F1 Esports Series off to flying start as Formula 1 continues to navigate new world of Esports

The inaugural F1 Esports Series Pro Draft has been a success according to Julian Tan, Formula 1’s head of growth and F1 Esports. The 2018 Pro Series Championship is the second F1 Esports series, following on the heels of last year’s trial that got an overwhelmingly positive response from fans. This series is the first time a Pro Draft has been used, with the official F1 racing teams taking part to select the best players from the qualifiers.

Tan told SVG Europe that the second F1 Esports Series pro draft had been, “massively successful”. In a nod to that success, the F1 Esports Series has won the Outstanding Digital Achievement Award at the 2018 SVG Europe Sport Production Awards. He noted: “We have all teams except Ferrari take part, but we’re in discussions with them at the moment.”

As to why Ferrari opted not to be the tenth team in the line up, Tan said: “There are multiple reasons. Esports is growing very, very quickly, and some people are a bit apprehensive and want to see how it plays out before they jump in head first.” He added: “We have a good relationship with Ferrari, and hopefully they’ll be onboard for next season.”

Growing potential

Formula 1, due to its recent acquisition by Liberty Media in 2015, has seen a huge transformation. The digital department is one that never really existed before. One of the priorities for Liberty Media was to look at how F1 could expand and build on the potential of Formula 1 and expand its audience, which led to its announcement in August 2017 that it was moving into Esports.

Last year, with the launch of the official Formula 1 game, the competition also launched to find the fastest drivers to take forward to the first ever F1 Esports Series championships. Altogether, 62,000 people took part in the first round. This year, despite the game coming up to a year old, the first draft still attracted 66,000 players globally.

Tan commented that the number gamers attracted to the now ‘old’ game was good: “The number of people taking part in the second series was a great result for us. In Esports you’re hugely dependent on the game itself. Last year the qualifications launched at the same time as the game, which helped generate excitement around the Championship. This year the game was nine months old when the qualifications began, which is ancient in Esports. Also this year we chose to make it a little more challenging with the track and conditions, which will inadvertently have a slight impact on numbers taking part.”

Learning curve

F1 is still learning about Esports, which is a completely different game to the ‘real’ world of F1. For instance, it is now looking at how to balance the start of the F1 season with the release of the new editions of the game and the start of the Esports qualifications to get maximum impact and excitement around the draft. The new game, F1 2018, was launched last week on 24 August.

Tan explained: “The F1 calendar starts in March, but the game comes out in the middle of the year. We’re thinking bout 2019 and 2020 now, formulating ideas around future series and how to tie the excitement around the official F1 game to get mass participation. We need people talking about the game and playing it. It’s an interesting area for us that we’re navigating right now.”

Pro Draft paces

The initial 40 Pro Draft Qualifiers were put through their paces during a three day assessment at Silverstone, with a series of challenges and interviews testing everything from fitness and stamina to reaction times and real world driving.

The drivers were then selected at the first Pro Draft in the F1 series by representatives from the nine F1 teams in early July at a live event at the Gfinity Arena in London, which was streamed live, attracting 850,000 viewers. Amongst the hopeful gamers, Red Bull’s Max Verstappen and Toro Rosso’s Pierre Gasly, as well as F1 Chairman and CEO, Chase Carey and managing director of commercial operations, Sean Bratches were also in attendance.

The F1 teams selected a total of 16 drivers from nine countries to move forward with them to the Pro Series Championship (teams had to select at least one driver from the Pro Draft, and a maximum of three, with each team consisting of two drivers for the upcoming Championships).

Additionally, to keep momentum going while the teams are on summer break, again mirroring the real world F1 season, F1 has created a four part series that charts the story of the process, from assessment days at Silverstone before the British Grand Prix right through to the live selection show, that is being broadcast on Facebook and selected TV broadcasters.

Tan commented: “We’ve given the teams a couple of months to finalise their driver rosters and activate around their drivers. Sauber are activating their teams – building characters, profiles and generating interest – next Wednesday at the Milan Fan Festival that precedes the Italian Grand Prix. Mercedes, McLaren and Team India have already announced their rosters. Others will finalise theirs in early September.”

At the Pro Series Championship, the esports drivers will compete in a series of virtual races on the official F1 video game, F1 2018 by Codemasters for the honour of becoming the 2018 F1 Esports Driver World Champion. They will also be fighting for their F1 team to be crowned the 2018 F1 Esports Team Champion, mirroring the accolades on the grid. With three live events in London, the final will be held in November.

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