Sunday, June 5, 2016

Good Things Always End with "Sport"

Over the span of two weeks, lots were happened. Gran Turismo Sport, the newest entry to the Gran Turismo franchise, showed its colors with a couple of new stuffs, including the Tokyo Expressway (!), the all-new evolution of Photo Mode called Scapes, and the Livery Editor, as well as the fact that it is now a sanctioned by FIA which means that this game will be equal to any motorsporting event and, taking the e-Sport context into account, would be a good challenger to the DoTA 2 scene.

One week later meanwhile, I managed to try out GRID Autosport in Margo City. Intel Indonesia held an event entitled Intel Game Time which allowed visitors to shop for Intel's products as well as trying out their skills in three different games: GRID Autosport, FIFA Online and Point Blank. This golden opportunity is something that I can't be missed because of the fact that the words "GRID Autosport" and "Margo City" were indeed in the same sentence. It was a unique experience although I didn't expect anything from the leaderboard which would take the Top 3 from the daily leaderboard over the span of the show's run throughout Wednesday to Sunday in a final held in the Sunday afternoon, with the Top 3 in the final get to the Grand Final held in Mall Taman Anggrek.

I haven't played the most recent GT installments before, and just tried out GRID Autosport, but I felt that another racing title (or racing simulation, mind you) getting represented as an e-Sport is a great idea. I've been longing for this!


Gran Turismo Sport, the seventh incarnation of the ever-popular Gran Turismo franchise from Polyphony Digital, has shown its sneak preview last week. Instead of naming it into Gran Turismo 7, the franchise took a very big step in making racing simulation another form of motorsport activity. In short, GT Sports is well on its way to become the racing part of e-sports as opposed to mainstream games of the same kind like DoTA 2, Counter Strike, and many others, in my opinions at least. It was first announced in October 2015 beforehand with a trailer. From the trailer above, the game features a partnership with Federation Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) and goes as far as to have a Gran Turismo Championship being an FIA-approved game, with Manufacturer's Cup and Nation's Cup at its disposal. Other than that, new cars were also visible and some of the past cars from the most recent GT series are also featured too in this video.

The Gameplay Trailer, which coincided with its pre-season test at the same time held on May 19 at East London's Copper Box Arena, sharpens up the fact that the game promises a lot of new features. First up, the new tracks, especially Tokyo Expressway, which is loosely based on one of the most famous landmarks of the whole Shutoko Expressway: the C1 Route. Featured in numerous street racing-themed games such as Genki's Shutokou Battle series (Tokyo Xtreme Racer) and Namco's Wangan Midnight Maximum Tune, the track now finds its home to Gran Turismo series for the first time. Although that it's not a full C1 track, with the infamous Chuo-ku section not featured (understandably because of the separators in the middle of the road, perhaps?), those who are familiar to the route will enjoy driving this track with one of GT Sport's offerings of cars. Other tracks include the Northern Isle Raceway, the franchise's first oval track. Another batch of additions include the newly-styled in-game HUD, pre-race starting grid preview, new cars such as the Aston Martin DBR9 GT1 V12 Vantage GT3 with a DBR9-styled livery, Renault R.S.01 GT3, Subaru WRX Gr. 3, the racing version of Toyota FT-1, et cetera, all organized by a set of classes comprising Gr. 1 (high-end, LMP-ish cars), Gr. 3 (GT3 and JAF-GT equivalent), Gr. 4 (race-modified road cars), and Class N (road cars).

Gameplay-wise, there's also Scapes mode, the evolution of GT's Photo Mode where it allows you to take a picture of your car (or, cars) while taking it to some of the world's famous landmarks and with more customization possibilities. Not to be missed out is the presence of the livery editor which will allow players to customize their cars to their heart's content. This has to be what everyone was looking for all this time, and they wanted to do something more than just a run-of-the-mill Racing Modification in past GT titles while topping off GT2's Racing Modification feature and take it up to eleven. Players will also be able to spectate GT Sport races in GT Sport Live, enjoying the TV-style live cameras and live commentary just like in real racing.

But the real cherry topping of this game is of course the Sport Mode. Being an FIA-sanctioned game, of course I can't forget this one main feature on this post. The Sport Mode will see everyone starting out as a beginner, progressing through ranks to the toppest level in two of FIA-certified Gran Turismo championships: Nations Cup, and Manufacturer Fan Cup. The Nations Cup is self-explanatory as it is about players representing their own country, while the Manufacturer Fan Cup is where players represent their favorite manufacturer and be part of the works team. Well, not literally, but in terms of players living the fantasy of a Works team driver, it could work. Last but not least, the game will allow you to acquire a real motorsport license in a form of FIA Gran Turismo Digital License where after completing various prerequisites players will be eligible for the license from their local national sports authority, which holds the same value as the real-life racing license. According to the official site, 22 countries have expressed interest in this program as of May 2016, but the final list will be announced soon. All I was hoping is to see Indonesia being one of those countries, but somehow I haven't seen news about it. More information available on GT Sport's official website here.

