With about 100,000 online viewers for the 2018 Gran Turismo Championships World Finals in Monaco last November, you’d think the 100 or so gamers were all salaried competitors. After all, the broadcasting quality is more professional than most racing series, and the reach and influence of PlayStation’s FIA-backed tournament could grow exponentially. Ofcom reports that one in five people spend more than 40 hours a week online – and with global esports revenues expected to reach £1 billion by 2020 (according to the British esports Association), that figure is set to grow.
But there are some who spend an extraordinary part of their day practising for this tournament, and it’s a huge financial risk and commitment – even though their expenses are covered.
“Sad to say, this is my life. It’s all I play and all I think about,” says Canadian competitor Mark Pinnell.
“My girlfriend used to hate it, I’d be doing laps in my head. I’ve been at this for years. I’d spend at least 16 hours a day practising for the final rounds [in Monaco]; when I wasn’t eating or sleeping I’d be playing.”
Anthony Felix, an American driver who only started playing GT Sport online in February 2018, says: “The average player and motor sport fan doesn’t see that you need a lot of endurance and concentration to compete.”
“Your shoulders, calves and hands definitely hurt holding the wheel and correcting every small movement to get that extra tenth… things get sore. You wake up in the morning and it hurts.”
The growing elephant in the room concerns the unpaid dedication it takes to get to this level.
“I think we should have salaries,” adds Pinnell. “We put in as much effort, maybe more, than other sportsmen and just as many people care about this and watch it as they do different sports. Why shouldn’t we be treated like any other top athlete?”
But, the two North Americans were immensely grateful for the opportunity; a complimentary trip to the Principality is no hardship. And for some it was their first such trip.
Agustín Cajal, who took a podium in a Toyota in the Manufacturers Series Final – where gamers choose a manufacturer and race in that car for the whole season – had never left Argentina before coming to Monaco to compete. He only has an hour a day to practise – but that’s enough for some to get to this level – and never owned a racing wheel or pedals before Logitech kitted out his racing team.
Cajal is still realistic about esport’s future.
“This is great but it will never overtake real racing’s popularity,” he says. “Perhaps it will just add to the spectacle.”