Later this week, the sim racing and first-person-shooter communities will come together to watch a new take on virtual motorsport.
A lot has been said about ESL R1 already, yet also somehow, not quite enough. The proof will be in the racing itself, and arguably not at the first event either – but as the championship progresses, evolves and grows a fanbase.
Unlike most other racing esports competitions, it will be a testbed.
Rennsport – a fresh sim racing challenger, developed by start-up the Competition Company – will be the platform of choice for ESL R1, ahead of established titles such as iRacing or Assetto Corsa Competizione.
A bold call, that brings with it a degree of scepticism, simply because the majority of viewers, commentators and content creators simply haven’t driven it yet, and perhaps won’t be able to for some time.
“It’s one of the things when we work with publishers, particularly new publishers, we look at what’s behind it, what’s their ambition,” says President of Sports Games, ESL FACEIT Group [EFG] Roger Lodewick to Traxion.GG.
“I think one of the cool things that really got us was also the fact that there [Rennsport] is a new publisher, and they really value what esports can bring.
“This was really an opportunity to work together with a publisher and to really create those ends in the most optimum way. That’s why we really bought into the idea and the philosophy that they have, in general how they see esports and how they see the whole game being developed with this in mind.”
This hasn’t been the work of a moment. We first tested Rennsport at its Summit gathering in Munch, May 2022 and it was there we learnt more about the ESL partnership, nine months ahead of the first competitive event.
In fact, that launch was an early testbed for the in-person local area network (LAN) knock-out event, which is the format used for its first serious race at the Intel Extreme Masters, Poland.
The game had already been long in development before we saw it last year, and the ESL partnership was already signed and sealed.
“As we said at the Summit and before, we have been in contact with ESL for a super long time,” says Morris Hebecker, Founder and CEO at Rennsport.
“We showed our concept and the idea of really creating a new game years before. Since then, we were in contact with ESL.”
“We have been speaking over the last two and a half years, working on esports. It’s just great to work with ESL with all its knowledge, working with the best esports team in the world. It’s a long journey.”
The Competition Company and the ESL FACEIT Group are two separate entities, and remain resolutely so, which has been a misconception online recently.
But, they do work closely together on this new venture.
“It is rare that you come across an opportunity to work with somebody where the backing that the company has, the ambition that the company has plus how they also see esports working with that, almost makes the fact that the game is not yet launched as a consumer product irrelevant,” says Lodewick.
“I’m super excited to see once the game is launched, and the esports actually creates lots of excitement about it.
“It’s not really something of a risk, I think we really saw it as a great opportunity to work with somebody to build something from the start.”
That’s the pivotal framing of ESL R1 and Rennsport, that bears repeating. On the one hand. It could be easy to look at this as an unorthodox approach, using a platform several months away from completion for an esports event.
On the other, they are using esports as a development platform, leaning on some of the world’s best driving talent like James Baldwin, Nils Naujoks and Yuri Kasdorp to help develop it, before consumers get to try it.
In addition, four real-world car manufacturers backing teams: BMW, Mercedes-AMG and Porsche.
Despite the high expectations, Rennsport is keeping its feet firmly on the ground ahead of the debut events.
“We develop a new platform, and that cost us a lot of time because we really start from zero,” says Hebecker.
“This platform allows a LAN event and also the online multiplayer sessions we plan to do in the season.
“We are in a developing process and I would never say that there will not be maybe issues with our technical things. So we are in the process and that’s always risky.
“But we feel quite confident. We are in our timeline, we are testing the multiplayer since last year.
“To be honest, we have dealt with problems and that’s development. We’re working on it. There are some really new technical ideas we bring in and that’s also a thing we have to learn.”
Let’s not forget that the event this coming weekend is just the beginning. The opening two rounds in Poland will be followed by six online-only events, culminating in the second Rennsport Summit in May for another LAN gathering.
But that’s just the Spring Season, the Fall Season follows this year too, starting in August and culminating at the DreamHack Winter Jönköping event in Sweden, November. It’s going to be a busy year for the teams, drivers and developers alike.
“My biggest wish is that all the drivers and the teams are happy and say ‘okay, that was the sporting we really wait for and we really enjoyed being part of the season,’” continues Hebecker.
“So this is this is what I wish most and it would be great to have a lot of viewers on the channels, we all know it’s not that easy to create and we have to take our time to establish it.”
“I’m just very excited to get it out there to get to see people’s faces when we share the structure and the stage when we do the broadcast,” enthuses Lodewick.
“Particularly in Katowice and see people say ‘wow, what is this?’
“I think to me, that’s the moment when we see that people buy into the product.”
With the inaugural ESL R1 beginning on the 11th-12th February, Traxion.GG will be reporting live and throughout the year to see if the team pulls off the audacious plan.