Forza Racing World Championship 2018 made a pitstop in London back in October, and I was given the pleasure of making the event my first live esports experience. Just how accessible is an event like this to an event newbie?
So, Forza RWC. The cream of the crop of Forza drivers, those able to race without shafting the opposition into Narnia at turn 1. A rare breed indeed. 24 of the best racers, some with backing from F1 teams such as Williams and Sauber, and not a single racer competing without a team having picked them up. Veloce Esports making a strong showing alongside rivals TX3, and numerous other organizations showing the strength of their driver line-up.
The venue, London’s Gfinity Esports Arena. A purpose built esports venue inside the Fulham Broadway Retail Centre. Attached to the VUE Cinema, it’s easy to miss if you follow your phone, but it’s up a couple of floors and you’re there. Buy yourself some London priced refreshments, and book yourself in. You follow signs to the event, and it’s all so-far-so-cinema. Then you walk through the right side door and you’re met by cameras and a sound desk. You can pass through, but you feel a bit of a tit for not using the other door. You’ll have no choice should you need to leave during filming, as you’ll be smacked by the telescopic camera boom should you make a swift exit to the right.
The first thing that hits you when you get through the door is not the camera, but the feeling that this is a rather high budget, professional affair. These are broadcasts more akin to television than Twitch, and really show how far these events have come. Past events were very much a fixed camera affair, as you could tell from the repeated camera angles. Here’s looking at you MLG circa 2000-2014. Now, you’ve got television studio cameras on wheels, boom cameras, and mobile gyroscopic units. If you needed evidence that esports is only getting bigger, it’s right here, in the form of a dedicated arena that is capable of studio-quality broadcasts.
Of course, quality production is only half the battle, and a quality product is also required to complete the package. Now, this is always going to be the subjective area. One mans League of Legends is another man’s Smite after all. As n3rdabl3’s resident racing enthusiast, a Forza event seemed like the perfect setting for my first live esports event. Sadly, it wasn’t without its problems, which I’ll get into in due time.
Forza Racing World Championship 2018 took place across two days (October 20-21) in London this year, with the semifinals taking place on Saturday. 24 drivers would be cut down to 12 for the Sunday, with two 12 man semis taking place with the top 6 going on to the famed ‘Championship Sunday’. With three races for each semifinal, I imagined the event to be a rather short affair. Oh, how wrong I was. The event starts with the typical promotional package, pre-recorded of course, and then fires into the live show, the set manager commanding the claps and cheers as well as directing the on-screen cast. After a little bit of a fanboy moment noticing the legend John Hindhaugh taking the commentary seat, The first race is underway.
Nice and speedy, fitting for a racing event. The game takes a minute to come up for those in the venue, with a screen descending from the ceiling for those in the arena to enjoy the action. The classic overtones of John Hindhaugh’s commentary do the game wonders, and you can tell he’s really thrown himself at the role. The first race sees the competitors tacking the tricky NASCAR Stock Car around Watkins Glen, for a handful of laps. These are not long races, averaging around 12-15 minutes. I understand that these are digestible races, but I’d rather see drivers having to tackle races closer to 20-30 minutes, giving them the chance to settle into a rhythm and remove some of the panic.
First race over, and so begins the downfall of the Forza RWC format. Adjudication. The first day saw 6 races, and you’ll be able to find the VOD for day one of the event which comes in at just over 5 and a half hours. A frankly staggering amount of time for 6 races. To put that into perspective, the Starcraft 2 best of 7 final at BlizzCon this year came in under 2 hours. Despite races landing between 6-10 laps, there were often over 100 incidents that required adjudication. Every tiny bit of contact, slight track extension gets heavily scrutinized. Rubbing is racing certainly doesn’t apply here, and honestly, it makes the tension of wheel to wheel racing feel somewhat artificial. The feeling is more ‘he’s gonna get booked for this’ than ‘oh man this is a close race’.
I understand wanting to keep things fair and even. You don’t want drivers gaining an advantage by driving another car off the road or causing accidents, and you don’t want drivers taking liberties with the track limits to gain a few tenths. At the same time, you don’t want your viewership to get bored. You also don’t want to see elements of the action being dictated off the track. We saw penalties dictating positions on more than one occasion, and the downtime between races really drags out the event and disengages the audience. It hurts to say, but during adjudication, all you could see in the crowd was phones. people were simply lost after 2-3 races as to what to do for the sometimes 30 minutes they’d have to wait between races.
John Hindhaugh made several comments about things simply being racing incidents and good, hard racing, yet everything just seemed to take an age. it’s not the issue of adjudicating incidents, that should most definitely remain, but it’s the balance of what is given the fine toothcomb and what is not that requires some attention. What this process really highlights is that, while Forza 7 is a fantastic title, it has some way to go in order to be suited for this level of play.
Title’s such as iRacing has an ‘X’ system in place, one that gives warning to racers for contact, track extensions, and other penalties. You hit a certain multiplier, you’re punished. A system like this Forza would quell 80-90% of these issues. Of course, that human element is still required for the bigger incidents, and should still take place. Being able to cut that down to 10-15 minutes maximum would allow for the analysis provided, which is stellar I might add, and allow for less of the general padding that you could tell was having to be thought out on the spot.
The experience in the venue was good but plagued by a host of issues with that lovely screen that drops from the roof to show the racing. 9 times out of 10, it wouldn’t work for a lap, forcing the crowd to have to tune in on Twitch, Mixer or Facebook to see what the commentary team were telling us about. The stream looked great I must say, but I wasn’t exactly sat in the crowd to watch the event on my phone. There were audible outcries at this, which I’m sure would have come across on stream, and might well have confused a few viewers at home. Considering there are two screens to the side of this, that were used frequently for prerecorded segments, I struggle to believe it would be hard for them to use all 3 to ensure that the crowd can see what they’ve paid for.
Did I enjoy my first venture into the world of live esports? Yes, I did. But to say it was the perfect setting would be far from the truth. The arena itself is gorgeous, and adaptable for many titles, with F1 esports boasting playseat wheel setups and Halo having recently passed through the venue too, there’s plenty of titles on offer. While there are a few kinks in production to iron out, mainly that bloody screen so the crowd can actually enjoy the games as well, it’s really the format of the Forza RWC that let the event down. The prospect of spending over 5 and a half hours to watch perhaps 2 hours of racing simply isn’t that enticing. Some streamlining of this process is sure to improve both the game and the series, so it will be interesting to see what changes come about when we get the next Forza Motorsport title.