¡¡¡¡Kyle Busch, Joe Gibbs Racing, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
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¡¡¡¡Racing video games have always been pretty popular among diehard fans and new fans alike, but that popularity has skyrocketed within the past year or so amid the COVID-19 pandemic with fans and drivers alike connecting and competing virtually more so than ever before. Specifically, NASCAR saw a massive boost in terms of engagement among fans in the virtual racing world.
¡¡¡¡We had the chance to speak to Dmitry Kozko, the CEO of NASCAR Heat 5 publisher Motorsport Games, about a number of different topics relating to the growth of motorsport gaming and esports.
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¡¡¡¡Kozko spoke about NASCAR Heat 5, the exciting but different future of the NASCAR franchise compared to what the company has produced in recent years, other motorsport games that the company has been working on, and the effect that virtual racing has had on the sport¡¯s fanbase.
¡¡¡¡Here is what he had to say.
¡¡¡¡Asher Fair, Beyond the Flag (BTF): What games other than NASCAR Heat 5 have been recently launched?
¡¡¡¡Dmitry Kozko, CEO, Motorsport Games: In terms of game releases, NASCAR Heat 5 is our latest release and we are extremely pleased with how that has performed. We now look forward to a new future for the NASCAR franchise.
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¡¡¡¡However, we remain extremely busy in other areas. We have been operating and broadcasting the eNASCAR Heat Pro League, the official esports series, as well as a number of other NASCAR esports series, most recently the Ultimate Summer Showdown, qualification for which is currently underway.
¡¡¡¡We also operate a number of other high-profile esports, including the incredibly successful 24 Hours of Le Mans Virtual, which attracted over 22 million viewers for the race last year. We brought together 200 of the greatest drivers on the planet from both real world and online motorsport to create a truly spectacular event.
¡¡¡¡Additionally, we launched traxion.gg, which is the new online platform where racing and video games meet. Traxion brings you the latest news, reviews, live streams and reports from the world of virtual racing.
¡¡¡¡BTF: What goes into making one year of the NASCAR franchise different from the next, other than the new drivers, tracks and paint schemes?
¡¡¡¡Kozko: This is a very opportune time to be asking this question. NASCAR Heat 5 is the final game in that series and we are currently rebooting our NASCAR franchise from the ground up. The new games will run on a completely different engine with the physics being provided by the rFactor 2 simulation platform, which we recently acquired.
¡¡¡¡rFactor 2 is widely regarded to have the best tire model, car handling and AI available in the racing space, so we are delighted to be bringing that experience to NASCAR. The new game is going to be very special. It looks great and feels incredible to play, so we cannot wait to show it off in the near future.
¡¡¡¡BTF: How can you use this platform to grow motorsport¡¯s younger fanbase, and have you seen that growth in recent years?
¡¡¡¡Kozko: One of the great things about racing games is that they are completely open to players of all ages. We want to make great games that are accessible to everyone whether it¡¯s a young fan playing their first racing game all the way up to the most seasoned racers competing in esports leagues and competitions.
¡¡¡¡We see games as a great way to get younger players interested in the world of motorsport, plus games are far cheaper and accessible than any form of grassroot motorsport. This is an area in which we work extensively with our licensors, helping them maximize their reach to a new, younger fanbase. We are seeing a steady growth, but there is still a lot of work to do in that area.
¡¡¡¡BTF: Any plans to be a part of bringing back an official IndyCar game, something we haven¡¯t seen from any company since the summer of 2004?
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¡¡¡¡Kozko: If the opportunity ever presented itself for us to get involved in making an IndyCar game, it would of course be something we¡¯d be excited by. We would be thrilled to work with IndyCar to implement the most realistic and authentic experience possible to the fans that have been clamoring for a game. As we look to secure games in multiple different disciplines across the world, IndyCar would be a next logical step in that pursuit.