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We drove 50km to Sepang Int’l Circuit to watch a mixed reality F1 esports race, no regrets

Fast cars, speed demons, and gamers. These were among the possibilities running through my head when we RSVP’d for the Malaysia Legend Championship (MLC) Esports F1 Racing Night Run (to spectate, not compete).

It was held at Sepang International Circuit (SIC), and on our way in, we saw a number of sporty BMWs, Porsches, Mercedes Benz, and Ferraris that made us feel out of place.

Said sporty and fancy cars we saw

Later, we realised that they were a group of 65 participants there for the Private Night Time Attack Track Day. 

SIC is a rather Instagrammable place, we learnt

As we walked into the pits where the virtual racing was happening, we saw four players already burning rubber (virtually) at the front of the room, grips tight on their Thrustmaster wheels and eyes laser focused on their screens.

They were part of the 16 qualified contestants battling for the semifinals. This was after they’d made it through a pool of almost 400 esports contestants who had signed up.

Watching a virtual race at an IRL race track

Now, only four would make it to the end, and the prizes on the line were:

  • Champion: RM3,000
  • Second Place Winner: RM1,500
  • Third Place Winner: RM1,000
  • Fastest Lap Winner: RM550

For the rest of the 12 contestants who wouldn’t make it to the grand finale, RM150 each would be given as consolation prizes.

A mixed reality esports event

IRL racing outside, virtual racing inside

Organised by Sky Dream, sponsored by TWL Holdings Berhad, and supported by the Malaysian Ministry of Youth and Sports, the experience was one we wouldn’t forget anytime soon.

What I found interesting was how there were multiple events going on at the same time. The simulator (sim) racing was one, and the other was the Time Attack event. 

Dictionary Time: Time Attack is a timed test of a driver’s ability to push their car to the limits on an unimpeded road course to achieve the fastest lap against other competitors.

MotorTrend
Battling it out at the semifinals

In a way, the real cars were slightly distracting from the sim racing. Their furious engine roars and tyre screeches cutting through the air would drown out the sim racing before me, shifting my attention occasionally.

We felt like extras on a Fast & Furious film set

And I wasn’t the only one. Many spectators loitered outside instead, closer to the real cars. I couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for the esports contestants, wondering if the lack of spectatorship was demotivating, or if they were too focused on the game to care.

Later, when we spoke to the esports winners, we learnt that they actually have headphones on the entire time for immersion, so the real race outside and other external noises didn’t dent their focus.

Eyes on the prize

Despite the lack of spectators initially, we have to commend the two commentators that evening, Terence and Nik, who hyped up the sim race non-stop; their genuine interest in everything that unfolded was infectious and had me and my boss, Sarah on the edge of our seats.

Towards the grand finale of the sim racing, things began to heat up in the pits. The chosen four were up, and they were Wan Muhammad Afiq (24), Ayman Aqeem (28), Mior Muhammad Hafiz (33), and Lavinesh Mohan Nair (18).

The final race begins

Game on

This was it. Four players, 14 laps, four cash prizes.

Having made it this far, it was clear that all of the racers were skilled, but now it was down to their endurance, strategy, and perhaps a bit of luck. 

As we sat in the crowd spectating, the once-distracting engine roars of the real cars began complementing the sim racing before us. It was like watching the race with surround sound.

Not to dismiss the work of the production crew in ensuring the race went smoothly, of course

The last few laps were a battle between Ayman and Afiq, and several times they cut it close on tight turns, with one ultimately pulling away. On one particular turn, Afiq was in first position while Ayman was in second, but in the blink of an eye, Ayman took the lead.

It set the tone for the rest of the laps, and Ayman was the first to cross the finish line to the crescendo of the commentators’ cries. Everyone finally blinked and exhaled.

The final event for the night, concluded

In a twist of fate though, due to a three-second penalty Ayman incurred, Afiq was bumped up to champion. As spectators who were completely new to F1 sim racing, this turn of events was shocking to us, to say the least.

Ayman was now the second place winner, with Mior taking third place. Aside from champion, Afiq was also the fastest lap winner.

The three final winners and their prizes

In our interview with the four final racers, we learnt a bit more about their history with sim racing. Just among the four of them, there were already wildly different years of experience in e-motorsports. 

Mior has six years of experience, Ayman has been playing it since he was eight (thus 20 years of experience), Afiq started in 2017, and Lavinesh, who’s more of a gran turismo (GT) player, only started playing the F1 sim the day prior (yeah, we gasped in surprise too).

Though their years of self-training differed, it was their skills that brought them to the final stage, and they were all there out of passion, seeking a good time. Win or lose, every race is another step to improvement.

I’m not going to be an F1 sim champion anytime soon, but I think I got the hang of decent turns after 20 minutes

One of our main takeaways from this event was how it highlighted esports’ inclusivity. It doesn’t matter what your age is, how long you’ve been playing a game, or whether you have an established esports career—anyone can join and try their hand at winning.

And if you don’t win this time, there are always other opportunities to do so.

We even received a casual coaching session from the second place winner, Ayman

Esports is a massive industry that companies and players alike want to cash in on, and MLC Esports F1 Racing Night Run is just one event that aims to gather local esports talents to compete on international stages.

Our Deputy Minister of Youth and Sports, YB Senator Dato’ Sri Ti Lian Ker pointed out that throughout the many esports events they’ve overlooked, it’s clear that there is growing interest and a ready market for it.

The government will be looking to support esports athletes further, but there aren’t many specifically outlined targets yet, so it remains to be seen what initiatives will be carried out.

This event was a pretty good first experience for someone who’s new to the esports scene, and I’d say that I’m actually encouraged to spectate at other ones in the future.

  • Read more esports content here.

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(UEN 201431998C.)

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