The F1 Esports Series semifinal took place in London last night, with 40 players
The top 20 are going to the grand final at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix next month
Some are actual racers, others want a career, while others are along for the ride
For those in attendance at the F1 Esports Series and the audience online, it was easy to forget that you weren't watching the real thing.
The Gfinity Esports Arena in London hosted the semifinal of the F1 Esports Series last night, where 40 of the world's top players on Codemasters' F1 2017 competed for the chance to go to the final in Abu Dhabi.ADVERTISEMENT>
The players raced over a number of heats, and the top 20 will be going through to the final next month at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix, the culmination of the actual F1 season.
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Which is fitting, because the presentation of the esport version of F1 is remarkably similar to its real life counterpart.
When the drivers aren't out on track, the host posed questions to analysts in the studio, which at the semifinal included former Formula 1 driver Karun Chandhok. When it was time to race, they handed over to the commentators, including former GP2 racer Davide Valsecchi.
The drivers themselves were in special racing pods high above the stage, lined up so the audience could see their faces and wiggling, shoe-less (and in some cases, completely barefoot) toes.
They weren't playing on normal gamepads, instead they were sitting in state of the art seats with pedals and racing wheels attached. Their lack of footwear was to get a better feel for the brake pedal.
It might be just a video game, but in most aspects, it's a hardcore simulation. The racers had to look after their tyres, make on the fly changes to brake balance, account for changing weather, and adjust their pit strategy accordingly.
The winner gets a 'money can't buy' experience, as Formula 1's global head of digital Frank Arthofer puts it. They'll get access to a Grand Prix next year, and their likeness will actually be put into next year's version of the game.
As for how Arthofer and the F1 team plans to get people watching the esports version, he hopes there will be a natural crossover. 'It's running on Sky's F1 channel, which suits itself to the crossover of fans.
'But the beautiful thing is the drivers in this sport. There's some crossover with what it's like to sit in a Formula 1 car. Obviously we don't have the g-force here today, but certainly there's some skill sets that overlap.'
And in fact, a number of the F1 2017 players have background in real life racing, and even have aspirations to enter the real world sport. Cem Bolukbasi, 19, from Istanbul has been competing in simulation racing games for four years, but he's also going to be racing in Formula 4 next year.ADVERTISEMENT>
'The whole goal is to be in real Formula 1,' said Bolukbasi, but he believes sim racing will be a stepping stone. 'Rather than doing 10 years of karting, you can do a couple of years of karting, and then mainly focus on sim racing to make the transition to real cars.'
But for others in the tournament, it's all about the esports aspect. Brendon Leigh is an 18 year old British sim racer, and he dominated the competition in his heats.
'If I can make a career out of it, I'll 100 percent go for it. Currently I'm a kitchen manager, but if the chance came where I could make money from this, I'd drop that in a heartbeat.'
|20 players going to Abu Dhabi|
|Brendon Leigh||Nicolo Fioroni|
|Igor Fraga||Patryk Krutyj|
|Maximilian Benecke||Allert Vanderwal|
|Tiziano Brioni||Gianfranco Giglioli|
|Harrison Jacks||Sonuc Saltunc|
|Salih Soltunc||Cedric Thome|
|Cem Bolukbasi||Alberto Foltran|
|Sven Zurner||Patrik Holzmann|
|Frederik Rasmussen||Joni Tormala|
|Mads Soerensen||Fabrizio Donoso Delagdo|
But, since the prize is just money can't buy for now, we'll need to wait for the future. Leigh says there needs to be a baseline salary, much like the upcoming Overwatch League will have, to make it worth it for the players.
At least he's aiming low for now. 'They need to have a £15,000 yearly salary to make it possible for people to quit their jobs.' Racing esports are just starting to take off, but in a few years we may start to see them earning far more, in line with the current biggest esports.
Leigh also has plans for the format a future competition could take. He envisions a future where an esports league takes place concurrently with the Formula 1 season, with races taking place during the same race weekends as their real life counterparts.
Meanwhile, for other players, it's enough just to be part of the experience. A nice story from the tournament was the qualification of two 17 and 21 year old brothers, Sonuc and Salih Saltunc.
Salih studies aerospace engineering at university, and Sonuc studies motorsport engineering, and they both have some background in kart racing.
'I'm going to continue doing both esports and study,' said Salih, 'and if there's a good opportunity I might jump over, but I definitely enjoy what I'm studying.'ADVERTISEMENT>
For Sonuc, esports will be a nice fallback if 'something goes wrong with college.'
They no longer live together, but they still practice with each other online, and Salih was very much acting as the big brother in the run up to the semifinals.
'I'm going to be honest, I didn't practice much for the semifinals,' said Sonuc.
'It was really frustrating!' Exclaimed Salih, 'he put hard work into the qualifying, but when the semifinals were coming up, he hardly did 10 percent of that.
'He told me to practice,' said Sonuc, 'he said you're not going to be able to qualify, and I did struggle in qualifying, but I managed to turn it around in the race.'
As for who's better, the young men are very diplomatic. 'He'll probably say he's better, I'll probably say I'm better, but we rate each other highly for sure,' said Salih. 'There are sometimes some arguments though.'
'I'll echo that,' said Sonuc.
But what is it like for the audience? When the real thing is on throughout the year, is there any reason to watch a video game version too? All you have to do to get the answer is to watch.
Visually, apart from the floating name banners above the cars on the track, F1 2017 looks incredibly realistic. These drivers are seriously good too, taking the correct racing lines and correcting any small mistakes with ease.
In fact, the semifinals were arguably more exciting than watching the real thing. In Formula 1, if they qualify well, the racers will often try and defend their position. If something goes wrong, there's always next race to recover.
But at the F1 Esports Series, there's no room for error. Not making it into the top 20 of the 40 participants means you're going home and you'll have to wait another year.
With this being the case, we saw seriously aggressive, wheel to wheel racing. The drivers dove down the inside line, late on the brakes, and the stewards had to make some important decisions regarding penalties for some of the maneuvers.
'This is better than going to an actual F1 race,' said Leigh. 'If you get a ticket and go, you see a driver every minute and a half, and you don't get to see anything other than a helmet and a car.
'Here you got to see their full emotion. In an F1 car they can't put a camera right next to your face.'
We got to see the elation of drivers when they qualified for the finals, and Leigh told stories of tears backstage from players who will be going home.ADVERTISEMENT>
In Abu Dhabi, when it's all on the line, it's going to be even more exciting.
Source : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/esports/article-4970284/amp/The-F1-Esports-Series-just-exciting-real-thing.html