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The state of eNASCAR with Elliott Sadler Esports’ Co-Owner Seth Reiter

Traxion.GG sat down with Elliott Sadler Esports’ Co-Owner and President Seth Reiter for his insight into being a part of eNASCAR.

Former NASCAR driver Elliott Sadler still has roots set in the sport that he made his name in. The three-time NASCAR Cup Series winner took on NASCAR’s esports scene when Elliott Sadler Esports became an official team of the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series in 2021.

Before entering the Coke level, ESE was one of the many backend teams running drivers through the ranks to get to the top level. For the first two Coke seasons, it was able to run with drivers in house.

This season, that dynamic has changed as their two team drivers come from another backend team.

In September of 2022, the team announced an organizational change as Seth Reiter stepped into a co-ownership role alongside Sadler after serving solely as ESE’s President. Reiter has been there since the very beginning.

We sat down with Reiter to discuss where ESE came from and their current team situation in 2023. Reiter also gives an inside look as to what co-owning one of the 20 official teams in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series looks like, plus his thoughts on the current state of eNASCAR in its 14th season.

THE BEGINNINGS OF ELLIOTT SADLER ESPORTS

Vicente Salas (55) was on both Elliott Sadler Esports for the backend team, but wasn’t Garrett Manes’ (2) teammate on the titular Elliott Sadler Esports official team in 2021.

Before the pandemic esports boom of 2020 and the formation of Elliott Sadler Esports, both Sadler and Reiter were already getting themselves acquainted with the iRacing community.

“I joined iRacing in 2018, and pretty much immediately hopped into the esports side with a couple of sim teams before I met Elliott. Then he decided to fire up ESE, and it just took off from there,” Reiter said.

“One of the earlier teams I was on was Legacy Esports, and Elliott started hanging around Legacy. It was actually Michael Jeanes, who is an admin on ESE, who became very good friends with Elliott (when we were with) Legacy. After we separated from Legacy, Mike was like ‘hey, why don’t you start your own team?’ and Elliott was like ‘sure, why not?’”

It didn’t take long for Elliott Sadler Esports to become a well-known commodity on the oval side of the iRacing community. At first, it was a group of friends learning the ropes of the eNASCAR ladder system, racing with Sadler and trying to make it up the rungs. Then, it turned into a business venture.

“We started a Road to Pro program with the guys that we already had. We ended up putting three drivers into the Coke Series (Ashton Crowder, Garrett Manes, Vicente Salas). Elliott and I looked at each other and we were like “you know what, why not?” We just put our ESE guys into that, so he was definitely the main influence to us joining in this series, but I had a hand in it.”

RUNNING THE TEAM LIKE A BUSINESS

eNCCiS: Femi Olatunbosun opens 2022 season with three-wide photo finish win at DaytonaGarrett Manes (31) finished second in the 2022 eNASCAR Daytona season opener. That is Elliott Sadler Esports’ best finish to date.

There are two types of teams in eNASCAR racing. There are the official teams, the ones that are talked about on the broadcast, like Joe Gibbs Racing, JR Motorsports, XSET. Then, there are backend teams, the setup shops that build the sets, teams like Deadzone, Team Conti or Norse Force Racing.

Elliott Sadler Esports has been both at the same time before. One of the reasons that Sadler and Reiter were able to make it work fro the start was due to the business structure they put into place.

“Elliott and I really wanted to build a team with structure,” Reiter said. “One thing we noticed was a lot of the sim teams on iRacing, on the oval side, are just groups of friends building setups. Some of those teams have built themselves into some of the most successful sim teams on the service.”

Reiter considers himself more of the marketing guy, despite the Co-Owner and President labels he currently wears. “That’s where a lot of my focus is, with reaching out to sponsors, trying to generate new sponsorship with the team, trying to build a foundation for these younger guys to be successful.”

SIM TO REALITY AS AN EXPECTATION

Elliott Sadler (1) at New Hampshire, 2016.

While being a top esports team is great, Reiter says that the crossover between sim racing and real-world action is as close as its ever been, and he intends to take full advantage of it with his position at ESE.

“That’s my vision for ESE,” Reiter said. “We want our drivers to not only race on iRacing at the highest possible level, but to build skills for real life as well, skills that they can take from racing professionally in iRacing, into real life jobs and real life opportunities.”

In fact, members of Elliott Sadler Esports may already be taking advantage of the sim to reality link. “We’ve kind of built that bridge from iRacing to real life, and I think we’ve done a really good job of that. Now we’re actually starting to see some of the fruits of that.”

“We’ve got great examples… Garrett Manes, he’s one of the head guys at Sim Seats, he built a lot of skills with ESE to be able to do that. Liam Brotherton was in college when he first joined, now he’s built that into a job with NASCAR. Vicente Salas recently got a late model ride, he was on ESE for a long time.”

