Providing fair play in the virtual world

Thursday 04 January 2024

The divide between real world motorsport and esports continues to narrow.

Famously, we’ve seen ‘gamers to racers’ such as Jann Mardenborough and Lucas Ordóñez stand on the physical podium at the Le Mans 24 Hours.

Then, last year, former karter and esports star Deagen Fairclough secured a prize drive in the 2023 ROKiT British F4 Championship after winning the inaugural ROKiT Racing Stars, a competition which took place entirely on state-of-the-art racing simulators. And now the gap between gaming platforms and tangible track sport has tapered still further.

While Motorsport UK does not will not govern sim racing or any form or racing e-sports, it does have its own dedicated Esports Hub to assist both new and established sim racers. What’s more, it is offering its expertise and knowledge, accumulated from decades of real world motorsport, to improve fair play in the virtual world racing experience.

SimStaff is a leading provider of staffing solutions in the world of digital motorsport offering everything from broadcasting services through to event operation. With a dynamic presence spanning 15 countries, it provides vital support for distributors, championship organisers, rivate individuals and corporate brands across the world.

The most prominent sim racing championship to benefit from SimStaff support is the Formula 1 Esports Series; the company has also worked with Motorsport UK on various of its events such as the Radical Esports Cup UK and the Buttkicker Britcar 24-Hours of Silverstone.

More interestingly, perhaps, SimStaff is engaging qualified Motorsport UK stewards and race officials to help with adjudication of track issues during its virtual events.

While the clever software can prevent technical skulduggery as well as certain clear-cut circuit issues such as track limits and jumped starts, racing incidents between competitors often need human analysis as Josh Martin, CEO of SimStaff, explains.

“As much as digital motorsport is new and innovative, it works in a very similar fashion to real world racing which is where our close relationship with Motorsport UK comes into play. When there’s car-to-car contact, we do need the human element to arbitrate on driving standards and there’s nobody better qualified in the UK than an Motorsport UK steward.”

Moreover, the need for experienced officials is probably even more necessary in the virtual world where players tend to take more risks as the costs – both financial and physical – resulting from accidents is obviously vastly reduced.

“The racing tends to be closer and with smaller margins compared to real racing, so we do see a higher proportion of accidents,” admits Martin. “Motorsport UK has a talent pool of experienced stewards who are exceptionally skilled when it comes to the swift analysis of such incidents and applying decisions. We then combine this with our sim racers knowledge to provide a really balanced adjudication panel which taps into an understanding of both virtual and real worlds.”

Similar to VAR in football, these decisions are made ‘live’ by a judging panel: a head steward plus two assistants. This jury is based on site and thus can review all the drivers’ feeds and come to a quick ruling.

“The original plan was for Motorsport UK to provide one of its expert stewards and we would add two sim racers to provide a balance,” explained Martin. “However, we found several qualified Motorsport UK stewards with sim racing experience, so they actually make a higher percentage of our stewarding panels – that’s great as they can tap into both sides of the coin with their experience and thus balance nicely with our pure sim racers.”

If competitors still feel they have been unfairly judged, there is also an appeals process.

“The appeals panel, too, is made up of both real world stewards and sim racers and they are based remotely, not least to ensure they can’t be influenced on any decision,” Martin continued. “Once again, they have adopted many of the similar processes that Motorsport UK has in place when governing actual circuit racing. It’s partnerships such as this which make sim racing so realistic.”

So, today, it’s not only the drivers who are performing in both virtual and real world motorsports – the crossover is wider than ever.