Did you know that Formula E has an Esports Manager? Matt Huxley, who has an extensive background in CS:GO, joined the Formula E team in August 2017. He told us how he’s been impressed with how the company has approached esports, and how it wants to create something rather than slapping a badge on a half baked attempt.
Esports Insider: Why does Formula E care about esports? Does it see a major crossover in its fan demographic?
Matt Huxley: I think it’s safe to say that esports is a bit of a hot potato right now. The analogy I always use is that ten years ago, it was you have to have a website. Five years ago it was social media and a presence on it. Now, it’s esports. All the big sports brands, organisers and IP owners are trying to activate in esports.
For us, as it is for most, it’s the millennial audience. The cord cutters and the cord nevers; they’re the eyeballs we want. And for our partners too, they’re the ones that are most sought after.
ESI: Tell us about the sim racing scene. Do you expect esports teams to pick any up?
Matt: We have our current teams involved; Audi, BMW, Renault, Citroen and so on…these are big companies and more seem keen to join. Porsche are being linked with us as are Ferrari and Mercedes have an option to enter in season five. We have more OEMs than any other motorsport right now.
“Ten years ago, it was you have to have a website. Five years ago it was social media and a presence on it. Now, it’s esports.”
All of these want to do more in esports. After Vegas they saw a huge upsurge in discussion and interaction with their brands on social media. DS Virgin for instance had Graham Carroll, a talented sim racer, join their team of Sam Bird and Jose Maria Lopez. This is a great story; he was a Formula Ford champion in his early teens, but his parents couldn’t afford the exceptionally high fees involved in taking him to the next level. He packed it in and got a ‘normal job’ but continued to do sim racing on the side. Suddenly, he’s in Vegas competing for a share of a million dollars.
Most of the teams have now picked up one of the sim racers to work with them for testing and advice. When it comes to esports organisations such as Astralis, Fnatic, whoever picking up sim racers, it’s complicated. The sim racing scene is fractured and there is no single leading title. I see it working where teams might have a number of sim racers ‘on retainer’ to represent them depending on the title and competition.
ESI: Was the Vegas eRace seen as a testing ground in terms of planning an extended series in esports competitions? How did it go and what did you learn?
Matt: It went really well. It had its minor controversies but this was bound to happen; it was an incredibly ambitious task.
We didn’t want to just buy a slice of esports, do a badging exercise and walk away. We had the drivers but the next task was of course finding the best sim racers. We could have just picked them out via surveys and by online research means, we didn’t. We put together this race to learn as a business so we could take this forward properly.
“We didn’t want to just buy a slice of esports, do a badging exercise and walk away”
People learnt a lot. By the second day following the practice sessions, you couldn’t pull the drivers away from the sim racers. They realised they were talented and that they were fast; naturally this led to numerous questions and discussions. Some of the sim racers were adopted into teams, for example Enzo Bonito came to Monaco to help Venturi and Olli Pahkala helped Mahindra out in Mexico, which is clear evidence that the teams valued their opinions.
ESI: How closely have you been working with ESL?
Matt: We worked with ESL on-site at Battersea for our race there last year. We’re currently not working with an esports tournament organiser. As of right now we’re in discussions with the likes of ESL, PGL, FACEIT, Turner and so on and we’ll be inviting them to tender to see who our broadcaster will be next year.
“We’re in discussions with the likes of ESL, PGL, FACEIT, Turner and so on and we’ll be inviting them to tender to see who our broadcaster will be next year”
It looks like we’ll be signing an exclusive deal for next season’s production. Having a studio with talent on hand is very appealing, but we need to properly consider the format and everything else before launching in. We have to juggle this with our rather hectic calendar. We always have a big event coming up and so organising the esports aspect within and around this is complicated to say the least.
There are a lot of questions we’re mulling over right now such as what format would we want this to take? When would we want the races to take place and so on; all of this will go into the planning for next season. Season four starts in December.
ESI: What are the drivers’ views of the esports aspect? Any that are particularly keen?
Matt: We run the eRace each race-day, which is a few hours before they actually race. We bring around ten of the racers over and they race against the fastest fan of that day on the simulators.
We try to do what Formula E does which is break down the barriers of motorsport, and make it a fun, family friendly day. A lot of these drivers now take the sim aspect incredibly seriously! For example, Jose Maria Lopez won the eRace on the second day in Berlin. If you watch the broadcast back you can hear him shouting that he wants to keep practicing!
ESI: As Esports Manager at Formula E what’s your day to day look like?
Matt: I’m quite long in the tooth in esports. I played Counterstrike sixteen years ago and played at a semi-professional level. There weren’t really many jobs in esports back then, so I went through university doing a degree in Computer Science.
After university, I was headhunted by Formula E and I came in from a non-motorsport background but that didn’t matter; I was here to do esports properly. First of all it was education and getting the teams up to speed internally, which included working with the wider teams and brands that we work with.
I spent a lot of time on planning for the Vegas event and building the roadmap for our plans beyond that; the latter is something that continues to make up my day to day!