We sat down with Valerio Piersanti, Kunos Simulazioni’s Vice President of Marketing and Licensing for the Assetto Corsa franchise earlier this year for a chat about Assetto Corsa Competizione’s online racing success.
The interview was conducted by Traxion.GG’s Editor-in-Chief Thomas Harrison-Lord during the 2022 TotalEnergies 24 Hours of Spa earlier this year, centring on the game’s popularity within the esports community.
Assetto Corsa Competizione (ACC) is the official game of the GT3-based GT World Challenge series run by the Stephane Ratel Organisation (SRO). Not only is ACC the platform used for the official esports series of the GT World Challenge (GTWC), but it also forms the basis for hundreds of competitive online sim racing leagues, attracting thousands of players worldwide.
The majority of ACC’s peak average userbase of 5,000 will spend their time racing via sim racing community platforms such as the SimGrid, GridFinder, SimRacing.GP and Low Fuel Motorsport (LFM).
Professional esports series are also well-covered thanks to the likes of the SimGrid World Cup; the VCOxLFM FLExTREME series; as well as the flagship SRO Intercontinental GT Challenge Esports and SRO GT World Challenge Esports Europe/America/Asia series.
ACC is also used by professional racing drivers in the Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series – more on that later.
So why is ACC so popular with sim racers and esports stars alike?
The Doctor will see you now
“It’s not a game, it’s a sport. You see [esports] athletes train a lot with real manufacturers. I mean, a few flew here [Spa] – staff from manufacturers like Mercedes and Ferrari – they are really investing in this,” said Piersanti, getting to the crux of the matter.
“It’s a sport, it’s a language. And it’s not just about, ‘oh, let’s do something to spend time together,’ It’s really something [where] there’s an effort behind it and means something for the different companies [and people] involved”.
Piersanti clearly believes that ACC’s realism makes it an ideal basis on which to run esports events. The game has been lauded by sim racers for its authentic replication of the GTWC and sister SRO series such as the Intercontinental GT Challenge, British GT Championship and European GT4 Championship.
When viewing an SRO Esports broadcast on YouTube it’s not uncommon to see comments in the live chat like “which race is this?”, as viewers are convinced they’re watching real-world motorsports.
ACC’s immersivity is such that drivers have been known to use it as a race preparation tool: “We have more and more drivers training on ACC for real races. [For example] we had Valentino [Rossi] two days ago, talking about the fact that he didn’t have a much experience of Spa. So he used the game and we were proud because that is what the game is about – [realism]”.
Having legendary nine-time Grand Prix motorcycle world champion Valentino Rossi extolling the virtues of ACC is a source of great pride for Kunos, something Piersanti believes is derived from the small team’s collaborations with key people and organisations:
“We were working with third parties since the beginning. We are about community, we are also about the different companies that are invested at various levels. So the management system, the plugins – weather plugins – is something that for us is valuable, because we can learn something, we are always about improving. We are a small group of talented people… we have to select the best [collaborators]”.
Kunos outsourced some facets of ACC’s development to Artery Studios – which also worked extensively on Assetto Corsa – while talented community members have gradually been absorbed into the ACC development team. Kunos’ close working relationship with the SRO, AK Esports and Fanatec has also paid dividends in the form of the high-profile Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series.
Race like a pro
The series, first run in 2021, saw professional GTWC drivers compete against each other in on-site ACC events, with a race win earning five points in the real-world Teams’ championship; a perfect example of how Kunos, ACC and SRO are blurring the lines between motorsport and esports. So why does it all work so well? Piersanti explains:
“We have very purist developers who are really into the technical and sporting side… It keeps the game extremely pure as something that needs to be there for the people. It’s not about making the most money possible. You make more money because you are pleasing people and people are happy”.
Perhaps this is where Piersanti hits the nail on the head. Kunos has strived to develop a realistic simulation of GT3 racing and the GTWC series, intimating that design decisions were made to ensure the game was the best it could be, regardless of the effect on profit margins (which fortunately have been very positive for Kunos, publisher 505 Games and parent company Digital Bros).
ACC esports star James Baldwin best exemplified the esports/motorsport connection when he won the Spa round of the Fanatec Esports GT Pro Series before competing in the 24 Hours of Spa the following day in a real-world McLaren 720S GT3 (albeit Baldwin’s car suffered mechanical failure during the race).
From my own experiences of competing and practising for esports events with real-world drivers, the feedback on ACC is mostly complimentary in terms of the sound and feel of the cars. From Formula 1 race winners to GT3 drivers, all were impressed with ACC’s immersive sounds – especially the visceral noises created when traversing bumps and kerbs.
“That’s really the mission for Kunos. And we share this passion to break the barriers [between esports and motorsport] and we’re faithful [to that]. The theme with Kunos is really about [motorsport and esport] culture, and that’s something that… we share with our partners. We are able to build with SRO something that makes us proud”.
Looking to the future
And Kunos will continue to bring realistic GT racing to PC, Xbox X|S and PlayStation 5 beyond 2022, as the Fanatec GT2 European Series and 2023 GTWC Europe grids are set to be introduced to the game next year.
The downloadable content will comprise a total of 10 new car models, including the Ferrari 296 GT3; the latest evolution of the Lamborghini Huracán GT3 and the brand-new Maserati MC20 GT2.
As Kunos has learned, making ACC as realistic as possible has enhanced its reputation among the sim racing community, leading to healthy player numbers and esports series directly tied to the official SRO GTWC championships.
With more new categories and content on the way, ACC’s popularity is surely set to continue in 2023.