As we near the first ESL R1 event, the organisers have clarified that drivers and teams are not signed to ESL exclusivity deals, and its down to them as to where they also participate.
As I sit here today in the north of England typing this article, we’re in the midst of both ESL R1 driver announcements and a whirlwind of online speculation.
It’s the 25th January, and the first in-person LAN event using the upcoming Rennsport title is just 17 days away.
Let’s not beat around the bush, a new game, big events at existing esports competitions and €500,000 up for grabs must be tempting for anyone trying to make a living from driving competitively.
Throw in some car manufacturer-backed teams, and I think you’d be mad not to grab the opportunity with both hands if you’re talented enough.
I’m a firm believer that competition is good for the end consumer i.e. you. Some members of the sim racing fraternity, however, disagree. They like what they know, and it can all get a bit tribal.
So when the spate of ESL R1 driver lineups so far includes some of the best iRacing, RaceRoom, rFactor 2 and Assetto Corsa Competizione drivers around and signs them up for two seasons of racing that includes 18 rounds, fans start to get concerned that talent is being ‘pulled away’ from their favourite.
But, thankfully, competitors in this new tournament will not be exclusive to the ESL.
“From our point of view, they are able to also drive other racing events, yes,” says Roger Lodewick, President of Sports Games at ESL FACEIT Group (ESG) to Traxion.GG.
“It’s dependent on the team. So the teams have the agreements with the drivers, it’s up to them to sort that.”
However, it’s not just the drivers that need to be clarified. MOUZ, FaZe Clan, FURIA and Heroic are existing ESL Pro League competing teams, across titles such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and StarCraft II.
These outfits are new to sim racing, so are they only going to be competing in ESL R1? For example, Maximilian Benecke has qualified for the 2023 Porsche Esports Supercup on iRacing but has left Team Redline for MOUZ.
If the new-to-sim racing teams secure top talent, and then only compete on Rennsport, it could be viewed in a negative light.
“A similar answer like with the drivers,” explains Lodewick.
“It’s up to the teams themselves, they can also participate in other racing series.”
So, it’s clear then. We may see some drivers eschewing existing series and platforms just to focus on the intense schedule of ESL R1. But it wouldn’t be because ESL says they must only race on Rennsport, it would be down to choice – either their own or their team’s.
“With our long-time Pro League partner ESL, one of the world’s premier esports event organizers taking care of the new, ambitious and exciting project ESL R1, as well as VCO and other endemic organisers, we now have a good framework to build upon and one we believe in,” reads the MOUZ sim racing press release.
Note specifically, the “as well as VCO and other endemic organisers” section.
Now there’s another team, with a strong foundation of management and sponsorship, that can push the boundaries of competitive sim racing across all platforms. Would that have happened without the ESL R1 competition? I strongly doubt it.
Ultimately, it’s down to the organisers of other sporting events and platform developers to do enough to entice the talent their way.
As we’ve seen – and I’m almost nervous to write this due to tribalistic vitriol over the past couple of weeks – with the recent 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual and iRacing VCO Daytona 24, there’s no wiggle room for complacency, and ESL R1 could turn that screw even harder.
More than ever, the teams and drivers have the bargaining power on their side.