Comments are single-handedly the hardest part of my job as a producer and commentator for iRacing.com. With the rise of sim-broadcasting as a genre, we’ve seen the increase in involvement in our streams, even leading us at LSRTV to start picking out moderators from the people who watch, and have them monitor chat. However, as far as iRacing’s highest level, it almost went away. Allow me to endulge in a brief narrative, won’t you.
The kickoff for the 2017 NASCAR Peak Antifreeze Series, powered by iRacing, was in no small part, an unmitigated disaster (This article is extremely bias, and not very news-oriented, but it’s the only one that really covers what happened). With several drivers not being able to maintain connection to the racing servers, the race, and broadcast, were rescheduled, leaving hundreds of angry viewers with an open comments section on the YouTube stream, which descended into pure chaos.
Sure enough, iRacing was not happy at all, and asked that the chat be muted for all top tier events on the service going forward. The flame war was simply too much bad PR, and they wanted to step around it. As the article points out, however, that was not the way to do it.
The move saw viewership for this series, and the other series affected by the chat mute drop numerous viewers. RaceSpot TV, the broadcasters for these events tried to setup chat rooms in various other applications, but the damage had been done, and the viewers, many of which who played the game themselves, carried the negative feelings toward iRacing itself.
This, combined with more server outages, led to the most unprecedented thing that could happen, a mass protest. During the highest ranked split of the 24 Hours of Le Mans race on iRacing, the highest split carrying the most talented and fastest drivers, server outages struck the race again, disconnecting at least a third of the field. The racers decided that they were done being silent, and pulled over to the inside of the track, protesting the sim on a global broadcast.
As one of the commentators for the event, we just sat there, wondering what to do next. We were instructed to end the broadcast to at least stop the bleeding in that, and we all logged off. This was the bottom of the barrel, and iRacing knew it.
Soon enough, we re-initialized the live chat on the main races, and began to moderate it. While the viewership has taken awhile to return to its numbers before Daytona, it now has, and has begun to improve again.
Interaction with viewers has now become necessary to stay relevant in the world of YouTube-esque entertainment, and I believe that will eventually spread to network and worldwide publications. With groups like Al Jazeera and CNN now making comments and integral part of their programming, everyone else must begin to move in this direction, or risk falling behind.