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Esports

How Rennsport’s ESL R1 Series could shake up racing esports, forever

The upcoming ESL R1 sim racing virtual motorsport championship is like a best-of-compilation playlist from your favourite band. 

It combines some of the greatest sim racing teams and drivers with some of the biggest first-person shooter and competitive strategy game outfits, shuffling them together with historic racing venues plus one of the most popular racing categories in the world – GT3. 

On paper, this is could shake up racing esports forever. Here’s why… 

ESL R1 Spa 2023 preview

New platform 

First up, Rennsport. Despite sounding like a Porsche tuning specialist, this is an all-new sim racing platform from the nascent Competition Company GmbH. 

The new start-up is headed by CEO Morris Hebecker, who has formerly worked at Codemasters, and it aims to be a big player in serious virtual racing. 

While they have been continually developed, RaceRoom is 10 years old, rFactor 2 nine and iRacing 15. Rennsport is minus one, at present. 

Jernej Simončič logs in to Rennsport

It’s been too long since a ground-up take at a track-based PC driving sim has been launched, and even more fascinatingly, this one isn’t even scheduled for public release until the end of this year. 

So, we’ll get to witness its evolution, and even if there are issues in the early rounds of ESL R1, it’s all just growing pains – ultimately improving the product for you, the avid sim racer.

“We are in a developing process,” said Hebecker to Traxion.GG. 

“I would never say that there will not be an issue with our technical elements, we are in a process and that’s always risky. 

“But we feel quite confident. We have been testing the multiplayer since last year, a long time. 

“To be honest, there have been problems, but that’s development. We’re working on it and there are some new technical ideas we will bring in.” 

Morris Hebecker, RENNSPORT
RENNSPORT CEO Morris Hebecker (right)

New audience, too 

For existing driving game fans, a new platform is something to pontificate about on social media and demand specific cars and tracks for on forums. 

But what if you don’t give a flying monkey about racing esports? 

Well, we think that’s where ESL R1 is mostly targeted at. You’re young, you’re into gaming and so far, sim racing has been an elitist walled garden that sometimes seems a little intimidating. 

The opening round of the Spring Season will be held in Poland at the IEM Expo Katowice, part of the ESL Pro Tour. 

This is a popular and established Counter-Strike: Global Offensive tournament, held inside a stadium, with a live audience watching the world’s best first-person shooter players. It’s also streamed online to a passionate fanbase, with the teams and competitors building online personas. 

ESL R1 is there, and it’s this audience that will be exposed to sim racing, potentially for the very first time. 

“The EFG has great events all over the world,” said President of Sports Games, ESL FACEIT Group [EFG] Roger Lodewick to Traxion.GG. 

“It’s probably also one of the reasons why we do this cooperation [with Rennsport], because we have that coverage, and we also have the elements of connecting publishers with the audience. 

“So doing this in conduit at the IEM, where there are maybe 100,000 people coming, is a great opportunity for ESL R1 and Rennsport as a game to be exposed to a great audience.” 

ESL is the esports organisational body here – the clue is in the ESL R1 name – for this championship. Known for competitions that use CS:GO, DOTA 2 and Starcraft 2 among others, all it takes is one retweet from the main ESL account (over 850 thousand followers) or a share on its Facebook page (over two and a half million likes) about ESL R1 to potentially unlock a new racing esports audience. 

ESL Pro Tour IEM Poland

You have existing virtual racing competitions that aim to replicate the professionalism of real-world motorsport, there are massive online community races and now there’s a racing series to appeal to gamers. 

Each can co-exist and funnel more people into the sim racing scene. 

Massive teams

Speaking of which, while established sim racing stalwarts such as Williams Esports, BS+Competition and Coanda Esports will be on the grid, but so will MOUZ, FaZe Clan, FURIA and Heroic. 

If you’re only into motorsport, these could be new names to you. But if you’re into the gaming esports scene, they may be familiar. 

MOUZ ESL R1

Conversely, there’s a chance you’re watching this video as a fan of CS:GO tournaments and you’re asking if BS stands for bull… ahem. It doesn’t, it’s bürosüd plus, but that’s a story for another time. Sorry, Florian… 

Of the 12 teams for the first Spring season, which runs from February to May, eight have existing racing esports squads and four are general gaming esports teams. 

Apex Racing Team announces inaugural ESL R1 lineup

FURIA is a Brazilian team, mainly CS:GO experts but also competes in Apex Legends and Rocket League amongst others. FaZe Clan is so big it’s publicly listed on the NASDAQ, Heroic won the CS:GO BLAST Premier: Fall Finals in November and MOUZ is a German team that’s entering its 21st year. 

It’s like having a tournament with a mix of Premier League soccer teams and NFL giants. Liverpool vs the 49ers, head-to-head at hockey. Except… 

Top drivers 

…The gaming teams such as FaZe Clan and Heroic are expected to hire some of the most garlanded sim racers around. 

At the time of producing this video several expected announcements weren’t public – but Traxion.GG understands that prior Le Mans Virtual Series round winners, iRacing experts and Assetto Corsa Competizione champions will be on the grid, and with the new-to-racing outfits. 

MOUZ reveals world-beating line-up for its sim racing entry

MOUZ, for example, has recruited three-time ADAC GT Masters Esports champion Moritz Löhner, Le Mans Virtual Series round winner Yuri Kasdorp, iRacing Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup race winner Patrik Holzmann and the first driver ever to hit an iRating of over 11,000 Maximilian Benecke. 

Of course, being a new platform for every driver, that presents a tremendous opportunity for up-and-coming talent to take on established reputations. 

Fresh format 

Trying to balance grizzled sim racing aficionados’ interests, but also soak up new fans, the format is a mix of old and new. 

The BMW, Porsche, Mercedes-AMG and Audi GT3 cars are tried and tested, even if the game isn’t. A formula seen on every current virtual platform, the vehicles offer little in the way of ‘newness’, but they are at least relatable and pave the way for manufacturer-backed teams – which all but Audi has committed to so far. 

BMW M Team BS+Competition, ESL R1 lineup, Rennsport

If the cars are little beige, the format won’t be. 

With 48 drivers split into groups, a short qualifying session will decide the grid order for 20-minute races without pitstops. Only the top six, based purely on finishing position, will go through to the quarter finals, then the semi-finals and then the final. 

Traxion.GG has seen this in action at the Rennsport Summit 1 in May 2022, and even partaken in a test competition. It was fraught, as the threat of being knocked out almost immediately led to some elbows-out racing and chaotic rounds. 

Enzo Bonito Team Redline, Autosport Awards 2022
Enzo Bonito, Team Redline (right) won the test Rennsport Summit

Let’s just say, we don’t think there will be dull race, but we also wouldn’t want to be the stewards… 

Money, Money, Money 

How do you incentivise some of the most renowned sim racing drivers to take part on an unproven platform? 

Half a million euros, of course. 

There will be two seasons of ESL R1 in 2023. The aforementioned Spring Season, but then also an Autumn Season starting in August and ending in November, this time at the DreamHack Winter Jönköping event in Sweden. 

ESL R1 prize pool

Now, following clarification, it’s not 500 thousand euros for each season, but rather that’s the total prize pool across both seasons and a breakdown of how that’s distributed is yet to be publicly revealed. 

What is clear, however, is that after eight rounds, the 24 top-ranked drivers will advance to an ESL R1 Major where one ESL R1 champion will be determined. 

Traxion.GG will be on-site in February for the first two rounds in-person and then covering every round throughout the year. Each round will be live-streamed on the ESL R1 Twitch, TikTok and YouTube feeds too. 

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