Drone Racing League’s Virtual Approach Helping Spur Growth

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  • With the 2019 season currently streaming in China, Drone Racing League viewership is up 70%.
  • DRL SIM Tryouts saw a 10% jump week-over-week on Thursday.
Drone Racing League
Photo Courtesy Drone Racing League

As coronavirus is keeping people across the globe indoors, the Drone Racing League is experiencing an uptick in viewership. 

“It’s obviously a complicated time for the world and sports industry with so many leagues going offline, but it still needs sports more than ever,” Nicholas Horbaczewski, found and chief executive officer of Drone Racing League, said. “For us, a robotic sport sitting on the blurry line of digital and real-life and in part of the season emphasizing the digital part.”

The league is currently hosting its 2020 DRL SIM Tryouts, a virtual competition where anyone can win a chance to compete as one of 12 players in the 2020 DRL Allianz World Championship. It’s live-streamed on Twitter, YouTube, and Twitch.

The tryout series launched in February, taking place every Tuesday and Thursday. Last week, the streams attracted 300,000 viewers, a 10% jump from the week prior, Horbaczewski said.

There are four more preliminary tryouts before the 12 winners of the tryout events vie for a spot on the professional circuit on April 2.

The positive effect social distancing has had on the Drone Racing League has been seen in viewership jumps in China as well.

The past month the league has streamed the 2019 season in China and has seen viewership as high as 7 million per event, a 70% increase from the 2018 viewership numbers. Last year’s season premiere in August drew 6 million viewers on Twitter and 500,000 people on NBC.

Horbaczewski said the lull in physical sports would provide digital sports an entry point to sports fans that might not otherwise view them – including Twitch streams of professional teams simulating their sport in video games. 

“People at home are eager for sports content,” Horbaczewski said. “It’s part of the reality of this situation – people at home are looking for competition. This will certainly be short term getting sports content out there, and gives people a chance to engage with new sports that maybe they haven’t encountered before.”

With the Drone Racing League, there’s the added element of at-home spectator participation. The DRL Simulator is available on Steam so that anyone can play. The company develops the game in-house and it retails for $9.99, but the influx of players also allows the league to build out more sponsorships.

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“We also have a unique opportunity to integrate brands directly into our race tracks and esports tournaments, storytelling their key messaging through complex, branded courses that push the limits of our players and thrill online viewers at home,” Horbaczewski said.

From there, the winner of the SIM event earns the chance to compete professionally in a circuit that sees the drones navigate physical courses at speeds of 90 miles per hour.

The 2020 championship series schedule has yet to be announced.

With the potentially temporary uptick in viewership because of coronavirus, Horbaczewski said there would be an added emphasis on keeping them engaged, which is aided by the participatory aspect of the game.

“We’re seeing it in China, one of the best things about the sport is they get excited about it,” he said. “There’s a whole exploration period of new tech, so we get them introduced, and now there’s compounding viewership growth.

“We expect this to be ongoing with the SIM tournament. Someone watches and gets excited, they get the game, and that draws them in.”