“I’m blessed to have Elliott behind me, and that he’s supported us and given us connections to NASCAR. We worked very closely with Kaulig Racing over the last couple of years (Sadler’s former NASCAR team), we had a developmental program with them. Our drivers got to go be on pit road during NASCAR XFINITY races, be on the box, for XFINITY races.”

CHANGES FOR 2023

eNASCAR, iRacing, The Milwaukee Mile, pace laps, William Byron Esports front rowElliott Sadler Esports locked out the second row in qualifying at The Milwaukee Mile this season.

One of the few completely in-house organizations over the last two years, Elliott Sadler Esports had to make a big change for 2023.

While Garrett Manes remains close with the ESE family, he was signed on at FGR Accel eRacing for 2023. Meanwhile, Liam Brotherton retired, leaving two empty seats at ESE.

Reiter was able to collect two drivers from a different backend team, Deadzone Racing, in both Darik Bourdeau and Cody Byus. Despite this, he continues to sit atop the spotter’s stand for Manes in 2023, which led to an awkward situation two weeks ago when Bourdeau and Manes had a spat at Milwaukee.

“It’s definitely been this has been a definitely a year of change. We had been pretty set with our routine the last two or three years, where we were not only the face team in the Coke Series, but also the sim team behind it. I believe we were the only team that could say that.”

“We scaled back and decided we’re not going to build, we won’t be the backend sim team in 2023… we have two drivers that actually don’t drive for us this year.” Reiter said. The former ESE driver, Manes, is currently working with Victory1, other members which include Malik Ray, Kevin King and Joey Brown, all drivers on different teams in the Coke Series.

BACKEND TEAMS KEEP THE SERIES ALIVE

2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series roster set following Contender finaleLiam Brotherton (19) qualified for the Coke Series as a backend team member of Elliott Sadler Esports in 2021, before joining the outfit as an official driver in 2022.

Even though ESE won’t have their own setup team members this season, they do have an advantage over some teams in the fact that both drivers are out of the same backend shop at Deadzone Racing. This has allowed for ESE to build more relationships with other teams, something that may be crucial for the future depending on how things work out over the next year.

While teammates are weary of team championships in the Coke Series, it doesn’t always work out. Just look at Atlanta this week, when Michael Guest took a run on the last lap with his Deadzone teammate Graham Bowlin to pass his official 23XI Racing teammate Keegan Leahy. Guest scored the third and likely wouldn’t have placed in the Top 5 if he didn’t make the move, while Leahy fell back outside the Top 10.

It is a weird dynamic, right? A driver can be someone’s official teammate on paper, like 23XI Racing has Guest, a Deadzone driver, and Leahy, a VRS Coanda Esports driver, but not really work as teammates.

“The backend sim teams are what keep the series alive,” Reiter explained. “They’re the guys that deserve the pats on the back. They’re the ones putting hours and hours in.” By stepping back on making setups for the Coke Series, the team at ESE can focus on trying to get back to a point where they can run their own two drivers again in the future.

“We’ll focus solely on our Road to Pro program and our Contender program in 2023,” Reiter said. “Obviously, I’m thrilled to have Cody and Darik racing for us. They’ve both been an absolute pleasure to work with. They’re both immensely talented drivers. Even though it’s only been a couple of races, they’ve performed extremely well.”

STATE OF THE (E)SPORT

Darik Bourdeau crashes on lap 51 at Milwaukee, eNASCAR iRacingDarik Bourdeau (1) was suspended from competition this past race at Atlanta due to an on-track altercation with Garrett Manes (12) at The Milwaukee Mile.

What does the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series look like from the eyes of a team owner in the series, you might ask? While Reiter couldn’t speak on certain topics, he did give a lot of insight into what the esport looks like from the inside out.

“It’s a full time job,” Reiter said. “To be competitive in the Coke Series, the competition level has just gone through the absolute roof the last two years. Like, it’s just it’s so much higher than it was before. You’ve got to have guys putting in hours and hours and hours to be competitive.”

ESPORTS RETIREMENTS (!)

2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series mid-season team outlookLiam Brotherton retired from the Coke Series after his rookie season in 2022.

Unfortunately, one of the big issues that Reiter sees is that the financial compensation doesn’t match the time and effort that goes into it, and that could be a reason for some recent retirements from what is essentially playing a video game for a living, something that doesn’t sound like it could be true.

There were three big retirements announced before the conclusion of the 2022 season, and one of the drivers happened to be Liam Brotherton while he was driving for ESE. This year already, one of the most successful of all time to do it, Michael Conti, is stepping away at year’s end.

