Intro to the E Sport Drifting Association.
Elsewhere, in the depths of the internet, there is another online competitive drifting series looking to break through the surface. One that has its roots deeply planted in the Forza Motorsport community, and has its sights set high for the future of E-Sports Drifting. I am of course referring to the E-Sports Drifting Association (ESDA), one of the premier online drifting series emerging in recent years. As anticipation builds for the new season, I thought it was a good time to have a chat with ESDA Owner Harold Mckinney (Initial Dai) and Co-Owner Ben Sturgeon (TUS Chunky), to discuss the history, present, and future of ESDA. As well as provide our readers with some insight on what the future of E-Sports competition could look like.
To start things off I wanted to get a good understanding of how ESDA started and how both Dai and Chunky got involved with the series. “I’ve been competing since the very early days of Forza Motorsport and have been also been involved with running events for quite some time.” Dai tells me, reminiscing of the early days of Forza drifting competitions. When series like FMDA and FMDL ruled all. “Then it was VFD (Virtual Formula Drift), I helped manage that series alongside a few others, but after a few years under that name, I decided to branch off under my own name”. This decision was a risk for Dai, and while he was confident that his knowledge of organizing events was more than adequate, he also knew he couldn’t do it alone forever. Luckily, TUS Chunky (a long time competitor and friend of Dai’s) reached out to Dai after hearing about the new series that was brewing up. “I came on to help more so with the promotional and marketing side of things, that’s more so where my specialties lie.” This now freed Dai up to focus on running the series and developing his rule book.
With last season being ESDA’s first year of operation, Dai tells me the rules were somewhat in place to “test the waters”. They then took a lot of feedback from drivers throughout last season and well into the off-season on many aspects of the competition. From judging to track selection, they’ve been listening and taking notes. Even looking all around the world at different pro drifting organizations to draw inspiration for his own. Though, not everything translates well from real life to the virtual world as Dai explained. “We did take a lot of ideas from different series’ in real life, like the top 24 format we’re introducing this year as well as a double elimination bracket. But we took a lot of time thinking about the overall impact of these rules, since what works in the real world sometimes just doesn’t translate well in the game.” In addition to the introduction of these rules, there will also be a new qualifying format in place. The top 8 qualifiers will be locked in to the top 16, while the rest will battle their way through in to the top 16. Once the top 16 is locked in, those drivers will compete in a double elimination bracket to determine the winner. We’ve seen similar approaches to competition, but nothing quite like this.
As well as rule changes, this season brings a few new track selections, and a few changes to the ESDA staff as well. “We got feedback from drivers about their favorite tracks from last season and kept the top 5 favorites.” the pair tells me. For the rest of the events, the duo decided to take a democratic approach. “We posted a list of about 8 different sections, and told the drivers to vote on their 3 favorites, we then took those top 3 and added them to the schedule.” Chunky explains. It seems the response from competitors has been positive, from the majority (after all they did vote for them). So in addition to Long Beach, Road Atlanta, Lime Rock, Monza, and Nurburgring, competitors will have the privilege to compete on Suzuka, Daytona, and Mugello. Change comes in many forms for the series this season though, and staff is no exception. Energizing the live stream this year will be Dr Tom123 and DIS Mr Tea, a duo that fans of the series may already be somewhat familiar with as they hosted a round of competition last year. “We had a lot of good feedback from viewers and competitors so we offered them a full time spot this year!” says Dai proudly. “Additionally we have Yoshi3lt, Nemesis Empire, Dwight J, and SCS Spitsy all on board as our judges for this season.”
The ESDA team has been busy in many aspects over the last few months though, and like their fellow series competitors, sponsorship attention and marketing has been among the top of their priority list. This year the series will carry many name brands with it, including OMGDrift, Sikky Manufacturing, Big Country Labs (BCL), and of course your very own Drift Illustrated. Again, the prospect of these real life drifting brands and companies getting involved with E-sports drifting intrigues me. So I asked Chunky, who mostly heads the marketing side of the series, how the series has gone about seeking sponsor attention and building these relationships. “Lots of emails!” Chunky bellows with a chuckle. “No it really is a lot of back and forth but overall, companies seem to be aware of e-sports and are warming up to the idea of it. It’s still a niche market, but we see that changing over time.” So, surely they’ve been getting some good attention thus far. However, it was the collaboration with ForzaRC (the official e-sport racing series of Forza) last year at their year end closer in New York that got even more people buzzing with excitement over the ESDA brand.
