Sparkling e-sports world
© Helena Kristiansson/ESLOne-Cologne
October 2020

Sparkling e-sports world

Some gamers rise to the highest spheres of electronic sports as internationally celebrated heroes in practically no time. Sim-Racing, in which Schaeffler is successfully involved, is one of the fast-paced and increasingly professional e-sports disciplines.

A new elite of athletes has entered the stage: gamers, cheered on by and scoring “likes” from zillions of fans around the globe. The players’ sports equipment is a keyboard and mouse, a gamepad or a steering wheel. The best among them are worshipped like pop stars and their competitions would fill large arenas in pre-corona times. What’s more, they’re planned to participate in the Olympic Games rather sooner than later. Streaming platforms have been providing electronic sports, aka e-sports, with huge coverage on the internet. The number of worldwide users of PC and video games has been increasing for years, and so has the industry’s billion-dollar sales revenue. In Germany, spending time in digital gaming worlds is more popular than ever: the GFK Consumer Panel reports more than 34 million players, from beginners to pros – almost as many as those in possession of a driver’s license.

Working at home, schooling at home, more time at home. In the wake of the corona pandemic, all things digital have become increasingly important. In addition to the active number of gamers, the passive media consumption of gaming units is skyrocketing, too. Amazon’s Twitch, the US market leader among video game live streaming services, has been reporting a massive increase of viewers since april, just like its competitors from Google, Facebook and Microsoft. In the gaming mecca China, where many of the US platforms are censored, Huya and DouYu services experienced an upswing there.

  • $ 3 million
    were pocketed by the 16-year-old American Kyle Giersdorf as the brand-new Fortnite world champion.
  • 108 billion euros
    in sales revenue were generated by the worldwide gaming industry in 2019. More than three times as much as movie-goers paid at all the theater box offices in the world in that year.
  • 17,500 tickets
    for the 2019 League of Legends world championship in Berlin were sold out within 90 seconds.
  • 1984
    saw the market launch of Tetris, of which 495 million copies have since been sold, making it the most frequently sold game to date.
Competition in diverse genres

In times of the streaming boom, e-sports both drive and profit from the trend. A wide variety of disciplines have established themselves in the scene of the best gaming athletes: Destroying the enemy base with magic combos and teamwork is the name of the game in Dota 2, in the Counterstrike strategy shooter, adversaries must be taken out by rapid, precise use of weapons, whereas FIFA association football simulation is all about virtual goal-scoring. However, only a few games manage to attract tens of thousands to the venues of tournaments and – at times – more than 200 million viewers of live streams. In this respect, the gaming market is similar to traditional real-world sports, where soccer, tennis, basketball and company are the top crowd-pullers.

Sparkling e-sports world
On competition level, the best e-athletes perform up to 400 actions per minute. The players’ cortisol levels and heart rates rise to similar heights as in stress situations occurring in traditional sports© Helena Kristiansson/ESLOne/NY
Easy access, tricky challenge

League of Legends is one of the blockbusters in e-sports. Due to its global attractiveness, it’s also regarded as the “soccer of e-sports.” The real-time strategy game belongs to the so-called MOBA (Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) genre. Visually, it’s reminiscent of colorful comic worlds: Two rivaling teams of five are pitted against each other. Both aim to destroy the enemy base that’s diagonally opposed on the map. Players can choose from more than 140 different characters with specific abilities, called champions: from Annie, the girl with the fire magic, to the underwater titan Nautilus to Zyra, the queen of thorns. These characters can be individualized further with so-called skins. Pros typically have most these roles down pat and are highly paid for their skills.

Fortnite: Battle Royale is another e-sport game that captivates gamers and fans galore, featuring competitive action in a colorful fantasy world, albeit in a “solo survival” mode. The game starts with 100 opponents skydiving onto a vast playing area where they’re subsequently challenged to finish as the last survivor – either by sure-fire offensives or tactical games of hide and seek.

As much as the two concepts differ from each other, both are a huge success, having recorded nearly one billion viewing hours combined via streaming services in 2019. While the League of Legends attracts more than 100 million participants per month, Fortnite’s monthly participation statistics reflect 80 million. Free access to most of such games is a key factor of the huge response they enjoy. Players can subsequently buy upgrades to enhance their gaming fun, which makes for a lucrative business model. In 2018, Fortnite’s developer Epic Games set new financial records in this sector when such in-game sales accounted for a major share of the company’s total sales revenue of more than 300 million US dollars – per month.

