- Observations from the World Games
Drone racing was an event at the World Games in my city. Now I know it exists (like canoe polo!).
The composition of the candidates was interesting. One pilot was just 14 years old, making him the youngest competitor at the 2022 World Games. Another pilot was in a wheelchair. Drone racing is for sports like work from home for professional jobs – the number of competitors is potentially huge.
Viewers reported that it was difficult to follow the actual drones with their eyes. People in the race stadium usually saw the jumbo screens showing the pilots’ view. This raises the question: Why bother with drones at all if we could only do e-sports? There’s something special about the added challenge of a physical race. The machinery adds a NASCAR-like element and gives people an excuse to gather.
Videos if you want to get an idea of how the sport works:
“Championship Race: Xfinity CA Drone Speed Challenge, 2018”
“Maine Drone Racer Heads to World Games”
2. Thoughts on the future
Polaris has released an industry report forecasting growth.
Drone racing will grow in the United States. This appears to be a sport that will appeal to the Alpha generation and their parents.
As a parent, I would support that. It’s expensive, so it’ll be prohibitively expensive for a while, but millions of Americans bought drones at some point in the last decade. Drones break during races, but component costs go down. Part of the sport is being able to repair and build your own custom drones.
A handful of US high schools already have drone racing clubs. Adults will be able to point out the value of the learning technology that comes with racing for fun.
I wouldn’t be surprised if an affordable 2024 drone racing kit was a Christmas present for teenage boys. Don’t underestimate the great power of Christmas and birthdays in America. It’s like a giant sucking sound that everyone should hear. Adults want to give boxes to children and young people.
Demand curves fall. If the price of racing drones falls, people will buy more. The cost of a starter kit will come down, maybe to the point where we have a cheap box on every Walmart’s shelf. You won’t win the World Games with a cheap kit from Walmart. However, parents regularly buy their kids cheap wiffleball sets because it’s fun and a stepping stone to real baseball. The headsets for drone pilots are hi-tech, but maybe someone can connect them to the Oculus headsets that so many Americans have sitting in their basements now.
As drone racing gains market share, will it primarily pull more kids away from baseball and into esports, or will it pull the marginal kid away from pure video gaming and back into the 3D world? My prediction is that it won’t impact the number of kids playing traditional sports. Among teenagers, it’s mostly attracted to those people who wouldn’t already make a high school athletic team. I’m less sure about the viewers.
Will we ever have drone racetracks like an ice skating/internet cafe? The biggest problem I see with this is the liability of crashing a high quality drone. If interest really picked up, you could have courses that people bring their own drones to, like golf courses.
I predict drone racing will never be as big as golf in America. It could get as big as chess in terms of global exposure. It’ll probably always be considered niche, but that might be part of the fun for insiders.
In the most negative sense, drone racing is the worst of all worlds. You have the expense and unreliability of the physical experience that detracts from the sheer thrill that comes from performing in a video game. But you mostly sit around, so you don’t get the physical benefits of the sport. It’s worse than tennis for exercise. It’s worse than chess for strategy. It’s worse than basketball for celebrity status. If someone does drone racing as a college student, chances are they’ll drop it as an adult.
In the most positive sense, drone racing is the best of both worlds. You get the excitement of esports amplified by interacting with the physical world. Participants are enriched by learning about hardware, and you have to get out of your chair quite often.
Drone racing will grow and people will have great fun with it for decades to come. However, due to the disadvantages, it will never grow as big as basketball. People with the means to have a physical experience will have a better physical experience than drone racing. And people who want to delve into the metaverse will fly in a fake world without the inconvenience of piloting a real vehicle through the dangerous real world.
Tyler’s most recent podcast was on the Metaverse. And some more Tyler content worth mentioning: YouTube, his talk about Adam Smith in Columbia.