Formula 1 announced it is launching an official esport series to "run in conjunction with the on-track world championship," according to Giles Richards of the London GUARDIAN. The series is the first time the sport has entered the esport arena and will be "run in conjunction with the official F1 video game" and esport group Gfinity. The inaugural season, which will run from September-November, "will be open to all-comers" and represents a further move by the Formula One Group to "embrace digital media." The series will be held on the new F1 video game published by Codemasters due for release on the PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC platforms on Friday. A qualification period will be held in September. From that, "the 40 fastest drivers will attend the semifinals to be held at the Gfinity London Arena in October." The top 20 drivers from the semifinals will reach the finals, a three-race event to be held at F1’s season finale in Abu Dhabi. At this stage, the series "remains largely a marketing exercise for both F1 and the video game" but the Formula One Group will be "more than aware of the possibilities in reaching a new audience that the medium offers as well as the potential financial return in the future" (GUARDIAN, 8/21). MOTORSPORT's Andrew van Leeuwen reported a three-race event will see the first-ever F1 esports world champion crowned on the same weekend as the F1 world champion. F1 Managing Dir, Commercial Operations Sean Bratches said, "This launch presents an amazing opportunity for our business: strategically and in the way we engage fans. First, it’s a growing category with tremendous fan engagement that we’re entering in a big way; and we are proud to have Codemasters and Gfinity joining us on this ride." The 2017 eSport Series champion "will not only secure automatic qualification to the semifinals of the 2018 World Championship," but will also be named the "Formula 1 eSports Champion Expert" for the following year, and be included as a character in the F1 2018 game. According to Codemasters CEO Frank Saigner, the esports concept "will take fan engagement to a new level." Saigner: "Esports is one of the fastest growing sectors of gaming, already attracting audiences in the tens of millions" (MOTORSPORT, 8/21). REUTERS' Alan Baldwin reported several race drivers, including Red Bull's Max Verstappen, "are also active gamers." The Formula E series has "already staged a virtual race between all of its drivers and gamers." The winner in Las Vegas last January was Dutch gamer Bono Huis, who collected a $200,000 jackpot (REUTERS, 8/21).
Leagues and Governing Bodies
Formula 1's safety car "could become driver-less in the future as part of an effort to promote autonomous technology," the FIA revealed, according to Jonathan Noble of MOTORSPORT. While the FIA is "determined to ensure that drivers remain a key element of F1's attraction, some thought has been given to showing off autonomous technology through other elements of a grand prix weekend." F1 Technical Department Head Marcin Budkowski suggested that a driver-less safety car would be a "good way of proving automotive advances without detracting from the show." Although Budkowski is skeptical about potential fan interest in a driver-less F1, he does think that other series like Roborace "have a role to play in promoting autonomous developments." Budkowski said, "I see it [Roborace] as a very interesting thing, which pushes things in one direction. But can this idea of having no F1 driver captivate millions around the world? Frankly I have doubts (MOTORSPORT, 8/21).
Rugby players "flexed their muscle in an extraordinary show of force" on Monday, ramping up talk of a potential boycott of the Dally M medal ceremony and National Rugby League commercial activities during the semifinals "if a new pay deal with the game's governing body is not reached," according to Chris Barrett of the SYDNEY MORNING HERALD. There was as much as A$80M ($63.5M) in talent in the room as "nearly 300 players turned out for an hour-long meeting" called by the Rugby League Players Association in Sydney. Representative players Boyd Cordner, Daly Cherry-Evans, James Graham, Mitchell Pearce, Aaron Woods and Andrew Fifita were among nearly 180 players to show up in the city, and were joined by video link by "dozens of others" from non-Sydney teams and interstate players including RLPA President and Test captain Cameron Smith. Four days after club execs agreed to a A$9.4M ($7.5M) salary cap for next season and called on players to accept a "best and final offer" for a new five-year collective bargaining agreement, the game's content providers are "holding firm." While the RLPA is not disputing the cap figure, the two parties "remain at odds over the exclusions of particular revenue streams and other issues" such as welfare, insurance and the NRL's desire to have access to players' bank and phone records for integrity investigations (SMH, 8/21).
'SEEMS UNREASONABLE':In Sydney, Brent Read reported Cronulla player James Maloney and Parramatta captain Tim Mannah were asked on Monday "whether they would be comfortable handing over their bank records to the NRL." Their response "hinted at the divide that remains" between the NRL and the players' union. Maloney said, "I don't think it is necessary -- would you hand over your records to your boss? It seems unreasonable. There is not too many other people in the world who have to hand over their bank records to their boss. It's something that's a bit of a touchy subject." RLPA CEO Ian Prendergast confirmed the players had "discussed their next step if talks failed to progress." NRL CEO Todd Greenberg has been warned that a boycott of the Dally M medal "remains an option," as does court action as the players "test the legality of the salary cap" (THE AUSTRALIAN, 8/22). Also in Sydney, Christian Nicolussi reported if Monday's "massive show of support" did not send a "clear message" to League Central, "talk of boycotts certainly will." Prendergast said, "We can't rule out taking action. We certainly didn't discuss the World Cup as to whether players would consider boycotting that. We think it can be avoided. We believe by locking ourselves away we will get this deal done." Maloney added, "We haven't ruled anything out at this stage" (DAILY TELEGRAPH, 8/21).
Australian Football League Commission Chair Richard Goyder said that he "hates" pokies, and will "seek to use his personal authority to wean clubs off them." He said, "We're going to have a good look and see whether there's the opportunity to at least lessen the reliance. Some clubs have got a high dependency on them at the moment, and it's not a matter saying, 'Well let's just stop it.' You've actually got to work through a way of doing it. It's something we and the clubs are looking at, at the moment" (THE AGE, 8/21).
Almost two-thirds of club players have considered walking away from the Gaelic Athletic Association "because of a lack of a definitive fixtures schedule at grassroots level," according to a new survey. The survey -- the latest to be carried out by the Club Players’ Association -- "paints a stark picture of deep unease" among club players about the way in which counties are organizing their program of games (IRISH INDEPENDENT, 8/21).
The NSW Rugby League moved to "keep children in sport" by introducing 21 weight and age competitions across Sydney that will have "major ramifications on participation levels in rugby league." Over the next four months, the NSWRL will run competitions in the Penrith, Parramatta, Manly, Balmain and Western Suburbs districts that will "place emphasis" on ensuring children are not lost to the sport because of a fear of getting hurt (SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, 8/21).