Sparkling e-sports world
The ADAC Simracing Expo with its e-sports event attracts the world’s best virtual racers© ADAC
3 questions for …

… Daniel Kohl, Director of Technical Development Motorsport at Schaeffler.

What makes Sim-Racing attractive for Schaeffler?
Especially at the moment when all racing events understandably had to be initially cancelled due to corona, the relevance of Sim-Racing has received another major boost. Today, virtual product development is standard practice and topics like software development, system understanding and interlinked systems are fields of development and expertise we need at Schaeffler. Consequently, Sim-Racing is a suitable gateway into e-sports for us. It’s impressive to see how Sim-Racing has developed in recent years.

Sparkling e-sports world© Schaeffler

We could use simulations to calculate and predict their diverse characteristics in the virtual world

Daniel Kohl

In what other areas does Schaeffler apply simulations?
In all areas of our organization in which we develop products and systems. Let’s take an example from motorsport: to compare two powertrain concepts, we could develop, design and test both of them. But we could also use simulations to calculate and predict their diverse characteristics in the virtual world. This saves money, time and a lot of power loss.

Where do you see future uses?
As before, in the transition process from conventional powertrains to hybrid and battery-electric vehicles. Plus, the fuel cell may become an interesting proposition. This means breaking new ground in motorsport as well as – to some extent – in production development. Consequently, a lot of knowledge will have to be gained on computers.

Sim-Racing on the fast track

Sim-Racing is another up-and-coming sport. Many new series were put on the grid especially when corona stopped real-world motor racing in its tracks. Even major automotive brands such as BMW, Audi, Lamborghini and Porsche, as well as real racing stars from top-caliber series like DTM, Formula E and Formula 1, are involved in Sim-Racing. Its closeness to reality is the major characteristic that makes Sim-Racing stand out from the crowd in the e-sport universe: due to steering wheels that simulate steering forces and heavily shake when the driver hits a curb and due to hydraulic pedals requiring a sensitive foot. The handling characteristics of the race cars and the simulated circuits are amazingly authentic as well – including marketable advertising spaces. Equipment costs start in the four-digit range, while high-end sims in which Formula E teams and other professionals prepare for their races cost around two million euros.

Schaeffler is involved in this innovative racing scene, too, supporting the Coanda Simsport team in its hunt for online race victories. The driver squad is made up of international top talents and focused on races and series held on the iRacing and rFactor 2 platforms. In 2020, Coanda Simsport was victorious in the 24 Hours of Spa. In addition, the Coanda pairing of Joshua Rogers and Tommy Østgaard triumphed in the virtual one-day classic of Le Mans as part of the Porsche Esports Team. Another important competition is the Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup comprising ten races, in which all nine Coanda sim-racers compete, including the German top driver Martin Krönke in a Schaeffler-branded Porsche. The field there consists of 40 high-caliber drivers from 14 nations. Formula One star Max Verstappen also qualified for the 2020 Cup season, in which the total prize money amounts to 200,000 US dollars. That’s a lot of cash, but peanuts in comparison to other e-sports leagues: In the 2019 finale of the online multiplayer action game Dota 2, players were competing for 34 million euros of prize money. Welcome to the pinnacle of high-performance sport.

Sparkling e-sports world
In 2020, Schaeffler’s partner team Coanda Simsport clinched victories in the digital versions of the 24-hour classics of Spa and Le Mans© Schaeffler

When looking at such sums, if not earlier, it becomes clear that e-sports are more than mere entertainment. Dominik Rinnhofer, a professor of game design in Stuttgart, in a recent interview with Süddeutsche Zeitung said: “Video games are a medium and a cultural asset with a major impact. I would even go so far as to say that our future will be significantly shaped by computer games due to their huge potential of being used for changing people’s awareness or sensitizing them, as gaming provides an opportunity to test utopian models of the future without having to feel the consequences right away.” So, in this spirit: Let the games begin.

Roland Zumsande
Author Roland Zumsande
Roland Zumsande has always been fascinated by high-performance sport. His first encounter with the emerging e-sports universe took place during his student days at the German Sport University Cologne. The occasional gamer gathered personal experience in Sim-Racing in the #RaceHome virtual charity racing series.