The founding father of the hugely successful GT Academy “gamer to racer” programme Darren Cox has launched the first professional virtual race team in motorsport, ‘eSPORT+CARS’.
The growth of eSports has been dramatic in recent years with major tournaments attracting tens of thousands of fans in stadiums, millions of viewers watching online and providing the participants with millions of dollars in prize money.
With eSports the big news story in the digital world in 2016, the former Nissan executive aims to run a motor racing team that exists purely in the virtual world – but to the same standard of any professional ‘real world’ team.
Cox aims to reach millennials who are engaging with sports through gaming and help build a new motorsport audience to draw them into the sport to help stem a decline in audience figures. The eSPORTS+CARS team will also play a role in building a bridge between the virtual and real motorsport worlds.
“The eSPORT+CARS Virtual Racing team is a first step in professionalizing motorsport in the virtual world,” Cox said.
“We want to use the team to shine a light on the huge opportunity that is virtual motorsport and we will do it by mirroring the approach of the best teams and brands in the real motorsport world.
“Eventually we want to have the very best virtual drivers from around the globe, playing together across every platform, in every type of motor racing game; attending eSports events, working and competing as a team, engaging with fans as a team.
“Why? Because I see it as a very exciting first step in bringing new fans to the grandstands – whether they be at eSport events or Silverstone on a wet and windy Sunday.”
Fan interest in eSport has been grown dramatically in recent years and now matches or exceeds interest in traditional sport. Last month, 36 Million people watched the “League of Legends” eSport finals as the NBA basketball finals recorded an 18-year high of 31 million viewers in the US.
“If you look at the broader eSport market – including first-person shooting games, fantasy strategy games, even football – you can see how effectively they have both embraced and been driven by this vast new fan base,” Cox said.
“Professional teams compete in global championships, driving millions of dollars worth of revenue, but more importantly in some instances, driving millions of new fans to real sport.
“Research in the US shows us that the millennial generation first become engaged in football through gaming. The growth of MLS has been driven not initially by fans by going to matches and inheriting a passion for the sport, they are instead playing online and then becoming engaged with what happens in the ‘real’ professional leagues.”
The eSPORT+CARS team drivers have already been contesting major tournaments across multiple platforms in console and PC gaming including competitions featuring Forza Motorsport 6, GT Sport, rFactor and Project Cars.
“We know that motorsport audiences are dwindling; we know we need something to bring the younger audience back to the sport and I firmly believe gaming can help do this,” Cox said.
Cox last year launched IDEAS+CARS, a unique marketing and consulting group of global collaborators that specializes in creating non-traditional marketing content which excites drivers about cars.
“The boom in the eSport market is recent, the trajectory upwards is huge, I want to use the eSPORT+CARS Virtual Racing Team to highlight exactly how much untapped potential there is in this for motorsport and help promote existing series in a way that the Red Bull athletes did at the dawn of extreme sports.’
The team has already attracted significant interest from the traditional motorsport establishment. Greaves Motorsport are the first named partners of eSPORT+CARS. The 24 Hours of Le Mans class-winning and reigning European Le Mans Series Champions have a reputation of developing young drivers from the virtual and real worlds.
Team owner Tim Greaves sees a significant opportunity in expanding his team to the virtual world.
“We have seen the professionalism of gamers first hand in the real world and as an entrepreneur I have watched the growth of eSport with great interest,” Greaves said.
“I am excited to explore the opportunities in gaming for our current and future partners.”