Virtual motorsport: from video games to E-Sports | Games

Motorsport is one of the gateways for those who love being behind the wheel and want to earn money driving. However, despite being a sport that has a legion of fans around the world, it is still not very inclusive, since, in order to stand out and build a solid career, high investments are needed from childhood.

A possible alternative is to combine sports and video games. Yes! Virtual motorsport is a sport that has grown exponentially in recent years, especially with the evolution of racing games that are increasingly faithful to reality. In addition, driving virtual cars is more inclusive, since there is no need to have millionaire sponsorship contracts for those looking to start their careers.

The seed of virtual car racing was sown in the 1970s, in the Atari era, but the cheapening of technology made room for new entrants. To understand the current scenario, the Techblog spoke with Rodrigo “Wizard” Steigmann, founder of F1 Brasil Clube, the largest virtual motorsport portal in the country; and Pietro Fittipaldi, who divides his activities between simulators for virtual championships and Formula 1 tracks, as a reserve for the Haas F1 Team.

Racing games were not common in the beginning of video game history, when the main product was the Pong, released in 1972. However, in May 1974, that changed. Gran Trak 10 drew attention for being the first game that united a race track and a car in a simulation. Despite completely simple graphics and without much interactivity, the player was able to control the vehicle through a steering wheel, pedals and gearshift that came installed in the arcade.

Gran Trak 10 was the first racing game to be released (Image: Playback/AtariAge)

It was so successful that, two years later, Night Driver arrives at the Atari games catalog being the first to bring a third-person view of a track moving along the course. At the time, racing games had no finish line or other opponents to compete on the track as the only objective was to accumulate as many points as possible in a session.

Over the years it’s been possible to divide racing games into a few generations and categories. The first one is the classic one, in which Gran Trak 10 and Night Driver they’re part. Here, games like Enduro, OutRun and Top Gear they also left their mark with outstanding soundtracks and the presence of an innovative local multiplayer mode.

Another division we can make in the timeline is Arcade games. In this case, the arrival of games like The Need For Speed and sequences like underground, Most Wanted and carbon were public and sales successes, and, to this day, the franchise still has recurring launches.

In this same line of reasoning, we cannot leave the classic Midnight Club — first open world racing game to be released — from outside. Later, after Rockstar Games canceled the game line, the series Forza Horizon took this position and is successful to this day, reaching its fifth edition in 2021.

The pillars of virtual motorsport in Brazil

After the launch of the first racing games in history, a series of titles that refer to Formula 1 cars were released and had great support from fans of the category.

At that time, Brazil had strong representatives in the world championship. Driven by the image of Ayrton Senna, games like Super Monaco GP are still talked about today, even though the developer does not own the competition’s image rights and has launched the game with generic cars.

Everything changes with the purchase of these rights by Electronic Arts in the early 2000s. That’s when virtual motorsport had its trigger as an electronic sport in Brazil. At first, the game F1 Challenge 9902 inspired Formula 1 lovers to create sports competitions between friends and acquaintances online.

Thus, the F1 Brasil Clube (F1BC) was created, one of the largest and oldest virtual motorsport portals in the country. With regulations similar to real life, live broadcasts and regular stages throughout the year, the site has organized championships in different categories for over 15 years and with seasons that last between three and four months.

Copa Super GT is organized by F1 Brasil Clube (Image: Disclosure/F1BC)

In an interview with Techblog, F1BC founder Rodrigo “Wizard” Steigmann, tells how it all started and details how competitions work.

The site emerged in 2006 from some Formula 1 communities that existed on Orkut. It all started with F1 Challenge 99-02. As I played frequently, the idea of ​​organizing an online championship with rules among friends came up. Since then it has only grown. Today there are several games that are called simulators because of their high level of realism.

During competitions, we have live broadcasts with narrator, race direction with regulations acting in the race and briefing with the drivers before the sessions. In addition, our portal also brings stories about the races, ranking with scores and various other types of content.

Although the competitions were inspired by the first Formula 1 games, F1 Brasil Clube currently does not hold championships in the category. Over the years and with the advancement of technology in racing games, simulators for sports categories have had more space, mainly because they provide configurations that are more similar to reality.

Games like Italian Assetto Corsa Competizione, the traditional Gran Turismo it’s the iRacing are the main simulators used in competitions in Brazil. What also proves the strength of national virtual motorsport is the game Motorist, from Reiza Studios. Developed by Brazilians, the game has already received official Stock Car and Formula Truck championships, in addition to being used worldwide for other regional competitions.

Automobilista franchise was created by Brazilian developers (Image: Divulgação/Reiza Studios)

The pandemic and the Formula 1 virtual championship

The Formula 1 regular season was also completely affected by the social distance that the pandemic caused. The International Automobile Federation (FIA) decided to suspend the 2020 season after engineers from one of the teams contracted the Covid-19 during one of the stages.

During the period when the cars were away from the tracks, the federation decided to create a virtual Formula 1 championship with some stages, which would be held on the same days as the Grand Prix. Brothers Pietro and Enzo Fittipaldi were invited to compete for one of the teams, according to Pietro, reserve driver of the Haas F1 Team, in an interview with Techblog.

In recent years, Formula 1 Virtual has grown a lot. Unfortunately it was with the arrival of the pandemic that it grew even more as we were all in quarantine, the Formula 1 season was paralyzed and then countless championships began to appear with good awards. All the pilots were at home without being able to compete and the teams started to install some simulators for us to train.

