Can Gran Turismo Sport Do e-Sports? Pre-Season Test Highlights

Gran Turismo Sport has finally announced a release date– not too far than most would have expected- and to kick it off they have made an unveiling event to bring out all the details of this e-sports-centric title.

GT Sport may not boast huge numbers of tracks and cars the series used to be proud of, but having them leveraging the brand to incorporate motorsports with racing events sanctioned by the FIA, the governing body of motorsports, brings in a huge legitimacy to the game in the competitive racing game scene that no other game can match yet. Yet the questions remains: will it do justice in bringing racing games to mainstream e-sports level? Yesterday’s livestream of the inaugural FIA Nations Cup and Manufacture Fan Championships, as part of a pre-season test, shows some potential, but it seems rocky at the moment.

You can watch the archived livestream here  (the commentary for the races starts at the 27th minute) or skip down to just read the interesting bits of the event.

The pre-season test is an early look  on how the actual FIA-sanctioned racing event will play out once GT Sport launches. Sport Mode is the online racing component of the game and it has taken a lot of attention. Players can compete in either the Nations Cup, competing to be the best racer in the country, to represent in the regional finals (Americas, Europe, and Asia), and then move on to the World Finals. Manufacturers Fan Cup allows players to choose an allegiance on which car manufacturer to support, and drive those cars. The best drivers of the respective manufacturers will move on to the Regional and then the World Finals.

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There’s a lot of Playstation logo being stamped. Would not be a surprise if these are placeholders for sponsors.

For the event, 32 top GT players across the world, including those that had made their name in GT Academy, were invited to participate in both Championships. Nations Cup was first in line, and it has a very odd structure. Players have to do a time trial beforehand, with the fastest 9 players getting a bye to the semi-finals. Then next 15 of the best players in that tie trial do a race on the new Northen Isle Speedway, a fictional short oval track, with the best 7 proceed to the semis.

Presumably, the rest didn’t make the cut due to slow lap times, but the shoutcasters – Youtuber Toniemcee  and Jordan Greer, founder of GT Planet, did not convey this clearly. The commentary may not be as interesting, but given that the game was just recently shown to public, the level of quality on commentary has a lot of room to improve. For the most part, they did the best they can to keep the race interesting to watch.

The semi-finals see the best 9 players square off with the 7 racers that made the cut from the previous race. GT Sport seems to have a limit of 16 racers on the grid. They then race in another new track, Tokyo Express, a faster course that shares aesthetics with the fan-favourite Tokyo R246. The best 8 advances to the finals where it was settled in Brands Hatch. T. Takahashi of Japan emerged as the winner of the Nations Cup.

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T. Takahashi lifting the Nations Cup, accompanied by Kazunori Yamauchi (left), professional commentator Ben Edwards (right) and Deputy President of the FIA, Graham Stoker (far right)

Aside from the lacklustre- yet servicable- commentary, the production side of the livestream still needs improvements. Quality of the stream isn’t good, there’s also some syncing issues as audio and video did not match up. Setup time for each subsequent races took too long, making the shoutcasters drag on about the new features and pre-order bonuses to fill up time. In terms of the background stuff, it needs a lot of work to feel like a professional broadcast of e-sports.

But boy, was the action on the (virtual) track great. The players were not pulling their punches, and a lot of risky moves ended up in crashes. Heck, we saw one just right at the beginning of the first race! Gran Turismo creator Kazunori Yamauchi also commented on the excellent, yet rough showing by the players which he attributed to the players’ unfamiliarity with the new game.

It seems that there’s low risk of pushing too hard as well. No damage, both cosmetics and functional, were seen. But there are instances of a yellow flag being raised, which leads to the Manufacturer Fan Cup.

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One of the best highlights of the Manufacturer Fan Cup Finals is the battle between Toyota and BMW, as well as some action in the mid-pack by Ferarri and Chevrolet.

In this race, the 32 players are randomly drawn into 16 different makes, pairing up as a team. The race is on the Green Hell itself, Nürburgring. This 5 lap race is a test of endurance, and there is a mandatory pit-stop required, players are switched at pit-stops. A lot of action, intense battles and mistakes leading to costly accidents are seen throughout the race, which leads to some yellow flag incidents. Arguably, that’s the best one to watch of all the four races shown on the livestream. It was also helped that the commentary got a bit better as the first GT Academy winner and now pro driver Lucas Ordóñez steps in and provided something more on the commentary.

While there’s a lot of action going on, the clear winner was a dominating performance by C. Martinez and Y, Tomibahashi representing Renault Sports.

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C. Martinez and Y. Tomibahashi (mind the typo in the screenshot) as team Renault, lifting the Manufacturer Fan Cup.

While the stream shows how would the FIA-sanctioned live events be held once GT Sport is out, we can see a lot of rough edges. Broadcasting mistakes such as typos, wrong flags being shown and other mistakes. While the in-game stuff has been designed to fit with the broadcasting nature- the game shows the whole grid and players before the race starts is a neat feature- it could do some changing. For instance, it would be nice to have the manufacturer’s badge being shown instead of the country of the make’s origin shown. Even the shoutcasters got confused thinking it was the nationality of the current driver. Any form of putting the two driver’s name on the manufacturer race can help a lot in spectating.

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A cinematic is played before and after the race- setting up the grandiose feel to the Championship.

GT Sport is slated to release on November 15, and what we see so far, there is potential here to push racing games to the mainstream e-sports limelight. However, certain issues in the production side of things have to be improved, and hopefully the team is taking feedback to further improve the delivery. The excitement coming from watching a racing event is there, all it needs now is some polish.

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