When McLaren invites you down to its Tech Centre to check out its esports training facility, it would be frightfully rude to say no. The GameByte and FragHero teams were lucky enough to receive such an invite earlier this month with a promised tour of its Woking HQ. For two motorsport heads like myself and my colleague Sara Heritage, we snapped at the opportunity.
McLaren is a monumental name in the world of motorsport. With 182 race wins in Formula 1, it’s one of the most successful teams in the sport. Add in a lifetime’s worth of impeccable sport and supercar designs, and there really is no other car manufacturer quite like McLaren. Now, the company is expanding its horizons to the digital world. After tentpoling the Logitech McLaren G Challenge esports tournament, it’s now moving forward with its own esports team – McLaren Shadow.
What is McLaren Shadow?
Lindsey Eckhouse is the Director of Licensing, Ecommerce and Esports at McLaren Racing. She explained to me what McLaren Shadow is all about. “Ultimately, it’s our gaming and esports brand. We’re currently competing in F1 esports as our only esport – that’s the real focus for us to ensure we have this foundation of credibility when we’re speaking to a gaming and esports audience.”
The team was formed in 2017, but has come on in leaps and bounds in the last couple of years. Since Eckhouse started her role at McLaren in early 2021, she’s worked to build McLaren Shadow up to break into the mainstream gaming space. “We opened the McLaren Shadow Studio, and it serves as a sort of content generation hub. You can get on one of the sim rigs, play a PC game, and also console games,” Eckhouse explains.
And what a studio it is. Stepping foot in the McLaren Shadow studio leaves the sleek and pristine finish of the Tech Centre behind – you wouldn’t know you were in the iconic building unless I told you. The darkened room is enlightened in an RGB aroma that you’d fully expect to see in a streamers setup.
All alongside one side of the room are high end racing rigs, complete with wheels, adjustable pedals and ultrawide monitors. I’ve used a wheel and pedals to play F1 2021 at home, but this was on another level. Nothing really prepares you for how far back you’re lying, and the wraparound screen fully immerses you in the raw speed of an F1 car.
Why is esports important to McLaren?
So why is one of the world’s most prestigious motorsport manufacturers getting into the world of esports? Eckhouse explains that it’s all about raising awareness for the educational benefits that esports can provide. “STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics] is really critical in terms of how we’re developing as a team. We have a tonne of engineers and very technically inclined people that work for McLaren Racing, obviously.
“The more that we can build different pathways for people to embrace STEM at a younger age and ensure that we’re getting as many different types of people as possible, the more we as professional entities can be representative of those communities.”
Beyond the educational benefits of esports, which we explored further in a research breakdown on GameByte, McLaren also thinks that esports could be a new grassroots method of finding new racing drivers. We recently saw Cem Bolukbasi make the jump from F1 esports to the Formula 2 grid. When presented with this case study, Eckhouse said, “It’s a test that we are still kind of proving ourselves. You do see a lot of similarities in the sim racing rigs as you do on the track. I think there are a lot of transferable skills, and it’s an incredible accessible way to experience real life racing,” she says.
“So we’re still testing the hypothesis, right? I think in the future – no doubt. I’d love to see those worlds blend more, but we’re still testing.”
McLaren is uniquely positioned in the world of esports
If there were any company to enter the world of esports, I’m glad that it’s McLaren. The company has an approachable manner that’s juxtaposed with its intense sense of style and class. Visiting the Woking HQ was a luxury experience from start to finish. A shuttle minibus couriered us around the serene lake that frames the Tech Centre into the Surrey landscape. The impressive building is a stunning concoction of glass, metal, and concrete. It could fully be a stand-in for the Avengers facility or the base of a Bond villain.
Walking through the front door is like entering the most expensive museum you’ve ever visited. A statue of Bruce McLaren watches over a Formula 1 history that spans half a century. Ayton Senna and Alain Prost’s iconic vehicles sit overlooking the lake, as do last year’s gorgeous designs – one of which is complete with the Gulf livery.
Despite knowing that you’re around some mega expensive kit, the McLaren Tech Centre feels calm, relaxing, and welcoming. That’s something that extends to its public-facing brand, especially with its current line up of F1 drivers in Lando Norris and Daniel Ricciardo. “We’re really fortunate to have Lando as one of our drivers because he’s so passionate about the space himself,” Eckhouse says.
Norris has his own esports team outside of his work at McLaren known as Quadrant. It recently announced a new move into the Halo esports scene. “He’s an amazing ambassador for us in terms of everything that we’re doing, certainly from a Shadow perspective, and both gaming and esports,” Eckhouse continues.
Esports is a notoriously tough nut to crack outside of gaming audiences. It’s fantastic to see huge companies, especially the likes of McLaren, take interest in growing their presence in this space.
Click below to read our full interviews!
You can read our full interview with Lindsey Eckhouse here on FragHero. What do you think about McLaren entering the world of esports with McLaren Shadow? Let us know across our social channels.
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[Featured Image Credit: McLaren]