The pre-season test which was held in May 19 meanwhile consisted of a couple of sessions, including the showcase of the gameplay trailer itself, a Pre-Season Test for Nations Cup and Manufacturer Fan Cup, which visited some of the confirmed tracks and saw the driving of the cars featured in the game, old and new. This event was meant to preview how the FIA-sanctioned Gran Turismo championships will look like, feel like, sound like, and smell like. The in-game action delivered thrills and spills during all the races, and there were fights for position, although the race commentary had so many rooms for improvement. You can watch the event's three hours of full action here, courtesy of the official Playstation YouTube channel.

In my opinion, I think that I see good prospects in this game, being an FIA-sanctioned game, having a healthy grid of new and original cars plus an extensive livery editor and stuff, although that some friends around my circle isn't all hyped up. If this were to be the motorsport part of e-sports, then so be it, because I have been aching to see more racing representation in the e-sports scene other than TrackMania that is. Understandably, the game has lots of room for improvement because it is still an unfinished product so I'm still anticipating on what Polyphony will have up in its sleeves, but in the recent light the fact that it won't have dynamic time and weather as Kazunori Yamauchi himself confirmed to GT Planet might upset the majority of fans, citing inconsistencies between installments especially since the more recent GT installments (from 5) had this, all in favor of raising the frame rate and quality of the image in the game. Whatever it is, negativities aside, I am looking forward for its planned release which would be in November this year.


A week after GT Sport's announcement, there's Intel Game Time, a showcase of Intel's products and gaming held by Intel Indonesia. The five-day event spans throughout four different venues, with one of them being Margo City Depok which equals to the most nearby location I can get to play GRID Autosport and is the third venue before the grand finale in Mal Taman Anggrek. Aside from GRID Autosport, you can also play FIFA Online 3 and Point Blank, and fight for the leaderboard position for those three games which the daily Top 3 in the leaderboard in every game will move on to the Semifinal event which puts all Top 3 participants throughout the span of five days in the venue fighting for the Top 3 which will take them to the grand finale in Mal Taman Anggrek. You can expect the Top 3 from each game in the past venues, including MTA and Summarecon Bekasi, to fight against each other for the greatest prize.

The journey to my attending the event there is kind of bittersweet: originally, I would go there on Wednesday to write my name on the leaderboard, however due to my incompetence in deciding the shortest route from my Internship office in Serpong all the way to Margo City and go as far as Cilandak only to meet with the heavy traffic jam which eventually cancelled my Wednesday visit and ended up spending 70k for some tasty chicken wings in the Cinere area. A day later, the journey was also bittersweet as I had to combat against heavy rain en route to the location, now with (not quite) better route though I succeeded making it. My afternoon arrival, which I believe was at 3 pm, meant that I have no time to waste and had to collect the GRID Autosport experience in a fast pace.

Thankfully, none of the players who tried the game made their fastest laps as the majority of them ended up finishing the one-lap time trial in the Sport Circuit of Indianapolis using Intel-liveried Subaru BRZ either in a damaged fashion or more than 2 minutes of lap time due to the fact that the steering behavior isn't what everyone including me expected (read: Deadzone all the way!). Unfortunately, the latter also described my first attempt as I struggled to tackle the deadzone issue. Though with the disinterest of people trying after seeing the steering problems and the low activity in this booth, I was able to collect some experiences throughout my runs, with a second attempt netting me a 1:50-ish laptime after figuring out the steering behavior and braking zones. Yet in another attempt, I was able to top it off with 1:43.3, and called it a day although scoring a slower 1:43.6 mark courtesy of the wall hit near the final turn. The booth keeper promised me that I would be notified by SMS if my fastest time is in the Daily Top 3, but I didn't receive one which leads me to either someone broke that time at evening, someone posted 1:42.x earlier, or only the first attempt was taken, but I'm not really expecting much off of my performance because I had to go to Bandung at Saturday night for my brother's farewell party which saw me arriving home at the midnight of Monday after a long trip, which would render my semifinal attempt useless if I were to succeed.

Making it or not, I am pretty much thankful for the event. I don't think that I could get this experience anytime soon but I feel like it's a good media to show off my racing game skills, even though a learning curve was involved in improving. It would be great if I could do this anytime in my home, which unfortunately I can't because at the moment I couldn't afford a gaming laptop and steering wheel right now.


Can Racing Games become e-Sports? (Image: official site)

Bringing up the e-Sports context to the post while following this post's motif as stated on the title, there's a question that's still stuck in my head in my life: "Can racing games become e-Sports?". We can already see DoTA 2, League of Legends, Counter Strike and others already become e-Sports in their own right, but as for racing? Currently we only had TrackMania Nations as one of Electronic Sports World Cup games, yet racing games (and racing simulators) don't seem to get the mainstream-level of popularity in e-Sports, let alone being looked upon as e-Sports.

