WEC racer Nicki Thiim explains the true cost of chasing a career in esports
Removing the glass ceiling. That’s what esports’ rise in popularity is doing, we’re told, allowing anyone to go racing.
But is it? No one’s winning with a simple gamepad controller, hammering the ‘X’ button and rolling the joystick around, after all.
Nicki Thiim, 2016 world endurance champion and works Aston Martin driver, is one of the many professional racers who spend their spare time at home in a racing seat behind a gaming wheel.
“I started many years ago, but I have to blame René Rast for it now: I went to his mum’s basement four or five years ago, tried his Fanatec rig and said, ‘Yeah, I need this’,” laughs the Dane.
“Up until then I had just a normal chair and a desk, but that rig was great. So I went and bought a wheelbase, rig and everything. It’s basically what I have now still, but my latest pedals are way too strong for the rig so I need to upgrade all over.”
The price for a set-up like Thiim’s? “I would say about €2500 to €3000. That would get the wheelbase and rig; the full set. Fanatec is probably one of the best.”
That’s not including the powerful PC that’s needed to run the resource-draining games such as Asseto Corsa or iRacing. Prices lower if you’re just paying PlayStation or Xbox game-based sims such as Project CARS or Forza.
“I keep hearing about Project CARS 2,” adds Thiim – presumably from Rast, who’s one of the game’s development drivers. “I use iRacing. I tried all the others, and Assetto Corsa comes close – I’m looking forward to Assetto’s Blancpain series so I can drive as myself!
“iRacing is where you want to be, though. You can go racing 24/7, there are always some petrolheads there.”
All sitting at home on their own costly rigs, in front of multiple HD screens and beside their powerful hot-running computer towers, having paid their $13 monthly iRacing subscription.
Hopefully you’re keeping count – we’re probably now tipping €5000.
But looking at the bigger picture, while the costs are limiting for many, you don’t need to spend as much to compete. You would struggle to race for the same money, after all, and you’d certainly not face drivers such as Thiim, Rast, Max Verstappen or Lando Norris in the UK’s Citroën C1 series, for instance.
There’s potentially a living to be made racing online, too.
“Esports is growing massively and I can only guess where it will be in two years,” Thiim says. “Formula 1 has a championship; it’s just a matter of time before F1 teams start signing esports drivers.”