Reiter had a bird’s eye view of it all, seeing a driver of his own step away from the top level of competition. But why? “There’s a lot I can’t say, I’ll have to be careful about it,” Reiter said.

“We’ve seen a lot of retirements out of the series… the state of the series, from a behind the scenes standpoint, I think it’s almost at a tipping point. The amount of time investment to the amount of payout for the series, it’s just not lining up.

“You have to put in 20, 30, 40 hours of testing a week to be competitive in the series,” Reiter said. 40 hours is equivalent to a full-time work week in the United States. “The amount of money, the amount of revenue coming in the series just isn’t enough to warrant that.”

THE ROAD TO $300,000?

Magical live night for eNASCAR, iRacing hopefully just the beginningThe 2022 eNASCAR Championship 4 competitors fought for their share of the $300,000 prize pool in October. Casey Kirwan pocketed at least $100,000.

$300,000 sounds like a lot of money, right? Well, when $100,000 goes to the champion and the other 39 drivers have the chance to split the other $200,000, that averages to about $5,000 per person. Some drivers win way more than that, and others don’t take any of it. So where does the money come from?

We then have to take a look at sponsorships. Sponsorship money is essentially what pays the drivers, but what about the backend teams? “I think there’s a big reason that setup shops have become so prevalent,” Reiter said. “These backend sim teams are needing a way to monetize, to pay full-time builders to build for the Coke Series.”

“The amount of viewership you have dictates the amount of sponsorship you have. The amount of sponsorship you can sell or iRacing can sell completely correlates to viewership, other esports games have so much more viewership than eNASCAR does.”

Sponsorships aren’t easy in any environment, and with how quick things like eNASCAR Free Agency goes following the Contender round, some of the teams like Elliott Sadler Esports are left in a jam trying to find the funds to attract drivers to come race for them.

“THE CURRENT MODEL IS BACKWARDS”

eNASCAR Coke: Tucker Minter takes first career win in first career raceAn unsponsored car driven by Tucker Minter for Team Dillon Esports wins at Daytona in February 2023.

A lot of times, the real-world teams like Joe Gibbs Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing and RFK Racing will run cars based off of their real-world sponsors. Steven Wilson drives an identical No. 10 Smithfield Ford Mustang to the real-world Aric Almirola counterpart. That’s a relationship that existed for that team already, but what about the non-real-world teams?

Tucker Minter won the opening race of the 2023 eNASCAR season in an unsponsored car. No hood logos, nothing to promote as he burned it down on the frontstretch. Team Dillon Esports was able to get a sponsor for the following race, but, I mean, look at some of these other teams out there.

The new blood in esports organizations such as Charlotte, Kansas City and Pittsburgh don’t have promoted sponsors on their cars, instead they run their own logos in the main sponsorship areas. The defending champion Casey Kirwan runs an XSET sponsored car that is mirrored by Ryan Luza as well.

“I just don’t think, at the moment, that it’s an entirely healthy esports model,” Reiter said. “The pillars of the series are these backend sim teams that are putting in hours and hours and hours of work to be successful.”

“Those are the guys that nobody talks about, they make this series happen with the amount of time they put in, and they deserve the recognition.”

It’s not just about the drivers, it’s about the whole group behind them, and from what it sounds like, there isn’t enough funding to warrant it all. The promoted official teams get the praise and recognition, but at the end of the day, they’ve been elevated due to the backend teams that put their drivers at the top.

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

eNASCAR Coca-Cola sponsored carsCoca-Cola is the entitlement sponsor of the entire series and sponsors two cars that compete.

“We need to do something different,” Reiter said about today’s current eNASCAR model. “We are playing to the NASCAR market. I feel like we’ve started to take the steps this year, running The Milwaukee Mile and Monza, I think that’s a fantastic idea, but we need to be different, we need to be our own thing.”

“That’s something a lot of these other esports do. Even if it might come off as wacky to some people. That’s what we need to generate viewership, to reach new demographics like League of Legends, like CSGO, I think that’s a small step that we could change.”

“I think running Monza this year, I thought that’s a brilliant idea, we need to do more of that. We need to go to wacky tracks that they don’t race in real life.”

Essentially, the goal everyone wants to achieve is to get more people to want to tune in to the eNASCAR events. “I feel like if we continue down our current trajectory, our viewership isn’t gonna decline, but we’re just going to level out,” Reiter explained. “That’s kind of what we’re seeing right now.”

“We have to innovate a bit. I think we’re a little stagnant right now with the schedule, doing the same as the NASCAR schedule. We need to be the experiment for NASCAR. Let them experiment with the Coke Series.”

“If they’re thinking about going to Monza in real life, let us do it and test it first and broadcast it as the Coke Series. You know, that’s going to generate new viewership that’s going to hit a new demographic.”

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