Car races are decided on the track. That will continue to be the case in the future. But virtual contests are on the rise. Welcome to the world of eSports.
"Curtains!” yells Lars Kern as his
Kern is a test and development driver at
The contestants are also another story in the world of eSports. One example would be “aTTaX Johnson”—also known as Niklas Krellenberg—who at twenty-seven is already a world rally champion on the Xbox gaming console. He steers his
Krellenberg is a new type of athlete. He doesn’t lift weights or send balls of any type flying across a court. Soccer players have amazing legs; race-car drivers are said to require extraordinary muscles in their buttocks. For gamers like Krellenberg, the eyes and hands are what count. Their fingers can perform up to five hundred actions per minute.
Next goal: the Olympic Games
For some time now eSport tournaments have been filling arenas—but are these competitions really sports? “Of course they are,” says Krellenberg. “I do more than sports shooters, for example.” Athletic associations are beginning to share this view. In 2022 eSports will be a medal event at the Asian Games, and the International Olympic Committee is considering whether to include them at the Summer Games in Paris in 2024. This is hardly surprising. Worldwide sales of computer games exceeded one hundred billion U.S. dollars in 2016—more than the global film and music industries combined. Some 2.2 billion people compete regularly in these games. The best of them can live off the sport—quite well, in fact. They’re organized in professional teams, draw set salaries, and win high levels of prize money. Tournaments for League of Legends, a role-playing team game, can award millions of dollars to the winners.
Soccer clubs like VfL Wolfsburg in Germany’s Bundesliga have begun to add eSport teams to their organizations. “We want to reach young people with our programs,” explains Tim Schumacher, the club’s general manager. And of course there’s also a strong interest in “developing new marketing fields.” So Wolfsburg became the world’s first soccer club to offer contracts to eSport players.
Twenty-five-year-old Benedikt Saltzer and twenty-year-old Timo Siep, who have both won multiple German championships, have signed one-year contracts with the Wolfsburg team. “It’s growing very quickly,” says Saltzer, who lives off his skill with a controller, as does Siep. The trend has caught on throughout the sector. More pro clubs have followed suit and a virtual soccer league might just be a question of time. “That would be cool,” says Siep.
E-racing hasn’t made it that far yet. “But it certainly pays for my studies,” notes Krellenberg. During crucial periods he trains up to eight hours a day and is convinced that he’ll eventually be rewarded for his efforts. “It’s just starting to take off, and the momentum is unstoppable,” he says.
Model presentation at a gaming fair
Professional structures are also starting to appear in motorsports. In the summer of 2017
“The gaming sector means a lot to us, because it enables us to provide an emotional and interactive brand experience to a young and extensive target group,” explains Sebastian Hornung,
eSports are gaining in relevance
Digital developments and rapidly accelerating process speeds have brought virtual racing to the attention of the traditional racing scene. “The lines between the two fields are starting to blur,” says Frank-Steffen Walliser,
What’s new are the possibilities for training drivers. How can young talent be encouraged? Console games can help address this question, says Walliser, because “many e-racers have acquired a very good foundation.” A virtual
Despite major advances in virtual racing, everyone recognizes that they’re different from racing in physical form. “The sense of speed isn’t the same; you can’t compare it with accelerating a real car,” says Kern. It’s difficult to convey that type of sensation in a virtual setting. The textures, spatial relations, and smells of a race car also play very special roles. “Which is why classic motorsports will continue,” predicts Kern. “But in the future, it’ll be side by side with virtual motorsports.”
eSports in numbers
million U.S. dollars of prize money were awarded at The International tournament in 2017.
million U.S. dollars are twenty-five-year-old Kuro “KuroKy” Salehi Takhasomi’s career prize earnings thus far. A German of Iranian descent, he’s currently the world’s most successful gamer. In 2017 he and his team won the Dota 2 tournament The International.
million U.S. dollars were the approximate level of sales—for media rights, advertising, sponsors, tickets, merchandising, and licensing—in the eSport sector in 2017, a good 40 percent more than in 2016. China and North America accounted for approximately half this figure, even though South Korea is considered the birthplace of eSports. The global number of spectators in 2017 was estimated at 385 million.
million U.S. dollars have been awarded at Dota 2 tournaments since these events were launched in 2013. This multiplayer online battle arena (MOBA) is the most lucrative game in the young history of eSports.
million computers on average streamed the world championship in September of 2017. Chinese fans made up the largest audience group by far, with more than thirty-two million views.
million people worldwide play the team combat game League of Legends (LoL) at least once a month.
By Frieder Pfeiffer
Photos by Sven Cichowicz