In the world of motorsport, there are few names as reputable as McLaren – and now the company is broadening its horizons to the world of esports.
FragHero was recently invited down to the McLaren Tech Centre in Woking. There, we were treated to a tour of the luxurious facility and given a go in its new esports training room. Alongside this, we were also presented with the findings of a research paper in collaboration with Dell. Findings included that two in three UK parents believe that esports can actually have a positive impact on education.
This is a sentiment that’s shared by Lindsey Eckhouse, the Director of Licensing, Ecommerce & Esports at McLaren Racing. A veteran of the esports industry, Eckhouse previously served as the commercial director at G2. No stranger to the business, she had a ten minute conversation with me about why esports is so important in education and to McLaren.
How did your experience at G2 help you in your role at McLaren Racing?
“G2 was an amazing education – a fast education – in esports. I came from a traditional sport and entertainment background prior to G2 and very quickly learned the passion the audience and community really has for esports. I learned that not all esports are alike. The fans are not all the same either.
“I think there’s a real space for organisations like McLaren, like traditional sports rights holders, to really learn a lot from what happens in esports – particularly from Esports teams. They are ultimately media entities at the end of the day, as well as competitive teams. I think, coming into McLaren, a lot of what we do from a marketing perspective is content creation, consumer facing marketing. Some of those esports teams, G2 in particular – although I’m biased,” she chuckles. “They were really a leader in what they did from a content creation perspective. So I brought all of that, hopefully Zack [Brown, CEO] and the team would agree, into McLaren Racing.”
What is McLaren Shadow all about?
“McLaren Shadow is the name of our esports team. Ultimately, it’s our gaming and esports brand. We’re currently competing in F1 esports as our only esport. That’s the real focus for us to ensure we have this foundation of credibility when we’re speaking to a gaming and esports audience. We’ve used that McLaren Shadow brand to ultimately pivot into the broader gaming space.
“We opened the McLaren shadows studio – it serves as sort of a content generation hub, right? You can get on a sim rig, you can play a PC game, or play some console games. Really, the point of that is to just allow us to capture and create a tonne of content to engage our audience.”
Why is esports so important to McLaren?
“I think it’s important because we want to be seen as proof of what you can do with an esports education. STEM is really critical in terms of how we’re developing as a team. We have a tonne of engineers and very technically inclined people that work for McLaren racing, obviously.
“The more that we can build different pathways for people to embrace STEM at a younger age, and ensure that we’re getting as many different types of people into those programmes as possible, the more we as professional entities can be representative of those communities. And I think that’s the journey that we’re currently on.”
What more can be done to bring esports to the masses?
“I think more of what Dell is doing. It was amazing to hear some of the other speakers on the panel to understand how they’re building the curriculum. I think grassroots efforts are often harder, they’re more resource intensive, but they’re so critical. This is what esports is all about – to demystify what it’s like to go after a career in esports.
“The more that we can help facilitate and empower our partners to do this, and ourselves, building a McLaren Shadow academy that is all about bringing different people together to train in racing, the better. That’s ultimately part of the programme that we’re here to do.”
Will the McLaren F1 drivers get involved with McLaren esports?
“We’re really fortunate to have Lando as one of our drivers because he’s so passionate about the [esports] space himself. He’s an amazing ambassador for us in terms of everything that we’re doing, certainly from a Shadow perspective, and both gaming and esports. If you look at what Formula One has done with the F1 Esports series and the virtual boundaries, Lando is often part of that.
“Further to that, we’ve created the Logitech McLaren G challenge, which is sort of our grassroots sim racing competition – Lando is a huge figurehead in that. So he’s a really great character for us to build the profile of Shadow and what we’re doing in esports and gaming.”
Do you see esports as a new pathway for grassroots drivers?
Formula 2 recently saw a new addition to the grid with Cem Bolukbasi joining Charouz Racing System in 2022. He started his career in F1 esports back in 2017. I was curious to know whether McLaren is interested in using esports to talent spot new drivers. Not that Norris is going anywhere – he’s just extended his contract with McLaren until 2025.
“You know, it’s a great question, it is a test that we are still kind of proving out ourselves. You do see a lot of similarities in the sim racing rigs as you do on the track. We see some of our drivers want to come in some racing rig, as well as practice in their rigs and on track. I think there’s a lot of transferable skills, and it’s an incredibly accessible way to experience real life racing.
“We’re still testing the hypothesis. Right? But you’ve got examples already. I think in the future, no doubt, I’d love to see those worlds blend more – but we’re still testing.”
Should esports education be solely focused on younger age brackets?
“I think where the kids want to go, the parents tend to follow, so it’s probably good to start there. But you definitely want parents to be brought into the journey and along that journey with them. Actually, I know there’s tonnes of university level programmes around esports already. So you’re seeing it in those 18 to 21-year-old demographics as well.”
What did you think of the research paper presented by Dell?
“I think I was surprised by the hesitancy from parents. Maybe surprised is not the right word, but I think it demonstrates that there’s still so much more that educators and entities like ourselves need to do to help ensure people recognise that there are pathways in terms of career opportunities in esports and gaming. There are tonnes of positives that you can take from it. Just like traditional sports when built into different curriculums in the right way.”
Where would McLaren like to see esports in five years?
“I think eSports has a really exciting role to play. The more we break down walls of what community means, the more esports creates a really powerful community behind it in different parts of the world.
“Why I think McLaren F1 is so powerful is because it is truly global, truly multinational. Esports really brings that sort of thinking to the fore as well. Hopefully in five to ten years, esports is on the same level as traditional sports or traditional entertainment platforms.”
We have a full write-up of Dell’s research findings over on GameByte if you’re interested in delving deeper. If you’re interested in what goes on inside the McLaren Shadow studio, we’ve got you covered on that front too.
What do you think about this new esports focus for McLaren? Let us know across our social channels.
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[Featured Image Credit: McLaren]