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Esports Illustrated’s Charlie Cater recently attended the London E-Prix to speak with Formula E’s Director of Gaming, Kieran Holmes-Darby. Holmes-Darby has years of experience in gaming and esports, as a co-founder of Excel Esports in 2014, he built one of the biggest esports organisations in the UK alongside his brother Joel.

Now at Formula E, Kieran leads the gaming side of the sport. We spoke on the Accelerate competition, how Formula E are using gaming to bring new audiences to the sport, and the possibility of seeing esports pros in the driver's seat of a real car.

“I do everything to do with gaming. So from a digital fan engagement perspective, it's about drawing a new audience to Formula E. But some of that audience is already in Formula E and has interest in gaming. So it's about deepening that loyalty and that engagement with the brand. So we do different stuff, you know, we do sim racing competitions, but then we also do more influencer style activations. It's just about bringing a whole new audience to Formula E.”

Fans at Formula E races are able to get a taste of the sim racing action at the gaming arena in the fan village. This is taken to every single race weekend, and it gives fans the opportunity to get some laps in on a top of the line simulator setup.

“The Gaming Arena itself is definitely always the most popular thing in the fan village. Because ultimately, it's the closest anyone's probably going to get to driving a Formula E car. And it's great fun! Anyone can have a go at that, right? You don't have to have any experience.

The problem with sim racing is it's got a higher barrier to entry than people really talk about because to buy a whole rig to set up in your house is quite an investment. Whereas we can actually bring the rigs to the people, bring that gaming room there and then, you know, you just turn up and have a go.

So yeah, it gives people probably their first ever experience with gaming and motorsport.”

The best of the best sim racers come to the Formula E Accelerate championship. An esports circuit that featured a €40,000 prize pool for this year's finals in London. 11 drivers qualified and they took to the stage in a tightly contested competition.

“We've run the Accelerate Championship now for a few years. And it's all about bringing the world's best sim racers to Formula E. So racing in Formula E cars on Formula E tracks to see who is actually the Formula E esports champion. So the guys that you'll see on stage are the best of the best.”

Formula E Accelerate isn’t the only focus for Holmes-Darby, as he heads much more than just that. However, with his background in esports, he looks to build on Accelerate as much as possible.

“My background is very much in what I'd call traditional esports. And joining Formula E, you know, my remit is kind of broadly gaming. So it's not just esports.

We do a lot of stuff in the broader gaming world. But in the esports world, I had to learn sim racing really quickly. It's a new community for me, and I understand what they want. And it’s sort of a subsector of esports, that’s the way I look at it because sim racing is so close to the real thing that you have to treat it like that and treat it as close to the real race as possible.

So we have proper stewarding, proper tracks, cars, and we get it as close to the real thing as possible to give the sim racers pretty much the same experience that the drivers out on track are getting. That's completely different to when you're working in a game like League of Legends, because you can't shoot fireballs out of your hands, right?

So, it's a completely different way of approaching the esports side of it. But as long as we give these guys a genuinely high class experience, and the people that tune in and watch see it as a well produced competition that they've enjoyed, then I’m happy.”

The winner of the Accelerate championship gets an extremely special opportunity; they get to drive a real Formula E car. Holmes-Darby believes that we see sim racers getting a shot in a real car. However, there’s a large mental skill gap to overcome, and it may take some time.

“We put the winners of the Accelerate Championship in a real Formula E car and let them have a few laps around a track to get that experience, because that's a really cool crossover that we can do.

If you put a Formula E driver in one of these sim rigs right now, they'd do pretty well but they wouldn't be as quick as the sim racers.

If you put a sim racer in a Formula E car out there, they'd do pretty well, but they wouldn't be as quick as the Formula E drivers, right?

So there are transferable skills both ways, but you need time in that given discipline to actually be quick. So these sim racers would need a lot of time in a Formula E car before they were quick. Much like the Formula E drivers would need more time in a sim rig to be really quick in that. So, I think we will see it, but I think you need time.”