McLaren, known to be a pillar in motorsports with slick supercars and a highly reputable legacy both on and off the track, has racked up more than a few firsts.
And while the powerhouse may not have been the first one to dive into the virtual world, with the creation of McLaren Shadow, the established racing company recognizes the importance of esports to the future of the automotive industry.
Especially from a fan engagement perspective.
“We were one of the first teams—not the first team—to embrace esports,” said Lindsey Eckhouse, the Director of Licensing and Ecommerce and Esports at McLaren Racing for over 18 months now, to Traxion.GG.
The “confluence” of the virtual world meeting the real world is a crucial pillar to the success of the video games for McLaren Racing since it places users in the hypothetical driver’s seat of a Formula 1 car.
“There’s an amazing amount of fan engagement, but also potentially driver development, that we can build through this sort of esports gaming angle with F1.”
Beyond F1, the McLaren brand is visible in more games than meets the eye. One of the most recent projects features actual building blocks, like those in the popular game-creation platform, Roblox, which just so happens to garage a beautiful MCL 36: McLaren’s F1 car this year.
“In the spirit of pioneering, which is one of our sort of core brand attributes, let’s figure out how we can continue to push the boundaries and be first from a F1 perspective.
“The whole kind of ethos behind it was really fan-first. How can we allow the fans that are already using Roblox, or new fans to come into Roblox, to drive the MCL 36 before even Lando [Norris] or Danny [Ricciardo] do this year?”
Fans from all over the world can virtually experience the McLaren Technology Centre in an entertaining way inside the Roblox platform. Just like Netflix’s Drive to Survive documentary opened the door to a broader audience, placing the McLaren supercar into the global gaming franchise is essentially another window into the world of racing.
It’s an even bigger pool of fans from different touchpoints who come together to enjoy the legendary motorsport label in unique ways.
Eckhouse says there’s huge value in an esports audience. As we’ve all seen from a driver’s perspective, too, just how much of an impact the gaming industry has on the masses. Norris, who boasts 1.3 million followers on Twitch, is a prime example of real-world meets virtual.
“There’s a balance, we believe, in terms of ensuring we show in the right places versus a little bit overextending the brand to just be everywhere. Because we still want to be premium; we still want to be kind of perceived as this very pioneering technologically led brand, but show up in areas that you wouldn’t expect,” said Eckhouse in the latest Traxion.GG podcast.
In the wider picture of esports, McLaren Racing has been at the top of its game. With Lucas Blakely leading the driver’s standing in F1 Esports, winning is engrained in the brand, as well.
“For us right now, F1 Esports is that core foundation that gives us real authenticity to speak to that esports and gaming audience.
At the end of the day, we looked at the kind of impact on the business, the impact on fan creation and fan acquisition engagement, and F1 Esports just far and away outperforms the other series that, at the time, we competed in.”
Looking forward, the McLaren Shadow brand evaluates its virtual involvement in different ways that stay true to the brand and business. Fan engagement is essential, of course. Eckhouse refers to working with partners, such as Logitech and its G Challenge, on the grassroots side of sim racing while also continuing to cater to their most avid fans who enjoy watching McLaren’s F1 Esports product.
“Sim racing is so like the real world that it really allows people to experience what it is like to be in an F1 car from the comfort of their home. The benefit of that and opportunity of that offers participation and this sort of test your hand, see what it’s like to drive around Spa or some of these incredibly historic circuits around the world.”
They may not have been the first to fasten their seatbelts in esports, but McLaren Racing truly is a force in sim sports, and we’re excited to see just how far their shadow reaches virtually.