When you think of sim racing, you think of the big three: iRacing, rFactor 2 and Assetto Corsa Competizione. Each has established a reputation for cutting-edge realism and competitive online racing in major esports tournaments. But now, for the first time in ages, a new challenger is shaking up the sim racing world.
Enter Rennsport, a new sim racing game from Competition Company with state-of-the-art Unreal Engine 5 graphics and an exciting new online racing series hosted by one of the world’s largest esports tournament organisers
We caught up with Competition Company CEO and founder Morris Hebecker and President of Sports Games at ESL Faceit Group Roger Lodwick to find out how Rennsport is revolutionising sim racing.
Starting from scratch
iRacing turns 15 years old this year, while rFactor 2 is nearly ten years old. While they are still continually updated with new content and improvements, they are showing their age.
Rennsport, on the other hand, is a brand new sim racing platform developed with Unreal Engine 5, so it won’t be limited by outdated technology. “We had the possibility to bring our ideas together and start from scratch,” Hebecker explains.
“This means we can use all the new technologies, all the possibilities we have out there. This is a huge advantage when it comes to a new racing simulation. If you stay with source code that is 15-20 years old, it limits you at a certain point.”
Sim racing has seen a surge in popularity since the pandemic. Despite this, the racing game market is relatively small compared to other genres. Competition Company wants Rennsport to change this. “I deeply believe that the overall racing and sim racing genre can grow again,” said Hebecker.
“When you imagine 15 or 20 years ago that racing games had a market share of 15 per cent or more and now it’s only three per cent, there is room to establish a new racing game and a new product.”
Only a handful of cars in Rennsport are confirmed so far. These include the Audi R8 LMS GT3 Evo, BMW M4 GT3 and Porsche 911 GT3R. Inevitably, this focus on GT3 cars invites comparisons with Rennsport’s closest competitor: Assetto Corsa Competition.
“Using GT3 is really the hardest way because one of our big competitors is also very good and established in this part of cars,” Hebecker admits.
However, using GT3 cars also made it easier to convince car manufacturers to join forces with Rennsport. “We spoke to our partners on the automotive side and had them involved very early,” Hebecker explains.
“They said if you would like to establish a new esports system and we have to be involved it would be best for us to use GT3 because it’s the level where we can all come together. Most of us have a kind of GT3 car and that makes it easy for us to jump into your idea and be part of it.”
GT3 racing won’t be the only discipline in Rennsport, however. “This is just the beginning. We will have more car categories and more options for cars,” Hebecker confirmed. The electric Porsche Mission R showed off in screenshots hints at the car variety to come.
Competition Company has a “strong longer-term vision” to make Rennsport a live-service game with regular updates enticing players back.
By “constantly implementing new things,” Hebecker sees Rennsport being “part of the racing community for the next 20 or 30 years.” Modding tools allowing the community to “create whatever you want” will also increase Rennsport’s longevity.
A new era of racing esports
For over two and a half years, Competition Company has worked with ESL to create a new online racing platform based on Rennsport.
One of the biggest esports event organisers in the world, ESL is best known for hosting online tournaments in popular shooters like Counterstrike: Global Offensive, Battlefield and Halo. With the new R1 series, ESL is finally making its mark on virtual motorsport.
“ESL was one of the first partners we spoke to when we decided to realise the idea we had in mind,” said Hebecker. “We showed the idea to ESL and they were really on board with us."
"We always talked about what it needs to create a digital motorsport league that could take the next step. The feedback from the racing community and other stakeholders was super positive.”
Last weekend saw the first two rounds of the inaugural ESL R1 take place in Poland’s grand Spodek Arena, where 48 drivers divided into 12 teams battled it out for supremacy.
MOUZ driver Max Benecke was crowned the first-ever ESL R1 winner before Porsche Coamda’s Joshua Rogers raced to victory in the thrilling second round.
With a massive €500,000 prize pool at stake, ESL R1 is already attracting big names including FaZe Clan along with Team Redline, Apex Racing, Williams and more.
Eyebrows were raised when three-time Call of Duty world champion was announced as a driver for FaZe Clan, making his sim racing debut. But it’s this mix of traditional and sim racing esports teams competing together that Lodwick thinks will set ESL R1 apart. “I think this is the first true sim racing competition where you have both worlds together,” he said.
“One of our goals is to bring traditional esports teams into the mix but also the true brands from traditional racing together. It’s always a bit of a gamble when you do this. We’ve been overwhelmed with the feedback we’ve got from the teams and the community.”
Early signs are extremely positive. From the first broadcast, Rennsport’s gameplay looked stunning with no noticeable visual downgrades despite being early in development and TV-style camera angles capturing the drama. Energetic commentary from seasoned esports commentators George Morgan and Lewis McGlade created an electrifying atmosphere.
After rFactor 2’s disastrous 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual saw a frustrated Max Verstappen quit the game mid-race, Rennsport is already shaping up to be a credible new racing esports platform.
Following the enormous success of the first two rounds, season one of the ESL R1 will return for six more rounds. In May, the top 24 qualifiers will then compete in the Major at the Rennsport Summit in Munich, Germany, to decide who will be crowned champion. A second season is planned for later this year.
Rennsport is aimed at esports and PC players for now, but Competition Company is optimistic a console port will follow in the future. “We have a strategy when it comes to console and more casual gameplay using a joypad. It is on our timeline but we will not focus on that yet. It’s the next step next year.”
Accessibility options will also be added as the game evolves. “When it comes to new things there will be a training part that makes it easier to jump into the game and learn the game. That also includes making the game easier to use with less expensive hardware.”
As for when you can take Rennsport for a spin, a closed beta was planned for January before being delayed. This enabled Competition Company to focus on optimising the game for the inaugural ESL R1.
While Hebecker didn't confirm a release date, the CEO said players can try a version based on the esports build shown at ESL R1 “later this quarter.”
Registrations for the closed beta waitlist are open and Rennsport is already attracting a lot of interest from the sim racing community. According to Hebecker, “more than 33,000” players have registered for the beta. Around 26,000 of those are on Discord, which will be used to gather feedback from the community.
An open beta is also planned for later this year, with Competition Company targeting a December 2023 release for the final build. Even at this early stage, Rennsport has huge potential to shake up the sim racing world.
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