Last year, our Editor-in-Chief asked me to write a feature on video games and how they can help make you better at driving. At the time, I thought little about it since I'm really only a casual player. Sure, it helped me in the Media Category of the Vios Autocross Challenge hosted by Toyota Motor Philippines (TMP), but if you pit me against some of the best esports and sim racers in the country, I would probably get beaten - easily.
But if you told me then that I would be representing Toyota and Filipino esports racers in an international event, I would have probably said BS. There are many, faster and more dedicated sim racers out there. Yet, somehow, here we are, and here I am.
I was given the honor of representing and going up against some of the best drivers in the region at the Toyota GR Supra GT Cup Asia, together with two of the fastest esports racers in the country. Oh, and that happens about 3 weeks from now. How in the world did I get myself into this high-pressure situation?
The logical explanation of “how?” would be because of the three different classes hosted by TMP for the GR Supra GT Cup Asia Philippines – Promotional, Sporting, and Media/Influencers. The champion of each class would go on to represent the country in the upcoming GR Supra GT Cup Asia.
First off, the Sporting Class, and it's mainly for participants that have an actual racing background (VRF) or have competed professionally in esports and sim racing. It is the category where the best of the best compete. Meanwhile, select motoring journalists and influencers from the country were invited to participate in the Media/Influencers Class. But the magic was undoubtedly in the Promotional Class.
Participants without any background in sim racing or professional racing in real life could join the Promotional Class. It was open to anyone; well, as long as you're 18 years old or above. All you needed was a PlayStation 4, a copy of Gran Turismo Sport, and a PlayStation Plus account. You didn’t even need a steering wheel or peripherals. Sure they can help, but a controller is good enough. No doubt the anyone-can-join appeal made it hard to find an open slot for registration as they filled up very quickly.
At the start, I was not informed that there would be a Media/Influencer Class just yet. So out of curiosity, I registered for the Promotional Class to see how I fared against others. To say getting into the Top 24 was "tough" would be an understatement. The participants were consistently setting fast qualifying lap times. I had to bring something special to be able to compete in the grid race.
Even though I barely made it through qualifying, my skills weren’t enough to get me to advance into the final race of the first round. Considering I didn’t have a rig or a steering wheel and only used my beat up controller, I would like to think I did well enough since some of my closest competitors had steering wheels and pedals. Despite not being able to compete in the finals, joining the first round did make me want to play and enjoy Gran Turismo Sport even more. More importantly, it made me want to get better at the game because of the opportunity of being at the top, and the possibility of even representing the country was there.
After the first round of the series, I made it a point to try and practice more often. I even drove various courses in anticipation of the next one, along with friends who joined the series. Unfortunately, due to the busy schedule coupled with work, I was not able to join the qualifying nor compete in the grid race in the second round. Without competing, I was not able to score points, and the chances of winning the championship slipped away.
But when Toyota announced the Media and Influencers Class, I decided to give it another shot. At the time, I didn’t know who my competitors would be. But based on my experience from the Vios Autocross Challenge last year, I’m sure the competition would be tough. Apart from the skilled drivers from the media and influencers group, there was a lot of pressure, especially when organizers told me I would also be going up against TMP executives, including their president, Atsuhiro Okamoto himself.
The wheel and pedals gave a more immersive experience and a more realistic feel because we had to use real-life driving know-how. Sure, the physics in the game were not as realistic as to how a car would handle in real life, but it’s close enough.
While there were fewer competitors in our class as compared to the Promotional Class, I still felt a lot of pressure due to the way our “races” were held. Instead of all us going head to head on the grid, what the organizers had us do was set five hot laps. But, they didn’t just get our fastest time out of the five. What they would do is put all of our five-lap times against one another in a unique elimination-style matchup. To keep things simple, screw up one lap and that meant goodbye to the championship. It won’t matter if we could go faster than the others in the following lap because we would have already been eliminated.
To add to the pressure of not messing up the five laps, there were also cameras pointed right at our faces since the race would be broadcast on TMP’s official Facebook page. Even worse, they also recorded your lap. So if you manage to get into a mishap, everyone on the live stream would be able to see it. "Let's not mess up on the first corner then!"
I’m sure the competitors in the Promotional and Sporting Class were on the edge of their seats, too. All three rounds saw very intense racing among the drivers each time. Actually, it seemed like there was no clear leader in the championship standing either; each race saw a different set of drivers on the podium. It wasn’t until TMP officially announced the champions did I get to breathe a sigh of relief.
My experience joining the GR Supra GT Cup Philippines has been a rollercoaster of emotions, but ultimately, it was fun. I managed to race with aspiring esports drivers from across the country in the Promotional Class. Afterward, I got a feel of what it was like to be an esports racer for a day when I was invited to the Media/Influencers Class and use TMP’s simulator.
Now we'll get going up against some of the far more serious esports racers from Asia, and boy, some of them are good - really, really good. Honestly, I'm feeling the pressure just by thinking I'll have to go up against this competitive lot, but the experience will be worth it, no matter what happens in the regional finals.
Generally speaking, Filipinos don't really get many chances to shine in international motorsports. There are some great Filipino drivers from the past, showing that the talent exists. The issue is really the cost of racing, which is very different from the cost of being competitive.
That's why we're glad that companies like Toyota are investing in virtual motorsports, which in turn is why we hope they'll keep organizing and doing it annually.
In this field, we can be competitive. The costs don't break the bank, and all you need is a Playstation with a good driving simulator rig combined. The price of admission isn't anywhere near as high as buying and maintaining a race car, practice sessions, safety gear, shelling out for the costs of having a race team, and flying out to compete. With esports, everyone can be a racer and can show their talent.
Now, all we really need is a solid, reliable, and high-speed internet connection. That's probably the hardest thing to get in our humble island nation.