The Supercars Championship Eseries held its first virtual event on Wednesday night, as real-world sports continue moving online to entertain fans and keep players busy.
Used to putting their bodies on the line as they drive around Australian tracks at 200km/h, professional supercar drivers instead jumped into their home simulator setups and raced against their peers online.
Ford’s Scott McLaughlin won two out of three races in the inaugural Supercars Championship Eseries event which was filled with plenty of crashes and comical gravity-defying spills on the iRacing PC sim.
Mark Winterbottom, a frontrunner for much of the race, had high praises for the race that is keeping professional drivers in form during these unprecedented times.
“It’s a great concept that Supercars has done to keep our sport alive,” he said.
“It’s so different to the real thing and it’s quite difficult when I hadn’t done any sim racing before so it was all new this week.
“It’s as close to the real thing you can get and while we’re in isolation, it keeps our eye in and keeps us practicing our race craft.”
Winterbottom’s teammate, Scott Pye, said he enjoyed the viewer feedback on video game streaming platform Twitch.tv.
“The interaction with the fans on Twitch was really cool and we were able to give everyone a reason to smile in what is a difficult time for most people,” Pye said.
“The races were fun and they got crazier as the night went on, especially at Monza where the long straights and big stop were always going to bring on more accidents."
Wednesday’s races were the first in a series that Supercars is putting on while motorsports are suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Roughly eight rounds will make up the virtual championship which is being broadcast every Wednesday on Fox Sports and the Ten network, as well as social media platforms.
Sports become esports
The Supercar Eseries follows the lead of other major sporting brands around the world which have moved to online competitions in the past month.
Premier Spanish soccer competition, La Liga, went virtual in March with players duking it out on FIFA 20 in front of a million viewers on Twitch.
US sports moved quickly onto their virtual counterparts once the coronavirus made playing sports unviable with NBA players competing in a 1v1 tournament on NBA 2K.
NASCAR also moved online using the same iRacing platform as the Supercars Eseries.
The US esports race had bizarre real-world consequences this week when a sponsor dropped one of its racers after he rage quit.
“We’re interested in drivers, not quitters,” Blue-Emu said in a tweet about the incident.
GTK where you stand. Bye bye Bubba. We're interested in drivers, not quitters.— Blue-Emu (@BlueEmu1) April 5, 2020
The move online has also seen gamblers move to virtual and esports to get their fix.
One site in the US reported seeing a massive spike in esports betting recently – going from one per cent of all bets made up to 35 per cent.
Ebbe Groes, CEO of sports betting company EveryMatrix, told Wired that the sudden disappearance of physical sporting events had been “a bloodbath”.
“The betting volume for regular sports events dropped about 80 per cent as there was nothing left to bet on,” he said.
“That’s when we turned to esports.”
Other esports – not built to replicate real-world counterparts – have also seen a recent explosion in popularity.
Riot Games’ new competitive shooter, Valorant, broke Twitch’s record for viewers in a single day when it clocked 34 million hours’ worth of viewing on Twitch yesterday, despite still being in beta.