Three decades ago, video games could only offer the vaguest approximation of driving. Things are very different today. While a lot of modern software still forgoes realism for the sake a fun, simulators have grown in popularity and are becoming incredibly realistic. Real tracks are built to scale, weather effects have meaning, and automobiles behave in a faithful manner. Gamers can even swap their gamepads for honest-to-god cockpits.
Racing simulators have become so effective that Nissan’s PlayStation GT Academy program is now in its eighth year. The event pits thousands of gamers against each other in order to find some they can put behind the wheel of an actual race car. Players then receive additional simulator and on-road training before being allowed to compete in legitimate races.
While we could endlessly debate how well video game skills translate to actual racing, they do provide gamers with an opportunity to learn the tracks and sharpen reaction times. They’ve certainly proven competitive enough for the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile to sanction virtual racing leagues.
Having partnered with Polyphony Digital, which produces the Grand Turismo video game franchise, the organization now has two eSport championships: The FIA-certified GT Nations Cup and GT Manufacturer Fan Cup. As with Nissan, the game will act as a gateway to facilitate driver transition from virtual to real-life racing.
This year, the automaker is holding a Global Cup (part of the FIA Manufacturers Series) that will allow gamers to compete for swag, coaching, and a trip to the NISMO Festival at the Fuji International Speedway in Japan. There will also be a European Sport Cup series that takes the top 12 Nissan drivers of the summer. They will then be eligible to qualify for the Blancpain GT Series Endurance Cup in Barcelona in September.
“We proved with the Nissan GT Academy that some of the fastest drivers in the world might never have had the opportunity to compete on a race track if it weren’t for gaming,” explained Nissan’s global motorsport director, Michael Carcamo. “These guys have gone from the couch to the cockpit and broken the traditional model of how to become a successful racing driver.”
“The level of competition is incredibly fierce,” Carcamo added. “And we’re now seeing that online racing is not only an alternative to the real thing. To be recognized as an official FIA Manufacturers Series Champion through GT Sport is an incredible opportunity, and we’re looking forward to having some of the best gamers in the world represent Nissan.”