Racing as an esport: Dusk or dawn?
There are tons of e-sports titles a gamer can pursue nowadays. And there is something to any taste: exciting FPS, old and new RTS, and, most popular at the moment, MOBAs. However, in this article we want to dive into the world of oil and burnt rubber and look at Racing simulators as an e-sports title. Let’s go!
World Cyber Games 2004
Speaking of the history of virtual racing, one can’t but mention an e-sports Olympiad of some sort — World Cyber Games. This 2004 event was special for 2 reasons: for the first time it has been held outside of South Korea (specifically in San Francisco), and this time WCG included not only FPS and RTS games, but also racing simulators. There were two significantly different titles. First of which was popular and beloved Need for Speed Underground, with its customized vehicles and nighttime driving, while the second one was Project Gotham Racing 2, a serious car simulator for Xbox, not widely known to gamers. Looking ahead, we can mention, that PGR 2 was excluded from the event a year later and replaced by a fighting game Dead or Alive Ultimate.
Need For Speed Underground
Underground spawned tons of imitators and clones in street racing genre
It is impossible to imagine the racing genre without this huge franchise. Need for Speed Underground once became a pioneer of the genre, being released right up to “The Fast and Furious” premiere. Underground was a subject of every gamer’s conversation, as the game not only offered player to design own four wheels, it also had a meaningful plot to stand out. Moreover, Electronic Arts seemed to be riding the wave, as they released their creation for every platform, from PC and consoles to mobile devices. Obviously, the success created a lot of imitators, each wishing to get money and fame out of the booming genre. However, there were some decent projects as well, a good example of which can be Juiced, where you could put together a street racing team.
It would be disrespectful not to mention the game’s amazing sound accompaniment, which makes many gamers feel nostalgic even today. The music in the game could suit any taste, as it included all such genres, like rock, rap and electronic songs.
Undegroung OST Get Low became a meme
World Cyber Games 2005
USSR Team player Kostantin "MrKot" Vanisov
Next event of the series was hosted in Singapore and had gamers compete in the second part of the famous game, Need For Speed Underground 2. This tournament could be called a huge breakthrough for European and CIS racing e-sports, because even though 1 and 2 places went to Brazil, next up were MrKot and SliV_R respectively. Russian player Konstantin defeated his German colleague for the 3rd place, taking home $5000. Notably, he could have even made it to the finals, however, his opponent pulled a “dirty trick” on him in the semi-finals, pushing Kostantin’s car out of the road, which was not prohibited by the rules back at the time. “A good name is better than riches”, later said MrKot in his interview. We can’t but agree with this statement.
Need for Speed Underground 2
Carbon hood, alloy wheels and a beautiful girl, what an ideal combination!
One year after the first part, Electronics Arts released the second one, taking all the best out of its predecessor and adding some new features like even more customizable parts, better range of vehicles (just remember those huge Hummers and Lincolns!) and better graphics. However, the main attention grabber was the game’s open world. Though it is tiny compared to Grand Theft Auto worlds, back then it created a furor in the racing games industry.
Professionals, however, were wondering. On the one hand, there were lots of new stuff, but on the other hand this part was nothing like the first one. Most people didn’t like being able to tune every small screw in a vehicle, since it required a lot of time. And considering the fact that people feel car in a different way, this added only more trouble.
Sound component was traditionally on the level. It is worth to mention the appearance of such famous artists like Snoop Dogg and Paul Van Dyk. Their remix of The Doors song was also playing in the main menu. Though it might not be as known as Get Low, but it still reminds of some good times.
Snoop Dogg Ft. The Doors — Riders on The Storm (Fredwreck Remix)
Electronic Sports World Cup 2005 и Gran Turismo 4
We couldn’t but forget a giant of console racing, Gran Turismo. The fourth part of the series was included into Electronic Sports World Cup event from 2005 to 2006. Speaking of Gran Turismo, one should first mention a unique project, GT Academy. Where else can a player switch from his virtual seat to an actual race car seat?
Jann Mardenborough is the most successful student of GT academy. He is one of the best racers according to SportsPro Media
“GT Academy is an international competition, which brings real-life sports and e-sports together. Thanks to it, best Gran Turismo players get a chance of becoming professional racers. Any great gamer, who showed good performance, can get behind the wheel of a racing car to compete for the first prize, which is a slot in Nissan team with preparatory trainings and with all the licenses in place”, says its official website. Could you be the next pro racer?
