Formula 1 will crown an official eSports Series World Champion for the first time in 2017, it has been confirmed.
The Formula 1 eSports Series will be run as a partnership between Formula 1, game developer Codemasters, and eSports specialists Gfinity.
The inaugural season will kick off in September to coincide with the launch of the F1 2017 game, with a qualification system running through the month to determine the 40 quickest drivers.
They will be invited to the live semifinals, which will be held at the Gfinity Arena in London on October 10 and 11. The Top 20 from the semis will qualify for the finals, which will take place as part of the season-closing Abu Dhabi Grand Prix in November.
A three-race event will see the first-ever F1 eSports World Champion crowned on the same weekend as Formula 1 World Champion proper.
“This launch presents an amazing opportunity for our business: strategically and in the way we engage fans,” said F1 commercial boss Sean Bratches.
“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.”
The 2017 eSport Series champ will not only secure automatic qualification to the semifinals of the 2018 World Championship, but will also be named the ‘Formula 1 eSports Champion Expert’ for the following year, and be included as a character in the F1 2018 game.
According to Codemasters CEO Frank Saigner, the eSports concept will take fan engagement to a new level.
“eSports is one of the fastest growing sectors of gaming already attracting audiences in the tens of millions,” he said.
“We are delighted to be announcing this incredible racing series with Formula 1 for our upcoming F1 2017 game. The highly competitive nature and high-speed spectacle of the sport combined with the authenticity of our game will provide a thrilling experience for players and viewers across the world.
“We look forward to engaging more deeply with our loyal and passionate community, and to bring new fans to both our game and the sport itself."
While this is Formula 1’s first official step into the eSports segment, motorsport has been closely aligned to gaming for a number of years through the Nissan GT Academy programme, famous for taking gamers and turning them into factory Nissan GT drivers.
Formula E held a major event in Las Vegas in January with a million-dollar prize fund, while McLaren is also dipping its toe into the eSports water this year with ‘World’s Fastest Gamer’ project, which will see one gamer hired as the team’s Formula 1 simulator driver.