While some esports are based on fictional or mythical games, many correlate to or even enhance real-life activities. For example, FIFA, Madden, or NBA 2K are all games where the esports player could, if they wanted, try to replicate their success online in real life.
At this point, an old argument often rears its head: “Ah, you can do it with a controller in your hand, but it is different in real life.”
That’s true in many ways. After all, you can’t imagine Juventus dropping Cristiano Ronaldo from their Champions League squad to replace him with an esports gamer who just so happens to be one of the best in the game. That is never going to happen, at least in soccer …
Motor racing and esports
While perhaps not as popular as the real giants of esports gaming such as Dota 2, League of Legends, CS:GO, or Overwatch, there is, indeed, a burgeoning scene for esports gamers interested in competitive racing.
Formula 1 has already decided to try and capture the market with its eFormula 1 series, a championship between elite drivers who represent nine of the 10 teams on the real F1 grid. However, there have been other games, perhaps most notably Gran Turismo, that have spawned active and competitive online gaming scenes.
What makes these particular games different than other digital sports titles is the incredible accuracy of the vehicles.
When you factor into this that serious gamers can purchase additional hardware to use with the game, such as pedals and steering wheels, the realism factor is ramped up still further. Indeed, in the eFormula 1 series, esports drivers are trained using the same simulators as the real Formula 1 drivers.
Now, we don’t have to get ahead of ourselves. There’s no car in the game. There’s no danger. There are no g-forces. It’s not the same. But if a real driver was to meet an esports driver on his digital track, would the odds be more even?
Race of Champions
For those unfamiliar with the Race of Champions concept, drivers from Formula 1, Karting, NASCAR, Rally Driving, and more compete across a number of challenges, using different vehicles to decide who is the best driver at large.
This year, organizers also invited top esports professional drivers, with the full expectation that they would be shown up by the professionals.
If that was the plan, then Enzo Bonito, a pro esports driver for Team Redline and McLaren Shadow hadn’t read the script. One of the events at the Race of Champions saw the drivers race for the fastest time on a specially designed track.
In his race, Bonito faced a daunting challenge: current Formula E and ex-Formula 1 driver Lucas di Grassi. Indeed, the prelude to the race focused on by how much di Grassi would win.
However, much to the incredulity of the commentators, Bonito completed his lap in a time of 52.3885, over half a second faster than Di Grassi, who posted a time of 53.0576. Bonito’s time was not only much quicker but also the fastest time posted that day, beating all the other competitors in his Nations Cup group.
Was Bonito the first?
While stunning, Bonito’s victory was not the first time an esports player has crossed the boundary from esports into real-life racing. Current driver Jann Mardenborough, who races for NISMO GT500, started off his career in Gran Turismo esports.
Certainly, many top teams in various motorsports understand the value of high-quality simulators. If the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel can use these simulators and translate that into performance on the track, why should other high-quality drivers not be able to do the same?
For now, many irate motorsports fans have claimed Bonito’s win was a freak, but the fact that Bonito’s time was the quickest of the day, out of all the other drivers, might signal something profound about working backward when it comes to simulators and cars.
Perhaps most importantly, maybe Bonito, as Mardenborough before him, has shown there is an alternative route into top-level racing. Maybe all you need is a game, a PC, and, oh yeah, there’s still that otherworldly hand-eye coordination to achieve.