Mark Shulzhitskiy and Stanislav Aksenov were the first CIS gamers to graduate from the academy
World Cyber Games 2006
Alan Enileyev — самый титулованный виртуальный гонщик на просторах СНГ — держит чек на $ 15 000
WCG 2006 took place in Monza, Italy. The event was particularly successful for CIS contestants. Two players of USSR Team were able to reach finals and race against each other for the first prize. Alan “Alan” Enileyev and Nickolay “MrRASER” Frontov placed first and second respectively. Following the pattern, players were now competing in the next game of NFS series, namely Need For Speed Most Wanted, which was still conceptually continuing Underground. Those, willing to go back to 2006, can watch the replay of that race and feel all the intensity of emotions.
[WCG 2006 Grand Final — Need for Speed Final — Map1] USSRxAlan(RUS) vs USSRxMrRASER(RUS)
Need for Speed Most Wanted
BMW M3 GTR became an object of desire for the game fans
This successor game got us back from night streets to daylight in the city of Rockport. As can me deduced from its name, Most Wanted introduced player with a unique game mechanics in the form of police pursuits. They were done well and did not get in the way of the game’s plot, only making it more dynamic. Especially pleasant was to use impromptu means in order to end a pursuit (like staging or even a giant doughnut).
A new scale of cars was incorporated, which started with casual city vehicles and went all the way up to Lamborghinis and Porsches. This didn’t stand in the way of customizing experts, however, who were still managing to turn mediocre cars into works of art. Music was still awesome. Many songs and tracks of different genres were being listened to by fans over and over again.
TrackMania Nations — Hellevator
It would also be rude to leave out an arcade racing game, which used to be the main ESWC title for a long time. TrackMania series is known largely due to its track editing possibilities, which allowed users to create even more unique, complex and exciting maps, than Sheogorath from The Elder Scrolls ever could have. Anyway, you can’t describe this game, you should play it yourself in order to understand what true insanity means.
World Cyber Games 2007–2008
WCG 2008 opening ceremony
These years could be considered the pinnacle of racing e-sports. EA were unable to surprise anyone with their next part, Carbon and didn’t create any interesting features other than existing ones. The popularity of racing simulators in general and of NFS in particular began to drop, with fans switching to other types of games. Nevertheless, first WCG went under the tag “need for speed” and last year’s champion Alan only got himself bronze.
A year later EA decided to put aside their main game theme. Customizable and speedy cars were still at place, but now instead of insane runs in the night streets, the game offered a full-scale driving simulator on monotonous racing tracks. many fans blamed NFS for losing its spirit and turned their back on it. Back to competitive scene, USSR Team managed to adapt to the new meta game and showed amazing performance at WCG 2008, taking 2 first prizes once again. Nickolay “MrRASER” Frontov placed first, while his partner Valeriy “ProStreet” Nickolayev had to settle with silver. Together they won $15 000.
MrRASER is clearly happy with the tournament results
Alan "Alan" Enileyev
Аlan "Alan" Enileyev
ASUS Spring 2006 — 1 place
We can’t write this article without mentioning this guy. He’s the most titled and probably the most famous professional NFS player. A story of his life is amazing and somewhat magical, as it tells us how a virtual racer turned into a real one, sitting behind the wheel of his own car. He became especially famous in Russia during the Olympics of 2008, when he was given right to carry the Olympic flag. Later that year he retired from his gaming career and went on to work as a journalist with specialization in automobiles. He then tells his story for us in his 2014 post:
“After 6 months we have gathered a racing squad together with a great racer Andrey Boiko, we have found sponsors and then undless practice has begun. Tournaments in Russia, Europe, the dream has come true – circles on 964 Turbo with 700 horsepowers, rallies on EVO, ROTAXes, 340-horsepowered buggies...”
Currently Alan is writing blogs and telling about cars. Basically, he’s doing what he loves to do, which is worth a respect.
Admit it, you would want to swap places with him, wouldn't you?
At the moment
Need for Speed Gameplay Demo — E3 2015 — HD
What do we have now? Racing has taken a backseat in esports. Events are featuring MOBAs, FPS, RTS games and even card games. What might have caused this? Perhaps, the main difference between racing and other types of competitive games is a lack of what makes those games interesting in the first place – a comeback ability.
Any professional racer studies the track prefectly, he knows every inch, every turn and bump on the road. This consequently makes racing quite boring to watch, since spectators basically are waiting for someone to slip up. In a MOBA or FPS game, on the other hand, a single player of a losing team can turn the tide suddenly and unexpectedly. Moreover, variety of situations and actions makes those games more spectacular than monotonous racing.
But let’s not give up on racing as an esports title, as the new EA game was announced at E3, which was long awaited by fans and said to ideologically continue legendary Underground. It might become a savior of racing on the competitive scene. We are only left to wait and see it.