“Tell the story of RaceSpot in as few words as possible.” they said…
…So we decided to write a multi-part piece with added videography. (This is coming soon, once I manage to find time in people’s schedule to do a special set of episodes of our Ten Tenths Podcast). These stories will mainly be told from the eyes and hands of Wil Vincent, but occasionally other people will get involved too. You won’t hear much from Hugo; he communicates as much as a 70 year old couple having dinner with the TV on playing Coronation Street.
In all seriousness though, we’ve been asked so many times about how we came to be the bizarre group of people we are today. It’s something that one day Hugo and I will sit down and make into a book full of bad reviews despite the fact only 2 people would have bought it on Amazon (Myself and Hugo, of course), but in the mean time, this is the story of how RaceSpot came to be, and how we ended up on the crazy journey we’ve been riding for the past 8 years or so.
It is perhaps worth starting this story (As the title suggests) by explaining what things were like in the time before RaceSpot existed, especially in the time that I made my entrance into Sim Racing back in 2010. Both Hugo and I were doing our own thing over the years in our own places to start improving the quality of Sim Racing broadcasts, but it would take until 2014 that we came together in a relationship put together quicker than a dirty Tinder match. Hugo was rocking it with iRacing Brazil (Now known as iRB Esports), and I was… In Student Radio, as the Head of New Music, when I kept on getting pre-roll commercials for Sim Racing. Eventually, after realising that rFactor wasn’t that fun when playing alone (And I didn’t have a networking degree to enable me to set up and run servers as was pretty much needed back then), I headed over to join the green fields of iRacing.
How Sim Racing Broadcasting Was Back Then.
When I joined iRacing, I immediately was fascinated by the broadcast aspect of things, again via my second love of student media (Despite studying a Town Planning degree like the intrepid boring bastard I am). Thing is, there was only a handful of broadcasters out there, and what there was wasn’t exciting me that much. On one hand, you had PSRTV / Web Racing Network. Basically the same(ish) group of people, using two different personas depending on clients. At the time, they were the broadcaster of the two iRacing World Championship Series, and the iRacing Indianapolis 500. They were by far the best in class, and to give credit to Ian and the crew there, they are one of the few groups of people I know who have always used their own software rather than using an off the shelf product like we, and almost every broadcaster do with either iRTVO (The olden days), or ATVO. They had their issues for sure, and one of the things I think every broadcaster that emerged between late 2011 and 2015 learned is that you MUST NOT try to broadcast races via your own broadcast server. Despite the product actually being good (On the oval side more than road, but I’ll get to that), if people can’t even watch your product, then you have a massive problem.
On the other hand were a number of small companies, often being just a guy or two doing the back of house work, with on air talent to do the talking bits. At the time I got into Sim Racing, there were probably 4 that I could name that focused on iRacing broadcasting:
- Sim Racing Deutschland
- iRacing Brasil
There were others, but they mainly focused on rFactor as although setting up events and servers could be a pain in the arse, actually broadcasting the race, at the time was much easier. Upon doing some research for this and another piece, I found a ‘Thank You’ video to a group on rFactor who was giving up after 5 years of running a 24 hour race broadcasted on SimRace.TV, which is actually pretty cool to know about for 2011.
The second one on this list was my choice when it came to me wanting to get my first event broadcasted in the Summer of 2011. Simply put, Web Racing Network was WAY too expensive at $165 for my budget (And it took about 10 years for most broadcasters to even get to charging this amount, if we are being honest). I paid my money, got to race day, then told that my broadcast was being cancelled. No real reason why, and it not only annoyed me, but the people participating in the event. It was actually so bad with a couple of people that I had to prove that I had actually bought a broadcast, and wasn’t just using it as a method to coax them into participating (This type of hilarity about only competing in broadcasted events is another story for another day though).
5 weeks to the day after the race broadcast that never was, there was a need for another broadcast. This one instigated largely by the IndyCar community after the death of Dan Wheldon at the IZOD IndyCar World Championship. I’ve written elsewhere about how the legacy of Dan Wheldon lives on a lot through RaceSpot, but the sheer difficulty in getting a broadcast put together despite the will of such a community really summed up the issue that iRacing was suffering with in having good places for people to experience live Sim Racing without being a member. We were lucky enough to secure the services of an rFactor focused broadcaster called SimRace.TV, however the race was plagued in part with some difficulties in getting the overlay software working (Which actually is something which remains true to this day in how intensive the GUI software is because of the way it has to pull from the iRacing API). We managed to get the broadcast, 77 laps around Indianapolis complete, but frankly the race, and the community deserved more.
