Prior Convictions: Why eSports can't win

The concept is a decade old but the headline is still the same: "Can a Gran Turismo gamer race cars for real?!"

Of course they can?! Wait, those punctuation marks are probably superfluous. But it's telling that even Nissan is still finding the urge to use them, a decade after it launched its GT Academy, which began in 2008 and has been putting its winners - who entered the Academy through their competence on the PlayStation game Gran Turismo - into real-life races ever since. And it works: Lucas Ordonez, the winner of that 2008 competition, has twice finished on the LMP2 podium at Le Mans.

Still it goes on, too. The video below shows, yet again, former gamers at work in real racing cars. It was uploaded this week by NISMO, Nissan's performance arm, and although is of last year's Dubai 24h race, it's still a decent watch.

It features the 2016 GT Academy winner, Johnny Guindi, who was put into a GT4 class Nissan 370Z just 12 weeks after he won the competition, alongside three other, more experienced GT Academy graduates.

There are lows, there are highs and, alright, we're not talking Paddington 2 levels of inducing a tear to the eye here, but he makes his mum proud and it's evident that with the lows can come consequences. Nissan is in the business of racing real cars so it can win races and flog road cars, and the Academy is a meritocracy. If you're slow or you crash a lot, that's unhelpful. I've seen the training in action and it's good; there's world-class analysis and support, but it's honest, too. Even if you win the competition but it turns out you're not up to the job, they won't keep you on as a 'NISMO athlete'. And, unlike most of the rest of motorsport, you can't buy your seat.

GT Academy's success has made it the highest profile racing eSport, but there are other competitions, too. Next month's Race Of Champions will have a sub-segment for five winners of the world's biggest eSports racing competitions, and the winner of that race-off will get to compete in the competition-proper where I suspect, without the kind of training GT Academy provides, they'll get a kicking. But we'll see.

Anyway. OK. There's a driver here, a line-up in a GT race there. Online racing - getting in some of your 10,000 hours of perfect practice from within the confines of your front room - still doesn't give you as big a chance of making it as a racing driver as karting and a shed-load of cash does. But it does mean you compete on a more level field, because money doesn't talk.

And while gamers are not exactly dominating the world of motor racing, it's telling, isn't it? eSports are on the up, and real racer numbers are on the down. During the past decade, the number of MSA race licence holders in the UK has decreased by 3,000, or 10 per cent, and almost 90 per cent of those who have a licence are over the age of 21. Racing can be cripplingly expensive, you can spend £100k a year doing a junior karting series, and motorsport, unlike most youth sports, isn't founded on the principles of finding and nurturing young talent: race teams exist primarily to make a living. If the kids you've got in your karts happen to be quick, so much the better, but their ability to pay the bills is the most important bit.

Motorsport, though, was always thus. It has never been very democratic or meritorious, but we all know and accept that. And no matter how inexorable the rise of eSports, that will probably not change, as the fact that Nissan still needs to headline its videos 'can gamers race?' suggests. But it does make the nature of real racing ever more uncomfortably obvious.


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Comments (13) Join the discussion on the forum

  • havoc 12 Jan 2018

    article said: can spend £100k a year doing a junior karting series.

    WTAF? Given that's supposed to be 'entry level' motorsport, how is that even possible, let alone justifiable???

  • SystemParanoia 12 Jan 2018

    I like how the only BAME driver wasn't named. rolleyes

    Jann Mardenborough - GT Academy 2011 winner

  • Joeigglypuff 12 Jan 2018

    'eSports' is a glaring error - there's no capital S. Irrelevant to the article but it is lazy journalism about a hugely popular media/industry, which this article I feel makes the mistake of dismissing as something for 'nerds' and kids. Millions of viewers will disagree!

    Regardless of the above, I think it's an interesting avenue in to motorsport. In my mind it'd be a lot better if racing teams had talent rather than walking sponsorship deals in their seats.

  • 99dndd 12 Jan 2018

    SystemParanoia said:
    I like how the only BAME driver wasn't named. rolleyes

    Jann Mardenborough - GT Academy 2011 winner
    19 of the 21 graduates from all parts of the world weren't named.

    Your point?

  • mko9 12 Jan 2018

    99dndd said:
    SystemParanoia said:
    I like how the only BAME driver wasn't named. rolleyes

    Jann Mardenborough - GT Academy 2011 winner
    19 of the 21 graduates from all parts of the world weren't named.

    Your point?
    There are two pictures with a total of four people in them. None of them are identified. What is you point?

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