Since launching, Sports Shorts has covered the subject of eSports in some detail, in particular how more traditional sports have come alive to the commercial opportunities the new upstart presents for targeting new markets amongst the (predominantly) younger generation of gamers.
The latest sport to accelerate into eSports is Formula One with the announcement today that McLaren-Honda will offer a one year, full time contract, to the winner of its virtual racing competition to be one of the team’s simulator drivers .
The idea that those expert at driving in the virtual world would be similarly capable in the real world is not new. In 2008 Nissan teamed up with Sony and Yamauchi Studios (the makers of the gamer’s favourite driving game Gran Turismo) to launch the Nissan GT Academy.
This annual competition starts with a series of online trial events before the leaders are invited to Silverstone race track to attend a series of training and track days to determine who, if any, have the necessary skills to become a professional racing car driver.
Whilst the Nissan GT Academy has produced a number of full time racers, none yet have progressed to the pinnacle of single seat racing, F1.
2011 winner Jann Mardenborough is perhaps the driver who has come closest to F1 having become the first to drive, and indeed win, in the GP3 single seater championship before being confirmed for a seat in Japan’s premier open wheel championship – Super Formula in 2017. Only time will tell if he can make it all the way to F1.
In light of the above it perhaps no surprise that F1 should be alert to the opportunities of recruiting from the virtual world especially where Zak Brown, a man with a formidable marketing background, and Chase Carey, who has publicly confirmed his desire to innovate a sport that some have said has become stale, are involved.
The chance to enter the sport in this way is bound to inject fresh interest from a generation more willing to consume content online. Given the technological advancements in F1 simulators, which drivers will spend a large amount of time on, it would not be surprising to see a driver develop from the on-line world to a seat on the grid in an F1 race. If this is the case it would also potentially open up the world of F1 to drivers who could not previously afford to compete in the historic proving ground – the incredibly expensive world of Super A karting.
With McLaren-Honda stealing a march to take pole position in the world of eSports it will be interesting to see if other teams follow their lead in the race to the chequered flag.