I must stress that this is not a dig on anyone who was involved in Sim Racing broadcasting at all. I continue to have huge levels of respect for the people working on trying to make something work, and one must remember that this was in the days before YouTube streaming was ‘a thing’. Back then, it was playing a game of using either LiveStream (Which whilst the most stable was a pain to embed / use / share), JustinTV (Which the cool kids will remember as Twitch before Twitch), and a couple of other, varying quality platforms. It certainly wasn’t as easy to just get up and stream, and one would always be hoping that all the bits of string and sticky tape would hold together. What I did notice though was there was a group of people trying to do things, but there was not many places where each of the elements needed to make a broadcasting company work fit together. By this, I mean:
- People with the capabilities to think as a broadcast director
- People with the hardware to enable streaming in the first place at a decent resolution
- People who can commentate, both during the exciting bits and the boring bits
- People who had graphic design and video skills, to do the ‘extra’ bits needed to make a broadcast work, such as YouTube thumbnails, custom overlays design, and so on.
- People who could sit there with their eyes open long enough to actually be able to code the 15,000+ lines needed to get an iRTVO theme working in the first place, to a level needed where one could react quickly to changes in the graphics needed (Rather than just having things stack on top of each other if you didn’t close graphic A before opening graphic B.
- People who understood the value of time, effort and depreciation, but also recognised the lack of sponsorship / outside sources of funds for broadcasts outside of member’s pockets.
- People who had a sound business sense to both know when to say yes to opportunity, but also say no.
- People who could communicate with various stakeholders in a professional, yet cordial way, and in effect orchestrate the dance.
Falling Into Commentary, Polar Bears, and The Obvious Impending Burnout.
2012 was an interesting, manic year. Personally, I was completing my degree, failed to win the popularity contest known as our Student Union Elections, and somehow ended up covering Autosport International for my Student Radio station. It was here that I heard about a Finnish broadcasting company called Glacier TV, who had done coverage of the World Cup of iRacing, and were the ‘cool new kid on the block’ (Pun intended? No idea). After the misery of 2011’s attempts to get broadcasts going, I had started to invest in equipment of my own, under a service known as Afterburn Broadcasting (The logo still exists somewhere), but was starting to face many of the same issues I mentioned above. I could do the talking bit (Or, as some would say shouting, hyperventilating, or just saying words at random until they formed something that may be construed as a sentence), but many of the other bits I was frankly crap at, or didn’t have the time and the money to invest in myself (Note the 15,000 iRTVO lines and graphics for starters).
So, after burning through a couple of power supplies and realising that being part of a team would suit what I was attempting to do better than trying to do it all myself (For once), I approached Glacier TV with a proposal: If they could provide a discount on their services, I’ll commentate the series myself, just to keep costs down on my end (As I was still a student, etc). Good plan, all agreed…
… Then the following week I get a message asking if I could help commentate on an event because someone had pulled out at the last minute. This event was the Roar Before the 2.4 Hours of Daytona; this was in the time before driver swaps, and hosted events that could last more than 6 hours, so basically everyone ran the endurances races by themselves, and the distance was made more manageable as a consequence. I think in 2012/2013 there was a 5 hour race which I participated in at Silverstone, which was at the time one of the longest events ever to take place on iRacing outside of some attempts to do a 600 mile race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but I digress. Key point here is that before I know it, I’m commentating the Roar before the 2.4, then the 2.4 Hours of Daytona, then the Daytona 500, then about 100 other broadcasts at once.
Glacier made the business model that many have tried to use, and see cause issues, in that to get clients, they undercut the competition. For reference, I believe at the time a broadcast was in the region of $25 for 2 hours, which works out at…. $12.50 an hour, from which you have to pay commentators, producers, overheads such as server and hosting costs, and of course equipment. Especially back then, getting good quality parts that would last would be hard, and the way that you had to rely on processing power over GPU power to do both the iRacing graphics AND encoding (In the days before NVENC was a thing), as well as the joyful iRTVO would mean that one would go through parts, and quickly. A competitor from the same period let me know that they had to replace processors on their broadcast machines every 6 months and whilst water-cooling and not overclocking would help, working off of almost zero net profit meant that there would be a risk that if people were not willing to take the financial penalty themselves, before you knew it broadcasters would disappear in a puff of smoke.
