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The rise and rise of esports – Q+A with Ferrari’s Brendon Leigh

August 5, 2022

Image © copyright @Ferrari

The inaugural Commonwealth Esports Championships took place in Birmingham at the weekend, putting esports firmly back on the broader news and sports agenda.

Taking a cursory look through Google: “So, what first attracted you to the multi-billion-dollar esports industry?” asks The Guardian, while the BBC offers ‘an education in what esports actually is.”

We caught up with two-time Formula One Esports Series World Champion, Brendon Leigh to get his thoughts on the perception of esports, his role at Ferrari and how running is helping him to focus on his mental wellbeing.

Let’s start with his thoughts on the Commonwealth Esports Championship… 

“The fact that esports has earned the respect of the event organisers is a huge positive and shows how far the industry has come. I believe esports should be respected by the public and respect is often generated through education about the difficulty of the task at hand. We drivers/players should do more to empower the public to learn about our jobs. Ultimately, we need to uphold our responsibility of improving the industry thus meaning it’s also our responsibility to educate the world on esports.”

Do you think esports is still alive and thriving despite ‘real’ events returning? Do you feel that lockdown was beneficial to the industry, and have people stuck around?

“The whole lockdown and Covid situation helped esports massively because, while at home, loads of people found a pastime by playing games and enjoying online content. It’s natural that once everyone got their freedom back many people left gaming again but overall, the industry was helped by the support we received.”

What are the main issues facing esports right now? How should esports be tackling any equality issues? 

“Every industry worldwide has areas to improve and esports is no exception. My knowledge about the other forms of esports such as League of Legends, for example, is very small compared to my knowledge of motorsport so out of respect I will only comment on motorsport. I believe we as motorsport esports can do more to empower the drivers and teams alike. The 2017 F1 Esports World Championship was held at the 2017 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. The level of exposure and support we received was mind-blowing. We even had Gordon Ramsay driving the sims and learning about esports! Luckily for Gordon, I also gave him some tips on cooking. On the topic of equality, we need to do more and push change for the better! Everyone should be treated equally and never be limited in their life opportunity. We should tackle the issue head-on! Educate the industry on the basic right to be treated equally. In my opinion, once everyone feels safe and welcome in the industry, we will see more diversity.”

Let’s talk about you, where do you find yourself professionally and personally?

“I find myself inspired professionally. We are in the final sprint towards the 2022 F1 Esports World Championship and, of course, the expectation is fighting towards the front. I don’t underestimate the challenge, or the workload required. We are a good squad of individuals that form a strong team. Personally, I feel the most complete as a human I have ever felt in my life. Gradually I’m starting to understand the meaning of my life and how I can fulfil this life.” 

How did you get into sim racing in the first place? 

“I found my passion for esports as a four-year-old playing PlayStation on a game series called “MX vs ATV”. Back then, I was riding motocross and having the time of my life doing so. Having the game version of motocross naturally attracted my attention. Since then, I’ve had a passion for competing both virtually and in reality.”

What is your role at Ferrari?

“My role in Ferrari is heading up the charge on track within the esports department of the team, with my main responsibility racing the F1 Esports World Championship. On a daily basis, I will interact with the team behind the scenes organising my schedule for both sim training and media content. Of course, this helps me to increase the effectiveness of my training sessions as I can focus on hitting more apexes.”

Talk us through a typical day… 

“We are deep into season preparation, so my current schedule looks like this: 5:30am wake up. 6am get my running session in. 7am refresh myself and grab breakfast. When breakfast is finished, I will map out my plans for the future, such as what running races I want to attend while also in direct contact with the team who will keep me updated on the latest critical news such as within F1 esports and other events I might attend in the future. After these meetings have been completed, creating social media content is next on my “to-do list” until lunchtime. After lunch I start my on-track preparation by driving the sim in search of improved lap times; this is achieved by refining my driving skills and changing the car set-up in collaboration with the team engineers searching for every detail for the ideal car set-up – the same process as in real F1. We will do this until 6-7pm. After that, I will start live streaming on my Twitch page to interact with the community we have built up.”

