The perfect combination of technology, entertainment and sport, the world of Esports racing is a compelling space – one in which Virtual Competition Organisation (VCO) has positioned itself as a powerhouse in this exciting new arena.
If you were asked to consider a sport which generates over $1.1billion in annual revenue; one whose biggest single event attracts over 100 million viewers whilst also being at the forefront of redefining what technology can do to bring communities together, you might think of tennis with its Grand Slams, football and its FIFA World Cup or maybe even the NFL and its entertaining Super Bowl. However, you’d be way of the mark. Esports brings together excitement, emotion and passion and is fast establishing itself as a successful new industry.
Esports has grown in popularity since its inception. According to Newzoo’s Global Esports Market Report, global revenues hit $1.1 billion in 2020 and are forecast to pass $2 billion by 2022.
The industry, which is based around players competing against one another in a myriad of computer games in a diverse range of competitions, has left behind its initial image as merely a niche area for computer-minded enthusiasts to become one of the hottest and fastest growing industries in the world.
As an example of how it is embedding itself in day to day culture, the International Olympic Committee recently confirmed their view that “competitive esports could be considered as a sporting activity, and the players involved prepare and train with an intensity which may be comparable to athletes in traditional sports.”
Even when you stack Esports against the larger, more established events and brands of world sports, this younger upstart is attracting plenty of attention. In 2019, the League of Legends World Championship – one of Esports largest tournaments – attracted just over 100 million viewers. By comparison, the Super Bowl in the same year was watched by 100.7 million viewers.
With this level of attention and engagement, it’s hardly surprising that brands are flocking to the space and are using Esports as a key element of their growth strategies.
Within this rapidly expanding sector, there are many stakeholders who have important roles to play from individual players to teams, to sponsors to the game creators, the event organisers and even the hardware providers.
One organisation has found a way to place itself at the heart of this web of interests and provide support and innovation to the industry and the sport of Esports racing in particular. That company is Virtual Competition Organisation (VCO) who, amongst other areas of expertise, plays the role of all-encompassing promoter, organiser and content provider.
Since its first major event in July 2020, VCO has been able to attract talent, sponsors and audiences to the world of Esports racing in a way that few other organisations have been able to achieve. Florian Haasper, award winning Founder and CEO of VCO, tells us more about his approach in helping to define a sector at the same time as growing it.
Can you start by helping us understand how VCO has been able to position itself in such a unique manner?
It’s important to understand that the field of Esports racing is divided between Sim racing platforms and games such as iRacing, rFactor 2 or Assets Corsa Competizione, and real world racing series such as F1, DTM and many others.
We have deliberately positioned ourselves as an independent company and promoter with the mission of growing Sim racing into a fully-fledged Esports category. This independence, combined with our creativity and commitment to quality allows us to explore avenues we think can innovate within our space and help us achieve our goals. Practically this means we can create unique competition formats, try the cars we like and use a range of platforms.
This in itself is unique within the Esports racing world and has helped us achieve a strong position within the community – a community with which we passionately engage with our compelling content.
It’s also important to understand that Esports operates at the meeting point of sport, entertainment and technology. You can’t be successful if you ignore any of these aspects. Plus, we believe our position and our success are based on a foundation of three pillars – accessibility, creativity and quality.
In a space that is evolving and redefining itself so frequently, where do you see the future of VCO?
We believe there are three key areas that we need to focus on. The first is the development of Sim racing as a category within Esports. Like you say, the whole space continues to evolve at such a pace that you can’t sit still. We love Sim racing and we want to grow its status within the Esports world.
The second area of focus is supporting the racing community by providing thrilling content, and the final area for us to prioritise is growing our own events. We’ve invested heavily in developing our own series of events and competitions, such as our signature Esports Racing League. The ERL is going to test the very best drivers across a range of cars, tracks and even across different simulation titles.
We believe that the ERL will be the ultimate test in all of Esports racing with aspects such as promotion and relegation creating genuine risk and reward for competitors, and entertainment for audiences.
We’re also excited by the globally renowned talent that we’re able to attract as well. For example we’ve had F1 champion Max Verstappen racing in our competitions and that is quite incredible. I’ve even had a go, but I won’t go into the detail as it was a less than impressive performance – I had a lot of fun though and I’ll definitely be back behind the competitive wheel soon!
That’s very interesting and I’m sure you were better than you’re letting on! Do you have a particular audience in mind when you think about your growth plans?
Well, as you can imagine, the very nature of Esports racing is that it is an international sport both from a competitors and fan point of view. And if the fans are based all around the world, then so are the sponsors.
Talking about Esports in general, Asia Pacific is already the largest market and will continue to be so with well over half the global audience. The US is obviously a big market too but Europe is arguably the sleeping giant with huge potential expansion both in terms of viewership and revenues. Australia is also an interesting market – it’s got similarities to the US and Europe in terms of its demographics and interests, but also has its own unique culture which makes it an interesting prospect for us to expand into.
In terms of specific driver profiles, Esports racing does have a slightly higher barrier to entry than console games for example. You need more kit including a rig, wheel and pedals but even so, the community is growing and we’re seeing younger and younger drivers join.
There is a very low number of female drivers however and that’s something that we’re going to look to change for sure.
What does the future look like in terms of social media for the sport?
The social media world changes as quickly as the Esports one does, but Twitter continues to be a crucial platform within our Esports racing world. When it comes to broadcasting though we are seeing a shift from YouTube to Twitch and we’re embracing this move as we develop our own Sim racing Esports discipline.
What do you feel will be the direction of future innovations in Esports racing?
I could probably talk about this for hours, but in broad terms there will be lots of experimentation as different stakeholders try different initiatives and achieve their own goals. Some will succeed, others will fail but all of them will provide valuable learnings.
For us at VCO, we’ve got a clear vision and some ambitious goals and we’re confident that we’re going to achieve them all.
Virtual Competition Organisation (VCO) brings together stakeholders in Esports from simulation or gaming platforms and interested partners to active teams, drivers and the community. Further information on industry news, competitions and leagues, as well as exciting video footage can be found on the company website – https://vco-esports.com/ – and across VCO’s social media channels (Twitter, Instagram, Discord, TikTok, Twitch, and YouTube)