The point about $12.50 an hour goes much deeper though. Even at the point when prices were raised up to about $40 for a 2 hour broadcast, the way commentators would get paid was still, to put it mildly abysmal. To quote an old email from 2012:
If there's only 1 guy doing the whole thing, it'll be $10 for that commentator alone. If 2 commentators, it'll be $5 a piece, if 3 guys, $3,33 etc. Also the broadcaster will get $5. So total of $15 per broadcast will be used to compensate the commentators.
Now, I’ve never worked in America, but I know for a fact that even those who work as wait staff, and have to rely on tips wouldn’t be happy with $5 for a 2 hour shift, and in fact, I could probably get more than that for doing almost any other job, let alone one which puts you in the public eye and gets you critiqued from 1873 angles at once. Luckily, there were a number of people who were not in it purely for the money, but for the joy of being a part of a sim racing broadcast and in some cases, being able to do something that they wouldn’t be able to otherwise do, both in terms of commentary and production. Indeed, I certainly had a lot of fun along the way, and the following quote from an email sums up what I’ve said over the previous few paragraphs.
I know you are not in for the money, but neither am I. I wanted to compensate people from day 1, but due to megalow prices it wasn't possible. Speaking of which, I was just saying few days ago that apparently my strategy paid off well. I wanted to give low prices to draw interest towards Glacier's broadcasts. Then as the quality improved and we got regular clients, we raised prices bit by bit. And now we are still 50% from ETV for instance, and we're using multiple qualities in broadcasts, we can afford to pay commentators + fund the broadcasting expenses to livestream, and we still have extra funds, from which to possibly fund new and better encoding PCs for Glacier, or to host new tournaments. But overall I gotta say: We've done a hell of a job. In 10 months, from being ridiculed, to running the Pro series.
Did Glacier Fail In 2012? No… But Kinda Yeah.
If I were to go back to the list I mentioned earlier on, then Glacier TV certainly had some of the components needed to be successful. We were able to code our own overlays and produce the other elements to make a broadcast look and feel like a broadcast (Even though that intro video will haunt me for life). The hardware was there, and especially with Joni, there was a good sense of being able to think like a broadcast director. This was especially important back in the day before production feeds were a thing, and there would be such a long delay between something happening and appearing on a feed, that you really needed to work with internal whisper or text conversations (Which I still say PSRTV did better than anyone in the game). One of the common complaints back then was the screen showing X and the commentators talking about Y, which whilst I don’t fully agree is always an issue, can indeed be distracting, especially if you are commentating on a pass and it’s not being shown in real time, or if replays don’t sync up correctly. In addition, both myself and my first co-commentator Marius (Who now is a team manager at Porsche, so clearly knows his stuff!) had the ability to communicate with clients and potential partners. The key issue was always money however, and this decided to rear it’s ugly head in a number of different ways.
First of all, it meant that people simply would not be committed to broadcasts. Whilst I mentioned how people were glad to be involved as a passion, it was at the end of the day back then simply a passion and not even worthy of being called a side job, let alone a job. Therefore, when on a Saturday night you are presented with a multitude of options, being paid $2.50 an hour to talk about ‘pretend race cars’ neither seems cool or financially attractive, and as a consequence, the numpty writing this would end up working a treble shift into the early hours of Sunday Morning. Even though I had not gotten into College Football and WWE NXT was still a reality TV show and not something worth watching as a PPV, there was still many a Saturday night when I wished I could be doing something else, but being so invested in the ‘team’ and ‘vision’, I was there to pick up the pieces when things frankly went to shit. The first of these Saturday Night broadcasts would be some GT style racing for a couple of hours, which had really good completion, and would be a good start in terms of entertainment. The second of these I can’t remember the full name for the life of me, but was called CESCS, and the third was the Blondies MX5 World Tour presented by Safecraft Racing. The last of these was the most important to note for 2 reasons:
- Because Joni and I were at this point 5+ hours into a treble header, with no breaks in between, at some stupid time in the morning for both of us, we were absolutely shattered. As a consequence, I am the first to put my hands up and say that the quality of the broadcast was sub-par. At some points I was simply trying to keep my eyes open, so how the commentary sounded, I dread to hear… (Late Note, I listened back to a broadcast. It really was bad!).