I was racing for Haas and my brother Enzo did some virtual racing for Ferrari. In early 2021, F1 decided to make the official virtual championship of the category with starters, reserves and junior academy drivers. Haas asked me to compete and to invite my brother Enzo too, so we ran this three-stage championship together.

Pietro Fittipaldi, reserve driver for Haas F1 Team

To bring the competition to life, the FIA ​​decided that the tracks in Austria, Silverstone and Interlagos would be the venues of the tournament whose main objective was to raise funds for the charity.

In addition to the fundraising success, the result was also positive on the tracks. Enzo Fittipaldi brought to Brazil the title of champion of the first official championship of Virtual Formula 1, being three points ahead of Williams driver George Russell. In addition, Haas was also champion for teams, thanks to the performance of the Fittipaldi brothers in the three stages.

The millionaire awards from professional leagues

If the objective of the official championship of Virtual Formula 1 was not to offer big cash prizes to the drivers, know that there are already competitions in which the values ​​reach millions of dollars.

According to the E-Sports Earnings website, in 2020, the F1 Esports Pro Series paid around R$3.5 million in prizes to drivers and teams. Unlike the tournament played by the Fittipaldi brothers, the Formula 1 Virtual professional league is made up of drivers hired by the teams exclusively to compete in the simulation category.

The Red Bull Racing Esports Team was champion of the season and won around R$ 960 thousand in prize money. Another competition that caught the attention in 2020 was Nascar’s virtual league. The tournament, played on the iRacing simulator, was sponsored by several companies and had around R$ 1.3 million in bonuses.

Professional F1 League has pilots hired by teams in the category (Image: Disclosure/F1)

In Brazil, the values ​​still do not reach this level, but they guarantee to bring a return to the drivers and teams that invest in national virtual motorsport.

Currently, our virtual motorsport portal makes the official BMW championship in Brazil. We had around 250 registered riders and the fastest 40 were classified for the tournament. As it is a long championship with seven stages until October, we will distribute a prize of 20 thousand reais to the teams.

In addition, we’ve already had practically all Stock Car drivers and Brazilian F1 drivers participating in competitions. We’ve already done events with Rubens Barrichello, Felipe Massa and we’ve already done official Stock Car events with awards to drivers.

Rodrigo “Wizard” Steigmann, founder of F1BC

“A Formula 1 simulator can reach around US$ 15 million”

The level of realism offered by the simulators is the main aspect that enables the creation of virtual competitions for different categories of motorsport. With graphics to behold, the simulators can be played with an investment in a driving kit, consisting of a steering wheel and pedals.

In Brazil, the most popular peripherals are those developed by Logitech, which has versions for PC, PlayStation and Xbox. However, despite the realism, the existing simulators in the country are still far from the reality of a Formula 1 car, as Pietro says.

Overall, simulators are quite different. I have a good simulator at home, but it doesn’t even compare to a Formula 1 simulator. To give you an idea, the equipment I have at home costs around US$7,000, including a computer, steering wheel, cockpit and pedals.

In real life, each team has its own software. For example, we at Haas use a simulator similar to Ferrari’s. McLaren, Mercedes and Red Bull have their own, which are also different. A Formula 1 team simulator can cost as much as US$ 15 million to be developed, installed and for daily maintenance.

In the day to day of Formula 1, we use [o simulador] before the race as preparation and to define the car’s settings and our strategies. After the entire weekend, the pilots return to the simulator with the telemetry of that specific stage and work to make the simulator as faithful as possible to reality. It’s a process that happens every Grand Prix weekend.

Pietro Fittipaldi, reserve driver for Haas F1 Team

Despite the differences, Pietro is also a big fan of the F1 franchise and says it is possible, yes, in the game, to get a sense of what it’s like to drive a car in real life.

I have a lot of fun playing the Formula 1 game. Me and my brother Enzo do lives on Twitch through our Fittipaldi Brothers channel. Visually speaking the game is very similar, the graphics are great, the braking points are similar and the corner speeds are also very similar to real life.

The quest for the podium starts with learning

For those who enjoy games and want to have the feeling, even if little, of what it is like to drive a race car, you don’t need big investments to start your career. Here in Brazil, Logitech steering wheels cost around R$1,500 and are widely used by virtual drivers in national competitions.

Line of Logitech steering wheels are the most used in Brazil (Image: Disclosure/Logitech)

In addition, at the Brazilian virtual motorsport club, championships are divided by experience level, which can help beginners.

Within F1BC we have four levels of championships. According to the pilots’ results and their statistics they get a pilot’s license that varies between Platinum, Gold, Silver and Bronze. Some of our leagues allow Platinum license, others Gold and low, some only Silver and one only Bronze. Even at the lowest levels, we maintain the seriousness and quality of competitions.

Rodrigo “Wizard” Steigmann, founder of F1BC

The learning process becomes simple for those who have simulators, consoles and PCs to run the game. At first, it’s worth competing against the games’ own artificial intelligence, whether it’s a franchise title Formula 1 or other sportier ones like the Gran Turismo it’s the Motorist.

When you feel comfortable, it is worth disabling the driving assistance gradually, in order to get used to the difficulty imposed by the simulation. Thus, it is possible that, over time, you will develop to the point of enrolling in competitions and fulfilling the dream of each and every driver: conquering a place on the podium.

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