Sim racing is a very serious business.
Online racing enjoyed a recent boom thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. But the truth is, virtual racing has been growing for the past 20 years.
Esports used to be a buzzword. Now, it’s a billion-dollar industry that attracts millions of competitors and fans around the world. People enjoy the experience through online streaming and on-site events.
- Suggested Read: A Basic Guide To Sim Racing
With huge amounts of prize money on offer, as well as professional contracts, the standard of professional sim racing is extraordinary. Over five million people race online worldwide.
With sim racing at the centre of the media’s spotlight, we ask – how serious should you take it?
How serious is Sim Racing?
The answer is ‘very’. Since the global pandemic put a stop to real-life competition, many motorsport series and championships turned to sim racing to fill the void.
Series such as Formula 1, Formula E, IMSA, NASCAR, IndyCar, World Rally and the FIA WEC all host virtual championships. The same goes for major manufacturers like Porsche, BMW and Ferrari – all of which host races online.
BMW and Porsche have both run articles on the key differences between sim and real-life racing. Similarly, BMW uses sim racing for developing race cars and training customer teams.
There is serious money in sim racing. Formula E was the first official championship to offer a $1 million prize for virtual racing.
And many professional teams (both sim and real-life) have their own development programmes for gamers. Ferrari, Red Bull, Mercedes to name a few. So it isn’t just money that gamers are racing for – but potential jobs and drives, too.
Signing for a team or manufacturer could also lead to endorsements and sponsorships down the line.
Then you have virtual series – such as the Racing Edge SimRacing Series – that offer prize money to winners. So there is a lot of potential income to be made.
How realistic is Sim Racing?
One of the major misconceptions about virtual racing is that it lacks realism.
But modern software packages such as iRacing, rFactor2 and Assetto Corsa Competizione are incredibly realistic. Cars, tracks and weather conditions are extremely accurate compared to real-life counterparts.
This is why sim racing can be used for training and development purposes by teams and manufacturers. It is arguably breeding the next generation of motorsport fans.
The sim racing experience is much more comparable to real life than other esports. There is a bigger crossover when it comes to driving skills online and on the road. Hence why many professional drivers use sims for training, especially during an off-season. Other popular online games, such as Call of Duty or Fortnite, have a much lower crossover to real life: skills used for those games aren’t as transferrable.
However, because sim racing is not ‘real life’, some believe the consequences are not as serious. For example, if you virtually crash – there’s a reset button and any damage is not real. Damage or loss in reality can be catastrophic, even fatal. So sim racing lacks the ‘fear’ factor associated with real racing.
Bad driving habits punished
It is difficult to replicate the real-life repercussions, so sim racing has to be creative to bridge the gap.
Punishments come in different forms. If you purposely crash or cause an accident, then your online ranking will suffer. You could face suspension from races.
Drivers are hit with slow-down penalties on track, while many online competitions have race stewards who punish poor etiquette and bad driving.
Two recent cases involving professional drivers give an indication of how seriously sim racing is taken.
Formula E driver Daniel Abt was fired at Audi after he used a professional sim racer in his place for the all-electric championship’s Race At Home Challenge Series.
IndyCar driver Simon Pagenaud faced a huge online backlash after conspiring to take out McLaren F1 driver Lando Norris during a virtual running of the Indy500.
Both incidents sent shockwaves through the motor racing community – real and online – and raised questions as to how serious it should be taken.
Sim racing is not just a case of sitting on the living room sofa with a joypad.
Realistically, you need a good quality sim racing rig to compete at a high level – even more so when it comes to competing for prize money.
Motor racing in real life is costly and those with big resources usually get an advantage. Virtual racing is beginning to see a similar effect following its rise in popularity.
Sim Racing community
Sim racing is serious because professional racers take it seriously. Formula 1 drivers like Norris, Charles Leclerc and Max Verstappen are all avid sim racers. They attract thousands of viewers online, using live streaming services such as Twitch.
Their streams are interactive, engaging and fun to watch - allowing fans to comment with each other and create online communities.
Technologically, the growth of the internet has allowed more people to race online. It provides unlimited space and memory to host championships. This makes the overall experience better and more realistic. Nothing kills racing realism more than internet lagging!
The internet allows people to compete wherever they are in the world – the only thing they need to worry about is time difference! It makes sim racing more accessible and, as a result, allows people to dedicate more time to it.
It also gives online racers the opportunity to compete against real-life race car drivers and, in some cases, their heroes. Not many industries outside of gaming provide those situations.
Sim Racing business
Teams and series take sim racing seriously because it is a great way to grow a digital audience or a business. It is an effective marketing tool.
It is another way to create unique content, especially when it comes to attracting younger audiences. To young people, sim racing is arguably more accessible than traditional motorsport avenues like karting. Accessibility is easier, cost is lower and there is no need to travel.
Millions of people watch racing online, making it an attractive prospect to advertisers. Sim racing is a relatively safe product to sponsor – it does not raise the same societal questions and ethics as sponsoring an online first-person shooter game, for example.
For businesses, esports allow other avenues of revenue: sponsorship, entry fees and advertising can all be targeted.
In conclusion, sim racing should be taken as seriously as real-life racing. Otherwise, we face being left behind.