- Because of our refusal to say no to broadcasts to build our reputation, and slowly our cash flow, we had fallen into the sim racing trap of biting off far more than we could chew, and as a consequence our overall standards and quality were slipping. Because of this, we started to gain a reputation as a group who would be happy to take people’s money, but not deliver a product to the same standards as others on the market (In particular, ETV was cited a lot at this time).
Naturally, if you carry on delivering a steaming mound of dog crap and charge people for it, people will go somewhere else. It’s the formula that people don’t seem to understand when they call up Kitchen Nightmares, and it’s something Glacier TV faced a lot in Q3 2012. In fact, the Blondies MX World Tour ended up becoming the first main broadcast window for a group you may know as the Global Sim Racing Channel. Where Glacier TV was trying to focus on too much, too quickly and without enough safeguards in place, they were focussing on getting the basics right, and doing it well. Truth be told, Glacier were at points the 4th most professional broadcaster in late 2012, and some internal emails did nothing but to sour the mood and goodwill that had been passed on to that date. I’ll keep the name of the sender of this private, as… I don’t want to be sued!
So when [REDACTED] is going to pay the broadcast?
If they havent done it before next broadcast i will literrally **** them up.
Even first race havent been paid yet, if they want 50$ delayed payment fee to come up on their ass then so be it (if first race havent been paid within 1month i will sue their ass off the planet)
To once again go back to the list. The key thing missing was a clear sense of business direction. Two shiny toys in the Pro Series of Road Racing and 2013 World Championship Grand Prix Series had been captured, but along the way, enemies were made and clients lost. One of our longest clients at RaceSpot, whom we had worked with at Glacier TV decided to jump ship for a couple of years to a competitor, and quite rightly pointed out that at the time, they did not feel like they were treated with the time and quality that they were paying money for. One thing in particular that could have, in retrospect been improved was the allocation of behind the scenes roles. There was too much dipping in and dipping out of the easy bits, or specialised projects, and not enough joining together of the things needed to make things work in a co-ordinated manner. An example here was the fact we went through 3 different overlay designs in less than two years is crazy considering the time and work required with good old iRTVO. This means less time perfecting the things that need to be done to react to things in live broadcast situations, but also means you spend less time on things such as developing talent and coming up with a cohesive plan for the medium – long term. You saw this in other avenues as well. There were a lot of things being done, and it was a case at times of seeing what would stick, and what would work. This works well if you have the capital / time / both to invest fully into things, but less so when everything is being done on a shoestring, especially when you have aforementioned issues with commitment, paying people decent money for work and so on.
I don’t want to sound bitter about Glacier TV. I had a lot of fun there, know a couple of phrases in Finnish, and took part on some legendary Team Finland meet-ups, especially after they won the World Cup of iRacing. I got to travel for the first time in years because of them, was able to raise my profile as a commentator and learned an absolute ton of skills along the way that meant that when I started looking after more of the business end of RaceSpot, I knew not to make the same mistakes again. The people at Glacier were also almost universally fun to work with too, and a lot of the anger and manic times was caused less because people were arseholes, and more simply because of the fact that it was learning on the job, and then some. At a time when Sim Racing broadcasts were beginning to become ‘a thing’, Glacier TV were in the right place, at the right time, but perhaps underprepared by 6 – 9 months, and others were able to feed on our mistakes to make their product better. There was still a massively high turnover of broadcasters at this time, and of those that came up, only 3 / 4 really exist in some form today. They not only survived but flourished by learning from a lot of the mistakes others were making, especially in terms of taking on work, trying to cover everything, not ensuring quality of product in terms of consistency and expertise, and not putting their core talent at the top of the list when thinking about how to ensure broadcasts continue to flourish.
This all takes me through to about Mid-2013ish, and the point where on one hand Glacier TV were growing having secured rights to World Championship Series and World Tour broadcasts, leading to more eyeballs, more people wanting to get involved, and more people wanting our services for higher prices. It also leads us to the concept of corporate responsibility and what happens when things go wrong in a hurry. In an attempt to keep each of these to less than 30 minutes of reading (As I really doubt most have made it this far in the first place), this is where I shall pick up next time, when we move onto the genesis of RaceSpot out of necessity and vision, and how we worked quickly to avoid the mistakes that had plagued our previous endeavours, and those of others around us.
I’d love to know your thoughts and comments about any of these longform journeys down memory lane. Feel free to leave a comment below, and I’ll pick up on some comments and questions in later editions. Hopefully(?!), we’ll do some podcasts on this too, to articulate some of the things said here further still. Grab your coffee and protein pills for that one…