When it comes to French esports, people may recall different things. Some will think of the country’s success in Counter-Strike: Source and CS:GO, others will instantly name Sébastien Ceb Debs as a GOAT in Dota 2, while older esports fans will praise WarCraft III legend Ioan ToD Merlot. But there’s one more discipline that’s quite popular in France but might be unusual to a wide audience, and it’s Trackmania. Some time ago it was the only relevant racing game in esports, but now it’s an extremely niche discipline. But it still gathers tens of thousands of viewers
What is Trackmania?
The first game in the Trackmania series was released in 2003. The title was developed by Paris-based studio Nadeo, and the title was clearly inspired by games from the 80s and 90s like Racing Destruction Set and Stunts.
Trackmania is quite an unusual racing game. Need for Speed is popular for its colorful graphics / speed / dynamic soundtrack, and Gran Turismo and Forza Motorsport make an emphasis on realism, but Trackmania mesmerizes with its insane racing tracks that resemble an obstacle course.
In Trackmania, the player continually offends against all sorts of physical laws: cars fly around, drive on steep surfaces, move through loop-de-loops, etc. And all that at great speed! It looks incredibly mesmerizing:
The first game in the series received mixed reviews, although some media were enthusiastic about it (for example, GameSpot). Now the series has more than ten games and even has several achievements in the Guinness Book of Records.
But what is the secret of the game's success? It's simple: the built-in editor for creating your own racing tracks. The developers have provided gamers with unlimited tools, imagination is the only limit. Do you want to ride the walls? No problem. Want to jump off the springboards? You are welcome.
In addition, unlike other racing games, Trackmania developers deliberately abandoned the possibility of interacting with rivals. Well, who of us did not curse when you get hit or turned over by the opponent on the final lap in Need for Speed? This is not the case in Trackmania: car models pass through each other, and gamers, in fact, compete only with themselves.
Trackmania's first steps in esports
As the head of Nadeo Florent Castelnerac once admitted, he has always seen Trackmania as an esports discipline: he saw Need for Speed matches at World Cyber Games back in 2005 and decided that Trackmania has to take its place. But it took some time.
The first step towards esports was made back in 2004, when the spectator mode was introduced in Trackmania, and the breakthrough happened in 2006 after the release of TrackMania Nations: a free-to-play game that quickly got the audience’s attention.
Trackmania Nations had an alternative name: TrackMania Nations ESWC. The game became a kind of promotion for the legendary esports series Electronic Sports World Cup, which was organized by the French company Oxent.
The first truly major Trackmania tournament was held during ESWC 2006. Participants competed for $32,000 (quite a prize pool at that time), and the Frenchman Carl became the winner. Since then Trackmania has become a traditional ESWC discipline, and in 2008-2009 it had its own events at ‘esports Olypics’ World Cyber Games.
Trackmania’s community greatly influenced esports scene
Castelnerac once said that the community is one of the most important driving forces of Trackmania, and it’s 100% true. These were the game enthusiasts that came up with the most incredible tracks over and over again, which has been making the game interesting to players and viewers for these long 15 years.
The game was developed by the French studio, it became a promo-discipline at the French ESWC series, the first world champion is a Frenchman. So needless to say that the main influencer of the game is also from France. We are talking about Adrien ZeratoR Nougaret, perhaps the most famous commentator and track designer for Trackmania.
ZeratoR held its first tournament of the ZrT Trackmania series back in 2013. The prize fund was very modest (only one thousand euros), but the competition became extremely prestigious, it was an honor for any professional Trackmania player to participate in it.
Most popular Trackmania tournaments: the majority of viewers is from France
The top 5 Trackmania tournaments by peak viewers include four ZeratoR championships. And 2020 Cup was watched by more than 138K people at peak!
Viewership statistics of ZrT Trackmania is really impressive, as now this esports discipline is not as big as it was 10-15 years ago.
Carl Jr. is the most popular Trackmania player
As one might guess, the most popular and successful Trackmania player also has French roots. It is the French-speaking Canadian player Carl-Anthony Carl Jr. Cloutier, who has been competing on Trackmania tournaments for almost ten years.
Carl Jr.'s first success was back at ESWC 2013, where he got third place. But this was only the beginning, because in the next three years he became the champion of the series: and now he is truly a legend of Trackmania esports.
Carl Jr. quite successfully performs on tournaments up to this day. He won the ZrT Trackmania Cup three times, became the champion of the Trackmania Grand League twice, and got second place at Twitch Rivals - Trackmania Showdown.
What is a future of Trackmania esports?
Obviously, Trackmania can’t match League of Legends, CS:GO or Call of Duty, but the game has a fairly large and loyal audience (mainly in French-speaking countries), and championships still break records by viewership statistics.
The developers of the game regularly hold the Trackmania Grand League, Zerator organizes his own cups, and last year Trackmania became a discipline within Twitch Rivals.
Trackmania esports is extremely niche, but it is still interesting for many well-known esports organizations. Most of the clubs are from France (Solary, Karmine Corp, GamersOrigin, etc), but other popular clubs also have players in the discipline, namely, Alliance, Team Secret and BIG.
Perhaps we will never see large-scale Trackmania championships again. But loyal fans of the game are hardly worried about this, and one should remember that the esports audience of the game is still growing!
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