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TRE ‘ColuJM’: A retrospective look at Motor-eSports during COVID-19 pandemic

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Jimmie Johnson (48) leads Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (8) and Daniel Suarez (96) at Dover International Speedway on May 3rd, 2020. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

Editors Note: This is a follow up to TRE ‘ColuJM’: Time for NASCAR eSports to shine, written before the eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series  and INDYCAR Challenge both came into existence.

I’m glad it happened.

I wish it could have been better, but for the growth of Motor-eSports, this is just the beginning, and so many eyes saw the potential of it.

Back in March, after the COVID-19 pandemic shut it all down, I was so hopeful to see it happen.

I pleaded my case that NASCAR and the powers that be should put iRacing on TV, and by gosh, the madmen actually did it, and went above and beyond anyone’s expectations.

The fact that NASCAR, iRacing, and FOX Sports were able to come together so quickly, and get a fantastic product, the eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series, on our television screens for six of the past seven weekends, is absolutely incredible.

Not only NASCAR, but IndyCar also did a phenomenal job together with NBC Sports and iRacing to put on the INDYCAR Challenge series on Saturday afternoons.

All in all, as a fan of these series in real life, watching the stars in the real world jump into a virtual cockpit and contend against one another in an unfamiliar situation was really fun to witness.

Seeing the current eNASCAR stars, like Keegan Leahy teaching Denny Hamlin, or Ray Alfalla getting on the box for Jimmie Johnson, or Nick Ottinger strategizing for William Byron, or Michael Conti spotting for Kevin Harvick, that was probably the best part about it all.

It’s been a whirlwind since it started, and there have definitely been a few career-altering bumps in the road for a driver or two.

The market became oversaturated, as well. Everyone saw the successes of the programming, and wanted a piece of the action.

Could there have been too much of a good thing, taking away from what was special about the original deal on Sundays?

Yeah… for sure. Sad.

I hate to feel even a little bit that way, because I know how much it means to the good folks at iRacing to have all that interest and popularity, and to also be able to deliver during a time where people desperately needed a break from the real-world issues.

As someone who has been covering the eNASCAR side of the world for the past few years, and got huge opportunities of a lifetime before and especially during this crazy time because of my experience, it got to a point where I, and others, just needed to take a step back from things.

I wanted to cover it all, but there was too much.

All of these Motor-eSports were running my life, and not to say at all that it was such a bad thing, but I had to juggle it all, along with my real job, my family life, and also the suffering and recovering from the virus as well.

It definitely took a toll on me. Probably the virus more than anything, but even talking with others that have been on the eSports beat for a minute, they too felt the pressure and stresses that came with this time.

On top of all of that, when the drivers went rogue, in what was supposed to be a serious situation, and adversely, drivers getting super serious in what was supposed to be laid back and entertainment, kind of ruined the immersion factor as well.

There is absolutely NO WAY in the real world that Simon Pagenaud track sits and waits on Lando Norris at one of the fastest and most dangerous tracks in the world and puts himself in that type of danger, and no way Santino Ferrucci hooks a left into Oliver Askew’s car coming to the line because it was good for TV.

Yet they both did that anyway, and in my opinion, ruined a fantastic run had by the whole IndyCar community during their iRacing series.

I really don’t mean to air my grievances in this ‘ColuJM’, but it’s important to me that I get them off my chest.

Let’s switch it up, because there were plenty of positives as well.

The realism of iRacing, which is more than just a video game, was portrayed immensely during both the NASCAR and IndyCar stints.

Millions have tuned in for the eNASCAR broadcasts, while hundreds of thousands have watched the INDYCAR Challenge during this time.

Other sports have been trying to garner interest, like NBA utilizing their 2K franchise, or the NFL going on with their Madden game, but that’s just it. Those are games. Players hold a controller and sit on their couch.

Don’t get me wrong, the skill it takes to succeed at those games, and any video game, should be celebrated, but just because someone can get a high kill-to-death ratio in Call of Duty doesn’t mean they should enlist for the military.

iRacing translates like no other game out there, which is why they brand themselves as a ‘Motorsports Simulation’ program.

Yes, having knowledge and experience already on the simulator has proven to be a winning combination with drivers like William Byron, Sage Karam, Lando Norris, and Timmy Hill, but drivers have adapted to become successful in their virtual version of a racecar, like Denny Hamlin, Simon Pagenaud, and Alex Bowman.

Even drivers who haven’t found the virtual victory lane have shown huge improvements during this time, like Kyle Busch, Scott Dixon, and Brad Keselowski, all champions in the real world, all able to adapt to what is given to them to succeed as best they can.

Another great aspect is all the overtime that iRacing has been putting into making their services better during this time.

Besides adding new graphics to tracks that were scanned years ago, iRacing has also been adding features to cars, such as the name/sponsor section inside the cockpits to help broadcasts know whose car they are riding along with, or adding SAFER barriers added to tracks that didn’t have them back when they were scanned.

iRacing is also adding new content, like the North Wilkesboro Speedway that is expected to be released soon, as the eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series is scheduled to conclude there on Saturday afternoon.

On top of the in-game features, iRacing has also added multiple servers around the world to help battle latency and internet issues during the increased workload added during this time.

When it’s all said and done, the service will be better off for it, which can only enhance the content we get from all of the series that will continue when things start to get back to normal.

Whether I agree about going back to the real track too soon or not, I’m glad it’s happening. I want this pandemic to end sooner than later, and maybe, just maybe, coming back in two weeks can be a good thing. We will see.

People have seen mostly the good in Motor-eSports, in iRacing’s potential, and I’m confident that although there will be some drop off, the interest will continue to be steady throughout the continuation of the 2020 NASCAR Cup Series season.

There were plenty of comparisons of this sim racing bump to the 1979 Daytona 500, and although I don’t entirely agree, I do believe this is the beginning of something bigger down the line for the Motor-eSports community.

Good, bad, or otherwise, it was a privilege as a Motorsports fan to have so much done virtually for us by all the Motorsports series, iRacing, and all the broadcasters, even those on smaller platforms, to bring us something to enjoy during these past few weeks.

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Nick Ottinger leads the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series event at Dover International Speedway on April 28th, 2020. Photo by Justin Melillo / TRE via iRacing.com.

 

DISCLAIMER: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

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Justin Melillo View All

Columnist / Reporter / Photographer / Webmaster for TheRacingExperts.com

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