McLaren esports director Ben Payne on the Shadow Project, F1 Pro Series and Rocket League

Ahead of the Black Book Digital Motorsport Summit we asked a number of speakers for thoughts on their areas of expertise. In this edition we hear from Ben Payne, McLaren’s director of esports.

McLaren esports director Ben Payne on the Shadow Project, F1 Pro Series and Rocket League

With the Black Book Digital Motorsport Summit on the horizon we asked some key personnel attending this year's event for a small preview of the kind of insight delegates can expect at the National Conference Centre in Birmingham on 11th January.

Ahead of the event, Ben Payne (pictured below, right), McLaren’s director of esports, took some time out of his schedule to answer a few questions on his work in the sector.

What has McLaren learnt while going from World’s Fastest gamer to the Shadow Project?

It was McLaren’s - and Formula One’s at that time - first foray into esports and trying to cross the supposed divide between virtual racing and real racing was a great story to tell and one that Ideas+Cars had told before based on their success with GT Academy. What we learnt most though was that the talent is out there and the opportunities that Rudy van Buren has enjoyed this year are testament to that. Race of Champions, Pirelli Hot Laps, racing the M23 up the hill at Goodwood as well as his work in the Formula One simulator are more proof that the virtual can cross over into the real. I remember Darren Cox suggesting the hashtag #LifeofRudy - it’s panned out pretty well as a strapline for his year with us.

With the F1 Pro Series in its infancy what kind of changes would you like to see as it grows?

I think the F1 Pro Series has been a great success in 2018. The introduction of the teams means the wider Formula One fanbase can cheer their cars around the virtual track as well as the real. We’ve really enjoyed the experience this year and look forward to working with Formula One, Gfinity and Codemasters on growing the program next year. For McLaren Shadow, we want the program to be truly global and to allow gamers of any level around the world to experience the unique thrill of Formula One on the virtual track. Also I think it’s worth noting that our drivers really enjoyed it this year: Olli, Bono and Enzo loved taking part in this new series and are looking forward to pitting their wits against the best next year.

Does Ferrari’s absence damage the competition?

We don’t think so. You’ve seen every one of the nine teams in this year’s series have their moment. Mercedes dominated and congratulations Brendon Leigh, Dani Bereznay and the rest of the team, but whether it’s our battle for a strong finish in the constructors’ championship with a 2/4 finish in the final race in Abu Dhabi, Freddie Rasmussen’s last gasp win for Torro Rosso in Baku or even Salih Saltunc’s win for Sauber at Hockenheim, most teams have had their moment in the spotlight, which we think has been at the core of the series as a whole. Hopefully we’ll see all ten teams on the grid in 2019.

Is McLaren Shadow going to be restricted to F1 esports or even just motorsport-based gaming going forward?

We’re going to race where the audience is. Currently F1 esports is the biggest ticket in town, but in 2019 the calendar looks really tasty across a host of racing titles and we’re looking forward to driving a host of McLaren cars next year. As regards gaming outside of motorsport, never say never. McLaren Automotive has just licensed the 570S into Rocket League for example, which has a really strong esports appeal, but right now our focus is to go racing.

What does 2019 hold for McLaren esports?

We have our grand finals for McLaren Shadow Project from 14th January and we’re looking forward to putting our finalists through a unique set of challenges over those four days and our fans enjoying watching that live via YouTube. We’re working with our partners Logitech G, Alienware, HTC Vive, OnePlus and Sparco Gaming to make Shadow Project even bigger next year. It’s already the biggest esports racing program in the world, we’re excited to push it to even higher levels next year.

Ben Payne is speaking at the Black Book Digital Motorsport Summit, register your interest here