teams involved in this year’s Constructors Championship has announced a team of three virtual drivers.
Eyes on the prize
With a $750,000 prize pot, this year’s F1 eSports Pro Championship is a step removed from the fun and games we watched last year. The races will be streamed on Twitch, YouTube and Facebook, so there’s no excuse for missing a moment of the action!