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And perhaps even more interesting, the league will be teaming up with Bud Light to host Drone Racing League tryouts on the simulator, with the winner receiving a $75,000 contract to compete in the 2017 season.
The simulator itself is pretty basic – it’s available for PC and Mac, and can gives you a first person view of a racing drone flying on different courses. You can control the drone with the arrow keys (not recommended), a bluetooth controller or Xbox controller, or specialized drone controller that can be connected to your computer.
The game itself offers a tutorial (which teaches you how to fly as well as the rules of drone racing), free flight mode, campaign and even a live multiplayer mode. You can also see the time trial rankings for the official tryouts from both within the game and online.
I first tried the simulator (which is a downloadable game) on my MacBook with no controller, and while the slender laptop was able to power up the game it ran at a really low frame rate, it was basically unplayable. I then switched over to the gaming PC I use to power my Oculus Rift setup, where it ran flawlessly.
Once running on a powerful PC with a connected Xbox controller I actually had a lot of fun playing. The graphics were great (comparable to a high-quality PC game) and it’s probably a game I’d actually pay money for.
That being said, actually flying a drone and racing without crashing in the game was insanely hard, even with controller. But to be honest it actually mimicked my experience flying real FPV racing drones, which are also insanely hard to fly. A tip if you decide to try playing yourself: be extremely gentle with the joysticks!
In terms of the tryout component, DRL says that the top 24 participants (who complete the simulation course in the shortest amount of time) will be invited to compete in a live finals simulation tournament in January, with the winner of that getting the $75,000 racing contract.
While this is definitely at least partially a marketing gimmick, it’s actually smart to use a simulator as a way to scout out future pilots from around the world. The barrier to entry for real drone racing is extremely high (you need a lot of money and a lot of open space), so there are definitely people missing out who could actually be really good pilots.
You can download the simulator here if you want to try it out.
The league also launched its first commercial tonight, which aired during a race tonight on ESPN.