The eNASCAR Pro Invitational esports racing league launched in the wake of the postponement of its real-world live events has smashed TV rating records and Nascar MD of gaming Scott Warfield believes the impacts of its 15 minutes of fame will prove longer lasting
On 16 May, Nascar postponed all forthcoming races in its Cup series until early May, leaving a primetime hole in the scheduling program of Fox Sports 1.
The following day, it announced the creation of eNascar Pro Invitational in collaboration with long-term partner iRacing – a new gaming league where professional athletes would battle it out on virtual tracks to fill the broadcasting void. What happened next was quite remarkable.
The first race at virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway attracted 900,000 viewers – smashing ratings records for any other televised esports competition – and trended number one on Twitter. Over the following four events numbers steadily increased to over 1.5 million.
Scott Warfield, Managing Director of Gaming at Nascar, believes that the series has given an opportunity to show the world what esports can be from both a sports entertainment perspective and as a betting opportunity.
“Postponing the live events was a jarring inevitability and something that all sports leagues have had to deal with – basically taking away a form of entertainment from our fans,” he said.
“Luckily, we were able to quickly pivot to our esports strategy. iRacing has been a partner of ours for 11 years, so we knew through our collaborative Coca Cola e-series and Heat Pro league for video consoles that we had a fantastic product which would keep fans engaged in the absence of Nascar Cup races.”
Although the figures for Pro Invitational are significantly lower than the Nascar Cup average, which would typically receive around 4–4.5 million viewers, the virtual series’ races now make up the five highest-rated televised esports events in US history. And it has chartered new territory too: over 25 percent of viewers of the Miami competition had not watched any other previous Nascar event this year.
Warfield said: “A lot of the positive reaction is because the iRacing product is so real. For each virtual event we’ve looked to recreate every component of the real-life equivalent, from the pre-race concert to bringing in the professional NASCAR Cup drivers and following the original track schedule.”
High tides lift all boats
Many athletes already used and promoted the driving simulator rigs as a training and engagement tool, affording a level of credibility to the platform that has helped boost ratings.
Thanks to this sudden surge in popularity, Warfield believes Nascar’s two existing esports mainstays – Coca Cola and Heat Pro – will see long term gains.
He said: “The numbers for our existing leagues have gone through the roof – but will this stick around? Before the coronavirus pandemic, esports was already on an incredible trajectory. That curve has now been accelerated as sports like eNascar have been given 15 minutes of fame.”
For the betting industry, esports has provided a lifeline to many sportsbook operators by filling the void left by the suspension of most major leagues and sporting events. But as well as maintaining engagement among traditional bettors, the increased prominence of esports is also attracting a younger audience.
“There are sports fans all over the world that are thirsting for content and the same can be said for bettors. If you look at what’s been popping with sportsbooks, it’s ping pong, it’s Belarus football, it’s Korean baseball – and now there’s this peak of interest in eNascar because of the realistic nature,” Warfield explained.
“The benefit we have is that our esports products are available on platforms where a lot of younger people flock to and are broadcast in more attractive, shorter formats. So, while we’re trying to capture any and all eyeballs, an additional element is that as the sports become more youthful, so will the operator’s sportsbooks.”
As the popularity of betting on esports propels into untested waters, Warfield asserted that integrity remains critical. He emphasised the importance of clarity with the audience and ensuring an understanding of the event rules.
The same can be said for virtual RNG games, which have also come under the spotlight in the wake of sporting cancellations. For Warfield, this type of content presents a unique opportunity in the months and years ahead for Nascar to grow its handle and offer a bridge to engage fans between major weekend races.
Scott Warfield will be speaking on the benefits of esports to the betting and gaming industry at ICE NA Digital, which takes place online between May 11–15. Click here to find out more about the event.