Last year, when the pandemic was at its height, virtual motorsports enjoyed a clear acceleration (excuse the pun). Sim racing in NASCAR, Formula One, and others was in the spotlight, and many of the world’s leading auto manufacturers recognized that an opportunity to capture a young esports audience was right in front of them. BMW, Aston Martin, McLaren, Porsche, Honda, and others have all pursued sim racing. Lamborghini and Honda are also both looking to leverage esports to find new racing talent.
Lamborghini recently announced the return of The Real Race 2021 following the tournament’s debut a year ago, and at the end of the competition, one of the drivers will be offered a position as the first-ever official Lamborghini sim driver for 2022. The supercar brand also partnered this year with Psyonix on Rocket League content and teamed with Gameloft to host a mobile tournament in Asphalt 9: Legends.
Meanwhile, Honda Performance Development (HPD), which leads motorsports programs for both Honda and Acura in North America, is launching its own esports academy. HPD has teamed with JAS Motorsport and SRO Motorsport to find the next generation of racing talent through sim racing; some will be granted a three-day racing school experience by Skip Barber Racing School, as many sim racing skills translate to real-world racing.
While Honda’s cars are more affordable, even a luxury vehicle company such as Lamborghini needs to reinforce its brand with young people. Lamborghini’s CEO commented that gaming is “important for engaging the new generations and making our cars even more popular with young people.” Esports is a natural fit for most auto brands because esports viewers over-index on the racing genre compared to average gamers. According to Interpret’s Esports Replay™, 25% of US esports viewers have played a racing game on PC/console in the past 3 months compared to 20% of average gamers, while on mobile 20% of esports viewers have played a racing game compared to just 13% of average gamers.
For esports viewers who prefer other games, auto brands have wisely catered to their tastes as well. Honda, for example, has sponsored both Team Liquid and Riot Games’ LCS in 2019 and revealed its 2022 Civic model exclusively on its Twitch gaming channel last year, Cadillac became a sponsor of TSM in January, Kia has sponsored Riot’s LEC in multiple years, and Toyota was a launch partner for OWL back in 2018.