Formula One is to crown its first virtual world champion at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after announcing yesterday the launch of an e-sports series to run from next month to November.
The new eSports Series is a partnership with Formula One, game developer Codemasters Software Co Ltd and events and competitions specialists Gfinity.
The series is to be in three stages, starting with qualification events through next month to determine the 40 quickest virtual drivers, and run on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Windows PC platforms.
Live semi-finals are to be held at London’s Gfinity Arena on Oct. 10 and Oct. 11 with the top 20 going on to the three-race finals at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina Circuit on Nov. 24 and Nov. 25.
The first eSports Series world champion will automatically qualify for the following year’s semi-finals.
Formula One managing director Sean Bratches said in a statement that the new series represented “an amazing opportunity for our business: strategically and in the way we engage fans.”
US-based Liberty Media, who took over Formula One in January, have targeted gaming as a growth area to drive revenues and connect with younger audiences.
Some of Formula One’s participants are already embracing the world of e-sports, with McLaren executive director Zak Brown saying all teams could eventually have their own virtual counterpart.
McLaren, going through tough times but still the second-most successful team in terms of race wins, in May launched a “World’s Fastest Gamer” initiative to recruit a simulator driver from virtual racing.
Several race drivers, including Red Bull’s Dutch teenager Max Verstappen, are also active gamers.
The all-electric Formula E series has already staged a virtual race between all of its drivers and gamers. The winner in Las Vegas in January last year was Dutch virtual racer Bono Huis, who collected a US$200,000 jackpot.
In New York in July, Formula E livestreamed over mobile phones a virtual race between gamers and race drivers for fans around the world to watch.
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