Earlier this year I visited the first ever F1 Esports Pro Draft, in all my years of being involved in Esports I had never seen anything quite like this. The scale of investment from Formula One and Liberty Media combined with the actual F1 Teams gave the event a level of mass market credibility that was barely a dream when Team VVV launched back in 2006.
The massive scale of the event was reflected with the vibe of tension and excitement within the studio, the passion of the players to be selected combined with the despair of those who were left unselected. The resulting feeling was of a wave of relief for the teams and their selected drivers but empathy and with a deep understanding for those who didn’t quite make it.
Roll on a few months and we reach the first round of the F1 Esports 2018. I’ve been to a range of Esports events over the years, some as a player, others as a manager. I’ve tasted success and defeat, but critical to being involved is having an understanding of how the game is played and a knowledge of the players. It’s not just about the play but forming an attachment towards the players, and getting behind those you want to support that gives a sport it’s emotional connection.
In the run-up I had no idea how this would be received or how the atmosphere would change. Even after meeting the drivers there was a feeling of stepping into the unknown. Upon entering the studio that all changed, with not a seat to spare. The audience was packed and the anticipation was electric, being made up of F1 team representatives, YouTuber’s, media and some of the investors behind the F1 machine. It was wonderful seeing so many members of the audience that had clearly never taken games seriously in the past or who had no experience seeing gamers at this level before.
Cameras rolling, the live show begins.
The live show gets underway, the guests and drivers enter and we’re ready for the highlights of Race 1, which took place at Melbourne. It was immediately apparent that the steps made in visuals and replay cameras for F1 2018 were making all the difference, transporting us to a Grand Prix atmosphere. The professional production values immersed us all into the action. Following a brief analysis from Lando Norris and Joylon Palmer it was time for the first live race of the evening, Race 2 set in China.
The stage was set, a large screen coming down from the ceiling for the audience and the race was underway. From the off it was impressive to see the spacial awareness of the drivers, the aggression in racing combined with the fairness of track positioning. No desperate lungers, but close racing throughout the field. It was immediately apparent that Brendon Leigh was again going to be a force to be reckoned with, consistent precision in his driving and making extensive use of the various options given to the driver. The racing was close and competitive, the spec cars and lack of disruptive air flow making for more opportunities to closely follow the car in front.
Stunning race-craft throughout.
I was loving it, it felt just like watching a normal GP, at this point I looked at the map counter and saw the limited 25% race distance laps flying by and with racing this close I didn’t want it to end. Action continued throughout the field with the crowd cheering and clapping their chosen drivers and despite a strong run, Brendon wasn’t getting it all his own way. Lots of drivers making super late braking moves into the hairpin and yet contact was little to nothing. The drivers all with a deep understanding of braking points given the active tyre degradation. Brendon eventually coming round to win a hard fought victory with his team mate Daniel Bereznay and Torro Rosso driver Frederic Rasmussen pushing to the finish, supported with a level of appreciation from the audience that we were all watching something very special and quite unlike many had seen before.
Following race analysis it was onto Race 3 at Baku. A tricky street circuit but with lots of opportunity for overtaking and drama. Missing the start due to the late deployment of the audience screen, the action was intense throughout the field with no contact and good clean racing. The Mercedes AMG-Pertonas team have become a standard sight at the top of the F1 standings, the Mercedes pair running strongly at the front here there was a sense of normality from an audience perspective.
Each race was giving different drivers an opportunity to shine and with no practice before the session it was a significant challenge to move swiftly from track to track. Again, Daniel was leading with Frederic close behind and Brendon working his way up from 5th, all 3 were the class of the field with Bono Huis gradually working his way up the points for McLaren. The battle at the front was getting closer, Brendon attempting to overtake Frederic but with little success, it was going to take a combination of DRS, battery operation and maxing use of the engine in making up a position, all while protecting the tyres.
A thrilling climax!
The anticipation was building, both Frederic and Brendon had passed Daniel and with just a handful if laps to go it was clear Brendon was going for at least one more opportunity for the lead and then as we crossed over into the final lap he struck. Taking first place cleanly, can anything stop him? Frederic appeared to lose ground, perhaps Daniel could make it a Mercedes 1-2. The pressure written all over the faces of the drivers, you could see how much concentration it was taking for this level of perfection. Brendon making a mistake on one of the last few corners it gave a glimmer of hope to Frederic but it looked like Brendon had done enough, a third race in succession would be his. But then just in the last section we see the nose of the Torro Rosso in view, deploying all of his battery, he had just enough power to cross the line in first and with an enormous roar from the crowd in appreciation. A feeling of excitement and relief that we had a contender in the championship and as ever, anything can happen in F1.
There was laughter and appreciation, motorsports enthusiasts were converted. For the first time that bridge between reality and simulation had been realised. Be it the perfect driving or TV commentary, it was the live atmosphere that made this different, it actually felt like being at a race. A recent real-life example being the finish for Ben Tuck at this year’s British GT at Brands Hatch, or in F1 terms Jenson Button passing Sebastien Vettel on that final lap in Canada 2011.
Thrilling competitive and fun, this isn’t to replace F1 but it complements it well and in practice generates a very similar feeling when at the event. Of course, in years to come these events are likely to grow and Esport players are the celebrities of tomorrow but I left excited for the future potential of the series and look forward to attending the future rounds and exploring more of this new generation of F1 Esports in progress. You can discuss F1 Esports in more detail in our dedicated forum thread.