While plenty of love (and criticism) has been showered over Polyphony Digital’s technical masterpiece that is Gran Turismo 7, their main rival has seen somewhat of a drought in the competitive simcade department. With Forza Motorsport 7 being removed from the Microsoft store earlier this year, fans of the franchise are either stuck waiting for the new Forza Motorsport until Spring 2023, or have had to make do with the far more forgiving, arcadey experience of Forza Horizon 5.
This has coincided with a fizzling out of the esports scene for Motorsport – at least officially. While Gran Turismo Sport, the franchise’s main competitor at the time, were partnering up with the FIA and bringing themselves all the way to being featured at The Olympics, the Forza Racing Championship (ForzaRC) was the franchise’s flagship and through various bad calls and issues, ultimately died with a whimper on Mixer back in 2019.
With that all being said, let’s take a look at both sides of the coin and see what is keeping Forza Esports alive and how we could potentially see a revival.
Forza Motorsport keeps the torch burning
Forza Motorsport as a franchise is in a very interesting position. Turn 10 Studios are busy at work on the new entry to release next Spring, and with the game declared as End of Life it would make zero sense for the publishers to officially sanction an event for a game that they’ve declared dead and nobody can buy. Events and esports at some level are a marketing exercise for their host game.
As a result, the community and grassroots are carrying the momentum of the franchise for those who were lucky enough to get the game (or get a game key), and many competitive series have risen to prominence, a key player being TORA.
TORA (The Online Racing Association) are an organisation catering not just to Forza, but ACC and iRacing as well, though most know them for being the key organiser for tournaments in both shorter races and endurance racing, having held their Spa 24h Endurance race very recently. Focusing on team events and expanding upon the framework provided by the game, including putting several hours of testing into developing their own BoP (Balance of Performance) system and their own website for tracking cars, teams and stewarding, the team and other organisations like it are ultimately carrying the torch where the game’s developers no longer can.
Their social teams still do a good job at promoting what competition is still present on Motorsport, making a clear highlight of community events happening throughout the weeks and months through their social media, as seen below.
Forza Horizon creates a unique niche
Just because the Horizon series is treated as the less serious, arcadey cousin of the mainline entries, does not mean by any stretch that efforts haven’t been made to mould the game into something competitively viable.
One of these key community efforts is Team Wars. Having been featured for their exhibition race on the official Forza Twitch channel upon the game’s release, the competitive format is a glowing example of playing to the game’s strengths. Registered drivers use the game’s Club Tag system to denote what team they drive for (Much cheaper than $10 a pop to change their actual gamertag), and teams are given full autonomy to decide how and when they want to race – putting all 600+ cars at the teams’ disposal, along with all the tracks and the new EventLab creator for custom routes.
There is still plenty of oversight to ensure the cars and tracks are still viable to race on, but this open approach mirrors the game’s philosophy and design far better than any traditional format. The series is not devoid of skill either – Many racers from Motorsport often compete in Horizon thanks to its availability, accessibility and freedom to choose your own race, with team rankings being handled by an ELO system.
What can save Forza Esports?
While the community efforts are widespread and commendable, the developers and Microsoft need to step in and step up if they want to become a presence in the esports scene once again. No community drive is going to have the staying or marketing power compared to the real deal.
The teams behind the game need to play to their strengths – ForzaRC initially made waves in the esports news for being a competition that used controllers in a ‘wheel and pedals’ world. Building on those core pillars of accessibility and what Forza uniquely brings to the table, such as using the in-game Credits to implement a seasonal Cost Cap, similar to what F1 implemented recently could see Forza returning to form as an esport.
With some imagination and creativity, as well as refining the game to be much more viable as an esport from both a competitor and viewer perspective (Features like an improved spectator mode, better tournament support and improved car restriction options would all be welcomed).
Given what we’ve already been shown of the upcoming title I have full confidence that Turn 10 and Microsoft have at least the capability to turn things around. Whether they’re willing to commit the time and money is what we’ll have to wait for the answer to.