Could Esports' massive success pose a real threat to F1?

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The success of Esports in filling the gap left by the shutdown of Formula 1 and motor racing worldwide during the coronavirus pandemic has been striking. Is there a genuine possibility that the costly and dangerous real world sport could be permanently pushed aside by its digital kid brother? F1i's Andrew Lewin offers a few thoughts...


There are very few activities that can be said to have received a positive boost from the current chaos and disruption arising from the coronavirus pandemic, but one area that has undeniably benefitted from the lockdown is online gaming. Being able to escape into a virtual world while at the same time safely self-isolating in the spare room is a perfect way of coping with a sustained period stuck indoors - especially with the added social advantage of being able to chat online with fellow players.

Broadcasters have been desperate for something to fill their empty schedules with something other than endless reruns

And of all the many types of games and sims available, the biggest beneficiary in terms of increased media exposure has surely been in the field of motor racing. With no live sport of any kind available anywhere in the world, broadcasters have been desperate to fill their empty schedules with something other than endless reruns of old races from the archives. It's no surprise therefore that they have enthusiastically pounced on the current explosion of Esports competitions, which provide them with a welcome "fix" of sporting excitement to deliver to frustrated fans. The viewing figures for the official Formula 1 Virtual Grand Prix, Formula E Race At Home, the IndyCar iRacing Series and various eNASCAR Esports competitions have been huge compared with pre-lockdown times, when they barely even registered in the mainstream.

And you can see why it's proving so successful: the graphics on these games are extraordinary, so eye-popping and accurate that when watching events on TV recently there have been times when I've done a double take to check whether it's old footage of a classic race or brand new action from a virtual simulation. Which gives rise to an interesting question: if the two really are becoming so indistinguishable to the television viewer, is there now a non-zero case for the appeal of Esports enduring beyond the present coronavirus shutdown, to the point where it could even rival the popularity of traditional motor racing - possibly to the extent of rendering the real thing obsolete?