For those raised on gaming, those glued to their controllers, watching dense and intense graphics fly by as they pinpoint and shoot objects quicker than one can blink, drone racing just might be the next logical step.
The Drone Racing League (DRL) is already a big thing, and those who can maneuver their flying objects like a pod racer in Star Wars are celebrated as modern day techno heroes.
Now the league is headed to the simulator, with the launch of the Drone Racing Simulator Tournament in Partnership with Bud Light. With Bud Light as the title sponsor, the DRL hopes to bring more prominence to the game and find the next great First Person View (FPV) Drone Racing Pilot.
The graphics of the drone racing simulator are stunning, and budding racing pilots 21 and older can test their skills by going to DRLTryouts.com, downloading the simulator and giving it a go. With four different maps from real life DRL levels, the entrants get a true test.
The prizes are worth the practice. The top 24 eligible participants will be invited to test their skills in a live finals tournament in January for a chance to win a $75,000 professional 2017 DRL contract to compete in the 2017 DRL season as the Bud Light Pilot.
“We’re excited to partner with the world’s leading drone racing league,” said Jesse Wofford, Digital Brand Manager at Bud Light. “Bud Light is committed to giving fans better ways to connect with the sports they love, and we’re excited to work with DRL to deliver their FPV racing to new fans at home.”
The league is also launching its first commercial to promote the simulator.
“Since launching DRL in January, we’ve worked to bring the thrill of FPV drone racing to audiences around the globe,” said DRL CEO and founder, Nicholas Horbaczewski. “Partnering with Bud Light to launch the DRL racing simulator is incredibly special for the league, as we continue blending the virtual and real worlds to build the sport of the future.”
Horbaczewski is no stranger to competition, having been part of the team that built the Tough Mudder runs into an international sensation. The fact that he took something fairly unknown and helped build it into the largest mass-participation run on the planet says something about his vision. He parallels the Tough Mudder rise with that of the DRL.
“A piece of it is building a community around a sport, and it's much more of a integrative, collective effort between fans, participants and event organizers,” said Horbaczewski. “At Tough Mudder, one of the things that made it successful is we built a collection of partnerships with people like Under Armour and Dos Equis and others that were really strong and helped elevate the product early to a level it wouldn't be at without them. I think we have taken the same approach here at DRL, where we have tremendous partners — from our really extensive investor list to people like AB, obviously, with the Bud Light partnership. Addtionally, people like Mark Burnett and MGM were helping us in the content side and our broadcast distribution.”
Horbaczewski noted that he saw early on that it takes a village to build interest in a new sport, especially when a lot of traditionalists don’t see your sport as an actual sport, which tends to happen when new sports come bubbling up, like snowboarding, skateboarding and UFC.
“I think things like the UFC came along and people said there is no need for more fighting and the UFC grew into a huge thing. Then eSports came along and people said ‘we don't need this, this isn't sports.’ I think you are seeing a bit of a democratization of what it means to be a sport and how you build a sports platform in a way you didn't have before,” he said.
Horbaczewski still meets with sports television executives about how they think eSports aren’t really sports and shouldn’t be on TV. But he points out that audiences have already voted with their feet and eyeballs and they want to see more eSports.
Additionally, falling viewership in major sports, including the reigning king, the NFL, show that people have a hunger for something new.
“The younger viewers are watching us. We are a sport that resonates with them and you can start to migrate everything from broadcast to sponsorship opportunities that way,” he added.
Horbaczewski said that the eSports phenomenon has made people think more creatively, especially television executives, which has given them an in, but there is still pushback. He relies on showing video of the events and letting people make their own conclusions, and they are often positive.
Since the DRL is just airing its first season now, they don’t have a solid grip on demographics. But it seems to be a mix of two groups – 18-35 year-old males who love technology, eSports, video games, and the like; and a slightly older group skewing up to 45 who are motor sports fans who see the sport as a new way to advance racing.
“What I think is so interesting is that we can speak to both of those groups at the same time and they both can enjoy the content, because it is a pure racing sport and so it works well if you love racing, but if you are interested in something new, more futuristic, more technology enabled — a little bit more of that real life video game feel to it — we can deliver that,” said Horbaczewski.
Being a new televised sport, the DRL has learned a lot in how to please audiences, including giving a simple points scoring system, having six drones racing at once and making courses shorter for maximum excitement. They also listen to their audiences and how they want to view the sport.
The drone pilots are another way to create excitement and are gaining followings, just like NASCAR drivers.
“I think these guys are already developing a cult of personality and celebrity around them. Within the drone racing world these guys are already becoming legend. Now that we are putting them on TV, to watch an audience that does not necessarily race themselves, respond to the content and start to develop fan affiliation with the pilots…It is a sport and people love winners and this will be a sport with winners,” he added.
The DRL wants to put out a top-notch competition, so they scour the globe for people who are the most talented at flying drones fast. Finding those who cannot only handle the drone but also the pressure of a sporting competition helps weed out the non-stars.
“The people who are emerging as champions are not only very good with drones and have incredible hand-eye coordination and spatial perception — all of the things you think you need — but they are also performance athletes. They are people that can perform consistently under pressure,” claimed Horbaczewski.
He claims that the DRL simulator will help get more people interested and racing. Before that, you’d have to wreck expensive drones learning the ropes, but now that it’s virtual, it’s not as expensive.
“It allows you to learn how to fly a racing drone and it allows you to fly the courses you see on TV for DRL,” he said.
The search for the Bud Light Pilot should be an interesting one, and one that launches what could be the next big sport.