There is only one tiny little letter between esports and sports, but it is a highly emotive one. People who partake in sport in the “real world” may often consider the concept of an esport as something to be laughed. However, there are elements to some esports that are so tightly linked to the real-world sport that it can’t be ignored. The esports I am referring to are not the run and gun shooting, nor the resource management team games, they are still valid competition sports evolved from entertainment and hobbies, they form a separate niche to those I am discussing here. Though I encourage anyone to take a look at the levels of talent, devotion and training exhibited by the professional players in these areas.
Last time I wrote about the wonderful world of driving that Forza brings to the Xbox. That is a game with a heave layer of simulation, but it is about racing and stunt fun. Other driving experiences may well be delivered as a game but they offer the potential for highly accurate simulation environments that can be coupled with equally impressive hardware in the form of sets of racing pedals, clutch, brake and throttle and steering wheels that are able to deliver a driving experience much closer to the real thing. Now if you have a high-end simulation and haptic feedback and dynamic resistance in the wheel and pedals that starts to let the player/driver explore and improve their racing ability in as close to a real car as they can get at a significantly lower price in money and personal risk. Network these up so that cars can race with one another, and you have the makings of a highly realistic esport.
Yes, ok so this is a game environment with a steering wheel, but the precision and talent required to drive fast and well, to understand the parameters and feel of mechanical tyre wear and fuel load are getting increasingly realistic. Most people will not be running a motion simulator that throws the car around to simulate the g-force and bumps, but it is way closer to real race driving than I had zooming around in night driver on an Atari VCS as a kid. Having said that I spent many an hour in arcades at the steering wheel cabinet for Sega Rally and obviously I do a lot of modern game driving now too. When in my late 20’s I went to have a go at a real rally experience I said I had not done it before, but when the car slid and I needed to counter steer and balance the throttle I did it like that basic Sega Rally game, and it pretty much worked, enough for the instructor to question if I had rallied before. Then I spent a lot of time messing it up as I thought about it too much! It did prove to me that simulation and practice in those environments, even the most basic, works.
In the recent Formula 1 season, (yes that ended weirdly and yes I think Lewis Hamilton was robbed/unlucky but that’s sport for you) it was often mentioned that the Verstappen the new younger world champion spent a lot of time at the team factory using the ultra high end simulator to hone his craft. Lewis had said he didn’t get anything from them, almost as new-fangled rubbish. He changed his mind though when he started get bested by Verstappen and realized the margins they were dealing with between win and lose he needed to use every tool at his disposal. High end Formula 1 uses state of the art engineering to simulate the real car, but is home kit anywhere near that? Not quite but getting closer.
The odds of becoming a professional race driver are very small for most people, even those who have the resources to Kart or do track days and amateur racing. All sports, like football, basketball, rugby, tennis and cricket will have the same challenge for anyone trying to make it, but unlike motor racing kicking a football around of the basics of tennis are very much cheaper and more accessible to let more people try. Driving esports start to bring that ability to give it a go to a much greater audience. Its not cheap but a high-end gaming rig and some good steering controls are way cheaper than a race car, fuel, licences etc. This month one talented young racer called Cem Bolukbasi has gained a seat in an actual Formula 2 team car for the season. His route to this seat started with in 2017 and three years in the professional f1 esports series. Obviously, he did not go straight from esports to F2 but it opened up the chance for him to show his talent and prove his worth for other racing teams. This is an inspiring story for anyone, kids, who are finding their talent lies not in shooting or clicking but in precise and consistent driving at speed. He says without esports he never would have been able to get where he is now. There is more on this story over at F1
Never going to happen!
Opportunity and luck go together, esports is both entertainment and a potential career and even an opener for further opportunity. Video game technology applied in this way is a valid and worthy thing to support. Watch this space as there will be many more crossovers like this as simulations and the tech get even better in years to come.