The COVID-19 pandemic sweeping the world, and in many cases shutting it down, has become so pervasive so as to even dominate the headlines here at Techdirt. To say the outbreak has altered our way of life would be a massive understatement. Social distancing, shutdown states, stuck in our homes, jobs reduced and gone; this whole thing has become a nightmare.
And it impacts even areas of our life that we enjoy, but are less important than others, such as sports. Professional and college sports have basically taken an unwanted holiday, shutting down in an effort to partake in killing this virus off. It’s been strange for fans like me, who wake up on Saturdays and have to find legit ways to watch sporting events that took place years and years ago as a substitute for live broadcasts. And if you think there aren’t a great many people who are starved for live sporting content, you need only look to what is going on in the autoracing world, where it’s basically all become eSports now.
We’ll start with Formula 1 Racing, which pivoted from its canceled live races into using video games as a substitute, using current and former drivers behind the virtual wheels.
Interestingly, because some drivers are pretty good behind a virtual wheel and others aren’t, the competition will “be configured in such a way to encourage competitive and entertaining racing,” which is a gentle way of leading into the fact rubbish drivers will be given advantages like “reduced vehicle damage, and optional anti-lock brakes and traction control for those less familiar with the game.”
The races are going to be held on the same days as actual races were supposed to go down, which means the first one should be running any minute now (at time of posting), since the Bahrain Grand Prix was meant to be held today.
These races are being broadcast over the internet and a whole bunch of people are watching them. It’s somewhat gratifying to see that real drivers driving virtual cars in a game realistic enough to get people to suspend the notion that they’re watching video games somewhat has become a thing. All the more cool is how this is helping fans of the sport limp along through this epidemic while still being able to watch a version of the races and racers they love.
But that pales in comparison to what NASCAR is about to pull off. Having created its own ad-hoc race using NASCAR video games and, again, real drivers, the whole thing was watched by enough people that the broadcast channels are going to pick it up and televise the next races.
The first eNASCAR iRacing Pro invitational Series event, held on Sunday, was—like Formula 1’s move to video game competition—a chance for both drivers and fans to get some kind of racing fix in these weird and challenging times. In first place was three-time Daytona 500 winner Denny Hamlin, and nearly one million people watched it on Fox, so now a whole season of it, called FOX NASCAR iRACING, is going to take place.
And just to drive the point home that this is all about giving people a sense or simulacrum of their normal Sunday experience, Fox is bringing in the normal television commentators into the virtual “booth”, including Jeff Gordon.
To say that this whole episode the past several weeks has been surreal seems like it lacks punch. Still, it’s been interesting to watch eSports fill the void for us, helping us try to pantomime normalcy in a world gone mad.