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eSports Formula 1 World Championship launched

Formula One will crown its first virtual world champion at the season-ending Abu Dhabi Grand Prix after announcing on Monday the launch of an eSports series to run from September to November.

The new eSports Series is a partnership with Formula One, game developer Codemasters and events and competitions specialists Gfinity.

The series will be in three stages, starting with qualification events through September to determine the 40 quickest virtual drivers, and run on PlayStation4, Xbox One and Windows PC platforms.

Live semifinals will be held at London’s Gfinity Arena on October 10-11 with the top 20 going on to the three-race finals at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Marina circuit on November 24-25.

The first eSports Series world champion will automatically qualify for the following year’s semifinals.

Formula One managing director Sean Bratches said in a statement that the new series represented: “This launch presents an amazing opportunity for our business: strategically and in the way we engage fans.”

“First, it’s a growing category with tremendous fan engagement that we’re entering in a big way; and we are proud to have Codemasters and Gfinity joining us on this ride.”

“Of course as we do in Formula 1, we’ll continue to evolve and innovate in the way we run this virtual counterpart to the F1 Championship to ensure we provide the most exciting and enjoyable experience we can for our fans,” added Bratches.

Neville Upton, CEO, Gfinity added, “Formula 1 entering eSports is a powerful endorsement to how vital it is for cutting edge organisations to consider eSports in their digital offering in order to reach the elusive and lucrative millennial fanbase.”

“Gfinity has developed a unique & proprietary technical platform, which coupled with our in depth experience enable us to deliver a world-class turn key solution for our global partners. We’re very much looking forward to working with Formula 1 on this exciting project.”

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US-based Liberty Media, who took over Formula One in January, have targeted gaming as a growth area to drive revenues and connect with younger audiences.

Some of Formula One’s participants are already embracing the world of eSports, with McLaren executive director Zak Brown saying all teams could eventually have their own virtual counterpart.

McLaren, going through tough times but still the second most successful team in terms of race wins, launched in May a “World’s Fastest Gamer” initiative to recruit a simulator driver from virtual racing.

Several race drivers, including Red Bull’s Dutch teenager Max Verstappen, are also active gamers.

The all-electric Formula E series has already staged a virtual race between all of its drivers and gamers. The winner in Las Vegas last January was Dutch virtual racer Bono Huis, who collected a $200 000 jackpot.

Big Question: Is eSports racing a passing fad or here to stay?