15 April 2018

TORA British GT eSports explained! Lifting the lid on the world’s fastest growing sport

TORA British GT eSports explained! Lifting the lid on the world’s fastest growing sport

In the space of just a few short years the role of eSports has moved from niche pastime to a potentially viable real-world career path. That includes motorsport fans around the world whose eRacing involvement ranges from occasional console outings to being signed as McLaren F1’s official simulator driver!


However, for many, the sport remains a mystery. So, with British GT’s fourth eSports season due to kick off this Sunday at Virginia International Raceway, we asked Matt Hunter – president of The Online Racing Association, who oversee British GT’s officially licensed series – to shed some light on the championship and eSports as a whole.


eSports racing is fast becoming a form of grassroots motorsport in its own right and attracts high-quality drivers from all over the world, often with massive prizes on offer!


As with real racing there are many categories of eSports competition, from F1 and WRC to NASCAR, MotoGP and – of course – sportscar racing. All of these can take place on a wide range of platforms (traditionally PC or console) and in some cases, such as WRC, simultaneously.


eSports racing teams can be as popular in this growing space as any real-world outfits and attract quite a substantial following both in terms of fans and sponsors. The bigger teams will likely have a dedicated number of livery designers, tuners and management as well as drivers and a test team.


These squads will likely spend just as much time engaged in virtual testing as real teams – only with no cost other than time! This means they can arrive at the competitions fully prepared and ready to take on the other drivers. It isn't unheard of for teams to put in many hours each day to ensure their primary drivers are ready to go. It is safe to say that eSports racing is now a very serious business.


Again, as with real racing, the sky’s the limit if you have an unlimited budget to throw at 'race rigs' (seat and screen set-ups), wheels/pedals and high-end PC set-ups. If you are on more of a budget but still want to compete then consoles might be the way forward. The two primary consoles at the moment (Xbox One and Playstation 4) can be bought for around £200, while the premier 4k versions are a little more than that. Most racing titles work very well with each console’s own game pads, and wheels are of course an option too if you wish to spend a little extra.


So, you've bought a console (for this example an Xbox One) and are ready to get a game to compete.


Xbox is the home of Forza Motorsport, the platform we use for British GT’s official eSports series, but the console also caters for the Formula 1 franchise, MotoGP, WRC and Project CARS 2. All have their own dedicated eSports content.


While you can jump online and race in multiplayer quite happily in any of these game, you may find that the quality of driving is a little... hit and miss.


For a more authentic racing experience online you need to find a suitable community that caters for the type of racing you want. There are a number of communities around but if you are after a group that aligns itself closely to the motorsport community then look no further than The Online Racing Association.


MSA-recognised for the past eight years, TORA has become the home of many real-world championships and teams looking to get involved in the growing eSports racing environment. It has been organising eSports racing events since 2007 and its knowledgeable community are passionate about their racing. TORA has also been home to drivers who have gone on to achieve real-world success, such as 2017 BTCC champion Ash Sutton.


TORA, as with the majority of sim racing communities, is a forum-based community with much of the organisation and championships driven directly from them. The forums act as a focal point for all members of an eSports team to organise their activities, share lap times, livery designs and offer support to newer drivers looking to get involved.


So, with the TORA British GT eSports Championship kicking off this weekend, how do over 200 drivers race together and how is it all organised? TORA's VP and head of US racing, Ben Williams, takes up the story:


We recently changed the way drivers register for our series as we hit the unique problem of having more drivers than numbers! Our new system is series-specific so one driver no longer takes their allocated number across various championships. Instead, they're now allocated on a first come, first served basis - except 1-3 which are always reserved for series champions and our prototype racing, which follows a similar number/class allocation system as WEC.


A new driver simply has to register on the forum with their 'gamertag' (their Xbox identity) and make a post with their real name and location. This then gets put in our database which allocates that driver a unique license number which can be tracked across any series they enter and used to check on penalties awarded as well as wins, podiums achieved, points scored and series entered.


Once a driver has registered they can head into the dedicated British GT eSports Championship forum section to find the series rulebook, car specifications, calendar, registration details and the graphical charter.


We've borrowed this directly from British GT to ensure the authenticity of all entries to the championship. All cars have to display the correct number boards, window banners and series sponsor logos in the correct locations. These have been pre-made in the Forza Motorsport livery editor and vinyl creator by our staff and a small selection of dedicated painters to ensure accuracy.


So, a driver has selected their car, painted it, registered for the series and they're ready to go. Regular series host and Cyber Racing Pro driver Adam Watson talks us through the race procedure.


Race night for the organisers starts 24 hours before when sign-ins close. That's when we start the process of allocating drivers to lobby hosts for the following night.


Because of the way Forza works we can't have 200 cars on track at the same time! So we limit them to 16 cars per lobby - that's also the size of a 'party chat', which means all drivers can hear race control and each other, which is essential at the start of races in particular!


As British GT is multi-class we also split each lobby so there's a mix. For example, a 9/7 or 10/6 split of GT3 to GT4. This ensures there's proper racing going on for everyone and enough cars in each class that a driver won't get too bored!


Qualifying starts at 8pm UK time on Sunday evening but the race lobby hosts and Race Control will have been online for about an hour already setting up their lobbies and inviting the drivers in.


We have a very complex system of behind-the-scenes docs that operate our Live Timing system. People watching the screens on the forums will see times roll in after qualifying and know pretty quickly where they are in the field. That's been the brainchild of Jay Steel and he's done so much to make them incredibly responsive and user friendly.


After qualifying, the times are sorted from fastest to slowest and then drivers are allocated a race lobby, which they will stay in for the evening. This system works well because it means that everyone in the lobby will be of a similar speed and skill level to each other, which usually makes for brilliant racing (particularly in the lower lobbies where drivers don't necessarily take themselves quite as seriously! We've come to call that 'TORA bantz!).


Lobbies are scored from first in A lobby to last in the bottom lobby. So it's as if you're all competing on the same track in terms of the points you'll win at the end.


All the results are added to Live Timing at the end of the evening around 10pm or a little later if there's been any connection issues or other delays. All the racers can then see how their team-mates in other lobbies and main rivals fared pretty much right after the chequered flag falls.


There is a Stewarding system so if there's been incidents on track a team or driver can submit an inquiry request backed up with data and ideally video footage which the stewards team headed up by James Brown can review and judge on.


Of course even non-competitors can get in on the action by tuning in to YMTV's raceday stream and following the action from qualifying and the top lobby races as well as some driver-specific streams and social media content. There's almost no excuse not to get to know the series and drivers and watch the rivalries build as the championship develops through the year.