What preparations are you undertaking for the next season? 

“The preparations are intense; I desire to win. The preparations I am undertaking mainly are focused on improving my mental strength. I do this by pushing my mind in running events such as a 100km run non-stop. The other side is looking deep into the data to find better anti-roll bar settings for example. Food is a critical factor not only in on-track performance but my personal life. I have a specially designed food nutrition plan to aid my performance.”

You’ve been doing a lot of running; how does that play a role in your daily life?

“Running is my paradise; I find comfort in searching for improvement within myself, even at the expense of short-term pain, I know the long-term gain. When I’m out running, I feel the weight of life lift off my shoulders. It’s just me and the next step. Running is a tool to train my mind. I run in snow, thunderstorms and +40° weather. I believe that when we set a goal, we owe it to ourselves to do everything to achieve that goal and not make excuses. If it’s cold, wear thicker socks and get on with it. If it’s hot, carry more water with you. This applies to every area of life. If you want to achieve your dreams, excuses can’t be a factor, only solutions!”

How do you make the shift from esports champ to endurance runner?

“Running teaches me the true power of the mind and with that helps me to grow my mentality for esports. My passion for running started because of my mentor, Steve Deeks. I met Steve mid-lockdown during 2020. I have no shame in admitting I was overweight, unfit and finishing off more tubs of ice cream than running miles per week. Steve took me out on an 11-mile run, which seemed impossible to me at first, but Steve kept feeding the truth about the power within the mind. I finished that run without stopping once and while lying on the grass afterwards I thought to myself “what else can I achieve?”  “

How do you approach endurance running?

“My approach to running is quite literally to grab a pair of shoes and run. No heart rate tracker, no real plan for my training either. I only care about the mental gains within running so I don’t need to see my splits or heart rate. I only judge a run on how much I pushed myself. When I finish, I ask myself “could I have done more?”. If the answer is no, then I’m happy. If I could have done more then I’m back out there to fix that!”

What’s your mantra in life?

“”Don’t let what you’re good at define who you are. Who are you if you can’t do what you’re good at?” This quote is important to me because, although I can develop my ability as a racing driver, it is still critical that I develop myself as a human.”

How can people like you support others to open up and be more supportive with mental health issues?

“To support mental health, we need to be open and talk. Social media makes it seem like people are living a “perfect” life. The truth is we all struggle with mental health to one level or another. The critical factor in life is this: use negative energy to power your positive energy. When I’m at my lowest mentally, needing to find a new gear to click into, I remember all the challenges I overcame to reach where I am today, and use the motivation to overcome the next challenge.”

What advice would you give to young, upcoming, aspiring drivers trying to make their way up the ladder? 

“My advice to the next generation is when the going gets tough, the results might not be what you dreamed of. Remember we are all humans and humans are allowed mistakes. Take lessons from the mistakes and wake up the next day more motivated than ever before. Only you can make this career work. Do it for yourself. When you’ve reached your dream take a look around, embrace yourself then make new dreams. Just make sure you enjoy your life.”

Communications as an industry has been transformed by social media channels – Facebook, Insta and recently TikTok – do you think esports channels like Twitch and Discord will evolve things further for brands wanting to talk to Gen Z / Gen Alpha audiences?

“The huge wave of social media is critical for brands talking to the younger generation. Looking over social media, most successful brands have a funny and trendy social media page. Esports players are now a part of advertising products because younger people tend to not watch TV but focus more on Twitch and YouTube for entertainment. The ability to get advertising space on the player or their content does influence a company’s success.”

What are your aspirations for the rest of this year?

“My aspirations for the rest of the year are simply to improve myself as a person. Find every life lesson to take on in search of improvement.” 

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