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Volume 20 No. 46
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NASCAR game speeds toward esports

NASCAR video game licensee 704Games plans to launch an esports competition involving its “NASCAR Heat 2” game, one of multiple initiatives under new CEO Paul Brooks, a former NASCAR executive.

Final details on the venture were not ready to be shared, as the company is still developing the project, Brooks said. But he revealed to SportsBusiness Journal that it will involve leveraging industry stakeholders such as teams, tracks and fans around a tournament-style competition using the NASCAR-specific game. The venture likely won’t start until the 2018 NASCAR season, he said, but the plan is to hold the tournaments at NASCAR tracks.

“We are in the middle of putting together the specific plan and options to look to bring forward the whole area of competitive gaming and esports for ‘NASCAR Heat,’” said Brooks, who served at the sanctioning body for 19 years until 2012, when he was senior vice president of NASCAR and president of NASCAR Media Group. “The smartest way to do that is in cooperation with the industry, so that is the path we are on now — starting those discussions with the broader industry and looking how we can best structure something to bring forward.”

Driver Kyle Busch on the game's cover.
Brooks said the company is confident in the interest for such a venture, pointing to 625,000 races that were played online last year with the company’s debut game, “NASCAR Heat Evolution.” The challenge for 704Games, like other developers, is to offer a game that is not only fun to play, but fun for people to watch others play.

That could include having games align with certain organizations. For example, Formula One team McLaren has rolled out an esports program called World’s Fastest Gamer that involves a racing video game competition where the winner gets to become an official simulator driver for McLaren, which is an important role for motorsports teams.

Tracks that would likely be involved in any venture include the eight of Speedway Motorsports Inc., given that it recently announced a deal with 704Games that involves a $50 voucher that comes in every game and can be applied toward a NASCAR national series race at any SMI venue.

The launch of this year’s game, which will come out in mid-September, is an important one for 704Games after last year’s first edition drew some less favorable reviews, mainly from avid motorsports gamers who wanted a more advanced offering. The game is seen as a hybrid between a rudimentary arcade-style offering and a more in-depth offering like iRacing. Brooks said this year’s edition “is a massive upgrade.” He said the company simply didn’t have enough time for last year’s edition to add all the features it would have liked.

New features include all three national series’ tracks being featured, a more in-depth career mode, updated graphics and artificial intelligence features to help fill in computer players to multiplayer games if a group of gamers is playing with fewer than 40 people, since the races are 40-car fields. The game is to be available on PlayStation 4, Windows PC and Xbox One.

704Games has cut the price on this year’s game by $10, from $60 to $50, a move that is leading Brooks to project an increase in the number of units sold this year. He did not say how many were sold last year.

704Games rebranded this year from Dusenberry Martin Racing in part because it is looking to expand from its original plan to be a NASCAR-only organization. The Charlotte-based company, which is headquartered in NASCAR’s uptown tower, also is working with students and faculty from the game design program at local Central Piedmont Community College to examine future game products and concepts both inside and outside NASCAR.

704Games has continued partnerships with NBC Sports and Toyota that involve various promotions between the entities.

Investors in the company include NASCAR Monster Energy Series drivers, and Team Penske teammates, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski, along with Brooks and other private investors whom Brooks declined to name.