In the mid/late 1980’s software was just beginning it’s rise to popularity and growing from something most people couldn’t even dream of owning, to computers becoming a part of every household by the early 2000’s. Video games went from something “nerds” did to dominating in popular culture and becoming a multibillion dollar industry. Since the early 2010’s though, we’ve seen a dramatic shift into a new era, an era dominated by hardware. Technology has progressed so far that we now have easily affordable 3D printing, drones anyone can buy and fly, and an increasing number of organizations are using robots in varying levels of industry. Drone racing is an up and coming sport gaining viewership and fans in all areas of the world. It’s currently in a similar position to where video games were during the late 80’s software boom and is poised to increase in viewership, popularity, and mainstream media in the near future. Unlike video games, drone racing is blessed with the exponential evolution of technologies that we’re currently going through and will scale up in sophistication very quickly.
Many people like to group drone racing with the established powerhouse of eSports which has been around for over a decade, but the two are very different in both concept and practice. Drone racing would actually better be compared to something like auto racing, as they are closer in execution – high-speed automobiles (or in drone racing’s case, drones) zipping through a pre-set course trying to beat the clock and their competitors. No matter what existing sport you compare it to, one thing is certain-drone sports is gaining popularity at an impressive rate.
Drone racing is an exciting sport in its infancy-it’s been compared to Formula 1 racing but without the rules. Formula One racing is the highest class of single-seat auto racing sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA). The FIA Formula One World Championship is much older than drone racing and eSports combined, having been around for over 60 years which gives Formula 1 the obvious advantage. However, drone racing is growing exponentially since its inception in 2011 especially after broadcasting their world championships in 2016. The biggest comparison between Formula One and drone racing though is their international popularity. Unlike many American sports, drone racing appears to have a global appeal with international events popping from Austria to Abu Dhabi including competitors from all over the world.
When you think about a sport with wide-reaching international popularity, drone racing is probably not what first comes to mind. The sport you’re probably thinking of is soccer or fútbol, football, footy, etc. depending on where you are from. Truthfully, drone racing and soccer have much more in common than you may think. Both sports are accessible to people around the world and are something anyone can do. Compared to other sports in their fields, the equipment costs are relatively low. In soccer, you really just need a place to play with two goals and a soccer ball plus maybe some shin guards for your personal safety. With drone racing, you can do it pretty much anywhere though a preset course is nice and once you spend the money on the initial cost of the drone you can add upgrades, but they’re by no means a necessity to the average enthusiast.
The ease of entry and accessibility in drone racing is one of the largest differences between it and eSports. If you want to get involved in eSports competitively you’re facing some initial costs in the thousands. You’re going to need a high-spec PC, not something you can just buy off the shelves at Best Buy with very high-speed Internet which is a recurring cost. That’s without even mentioning that in order to compete in eSports you need a team. While some individuals are so skilled they are recruited by big teams, most average players would need to join an existing team which takes an incredible amount of skill as the field is highly competitive.
The bottom line though is that it doesn’t matter what sport you want to compare drone racing to, it’s growing at a breakneck pace. The 2017 Drone Racing Championships on ESPN drew over 40 million viewers, which is nearly half the number the 2017 Super Bowl drew. That’s right – The Super Bowl – an event that America spends an entire day dedicated to- saw its lowest ratings in three years. Meanwhile, drone racing nearly doubled its viewership from the 2016 world championship broadcast on ESPN. I for one, wouldn’t be surprised to see drone racing’s viewership continue to grow exponentially in the coming years. As it grows in size of participants and broadcasted events, its fans will certainly increase significantly as well. Expect drone racing to become a household name within the decade, and maybe one day even replace one of the other sports near and dear to our hearts.