Drone Racing League is Serious Business, Seriously
Who else was channel surfing on Sunday afternoon, only to stumble across the a bunch of Formula 1-sounding colorful robots flying through Hard Rock Stadium in Miami? What we were witnessing was the start of the 2019 Drone Racing League Allianz World Championship Season, which was broadcast on NBC, NBC Sports, and—for the first time—Twitter. There, 12 pilots took to the skies and neon-lit corridors of Hard Rock Stadium, racing DRL’s new Racer4 drone at speeds of up to 90 miles per hour.
"Over the last three years, the number one request we got from fans was to bring DRL to an always-on digital platform,” DRL CEO & Founder Nicholas Horbaczewski said in a statement announcing the Twitter partnership. “And now, by merging the Sport of the Future with the future of broadcast, we'll give millions of fans the opportunity to watch DRL season races and video-game-like sports content anytime, anywhere—all while authentically engaging our integrated partners on an array of mediums across the planet."
The event on August 11 kicked off the fourth full season of competition for the DRL. Over the next few months, racers will make stops in Cincinnati, Miami again, Minneapolis, and Phoenix.
This is the moment you’ve been waiting for 🏁🔥
Watch extended coverage of the 2019 DRL @Allianz World Championship season premiere right here on Twitter LIVE.
Join the conversation by tweeting the hashtag #DroneRacingLive https://t.co/Mbq5nVZvGR
— Drone Racing League (@DroneRaceLeague) August 9, 2019
Said simply, drone racing might be the perfect sport for the 21st Century. It’s a unique combination of gaming, racing that’s brought to life in incredibly unique environments. Each heat in a competition lasts roughly 70 seconds as the drone racers complete two laps of the designated course. All the while, they’re wearing FPV helmets, driving their robotic racers at breakneck speeds through tight hallways and through various gates. Mid-air collisions are a common sight, and friendly ribbing in between heats keeps the video game-like atmosphere very much alive.
Meanwhile, the broadcasts themselves are equally entertaining. DRL did a great job explaining the technology behind their new drones for this season. Profiles on the various racers added a personal touch that let’s the viewer feel connected to the participants. And the analysis is actually very educational yet easy to understand for the casual viewer.
Sport of the Future
Though the Drone Racing League is still a ways off from the financial success of a more traditional esports league (the 2018 DRL champ took home $100K compared to the $3 million prize for the most recent Fortnite World Cup champ), the circuit is well on its way to achieving that status some day. Part of what makes something like DRL so attractive to a younger audience these days—and the networks and social platforms that broadcast them—is the fact that they’re much more relatable than other professional sports.
That’s not to say that drone racing is going to supplant the National Football League as America’s newest pastime. But a kid watching the DRL is more likely to feel like they could work their way up to becoming a professional drone racer than they could a professional football player. It’s a more attainable dream, or, at the very least, a different kind of dream that’s more appealing to a different kind of juvenile audience.
Better yet, DRL is actively working to give consumers the tools needed to hone their drone racing skills. Just a day prior to the official opening of the 2019 DRL season, the league launched a Kickstarter campaign, giving consumers the chance to preorder a “street version” of the DRL Racer4 that the pro racers will fly this season.
“We're incredibly excited to launch the DRL Racer4 and the street model for everyone to experience the thrill and speed of professional drone racing,” Horbaczewski said. “The DRL Racer4 will make our 2019 DRL Allianz World Championship Season more competitive than ever and finally give our fans what they've been asking us for: a DRL drone they can fly.”
The only significant difference we can see between the street version and the pro version is the number of LED lights on the device—100 for the Racer4 Street, compared to 1,000 on the pro version. Aside from that, consumers are looking at a product with the same core power system that the Racer4 pro version runs on.
So, with the launch of their new season, more way to get engaged with the league, and a new consumer-ready version of their racing drone, the Drone Racing League appears primed to grow its audience exponentially. Retailers who dabble in the emerging tech spaces, particularly with drones, would be wise to take note and perhaps leverage the growing excitement around this new and burgeoning sport.