Virtual sports helping fans, pros through sports shutdown

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COLUMBUS (WCMH) — If you’ve been searching for something to watch on the weekends and run across an auto race you first thought was real, you are not alone.

“I’ve seen multiple people say, dude, I thought it was a real race I was watching. It’s so realistic,” said Matt Gutkowski, a gaming enthusiast and Ohio State University senior.

IRacing has become the distraction sports fans need during this pandemic. Actual NASCAR and IndyCar drivers are taking part in virtual races, which have been broadcast to large audiences on TV.

New Albany native and Indy Car racer Graham Rahal has competed in the past two iRacing events, which were shown on NBCSN. Last week, the NBA launched a tournament featuring current NBA stars.

“We’re all starving for sports, no matter what it is… And these famous athletes, we get to see them take their talents to another route,” Gutkowski says.

In 2019, Gutkowski won the NHL EA Sports World Championship, earning $50,000 for his victory. His e-sports nickname, “Top Shelf Cookie,” has made him a star in the virtual gaming world.

Now millions more people are getting involved in an industry with an estimated 300 million participants worldwide. Virtual gaming is considered to be a $1 billion industry annually. And since people have more free time than ever, virtual sports are gaining real traction.

“You’re getting the raw reactions when things are happening in the moment, that’s something that you don’t get in traditional sports,” Gutkowski says. “This is kind of all we’ve got so there’s a lot of time for it.  You see a lot of people looking at the live streams of the games trying to get better.”

Gutkowski will attempt to defend his NHL world championship later this summer.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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