Analysis: eSports opens the door to wide world of F1 engagement

Slightly late to the party, Formula 1 is beginning to engage with eSports, a new field that opens up opportunities to seek out new fans around the world. Kate Walker talks to market research experts Nielsen Sports about the opportunities.

Analysis: eSports opens the door to wide world of F1 engagement

Nielsen Sports today released a comprehensive study of the habits of eSports fans in Europe and North America, the first phase of a global research project into the industry. 

“The mainstream perception of eSports has been changing recently,” said Samantha Lamberti, head of motorsports Europe for Nielsen Sports. “When we started researching eSports about four years ago, it felt like a completely different entity, unrelated to traditional sports.

"Over time, we have seen traditional sports embracing eSports more and more and promoting its competitions as another vehicle for engagement.”

The eSports fanbase skews heavily male, with the Nielsen Sports study finding that 71 percent of self-declared eSports fans are male, compared with 61 percent of traditional sports fans. The average age of an eSports fan is 26 years old, versus 28 for traditional sports.

Across the UK, the United States, France, and Germany – the territories surveyed by Nielsen Sports, who will be releasing separate Asian eSports research later this year – around two-thirds of eSports fans watched live streams of events online, while less than a fifth had attended a live eSports event.

The bulk of eSports fans are also interested in traditional sports, including American football, football, and motorsports, but tend not to watch much television: around four or five hours a week, compared with around eight hours per week spent gaming.

F1 2017 gameplay screenshot
F1 2017 gameplay screenshot

Photo by: Formula 1

It is the combination of these factors that makes the eSports demographic such a compelling one for more traditional sports – and particularly for Formula 1, which has an aging fan base and declining global TV audiences.

Finding ways to engage with this new e-demographic – a group that is not shy of spending on their passions and investing in experiences linked with live events – is a crucial future step for a sport seeking to secure its long-term future in a changing digital world.

“There are sports – and motorsport in particular – that are naturally related to eSports and gaming,” Lamberti said. “If Formula 1 as a governing body, or teams like McLaren, get involved with eSports and build competitions – as they are doing – it is a good thing for the sport as a whole.

“We have been saying for a few years now that the general motorsport audience, and the F1 audience, has an older demographic. The new generation, the youngest fans, play games and are into motorsport gaming.

"The strategy to use eSports to attract them, to make the fan base a little bit younger, is a very good move. It shows that the sport understands the trends, and understands when and how to embrace them.”

While media attention on eSports is a fairly recent phenomenon, the industry itself is no flash in the pan. Depending on region, between 10 and 20 percent of fans have been watching eSports for four years or more, while between 50 and 55 percent have been watching for between one and three years.

“The overall health of the eSports industry is strong,” Craig Levine, CEO of ESL North America – the world’s largest eSports company – says in the Nielsen Sports report.

“We’ve seen explosive growth over the past three years with a strong, engaged, and passionate fan base around the world. Our large events and leagues draw tens of millions of viewers and culminate in sold arenas.”

McLaren World’s Fastest Gamer
McLaren World’s Fastest Gamer

Photo by: McLaren

Formula 1 has been slow to engage with eSports, but 2017 has seen two major initiatives in the arena: McLaren’s ‘World’s Fastest Gamer’ competition, and the official Formula 1 eSports series, which will enter the semi-finals phase later this month.

Zak Brown, Executive Director, McLaren Technology Group
Zak Brown, McLaren

Photo by: Sam Bloxham / LAT Images

 

McLaren’s effort will see the eventual winner integrated into the team, and helping with future car development, explained CEO Zak Brown.

“World’s Fastest Gamer really aims to democratize the process of finding the best virtual racer out there,” Brown said. “

The contest isn’t limited to one platform or one game; we’re very keen not to restrict access or entry for people, but rather welcome the worldwide gaming community, whether that’s on mobile or on high-end simulator platforms. 

“And the winner will genuinely be a key part of our team at McLaren. This is for real: we absolutely require additional support across our two simulator platforms, so the competition and the selection process will be rigorous, ruthless and compelling to watch."

“The winner will be offered a one-year contract with McLaren to work in an official capacity as a simulator driver,” Brown continued. “They will work with engineers at the McLaren Technology Centre and at Grand Prix circuits across the world to develop and improve the machinery driven in the real world by the team’s drivers.”

Stoffel Vandoorne, McLaren, watches on as Fernando Alonso, McLaren, has a run in a driving simulator as part of the Worlds Fastest Gamer project being run by McLaren
Fernando Alonso has a run in a driving simulator as part of the Worlds Fastest Gamer project being run by McLaren

Photo by: Andrew Hone / LAT Images

For Lamberti, eSports represents an additional means of accessing potential sports fans.

