How Sim Racing Carved Out its Niche in Esports, Part 2

Today’s advanced sim racing software and hardware allow for highly competitive esports. In part two (read part one here) of The Esports Observer’s sim racing esports explainer, we look into the types of esports events sim racing has to offer as well as the equipment used to simulate driving physics as accurately as possible.

Sim Racing Esports Competitions

The sim racing community is known for being very dedicated and investing a lot of resources into their hobby. Consequently, the community created esports competition structures to cater to its demands featuring hundreds of events every year. The Esports Observer distilled four major types of sim racing esports events.

Online esports events integrated into sim racing games are a staple within a few sim racing titles. iRacing is built around an online competition format, which is based on a racing license model and driver ranking system that pairs up drivers of comparable skills in the series of their choice. The software as a service features four competitive seasons with 13 weeks of competition each year, with several officially licensed esports tournaments such as the $200K prize pool Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup. Other competitions include the SRO E-Sports GT Series in Assetto Corsa and the FIA-certified GT Championships in Gran Turismo.

Several real-life motorsports series started an esports counterpart during the last couple of years. The motorsport series with the biggest economic footprint, the Formula One, initiated its Formula One Esports Series in 2018 featuring Codemasters’ F1 game series. Other motorsports series that integrated an esports format include the World Rally Championship (WRC) running the eSports WRC Championship (which consists of 10 rounds, driving on the same roads and stages as the real-life WRC) and the Formula E, which experimented with a $1M prize pool esports Las Vegas race in 2016.

Esports organizations focusing on sim racing and traditional esports events organizers such as the ESL and Torque Esports also offer a variety of sim racing esports competitions, including the Velocity Endurance Series and the ESL Project Cars SMS-R Championship.

The fourth type of sim racing esports event is unique in offering a transition from sim racing to real racing. Formats include Torque Esports’ The World’s Fastest Gamer, which provides a season’s racing in real-life worth more than $1M to the winner, Nissan’s GT Academy, which ran from 2008 to 2016 and offered an alternative route into real-life motorsport for the best participants, and the Race of Champions esports competition (eROC), in which the winner got to compete for Team Sim Racing All Stars in the Race of Champions tournament.

The Costs of Sim Racing

While sim racing is unarguably cheap compared to its

real-life counterpart, it can be a rather costly hobby and is the esports genre with the highest financial barrier of entry. In order to get started with sim racing, one needs the hardware to run the simulation software on such as a console or a computer, with most new consoles retailing at around $300 and gaming computers upwards of $800. Furthermore, aspiring sim racers need at least one monitor to go with the computer/console of their choice, most of which retail around a few hundred dollars. 

Additionally, the simulation software itself, which ranges in price from free-to-play up to around $60 (with the exception of iRacing, which is acquired through a subscription). Depending on car and track preferences, players need to purchase additional downloadable content (DLC), which can cost up to $40 in most cases.

While the prior listed items would be sufficient to get started in most esports genres, sim racing requires additional equipment. A force feedback steering wheel and a set of pedals are part of the basic sim racing set-up. Starter sets available from Logitech and Thrustmaster usually cost upwards of $250.

Although the budget set-up to get started with sim racing is manageable, full high-end sim racing rigs can easily cost five-digit sums. Direct drive steering wheel motors (which generate forces of more than 10nm and provide drivers with accurate car physics feedback) can cost several thousand dollars, manufactured precision pedals range between $100 to $1500, and H-pattern or sequential shifters and handbrakes start at around $200. Additionally, a sim rig, including a racing seat, can add to the price point as well as multi-monitor set-ups and high-end gaming PCs to provide detailed game graphics.

The same applies to high-end sim racing software. Buying all available content in iRacing (as of April 2020) costs roughly $1800 excluding VAT ($700 for all cars and $1100 for all tracks) plus the base subscription fee of $200 per year, however, iRacing offers several discounts up to 30% when buying all content at once. A typical one year season for a beginner would cost around $430 when making use of discounts, with the second year adding around $100 to the bill as the most commonly used race tracks are already owned by the driver going into the second year. 

The Sim Racing Ecosystem

The sim racing ecosystem is much larger than the aspects addressed in this article. A variety of services such as virtual racing schools and third-party software, including in-game overlays and telemetry data analysis tools, add value to eager sim racers. Furthermore, media covering the sim racing community established itself over the years and content creators built an audience around sim racing.

Sim racing is a niche within esports built around a devoted community of racers, software developers, content creators, and hardware manufacturers. While sim racing is not the same as real-world racing, as crucial aspects are missing, such as driver experience through g-forces and vibrations but also the element of risk involved in motorsports, it is the one esports genre in which many skills transfer to the real-life equivalent. Therefore sim racing esports is in a unique position to create value and attraction for esports, gaming, and motorsports enthusiasts alike justifying the genre’s ever-growing interest and making for a reasonably certain future for it as well.

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