The COVID-19 pandemic has affected so many sports worldwide, but one of the most keenly felt has been a number of different motorsports events. With many championships set to begin their season at around the time the lockdown commenced globally, it has thrown the sports into disarray and it left fans with a horse-power void.
However, since then iRacing has started to fill that gap rather nicely. Over the past few years, a number of big motorsport organizations have started their own iRacing games, some of which are competed for by professional iRacing drivers, officially signed on to real-life motorsports teams.
So much so that a whole Esports Racing industry has grown markedly in size over the last few months as people increasingly turned to online events in order to get their racing fix.
How popular has iRacing become during Lockdown?
While esports was already a massive industry in its own right, many games have stepped up to fill the void left by the absence of real sports in the first half of 2020 and iRacing Games, such as iRacing NASCAR, which has held the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series, featuring real-life NASCAR drivers competing against each other in virtual races, have been at the forefront of this.
Initially met with some scepticism, ostensibly by sporting experts, these live iRacing NASCAR events proved to be a smash hit success with viewers, with almost a million people tuning in to the first event, making it the most-watched Esports event of all time. Over the course of the season, that average swelled to over 948,000 viewers.
It is a similar picture in other iRacing disciplines, with Formula 1 already having its own Formula 1 Esports Series, as well as hosting a number of esports racing events which features drivers from real Formula 1 teams, taking on drivers from other disciplines, as well as esports stars and famous sporting stars, such as Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois and golfer Ian Poulter, in a series of races.
Courtois, as well as Manchester City center-back Aymeric Laporte and AC Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma, will be among the sporting stars taking place in the final Virtual F1 Grand Prix of the current series, which is scheduled to take place next weekend and will feature a Virtual Canadian Grand Prix.
A similar set up is being used for Australian SuperCars and is proving to be a hit with esports racing fans across the world. Indeed, this week sees the final two races in the All Stars Eseries event, which will be contested on Wednesday night across virtual tracks at Oran Park and Bathurst, with each half-hour long race worth 150-points.
Equally Popular in the United States
While F1 and SuperCars may be more European and Australian based, the US is also home to a surging iRacing scene at the moment. In addition to the previously mentioned eNASCAR series of events, other motor sports popular in the United States, IndyCar, IMSA, and World of Outlaws also used iRacing to organise their own online events in the absence of real-life racing.
Any notion that this was a gimmick or a flash in the pan was quickly dispelled by the excellent viewing figures and as such, TV networks FOX and NBC have both broadcasted many iRacing Pro Invitational Series events live across their networks, just as broadcasters in the UK, Europe, and Australia have broadcast F1 and SuperCars events live too.
However, there is a feeling that once the pandemic is over, and as the real-life motorsports events start to get back underway, as is the case over the coming months for a number of motorsport tournaments, that this current surge in popularity could be a flash in the pan for iRacing and esports racing. Is that the case?
Will iRacing and Esports Racing thrive post-COVID-19?
There are plenty of reasons to suggest that the success of esports racing games and iRacing tournaments will not be just a temporary thing. The number of iRacing members were increasing at the rate of between 5,000 and 7,500 members a month. Since the lockdown began in March, the number of new members on the site is estimated to be around 60,000. A huge increase.
Furthermore, the increase in exposure for these online events means that fans now have a greater appreciation for them now and can view them running alongside the real events far more easily.
Furthermore, the announcement of a new partnership between Gfinity and Abu Dhabi Motorsport management to launch a new Esports Racing Championship, which will see “the very best teams and drivers from around the world compete on a global stage at the highest level.” Means that the future of iRacing looks very bright indeed.