In the beginning, there was isolated console gaming. You sat with your controller in your front room and played Need For Speed to death. Then came the start of online gaming – a frequently glitchy and cumbersome way of putting your skills to test against the best in the world on games like Gran Turismo.
Flash forward a decade and you have a mammoth industry that encapsulates all spaces of gaming, including automotive, with Rocket League at the arcade end and iRacing at the niche, sim racing side of the scale.
Rocket League is where the money currently is in car-based esports
2018 has been a year of structuring for esports, with championships springing up left, right and centre. F1 has been one of the biggest wins for esports, bringing some heft to the community thanks to every team (apart from Ferrari) hiring the best sim racers in the world to wear their illustrious colours.
I'd go as far as to say that I enjoyed watching the F1 esports finale more than any real race during the season, with Brendon 'nerves of steel' Leigh tearing up the field for the second year in a row.
If you haven't watched the action from the F1 esports season, I suggest you have a rummage on YouTube
On a slightly more arcade front, Gran Turismo has been pioneering the space with its Nations Cup, pitching countries up against each other to emphasise the international nature of esports.
And investing in commentator talent like Jimmy Broadbent has managed to grow the GT Sport esports community to a whole new level which will only keep accelerating next year and beyond.
The much-loved YouTuber Jimmy Broadbent has brought an accessibility to the GT Sport esports streams that is missing in most other sports
Having teams behind the players also means that esports is just going to keep trucking into next year.
Organisations like Fnatic have been around since the birth of esports in the early 2000s and are more important than ever, almost forming gaming 'families' that allow for the growth and nurture of the top gamers on the planet.
These guys are riding the wave of something that is only going to grow year-on-year
Whether it be League Of Legends, COTA or Rocket League, teams like Fnatic are becoming hubs that every esports star worth his controller wants to be part of, with these teams transforming into proper brands that will soon become marketable.
Who knows, kids could be wandering about in Fnatic shirts in the same way as a Real Madrid strip in the near future – the potential commercial expansion of esports is truly limitless.
It seems likely that 2019 will be the year that all the now established championships and leagues will explode onto mainstream channels. Soon, sport as we know it will be matched – if not surpassed – by its electronic equivalent. FIFA will rival the Premier League, Gran Turismo will become equal with the World Endurance Championship and Lewis Hamilton will have the same amount of people watching him as the aforementioned Mr Leigh. It may take a while to get there, but it almost seems inevitable.
So, 2019, we can't wait for you to come and shake up the automotive gaming world even more. And the old-school folks in the industry better be ready.