Behind the scenes of the eNASCAR Heat Pro League
NASCAR Plaza is buzzing with activity when each eNASCAR Heat Pro League race is held this season for all 28 competitors.
The eNASCAR Heat Pro League has completed two events of the 12 scheduled this season and during each event the NASCAR Plaza in Charlotte, N.C., turns into its own race control to bring the league alive for teams, racers and fans.
For gaming veteran and 704Games Managing Director of Esports & Partnerships Ed Martin, this has been a rewarding project to create in association with NASCAR, the Race Team Alliance and 704Games.
“This has been a really fun and unique project to work on and develop,” said Martin. “Bringing the gaming world and television technology together was a challenge at first but once we figured out how to come up with a common language to merge the two worlds, it has been a lot of fun.”
Martin said the technology used in the eNASCAR Heat Pro League to showcase the races, offers television producers a unique and different way to broadcast the virtual races.
“We have the capability through our technology to give the producers and directors in-car cameras for all 14 cars in each race,” said Martin. “We can also provide drone footage of the races from above the cars or any angle on the car that they might want to showcase the action during a race.”
While the association with NASCAR is very evident, Martin feels this league is an opportunity to combine fans of the gaming and NASCAR world together through how the races are called and televised.
“We want the broadcasters to talk differently and stand out during each race,” Martin added. “We also want the cars to look different, a little edge to it and it’s still sports, but we want to have fun.”
One other aspect of the broadcast is that through a gaming communication system called ‘Discord’ that gives Martin, lead producer Jeff Politsch and the eNASCAR Heat Pro League drivers the ability to communicate before, during and after each race.
“The technology of discord allows gamers to talk to one another during the race and also us in the control room the ability to bring a unique perspective of bringing any driver on the broadcast at anytime which is unique to our league,” said Martin.
A team of 12 to 14 people are used for each race with veteran racing producer Politsch leading the team.
“We have a great team assembled to bring these races to our audience and I think the sky is the limit for this league and our broadcasts,” said Politsch. “We have a league where the drivers are pros and are members of each NASCAR team. Our job is to make them stars and I think they will be as this grows.”
Politch and his staff assemble several hours ahead of the start time for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One races to discuss storylines, test equipment and sit through a full production meeting exactly like they do on regular NASCAR racing broadcasts on network television.
Announcers are given input and also share storylines to prepare for the pre-race show that is on approximately 15 minutes before the start of races with the control room in Charlotte reaching out to drivers from as far away as California or as close as 15 miles away.
Once the pre-race segments are set, the events are called like a race except with the unique approach that Politsch feels sets this apart from anything he has ever done on linear television.
“This project is a new challenge and we’re taking an original approach and not treating it like a normal TV broadcast,” Politsch said. “We want to appeal to the younger, gaming community and show this to the world and we think it the best way to cover this league.
“Showcase all the things of this to describe how unique it really is.”
During the second race of the season Martin served as race director for both races held at Auto Club Speedway. He described what he has at his disposal to keep things running smoothly.
“Through Discord we’re able to communicate with the drivers much like NASCAR officials call a race in the tower at the track,” said Martin. “One thing we have the capability to do is actually remove a car from the game if they don’t follow rules and race direction. We haven’t had to use that and hope we never do, but it’s built into the game if we need to use it at any time.”
Politsch and Martin both agree the drivers in the eNASCAR Heat Pro League get emotional and take this very seriously, just like their teammates in NASCAR.
“In the first race we had some drivers upset with one another,” said Martin. “This is important to the drivers and the teams that drafted them to participate in the league and it shows on how intense the races have been so far this season.”
Through the Race Team Alliance, 14 NASCAR teams (13 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and JR Motorsports from the NASCAR Xfinity Series) are participating in the league with two drivers that were drafted in March. Each driver is an actual member of the team and are on the payroll with some teams already securing sponsors.
The Wood Brothers were one of the first teams to sign a sponsor Spin with No. 1 overall draft pick Slade Gavitt winning the season opener for the PlayStation drivers.
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The drivers come from all walks of life and ages, adding to the appeal of the league.
“We have people who have been developing these games for over 20 years and these drivers are better than any of them,” said Martin. “They are that good. They are all very different in how they approach it, but they are all talented.”
The NASCAR Heat game is different than its direct counterpart iRacing in several and important ways that appeals to the younger and more novince NASCAR fan according to Politsch.
“iRacing is a game that requires a SIM-type of set up but with NASCAR Heat all you need is a PlayStation or Xbox Gaming system and a controller,” Politsch added. “This makes this game appealing to a wider audience and gives more people the chance to be a part of the league in the future if they are good enough to get drafted by one of the teams.”
Another reason why the league is off to such a strong start is the cooperation and support between NASCAR, the Race Team Alliance and 704Games.
“It has been awesome, I’ve been doing these games since 1994 and this is really cool to bring people together,” said Martin. “We’ve never gone above being a licensed product but now you have teams hiring drivers to compete and this becomes a partnership.
“NASCAR is putting a lot of resources behind this venture and you can tell by us using this studio for our events.”
Politsch feels they are just scratching the surface on the popularity of NASCAR Heat and eNASCAR Heat Pro League possibilities.
“There are so many ways to promote this and we can turn these drivers into superstars,” he added. “They are getting paid to showcase what they are doing and it will turn these guys into rock stars.
“I think this league is huge and this is a key demographic we are going after to get them interested in NASCAR and it’s perfect. This is a way to start building that fan base from the ground up.
“If you can cultivate that, it’s doing nothing but helping NASCAR down the road.”
The next eNASCAR Heat Pro League race will be held Wednesday, June 12 on Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
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