While sports across the nation and most of the world have come to a screeching halt, one sport struck gold last Sunday with an unlikely, foreign event to many: esports.
Esports often divide many social media comment sections with opinions ranging from positivity to downright nasty. With pro players such as Ninja who’s net worth was over $15 million in 2019, signing a deal with Adidas, the streaming platform Mixer, Red Bull, and countless others, he has inspired many to pursue a career in gaming.
Racing is also common online with the company iRacing being a hotbed for people wanting to try their hand at taking hold of a race car. iRacing is a simulator that is as detailed as they come, as the company scans the tracks to the very last bump on the track. Many NASCAR drivers use it to practice, with some even getting their start using the simulator. One name is William Byron. Byron got his start in iRacing which ultimately led him to pilot the 24 car which seated one of the all-time greats, Jeff Gordon after his retirement.
Last week, NASCAR decided to host the “eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series” where several NASCAR drivers from past and present sat in their homes to race against one another at the digital Homestead Miami track. Some names even the most casual sports fans might recognize were seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson (see his rig here), 15-time Most Popular Driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Denny Hamlin who has won multiple Daytona 500’s.
The event was complete with commentators Mike Joy, Jeff Gordon, and former crew chief Larry McReynolds discussing the race like a normal event.
The race came down to a last-lap pass from Denny Hamlin who surged through the field to defeat Dale Earnhardt Jr. who was on older tires. After the race, NASCAR fans and the drivers were positive about the event and how things turned out. At one point, NASCAR was the number one trending topic on Twitter, with most of the mentions commending NASCAR and the drivers for trying to entertain sports fans in the best way they could.
NASCAR’s attempt did go over well when the ratings came out earlier this week. The eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series drew 903,000 viewers on FS1, FOX Sports’ premium channel. Additionally, the event was the most-social TV program overall on Sunday. NASCAR-owned content related to the event also produced more than one million engagements throughout the weekend. The race was the highest-rated esports TV event in history.
NASCAR and FOX Sports announced Tuesday after the success of Sunday’s race that FOX itself will air the event along with FS1 and the FOX Sports Go app, which is unprecedented and will likely double even potentially triple viewership. More drivers are expected to try their hand at the Invitational as the excitement builds.
No matter sports fans or social media commenters views on esports, the fact remains that NASCAR struck gold Sunday. Not only did they strike gold, but they at least attempted to scratch the itch of millions of sports fans around the world who have not had anything relevant to entertain them over the past several weeks. NASCAR, the drivers, and their employees should be commended for that.