“Last year, we approached Turn 10 and invited them to check out one of our events (over live stream) and they actually agreed.” Dai recalls proudly. Every year, ForzaRC hosts it’s championship round at an event center in New York, and after seeing how ESDA conducts themselves, they were invited out to fill a time slot in the event. “We held a live competition right there in the middle of the event, and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.” Chunky assures me. Although Chunky unfortunately wasn’t able to attend the event, I can tell that he and Dai are very proud of the accomplishment. After all, it is a big step for the Forza drifting community, though it may seem small in the grand scheme of things. “We’d love for the series to continue working with Turn 10 and ForzaRC.” The pair exclaimed. These guys aren’t looking to settle for less, they want ESDA to be a household name throughout drifting, and hope to branch relationships with the like of Formula Drift and the like in the future. Ambitious? Yes, but certainly not ridiculous. In fact, FD owner Ryan Sage is well aware of ESDA, and while no official relationship has been established, it’s no doubt a start and speaks to the amount of reach the series has achieved.
This got me thinking about how Harold and Ben view other competitive Forza drifting series. After all, they clearly aren’t the only ones seeking these opportunities. So I asked both of them to give some insight on how these different organizations interact behind the scenes. “Honestly we love having friendly competition, we feel it really pushes us as organizers.” Dai states without hesitation. “In fact we’ve even reached out and shared rulebooks and exchanged ideas between each other to help us all grow together.” Chunky reassures me. This is overall a great thing for the forza drifting community. This now gives everyone a common rulebook for them to build and tune their cars towards, regardless of which series they choose to compete in. I think moves like this will only help to strengthen the community as a whole and I really hope to see more collaborations between organizers like this in the future.
Well then, I’m certainly excited, so when does the season kick off this year?? Unfortunately, even ESDA doesn’t have the answer at the moment. You see, Forza Motorsport 7 is currently lacking a very crucial feature that ESDA (and Drift Wars) uses in their judging process, “Spectate Mode”. Without this feature, fair and equal competition in Forza is next to impossible to accomplish, which is why the series’ rely so heavily on it. With no official word from Turn 10 on when this feature will be released for FM7 it’s hard for the staff to push forward and create an official schedule, without being sure the feature will be available in time. So, for now we wait, but hopefully (even as soon as this article’s release) we will be hearing more official news from Turn 10 about the feature soon. This, along with some early in game glitches, have made preparing for this season difficult, though they are still more than confident it won’t affect the season as a whole. Though the pair of organizers assure me that it won’t impact the season overall, and they are still dedicated to the Forza platform.
Overall it seems to me that the Forza community will be a bit spoiled for choice this year with all the different options for competition becoming available. Not that they aren’t deserving, the community has seen many ups and downs with many different series’ over the years, so seeing consistency and professionalism is a welcome change overall. If you ask me the future of virtual drifting is in great hands and I look forward to following it’s bright future. “I really want to thank all the competitors and spectators who come out and make the series what it is, we wouldn’t have a competition at all if it weren’t for them. I also want to thank 1down5up, the man behind the live stream, he really improved the quality of our streaming and we’re very thankful for that, all of the judges involved, and of course a massive thanks to all the sponsors as well.” Says Dai in his closing thoughts. “I want to thank Turn 10 and Forza RC for inviting us out last year. That was a big deal for us and we’re very hopeful to continue working with them in the future. Also want to give a big thanks to all the sponsors of course, and all the staff, drivers, spectators, everyone who comes together to make ESDA what it is today.” Chunky closes with. So, what can you do to stay up to date with ESDA? Well, they post regular updates to all of their social media (links below) as well as their website (www.esportsdrift.com) and will be making all official announcements there, so keep checking back! Drift Illustrated will also be keeping up with ESDA throughout the year, so look forward to more coverage and future updates here as well!