Does the nascent industry of drone racing have the essential ingredients to fly higher than eSports in the competitive, entertainment, and gambling stakes?
I was a poor kid.
Video games were like gold dust. I played football in my hall using rolled up socks as the ball. I played balloon tennis using the dining room chairs as a net.
One of the most exciting games was ‘stick racing’. The lads and I would find a stick, drop it over the edge of a bridge, and then leg it to the other side of the bridge to see which stick reached our established finishing line first. We would bet on the outcome. Our dinner money was capital.
Things have changed.
Drones have replaced the sticks. A cross between a robot and a flying insect. Parents buy them for the kids and then scream as they are continually smashed the back of the head while making Macaroni Cheese.
So they did. But they would often smash, or the range of the drone and the controller was not good enough to get a good buzz out of the experience. It was easier to play with sticks.
Undeterred, those who loved to fly created more advanced quadcopters; the radio controlled units followed pace, and the social movement began to explode. What started out as a shitty little Christmas present, had turned into a new sport.
On March 7 over 100 international racing teams will head to the Skydive in Dubai to compete in the World Drone Prix. The teams have gone through an X-Factor style selection process. The next stage is to race their hearts out. The top 32 teams will race on March 11 and 12 to determine the winners.
Here are the top prizes:
• Track Race Winner – $250,000
• Freestyle Winner – $50,000
• Best Team – $100,000
• Fastest Lap – $100,000
• Constructor Award – $100,000
That’s slightly more than the £1 I used to lose when my stick would get stuck in between a can of coke and a dirty nappy.
Can Drone Racing be as Big as eSports?
The rise of this growing sport is drawing parallels with the world of eSports raising the question ‘could it be as big if not bigger’?
Both offer a live and online viewing experience. Packages for the World Drone Prix begin at 100AED ($27) for a one-day fanzone experience to 1500AED ($408) for a two-day VIP family pass. The most commonly watched vehicle is online with ESPN calling the sport ‘Twitch Meets Formula 1’.
Last year, the inaugural US Drone Nationals were held in San Diego. Racing for the FinalGlideAUS team, Chad Nowak, said, “we are just a bunch of nerds with toys at the moment.”
All that is about to change.
Nick Horbazcewski has started the Drone Racing League. Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is an early investor, as are Lerer Hippeau Ventures, a New York venture capital firm. According to a Bloomberg article, the team at Drone Racing League have their sights set on creating the ‘digital Nascar for drones.’
The league has so far raised $8m from investors.
As my mates and I proved during our stick racing days, you can bet on anything of a competitive nature – drone racing will be no different.
Global Betting, Gaming Consultant (GBGC) have already raised awareness of drone racing for sportsbooks looking to offer a new betting alternative.
Commenting on the sport, GBGC’s director Lorien Pilling said:
“Technology is a key factor in the modern betting world, and it allows new forms of betting and new sports events upon which to bet. The great developments in virtual betting events are testament to that. There is a current emphasis on attracting the next generation of sports bettors and the realisation that traditional sports may not be sufficient. Drone racing would seem to have the ideal attributes to appeal to the Star Wars generation.”
It seems the sport of drone racing has a future.
However, with quadcopters ranging in price from $40 – $4,000, and a wide variety of accessories needed to race such as radio control units, FPV headsets, and a rapidly deteriorating set of eyeballs, I think I will keep throwing sticks into the river.