Having our own international racing circuit in Sepang does not make us strangers to the world of motorsport, having hosted real-life racing events, including those from international organizers F1 and MotoGP.
However, when Covid-19 put a damper on the motorsports industry, it’s no surprise that local fans ended up looking elsewhere to get their racing fix.
This “elsewhere” turned out to be the sim racing scene.
Sim racing, short for racing simulation, is a popular esports category where racers compete on virtual tracks modeled after real locations in racing simulation video games like Race hall, Gran Turismo, F1 22and iRacing.
Coincidentally, the Sepang International Circuit is also included as a track in some of the titles.
The love for the game has only grown, and this can be gauged from the number of viewers who streamed the Malaysian Motor Sports Association Lockdown Virtual Championship and the Toyota GR Velocity Championship.
According to the organisers, the number of online spectators for the Velocity Championship has grown from just 10,000 when it was held in 2018 to more than one million over the two days of racing in 2020. However, the story does not not limit the number of viewers.
Wan Muhammad Afiq Wan Hasnan – winner of this year’s Malaysia Legend Championship Esports F1 Racing Night Run and last year’s Piala Tuan Yang Terutama esports Championship – went into more detail on the impact Covid-19 has had on the community sim racing.
“The way I see it, Covid-19 has made it much harder for us to reach new fans.
“We used to host events in malls that attracted passing shoppers who stopped by to watch our shopping and learn about the community.
“During the pandemic, these events dried up and moved online, where existing motorsports fans were the primary viewers,” he says.
Wan Muhammad Afiq shared that despite the challenges posed by Covid-19 and the high cost of accessing games – racing wheels, pedals and joysticks can run into the thousands of ringgits – the community continues to grow.
“I was drawn to sim racing because I’m a motorsport fan,” he says, “and a lot of us are the same.
“It’s not the most accessible type of esport, but again, actual racing is probably the most expensive sport.
“That’s why sim racing is growing – it’s the closest we’ve got to getting behind the wheel of a real race car.”
He added that while some players are just there for the fun of racing, others, like him, aim to compete in tournaments.
“Being able to see ourselves improving is part of why we love simulation racing so much – putting in hours of practice to win even a fraction of a second will be important when we compete.
“There’s a real sense of accomplishment when you see your lap times go down and your name at the top of the leaderboard, especially in competition,” he says.
While certainly not as big compared to other mainstream esports titles like Dota 2, PUBG and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang (MLBB)Sim racing tournaments have grown in popularity over the past few years.
The veteran sim racer explained that since his debut in 2017, the rise in viewership has started to attract more sponsors to the events.
“The prize pools for sim racing tournaments tended to be smaller in the past,” he says, “but now there are a few big names sponsoring events, especially for Gran Turismoone of the most popular racing games in malaysia.
“Although my main games are F1 and Assetto Corsa Competizione, I train for hours to participate in Gran Turismo tournaments due to their size!”