Being home to our very own international racing circuit in Sepang makes us no stranger to the world of motorsports, having played host to real-life racing events, including those by international organisers F1 and MotoGP.
However, when Covid-19 put a hold on the motorsport industry, it was no surprise that local fans wound up searching elsewhere to get their racing fix.
That “elsewhere” turned out to be the sim racing scene.
Sim racing, short for simulated racing, is a popular esports category where racers go head-to-head on virtual tracks modelled after real-life locales in racing sim video games like RaceRoom, Gran Turismo, F1 22, and iRacing.
Coincidentally, the Sepang International Circuit also happens to be 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 that streamed the Motorsports Association of Malaysia’s Lockdown Virtual Championship and the Toyota GR Velocity Championship.
According to organisers, the number of online spectators for the Velocity Championship jumped from just 10,000 when it was held back in 2018 to over one million over the two days of racing in 2020.However, there is more to the story than just viewership numbers.
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 that Covid-19 had on the sim racing community.
“The way I see it, Covid-19 made it much harder for us to reach out to new fans.
“Before, we had mall-hosted events that attracted passing shoppers who would stop to watch our races and learn about the community.
“During the pandemic, those events dried up and shifted to online, where existing motorsports fans were the main viewers,” he says.
Wan Muhammad Afiq shared that despite the challenges posed by Covid-19 and the high cost of getting into the games – racing wheels, pedals and shifters can reach thousands of ringgit – the community is still growing.
“I was drawn to sim racing as I’m a motorsport fan,” he says, “and it’s the same for a lot of us.
“It’s not the most accessible type of esports, but then again, real-life racing is probably the most expensive sport out there.
“Which is why sim racing is growing – it’s the closest thing we have to getting behind the wheel of a real race car.”
He added that while some players are just in it for the fun of racing, others, like himself, aim to compete in tournaments.
“Being able to see yourself improve is part of why we enjoy sim racing so much – putting in the hours of practice to shave off even a fraction of a second will matter when we compete.
“There’s a real sense of achievement when you see your lap times getting shorter and your name high up on the leaderboard, especially when competing,” he says.
While certainly not as big when compared to other traditional esports titles like Dota 2, PUBG and Mobile Legends: Bang Bang (MLBB), sim racing tournaments have been growing in scale over the past years.
The seasoned sim racer explained that since he started in 2017, the higher viewership numbers have started to attract more sponsors to events.
“Prize pools for sim racing tournaments tended to be smaller in the past,” he says, “but now, there are some major names sponsoring events, particularly for Gran Turismo, one of the more popular racing games in Malaysia.
“While my main games are F1 and Assetto Corsa Competizione, I’m putting in hours of practice to compete in Gran Turismo tournaments because of how big they are!”