Last month, NASCAR and Fox Sports 1 began airing iRacing events featuring real NASCAR racers competing in the video game. While the events have been fairly well-received since they began, there have been some issues over the last few weeks. The latest involves Kyle Larson, who used a racial slur during a race yesterday. Larson has been indefinitely suspended without pay by NASCAR and Chip Ganassi Racing. Larson is sponsored by Chevrolet, Credit One Bank, and McDonalds. As of this writing, there has been no announcement regarding whether or not Larson's conduct will result in a loss of sponsorship from these companies.
Larson used the slur while trying to see if his headset was working. During the stream, Larson could be heard trying to communicate with his spotter, before using the slur. Larson took to Twitter earlier today to apologize for his conduct, but fans are clearly disappointed in the racer. Larson is of Japanese descent, and was part of NASCAR's "Drive for Diversity" program.
Should Larson lose sponsors as a result, it would mark the second week in a row where the conduct of a racer during an iRacing event resulted in a loss of sponsorship. Last week, Bubba Wallace was dropped by sponsor Blue-Emu, after quitting in the middle of a race. Wallace was clearly frustrated after another driver intentionally ran into him.
Racial slurs have become an unfortunately common occurrence throughout the growth of esports. While some have tried to downplay racial slurs as "gamer words," the reality is that this type of language is incredibly problematic. Given the number of people watching these events, it can cause others to similarly rationalize this while streaming or gaming.
It will be interesting to see what sort of impact moments like these will have on NASCAR's iRacing events. The livestreams have proven to be a great way for Fox Sports 1 to keep NASCAR fans engaged with the sport while social distancing, and it has already given new viewers an opportunity to see the potential of esports. However, moments like these could have a negative impact on viewers' willingness to keep tuning-in.
Are you an iRacing fan? Have you been watching the virtual races on Fox Sports 1? Let us know in the comments or share your thoughts directly on Twitter at @Marcdachamp to talk all things gaming!