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Volume 21 No. 17
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NASCAR teams building esports effort

The subscription-based iRacing is popular with fans and drivers.

NASCAR teams are working on an esports venture of their own mere weeks after it emerged that tracks in the sport are working on a separate venture that would see racing video game tournaments held at tracks during event weekends.

Multiple sources said the team venture is still in development, but it’s based around NASCAR’s chartered teams creating a pro iRacing league full of skilled players who will be drafted by the organizations and compete against one another for money in tournaments streamed online.

The effort, which is being put together by the Race Team Alliance, NASCAR and iRacing, will likely not be ready to launch by the season-opening Daytona 500 next month. But the plan is to debut the effort sometime in early 2018.

“Yes, the RTA is working on this initiative,” confirmed Rob Kauffman, chairman of the RTA and co-owner of Chip Ganassi Racing, who is leading the effort for the RTA. IRacing is a subscription-based racing simulator that’s a more advanced and technical offering for hard-core race fans and actual racers themselves than arcade-style racing video games.

Under the business plan being drawn up, teams will commit to a six-figure payout for the first tournament and are planning to hold a draft where all chartered outfits will pick up the most skilled players, who will then represent them in competition. Each chartered car from teams in the RTA, of which there are 30, will receive a franchise. Cars will likely carry the same paint schemes as their actual team, providing a value-add to sponsors. The plan is to stream the races online, though distribution is still being determined. Options would include NASCAR.com or even possibly Motorsport.com.

When the tournaments will be held is still being planned, but options would range from holding them in the middle of the week to possibly around a race weekend.

Meanwhile, tracks from International Speedway Corp. and Speedway Motorsports Inc. are working on a separate venture that will see them host esports tournaments during race weekends, but that appears to mainly be based around 704Games’ “NASCAR Heat 2” game, which is more of an arcade game than iRacing. There doesn’t appear to be concern in the industry that the teams’ esports venture and the tracks’ will be duplicative, because the tracks’ effort is geared more toward having any fan participate in tournaments during race weekends as opposed to the teams’ effort at starting a pro league.

The idea is to deepen engagement with fans and provide added content around the sport for people to consume.

The teams involved have committed to an initial tournament that will include a six-figure payout, though it was unclear how that would be funded. It’s still being determined how long the season will run, but it will likely be significantly shorter than the NASCAR season and the teams could run multiple competitions throughout the year. Some team drivers may even participate.

This effort marks one of the most expansive fan-facing ventures that the RTA has embarked on, as a significant amount of its work since its founding has been about behind-the-scenes business matters. It also is the latest in a string of esports ventures by racing entities. Formula One and Formula E are both involved in efforts involving their series, and F1 team McLaren launched its own competition last year that saw the winner signed as an official simulator driver for the team.