Ahead of the new decade, the world of motorsport is facing major changes.
The success of the W Series, now entering its second series, has given a platform to women in a sport where female racers can compete alongside men, yet aren’t often given the opportunity. Formula E - which is in its sixth season of racing - has ensured its own profitability while also promoting excellence in electric cars and sustainability. The forthcoming Extreme E series will promote that message by racing in areas vulnerable to climate change and Formula 1’s Esports Series has given the sport fresh hope of growing a new and younger generation of fan, and could also provide a path to pro for those without the financial backing to participate in motor racing in the first place.
With so much on the horizon, there is an opportunity to be capitalised on. Enter Veloce.
The esports organisation, which also includes a sports management arm and counts two-time Formula E champion Jean-Eric Vergne as a shareholder, straddles all three of these motor racing trends.
“We’re keen to interconnect and harmonise the three areas,” Jack Clarke, Chief Strategy & Commercial Officer, Veloce Esports told Sport Industry Group. “We have some exciting things on the go with (W Series Champion) Jamie Chadwick, we have some fantastic projects within esports, and Extreme E is falling into place nicely. There are some reall big things happening and I'd predict a lot of change for the 2020s.”
Esports is perhaps the biggest opportunity for Veloce, whose teams include motor racing titles like Formula 1 and Gran Turismo, but also branch out to FIFA, Fortnite and Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO). The fans of Veloce Esports teams - just like fans of any other sport - are hungry for content around their sport, and the organisation has partnered with a range of Youtube gaming stars to serve 50 million monthly video views on its owned channels.
“We feel there’s a bit of a gap in the market,” said Clarke. “No one was representing these esports stars but they’re incredibly able. We look on them as chess grandmasters who have been in their bedrooms playing. They were previously told to stop doing what they’re doing, but now they’re being told to keep going because you’re actually quite good at this!”
The esports and motor racing link is especially prominent given this is a sport where barriers to entry are so high. Competitive esports on racing titles simulate what it’s like to race in a car far better than sports like football, where the skills needed to play for real versus online aren’t quite so transferable.
Yet racing titles also have another point of difference over games which don’t have a real-world equivalent, like League of Legends: there are globally recognised stars in the world of motorsports whose celebrity lends credibility to the esport. Ultimately, this is leading to the involvement of big brands from outside the gaming sphere.
“It’s about utilising our real-world access points,” says Clarke. “We have exciting projects with real life sports individuals. There’s this non-endemic thing that’s starting to run through esports and it’s not just about brands but individuals too - we’ve some really exciting, front-page sports entities working with us, which I think is going to bring esports above the parapet and turn it into something people identify with more.
“But at the same time, the idea is for us to build virtual stars and not rely totally on the real world,” Clarke added. “40 years ago, skateboarding looked a lot like kids smoking in the swimming pools of California but now everyone knows who Tony Hawk is: it became mainstream whilst keeping its identity.”
The esports equivalent of kids smoking in Californian swimming pools is perhaps teenagers shunning real-life interactions to play video games in darkened rooms, but the physical demands of esports - certainly at the elite level - are becoming more accepted and that, in turn, is changing perceptions.
“The players train not only because they should as they’re operating at such a high level, but also because they want to be role models and set good mental and general health themes through the industry. And I think it’s all those little elements play a big part in driving the industry forward.
Veloce, as an organisation, has grown out of two former single-seat racing drivers - Clarke and fellow co-founder Rupert Svendsen-Cooke - who initially represented racing drivers in commercial deals. Now, the company has the backing of Jean-Eric Vergne and also former Central Europe CEO of F1 owners Liberty Media, Eric Tveter.
“Our DNA is racing but racing is changing,” said Clarke. “It’s a surreal moment for us to have Eric on board and to be able to pull on that strength so early in the lifespan of Veloce. Eric is a media guy and as much of an expert as you can get in that space.
“What he sees from our business is, as much as this is about sport and competition, sport doesn’t exist without fans demanding matches and content. So it’s great to have that level of media expertise in the camp because the business is all distributed online and on streams across the world. Our HQ is in London, but it merely operates the cloud service. Online is where everything’s distributed and when the tangible events come together. You can’t fit 50m people in a facility, so esports really is a media business.”
There can be no doubt that big changes are afoot for motorsport in 2020, as it races to serve a new type of fan, and Veloce have firmly positioned themselves at the vanguard of that change.