Over the past couple of days the league racing scene in the F1 gaming community has taken a huge hit with the revelation that official F1 Esports drivers have been given updates to the F1 2021 game ahead of everyone else.
It’s not uncommon for drivers who have F1 Esports commitments to be given special builds of the F1 games as last year they got a version of F1 2020 that let them take part in 35% distance races. That was done so F1 Esports Pro Series could run longer races than it had done in previous years but the option to run 35% distance races never made its way to the public versions of F1 2020 or F1 2021.
The issue this time is that the esports gamers have been given early access to a patch that tweaks the performance and handling of the cars, supposedly in a way that makes them slightly slower. That puts all the drivers lucky enough to be affiliated with F1 Esports at a competitive disadvantage to those who aren’t and therefore makes it impossible to run an online race fairly without segregating between those who are F1 Esports drivers and those who aren’t.
Those changes to the game will be made publicly available once Codemasters has finished optimising them, with the hold up believed to be down to getting the changes to work with the AI, which isn’t a consideration for F1 Esports.
Premier Sim Gaming Leagues (PSGL) has been the main focus for these changes since the majority of people competing in the top tier of its PC championship are F1 Esports drivers.
Three of the planned 12 races have already gone ahead with last year’s F1 Esports champion Jarno Opmeer on top in the PSGL championship having won two races and finishing as the runner up to Red Bull’s Frederik Rasmussen in the other.
— Dani Moreno (@DaniMorenoF1) August 27, 2021
Other drivers taking part include Dani Moreno who will be racing alongside Opmeer at Mercedes in the upcoming F1 Esports Pro Series season, the Aston Martin duo of Shanaka Clay and Lucas Blakeley as well as the Alpine pairing of Fabrizio Donoso and Nicolas Longuet – the latter of which was a race winner in the 2020 F1 Esports Pro Series.
F1 Esports is, in simple terms, an F1 game league but with the added benefit of official backing from F1 and more recently the F1 teams as well. But groups of people getting together and organising scheduled online races on the F1 games has been going on for about a decade.
Every driver in F1 Esports will have had some experience in league racing since that was how they were able to prove themselves to earn a place in F1 Esports and a seat with one of the 10 teams. League racing was, and for many people still is, a hobby but it’s also a way to see just how good you are and attract the attention of an esports team who will take you under their wing.
Given that history, and how many of the F1 Esports drivers choose to take part in league races for fun, the negative reaction to the news that they wouldn’t be able to race in other leagues is understandable.
League racing, especially @PremierSimGL brought so many new eyeballs and exposure to the F1 game this year, this patch would completely kill the fun and momentum it had.
There must be a better way to do this without ruining the best league racing year so far.
— Michael Romanidis (@Michael_MR53) August 26, 2021
The bigger issue is for new talents who are trying to establish themselves as a future F1 Esports star since they’ll suddenly be deprived of the opportunity to race against current F1 Esports drivers, unless there’s a way the current F1 Esports drivers can still take part in league races with the older version of F1 2021.
As an example of that there’s Jake Benham who finished second in the most recent PSGL race and behind only Opmeer. He’s currently not linked to any F1 Esports team but Benham is a development driver with Veloce Esports.
It’s not known whether the F1 Esports drivers will be able to play the public version of F1 2021 for league racing purposes, but if they can’t then it would have a huge impact on top tier F1 leagues due to a lack of remaining drivers.
“We’re waiting to hear what’s going to happen so we can decide whether the top tier of PSGL continues or not,” George Morgan, commentator for PSGL, told The Race.
“If they proceed with the performance patch then it’s looking like it will come to an end for this season but the other tiers will continue because they’re unaffected.
“But otherwise if they pull out the performance patch then I would imagine that things would continue as normal, but it’s totally dependent on Codemasters.”
— PSGL (@PremierSimGL) August 27, 2021
PSGL has grown hugely this year with the influx of F1 Esports drivers taking part. The league’s YouTube channel has had its subscriber count increase tenfold since the start of 2021 and the first race in the newest season of their top tier PC league has attracted over 50,000 views.
Many of the drivers also benefit with most notably Opmeer growing an audience on his YouTube and Twitch channels through content he makes on the F1 games including his league racing activities.
It’s still up in the air as to whether PSGL will continue running their top tier PC league. Its races were likely going to clash with the F1 Esports Pro Series at some point anyway, but how soon into the PSGL season the F1 Esports drivers may have to bow out and without any prior warning from Codemasters is what has irked so many in the sim racing community.
“Communication was definitely the problem here.” Morgan said. “I understand why they held back the performance patch.
“But at the same time if they came out with an official statement and said ‘we’re releasing this update that’s only going to be available to the esports guys, the reason being for that is this’, that at least would’ve been something.
“Communication is so important and we’ve got such a vibrant community here that are on the game all the time and are enthusiasts who only want the best for the game and for leagues.
“The problem is if you start doing things behind closed doors then people start to get suspicious and I think this is why it’s all blown up the way it has. I think people felt they were being held back from information that maybe should’ve found its way into the public domain.”
Codemasters initially declined to comment when contacted by The Race about the situation, but it has since released a short statement.
It said: “We recently launched an update to the F1 Esports Series build to correct a performance variation between the game and what is happening on track right now.
“Additionally, we made some minor tweaks to the handling model to remove an unrealistic element with low-speed cornering.
“The update provided to the F1 Esports Series teams will be launched to all players as soon as the patch is optimised for the F1 2021 game. Stay tuned for the timing on this and other F1 updates.”