Digital Sport Insider: McLaren racing show esports is vehicle for talent spotting

This week’s Digital Sport Insider podcast came from SportsPro Live, the SportsPro event in London to which Digital Sport was a proud media partner.

At the event, Dan managed to sit down with quite a few of the speakers for short interviews which gives this week’s pod a unique flavour.

More and more, we’ve been discussing esports, and it wouldn’t be a sports industry conference if it didn’t have an esports panel. SportsPro Live was no different, and on the panel discussing that particular sector of the industry was Ben Payne, Head of Esports at McLaren, who happens to be the first esports employee within a Formula 1 team – though he certainly won’t be the last.

The links between traditional sports and their corresponding simulation titles within the gaming sector are obvious when it comes to the likes of FIFA and NBA 2K, but at the same time, Formula 1 has an edge over the others here simply because that link is much stronger and much more natural. As such, McLaren are able to see esports in a novel and extremely interesting way.

“We see gaming as an opportunity to find talent to bring into our business,” Payne told the Digital Sport Insider podcast. “The winner of our competition doesn’t get a trophy or a cheque – they might get a bunch of freebies from some of our sponsors – but they get a job at McLaren. So we’ve scoured the world through a number of different qualifiers and different gaming platforms and game titles to find the world’s fastest gamers.”

Rudy van Buren was the winner of the 2017 McLaren tournament, and this year, he’s a simulator driver for McLaren for the whole of the season.

There are opportunities for sports organisations to look at esports as an opportunity to find new talent and new employees, though racing is one of the few esports where the skills are transferable. You don’t get that with other titles: don’t hold your breath waiting for a top FIFA18 player to be given a trial at any professional football club let alone the top ones on the basis of their Playstation or Xbox ability. The 5’9” NBA 2K wizard is unlikely to appear on a basketball court anytime soon either.

“You look even at traditional esports like CS:GO and League of Legends,” says Payne, “they’re played with keyboards or controllers, but racing gaming is unique, that it has that wheels and pedal approach. I love to say I beat my brother at FIFA, but that doesn’t mean I can step out at Wembley and hit a free kick top bins – as the young people say – but with wheels and pedals, if I can throw down a 1.42 at Suzuka, that means there’s an opportunity to transfer that, certainly to a simulator environment.”

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Chris McMullan
Chris McMullan 709 posts

Chris is a sports journalist and editor of Digital Sport - follow him on Twitter @CJMcMullan_

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