Virtual madness

For a primarily running based blog within which I recently had something of a moan about virtual races being offered as a replacement for real ones amongst other things, you would be forgiven for not reading much further based just on the headline.

This post is still a little moany but won’t have any running in it at all. Instead I’ll be looking at some of the madness occurring lately around virtual / eSports motor racing.

Now, firstly I do see this as distinct from gaming. I am an occasional online racer myself but I don’t invest a lot of time in it, and even less cash on equipment. I’ve taken part in a handful of the official FIA sanctioned events on Gran Turismo, but at my modest level it’s definitely gaming. We’ve seen a handful of drivers convert from the virtual to the real world with some success, and that makes sense really given that you can simulate the skill of driving and racing reasonably well and somewhat accurately with the right kit, but it’s different enough that great real world drivers aren’t automatically great virtual ones.

To the present day and in these times of social distancing and lockdown, up until very lately eSports racing is the only thing available to the armchair motor racing viewer. I resisted the temptation up until the first official Formula 1 Virtual GP. That regrettably was a technical mess and gimmicky shambles and when the race did get going the drivers didn’t take it very seriously.

Across in America, Nascar were taking it quite seriously although in fairness they have done for a couple of years. A driver left a race in temper at being laps down and lost some real world sponsors who didn’t like supporting a quitter. This seemed a bit peculiar.

Another guy was fired for saying something no one should. Kyle Larson was just a bit dim forgetting that not only are the races broadcast so is his reaction to everything.

Elsewhere the Indycar Series held a few events, attracted F1’s Lando Norris who wiped the floor with everyone and then was literally crashed out of a race he was leading by a driver representing the team of the owner of the series. That was a really good look for the owner I’d imagine. Then again Norris fans took it way too far with death threats.

In the same race, we saw another driver who has a lovely history of trying to paint Make America Great Again on the side of his car, while being racist to his team mate who he later drove into after the race. Santino Ferrucci ruined his European career but unsurprisingly found a home in the US. His classy act was hitting the leader yards from the finish line, and allowed another guy from the team of the series owner to come through and win. Again, really good look that.

Then just this past weekend we had one more driver sending an imposter / professional online racer in his place for an event. Unfortunately, he drove for a Volkswagen group company and of course that car company has recent history around integrity and falsifying things so he got himself fired.

All of which history tells me that my original opinion about virtual replacements was probably right. One can’t go into it either as a competitor or a viewer and not really have confidence that everyone taking part is taking it seriously. Or the racing series involved should just present it, essentially as a WWE-style eSports Entertainment event. Don’t pretend it’s serious if your drivers aren’t all taking it seriously.

Yes I get the attraction of virtual running events and virtual motor racing. But at best, they are a variant, an offshoot, of the real world sport – they are not a replacement, even if no other replacement is feasible right now. I’ve tried both and no doubt I’ll still watch and take part in both some more.

However, at no time will I consider them a satisfactory replacement but sometimes it’s still going to be the best thing available and I’ll take them on that basis along.

And look forward to better days in the future.

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