eRacers: The Inevitable Future of Gaming and Motorsports

With McLaren’s announcement of their “World’s Fastest Gamer” contest there is an interesting question posed: what is the future of Motorsports and Gaming?

Just this last week, McLaren announced the “World’s Fastest Gamer” contest. While details were naught more than a preliminary trickle meant to whet our appetites, the core of the idea was highly evident: gamers from all across the world would compete head-to-head in order to vie for the chance to earn a one-year contract as a simulator driver for McLaren. While the contest was met with lots of speculation, McLaren has insisted that it is very much a real competition – as well as the one-year contract.

Mclaren’s contest poses an interesting question: what is the future role of racing simulators in the world of Motorsports? Before we get too ahead of ourselves, it is important to distinguish between a racing game and a simulator. In common language, when we use the term “video game” we’re usually referring to a program that is loaded on our computers and consoles that gives us light, fast-paced, adrenaline-fueled action while being playfully unrealistic.

On the other hand, there are other racing “video games” that are purpose-built simulators. These programs are designed in such a way that the physics, handling, measurements, and all sorts of other data line up as closely to our default reality as possible. Many aficionados spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars on outfitting rigs for themselves to “race” in – race chairs with realistically mounted gaming peripheral steering wheels, shifters, and pedals which further bridge the gap between simulation and reality.

Jann Mardenborough at the Le Mans 24 Hour race at the Circuit de la Sarthe on June 13, 2015 in Le Mans, France.
Jann Mardenborough at the Le Mans 24 Hour race at the Circuit de la Sarthe on June 13, 2015 in Le Mans, France.

In 2011, a gamer called Jann Mardenborough won the Gran Turismo academy competition against other virtual racers. Since, he has won races in GP3, Super GT and British GT. in 2014, he finished 3rd in the LMP2 class of the 24 hours of Le Mans. His observation of the biggest similarities between real-world physics and that of an engine within an engine were:

“For me, the biggest similarities between virtual and reality is the way that you control the balance of the car. Braking, throttle, and steering input. The way the car pitches forwards on the brakes and yaws in the corners.

The game is quite similar to real life in that sense. In GT6 you can really feel the car moving around underneath you, and if you put too much yaw or pitch into the car, it will react as it would in real life with a bit of a snap. It was crazy to jump from the virtual world into a sports car for the first time. I didn’t feel like there was much difference in terms of the way the car feels and how you deliver your inputs.”

– Jann Mardenborough

The interesting question behind this duality is this: if one were to master their ability to drive a race car out on a virtual track that was modeled on a 1-to-1 basis just as the track looks and behaves in real life – with the same amount of detail being applied to the car – would that skill translate over into a real-life car? Mardenborough and a few Formula E sim racers have proven this to be the case since, but completely emulating the reality? Perhaps not wholly, but there is no denying that the skill level is partly transferrable. If such proves to be the case, we may be seeing the rise of eSport’s influence in the world of Motorsports not just as an efficient training method, but also as a potential future avenue of scouting for talent the world over.