Virtually the same thing: Can eSports fill the MotoGP void?

MotoGP is ramping up its eSports series in the absence of physical racing - but can virtual racing ever really replace the real thing?

MotoGP20 PS4 Screenshots

We, much like everyone, is pining for some motorsport action right now.

The coronavirus has wreaked havoc on sporting schedules around the world and while that problem is naturally very secondary to the ongoing crisis, it certainly creates a sizeable void in our schedules for some elbows out, balls to the wall action.

As such, MotoGP is starting to look at alternatives to help us get our fix and is doing so by ramping up its eSports involvement.

On paper, eSports is the perfect activity in this current climate. What’s more self-isolating than getting online alone and playing games alongside a community socially distanced around the world?

F1 took the first punt at this with the unveiling of a virtual Bahrain Grand Prix at the time when the real thing should have taken place. 

However, while only two current F1 drivers lined up on that grid, MotoGP has turned to its big hitters for its effort drum up some interest in its MotoGP Virtual Race, luring the likes of Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez, Maverick Vinales, Alex Rins and Fabio Quartararo to their sims.

It’s a nice touch, not least because – as superior as they are on track – filling the gaps on the grid with seasoned sim racers actually skews the skill levels when it comes to racing virtually. Who ‘really’ wants to watch an unknown sim racer defeat ‘The Doctor’ in a race regardless of how real it seems?

That’s not to discredit the quality at the highest levels of sim racing, which if you’ve ever stumbled across it, is almost mesmerising in its faultlessness. However, we have to admit we’d rather watch actual MotoGP riders giving some entertainment value at a time when we’re a bit devoid of laughs. Rossi himself admits he is not the best at sim racing but he’s game for it…

Ironically, having previously watched the professional sim racers in action in person, the level of limitless practice they get means they are often error-free to the point that no-one can overtake because each are just so good. I’ve watched an F1 eSports race live in a studio before and been both impressed and a bit bored by the sheer quality of the action.

It’s also a little odd to then watch them do the rider or drive trope of wagging their #1 finger with a stern look on their face as though they’ve won an actual race. Still, if you’re going to take it seriously, you may as well follow through on your self-isolated lap of honour.

MotoGP’s Virtual Race isn’t going to be an exercise in endurance though. Qualifying is held over five minutes and the race at Mugello will only be six laps long… we wonder whether Ducati will continue to smoke the Yamaha down the home straight.

They will hope the shorter race means it will run without issue after the F1 event was fraught by technical difficulties – an issue frustratingly familiar to anyone that has had the internet drop out at the critical moment.

As for whether eSports diverts your attention in the absence of the real thing is up to you. At worst, you can certainly lose an afternoon watching such videos on YouTube.

In our opinion, no matter what riders may say under the duress of promoting something, eSports do not replace the real thing where real-world unpredictability and drama just can’t be replicated.

However, as a complement it has a lot going for it. It’s relatively low-cost – allowing for huge prize pots - and opens up a huge, largely youth-oriented audience on alternative channels such as YouTube and Twitch that offers a direct link to get into the real thing. Such cost-efficient promo isn’t just for MotoGP itself either, this applies to the manufacturers and the sponsors.

While we’re more likely to sit down to watch actual riders attempt to win it and bin it on simulators, eSports has piqued many people’s curiosity and that can only be a good thing…