HOW LOCKDOWN IS TRANSFORMING ESPORTS

Life as we know it has ground to a halt amid the coronavirus pandemic. Bars, restaurants, cafés, shops, parks, stadiums and even entire countries around the world are on lockdown as people heed professional advice to stay at home in an effort to control the disease’s spread.

With cities now deserted, and people isolated in their home, viewership of streaming services – such as Netflix and Twitch – has risen sharply. People are understandably on the look out for entertainment, in whatever form they can, pushing those previous niche activities into the mainstream.

One of those is gaming and eSports. As TIME Magazine aptly put it, with no live sport, ‘something needs to fill the void’.

With Formula E races – and indeed all action on two and four-wheels – postponed for the foreseeable future, there remains a huge appetite to still go racing. Obviously, racing can take on many forms. You may have seen the recent virtual Grand National horse race or be a fan of marble racing (we are but more on that later…).

But of all these, eSports and motorsport are truly a natural fit. Why? Consider this. Whilst you can’t play a physical game of football in your living room, you can recreate the feeling of sitting in a real race car. For a small investment in a seat, steering wheel and pedals to use alongside a games console or PC, you can create an incredibly realistic race simulator.

And it’s not just the feeling of sitting in the car either, the games today provide the opportunity to learn and hone all the same skills that Envision Virgin Racing drivers Sam Bird and Robin Frijns use in the team’s race car. From the racing lines, braking points, to how to modulate the throttle and brake pedal so you achieve maximum speeds in the corners without spinning out.

Indeed, the team’s new cutting-edge simulation at Silverstone is in essence a glorified eSports game. Ok, so it’s got a few more bells and whistles, but the software is very similar and with Formula E’s one-day format, it’s the only way for teams to ‘test’ before race day…not to mention a lot cheaper.

And that’s an important point. The traditional route into motorsport has until recently been karting. Most the Formula E grid started in karts as did our very own Sam and Robin. Today, the cost of karting has risen dramatically to more than 100,000 euros a season. Gaming, and competitive eSports, can therefore be – and has in some cases – become the gateway to the sport for the future generations. Jann Mardenborough, for instance, is a name that may be familiar to motorsport fans as was one of the first success stories, going from gamer-to-racer after winning the GT Academy and signing for Nissan. He even recently sampled Formula E machinery at the rookie test in Marrakesh.

Indeed, for those that get hooked on the sport, it need not end with gaming, because motorsport is the only major sport where someone can genuinely go from gaming in their bedroom to professional sports person at the height of the sport. Maybe it’s even the X-Factor of motorsport?

Written by James Parrish – Commercial Partnerships at Envision Virgin Racing