The definition of Sport itself is a form of physical activity which uses skills and abilities in an entertaining manner as the site defined, and is then divided into two sub-categories: Physical sports (anything you can mention except the Mental ones later on) and Mental sports (Chess and Poker), although the latter would often be a target of debate as there were no physical activity but relies on the mental focus. e-Sports meanwhile wasn't introduced until the 90s era during the days of Counter Strike and Warcraft although, in concept, the activity in general originated as early as 1972 in a form of video game competitions involving a massive number of participants (Wikipedia), and by today you can enjoy the offerings of e-Sports with e-Sport games you can mention, and players do make their dollars out of it (more precisely, by sponsorships and all the stuff).

Competitive-level racing games and its sub-genres (precisely racing simulations) is more than enough to be called as an e-Sport, as they have the same skill prerequisites to be able to top their opponent off. For the case of racing simulations, the "leg control" aspect is added, which calls for a closer, if not at all, realism environment. Titles like iRacing and Project CARS has become the prominent examples of racing e-Sports in a Sim Racing environment (not sure if pCARS should either go to this region or it is a Simcade though), all with its own set of rules, while existing titles such as TrackMania has become a go-to title in the Arcade spectrum since its inception in the 2006 Electronic Sports World Cup, and now recently we have the WRC 5 e-Sports World Championship. Yet once again, we're just nothing compared to DoTA 2 and friends. I mean, I can totally see which one has more views: the DoTA Blackhole or a Spa Francorchamps e-Sports race.

I remember talking about Maximum Tune being a representation of e-Sports as opposed to Namco Bandai's fighting game Tekken Tag Tournament 2, because if I was all like "if Tekken could make it as an e-Sport, why not Maximum Tune?" on Twitter and was cross-posted to Facebook.  I was thinking if it is possible to put a camera on cabs or do something just like the National WMMT Tournament in Japan a few years ago, but then the scope was broadened to e-Sports, thinking would it be feasible to pit countries with Maximum Tune cabinets against each other. Unfortunately, unlike Tekken Tag Tournament 2, there are much more hurdles to MT being an e-Sport, difference of servers is just one of them. A separated server for Japanese, International, and Indonesian versions means that everything wouldn't be feasible at the start compared to the days where 3DX+ still lived, because apparently a usage of Banapassport in the game is limited to one version as using it to another version would cause a data overwrite which would effectively render the version the player played for the first time useless. I would say "data merge" easily but I couldn't as I would remember that there were somekind of a difference in price per play, which is the reason why one game in Indonesia is much cheaper than in one of the International versions, depending on where you live as long as it has that version, and people in Indonesia seemed to choose the cheaper option. Aside from pricing, availability is also the major problem, which you have to take note that Europe and Americas have yet the most recent versions of Maximum Tune, and to top it off is the fact that there are no plans for the console version unlike Tekken, and the market for the two mentioned regions was more to the console taste. Still, I'd pay for a future where MT becomes an e-Sport.

In the Sim context, while Sim Racing titles do not make e-Sport athletes, they do make real race drivers. GT Academy is one of the prominent examples, and what could be better than mentioning Lucas Ordóñez as the example? Ordóñez is the first winner of GT Academy, and has experienced lots of prominent sports car racing series ranging from Super GT to Blancpain GT Series, and endurance races from 24 Hours of Dubai to 24 Hours of Le Mans. Another notable GT Academy winner Jann Mardenborough has also tasted success even as far as entering the GP2 series in 2015 and now competing in the Japanese F3 series aside from his sports car drives. iRacing also produces its own share of drivers, first off the Finn Greger Huttu, winner of numerous iRacing's Grand Prix World Championship titles, who tried the Formula Mazda car in Road Atlanta in 2010, and then you have Michael Conti who hailed from the iRacing championship to the stock car racing. There's not much iRacing examples I can find sadly, but granted there are actually professional competitors who are joining in.

In conclusion, the fact that racing games are a part of having the mainstream e-Sports status is still debatable, though there's a big potential that it will become one. While they don't make high-banking athletes as par as the DoTA 2 and LoL players, they do make real athletes that are ready to take on the real stage, which makes up the magic for simulation and non-simulation titles. Competitive racing game scene need to be more advertised, and the same would go to simulation titles, because in racing, it's more than just a click of a mouse and keyboard, it's about making strategies and controlling your body where possible.

And meanwhile I'll be stuck with 2D racing games forever...

Further reading:
"A Look into the Future of Driving Sims" - Popular Mechanics
An official VLN race in iRacing - Bridge to Gantry
"In what way would you improve simracing to make it to make it a major e-sport?" - Reddit
"Would you consider Sim Racing to be a sport?" - Reddit


No comments:

Post a Comment