“eSports creates a big sense of community among fans and players,” she said. “Combining knowledge and sharing improves access. F1 games, for example, enable players to get a real feel for the sport, providing the context which ensures new audiences and new generations of fans are engaging with F1.

"Whilst games have of course existed in the past, eSports provides that network where competitive gaming can thrive. 

“For the growth of interest in F1 itself, any game in isolation might not make people more passionate about the sport, if people don’t know what the sport is. As people acquire more knowledge about an activity, the more their interest in it can increase.

"In that sense, eSports can be a starting point, helping fans to engage further with F1. It’s another form of engagement, another access point, and one which sits the fan right in the centre.”

The Nielsen Sports eSports report can be read in full on this link.

shares
comments
Haas in Grosjean crash compensation talks with Sepang

Previous article

Haas in Grosjean crash compensation talks with Sepang

Next article

Gasly targeting Austin F1 race over Super Formula finale

Gasly targeting Austin F1 race over Super Formula finale
Load comments
Why momentum is again behind Australia's aces Prime

Why momentum is again behind Australia's aces

At the Italian Grand Prix Daniel Ricciardo turned around a troubled F1 season and, in F2, Oscar Piastri demonstrated once again that he is a potential star of the future. BEN EDWARDS weighs up the prospects of F1 having two Australian stars

The tough balancing act facing Schumacher’s Netflix film producers Prime

The tough balancing act facing Schumacher’s Netflix film producers

Michael Schumacher is the latest sporting superstar to get the ‘Netflix treatment’, with a special documentary film airing on the US streaming giant’s platform this month. DAMIEN SMITH has the inside track on how the filmmakers gained access to tell the human story behind one of Formula 1’s most publicity-shy champions - while the man himself, for obvious reasons, is in absentia… 

Formula 1
Sep 25, 2021
Why Verstappen should be confident of Russian GP recovery Prime

Why Verstappen should be confident of Russian GP recovery

For the second race in a row, Mercedes has ended the first day of track action on top. It’s in a commanding position at the Russian Grand Prix once again – this time largely thanks to Max Verstappen’s upcoming engine-change grid penalty. But there’s plenty to suggest all hope is not lost for the championship leader at Sochi...

Formula 1
Sep 24, 2021
Why dumping the MGU-H is the right move for F1 Prime

Why dumping the MGU-H is the right move for F1

OPINION: With its days apparently numbered, the MGU-H looks set to be dropped from Formula 1’s future engine rules in order to entice new manufacturers in. While it may appear a change of direction, the benefits for teams and fans could make the decision a worthwhile call

Formula 1
Sep 23, 2021
The floundering fortunes of F1’s many Lotus reboots Prime

The floundering fortunes of F1’s many Lotus reboots

Team Lotus ceased to exist in 1994 - and yet various parties have been trying to resurrect the hallowed name, in increasingly unrecognisable forms, ever since. Damien Smith brings GP Racing’s history of the legendary team to an end with a look at those who sought to keep the flame alive in Formula 1.

Formula 1
Sep 22, 2021
Why the 2021 title fight is far from F1's worst, despite its toxic background Prime

Why the 2021 title fight is far from F1's worst, despite its toxic background

OPINION: Formula 1 reconvenes for the Russian Grand Prix two weeks after the latest blow in ‘Max Verstappen vs Lewis Hamilton’. While the Silverstone and Monza incidents were controversial, they thankfully lacked one element that so far separates the 2021 title fight from the worst examples of ugly championship battles

Formula 1
Sep 22, 2021
How Mika Hakkinen thrived at Lotus Prime

How Mika Hakkinen thrived at Lotus

Mika Hakkinen became Michael Schumacher’s biggest rival in Formula 1 in the late-90s and early 2000s, having also made his F1 debut in 1991. But as MARK GALLAGHER recalls, while Schumacher wowed the world with a car that was eminently capable, Hakkinen was fighting to make his mark with a famous team in terminal decline

Formula 1
Sep 21, 2021
The forgotten F1 comeback that began Jordan’s odyssey  Prime

The forgotten F1 comeback that began Jordan’s odyssey 

Before Michael Schumacher – or anyone else – had driven the 191 (or 911 as it was initially called), Eddie Jordan turned to a fellow Irishman to test his new Formula 1 car. JOHN WATSON, a grand prix winner for Penske and McLaren, recalls his role in the birth of a legend…

Formula 1
Sep 20, 2021