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A Trip to Nowhere: How Formula 1 Esports Drove off a Bridge


A Trip to Nowhere How Formula 1 Esports Drove off a Bridge

In the wide world of esports, the Formula One Esports Series was one of the most ambitious projects out there. Coming hot off the line in 2017, the first season was enough of a success to grab the attention of the official Formula One teams who quickly began forming their own licensed esports counterparts. No other sport before or since seemed so ready to embrace a virtual facsimile that this news garnered major attention from auto racing fans and esports fans in equal numbers. Sadly, despite continued performance over the next several years, the scene struggled to evolve beyond its early success. With issues like the pandemic lockdowns limiting major competitions, players were forced to compete from their own homes on their own hardware which led to a series of scandals and allegations of cheating.

Problems Under the Hood?

For the first several years, the F1 esports series began in September and ran through the end of the year. However, by early November 2023, there had still been no official announcement from the league about when the first event would take place. As frustrating as this was for eager fans, the players and teams involved were slowly getting furious. After all, every other esports (and live sports) event is scheduled months in advance, and these schedules are largely considered fairly bunding. If things needed to be postponed, that would be one thing, but for an entire professional league to simply keep its mouth shut for months is beyond unprecedented.

While the details regarding the ongoing drama are still being sorted, there seems to be no shortage of finger-pointing going around, with some blaming F1 while other sources citing “contract issues”. Throughout it all, though, F1 has remained almost completely silent on the matter issuing no official statements.

With all of this going on in the background, the fact that there had still been no official announcement of any events as mid-November rolled around and things were beginning to look quite troublesome.

The Checkered Flag for F1 Esports?

2023 actually started off pretty well for F1 esports, with the Oracle Red Bull Racing 2023 Launch Event being the third-most watched F1 esports series to date, drawing in more than 385,000 viewers. For comparison, the real F1 season for 2023 averaged 1.11 million viewers per race, and the League of Legends World Championships drew a staggering 6.4 million viewers. So, while the audience might not be massive compared to other esports, pulling in roughly ⅓ of the viewers of the “real thing” is a feat for any esport. This number case is not helped by the fact that there's no official smartphone F1 gaming presence, which is a massive market-grabbing opportunity as a total of 50% of all gamers worldwide play either app or web-based games like one seen on rooli.org. If you also consider that the F1 esports season typically started as the real season was winding down, and there was actual room for growth in an audience that loves watching races.

Sadly, though, it would all go downhill from here.

While the postponement of the Dreamhack event was the first public breakdown, it seems that this wasn’t the first event to be canceled in 2023. While the details on these early cancelations are sparse (nothing was ever officially announced to begin with), it paints a clear picture of a league struggling to keep itself organized. This is compounded by the fact that in October 2023, F1 Esports quietly rebranded itself to F1 Sim Racing. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with a rebrand (admittedly, referring to it as Sim Racing is a good way to attract racing fans who might scoff at the term “esports”), to do so quietly, when the season has already been delayed without explanation, isn’t a good look.

With no other information, fans were starting to wonder if the league was simply DOA. However, by mid-November, there had been rumors going around that many teams were heading to Sweden for the Season’s first event taking place at Dreamhack on November 24 and 25. However, on the morning of the scheduled event, it was announced that the first day’s race had been postponed due to “a dispute between F1 and the [tournament] organiser”. While we don’t have access to any official contracts or communications, the dispute seems to revolve around the prize pool for the event. Something that really should’ve been finalized months before. The delay was only a day and the league held two races on November 25, but such a last-minute change of plans did not bode well.

When the season’s first event finally took place, it went off more or less without a hitch, though the air of disorganization was palpable at every level. With the next event scheduled for December 15 and 16, everyone was curious whether or not the league could pull a U-turn and get back on track.

On December 14, 2023, it was reported that the event had been canceled. Not postponed, flat out canceled with no plans to hold it at a later date. Several teams had already made bookings for flights and accommodations and were offered nothing in the way of compensation. Since then, there has been no official comment from Formula One Sim Racing.

Taking the Next Bend

With back-to-back cancellations of major events, it’s easy to wonder if this is the end of F1 esports. Indeed, many have been quick to publicly speculate on that exact question. At this point, it’s hard to imagine many teams or players would be interested in any future cooperation with Formula One Sim Racing as they have now shown themselves to be a truly unreliable partner.

A Trip to Nowhere How Formula 1 Esports Drove off a Bridge
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Now, I get it, logistics on this scale are a nightmare even when are running smoothly, but this level of disorganization seems to be unique to this league. While other esports (and plenty of sports) have faced delays, cancellations, and setbacks, they have (mostly) always endeavored to maintain open communication. Mistakes happen, negotiations break down. But owning up to it, being open, and asking for patience is the only way to move forward. The fact that the league still hasn’t issued anything in the way of a formal explanation—let alone an apology—is a travesty.

In a passionate tweet, German racer Marcel Kiefer put it mildly: “I’m very disappointed and I wish the sport I love so much would do the right thing.”

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