When he couldn’t get into the motorsports industry, 17-year-old Tobin “Racerz” Leigh instead set his sights on esports – and now he’s one of the most promising Forza players the UK.
As British Esports Association’s new Forza game adviser, he talks to us about about taking part in the Forza Racing Championship finals at Le Mans last year, the key to practicing smartly, and the potential for Forza esports in the future.
Please tell us about your background and how you first got into gaming.
I’ve always been into gaming since I was a very young kid as I really enjoyed to social element of it, however, I never thought I would ever make something out of it.
Another strong interest of mine has always been cars, and by chance, when I was about 10 years old, I went to school with someone who was racing karts around the country.
I really wanted to get involved with the motorsport scene myself. However, I didn’t have the money or necessary parental backing to make it possible. It was a massive shame, but instead I looked for an alternative.
I discovered racing games on my Xbox 360 and began to play both the F1 games as well as Forza Motorsport – luckily, they were enough to satisfy my desire to race in a competitive environment. This is when I first properly got into gaming.
When and how did you transition into esports?
I played these games for complete fun, until 14 years old, when I signed up to a league racing website to take part in my first organised racing (league racing is where you commit to several weeks of organised races, competing for points which add up to an overall league table. At the end of the season, the driver with the most points wins, just like in real motorsport).
When I first started playing these games, racing esports didn’t really exist so I am extremely lucky that things came around when they did.
There were no prizes, just bragging rights, but I took part in this for about two years for fun. However, it was here that I began to learn exactly how to set myself apart from the competition – I learned how to hotlap, race cleanly and improve my lap times considerably here.
As my time in this league ended, I had managed to get much faster at Forza Motorsport, and by complete fluke, ESL announced season 2 of the ForzaRC (November 2016) – I thought I might as well have a go.
I entered the ForzaRC for the first time, which is the pinnacle of Forza eSports, and managed to win $100.
It was at this moment that I realized that if I put some more time in, I could come away with some serious success, as I had no idea that I was even nearly good enough to compete in the first place.
This also got me noticed in the community, and I got signed to my current esports team: F4H Motorsport, which is the longest-serving team in the game.
To summarise, I built myself up by racing in smaller racing leagues, learned the skills required, and was then able to transfer my skills over to the main stage of the ForzaRC.
“Last year I got invited to the finals which were held at Le Mans. I raced alongside the actual 24h Le Mans event in the first ever ‘esports’ category. It was an awesome event to be a part of.”
How much do you train on average and what does your practice schedule look like?
With my education clashing so frequently with my gaming, I’ve had to accept that I have very little time compared to most of my competitors to practice.
Luckily, I have learned over the last few years how to practice, so I am able to do shorter, much more focused sessions to get on pace. Most people think that the more you play, the faster you get, which does have an element of truth to it admittedly, but I focus on how I play – always trying to better my game.
Overall, approaching the Forza Racing Championship (ForzaRC), I will put in roughly one to two hours a day during the final build-up, but I have learned to get the most out of each of my sessions.
Out of season, when the ForzaRC is not going on, I can get away with barely touching the game at all. I keep it ‘ticking over’ in my muscle memory by occasionally coming back to it for an hour every few days – I don’t enjoy gaming to such an extent where it becomes part of your daily lifestyle, so I am extremely happy that it is possible to have such success without it affecting my daily life.
What advice would you give to other players looking to get into esports?
1. Don’t give up. You can’t expect to be world class immediately, but put in the time and it will pay off.
2. Play Smart. When practicing, focus on your weaknesses, don’t ignore them.
3. Try to practice with people that are better than you. Join a session with established players and learn from what they are doing, and how they play. It is so much easier to improve as a player if you have a reference to learn from.
Those three points are what I have learned to be the most important pieces of advice in esports.
What would you say to those who perhaps aren’t aware of esports, such as teachers, parents and others out there?
I was asked to do a talk to my Sixth Form, which included all my peers and teachers about my trip last year to Le Mans for the last ForzaRC event.
At first, I could tell that generally, not many people really had any idea what the industry was all about, but, at the end of the talk, I could tell that I had opened peoples’ minds to the concept – it was well received.
This experience taught me that when people understand what esports actually is, and the opportunities that it provides, it will be widely respected in the future.
I would explain to teachers, parents and similar about the money, and skills required to be successful in esports. Also, just clearing their minds about how big it could become in the future has proven to be quite an eye-opener once people really think about what the industry could be destined to become.
Tell us about competitive Forza, what’s it like?
With the backing of Microsoft, competitive Forza Motorsport is an extremely exciting thing to be apart of.
Basically, competitive Forza will usually consist of qualifying through hot lap events which are open to everyone who plays the game. You must set your best time, and the X fastest amount of people will qualify to the next stage.
After the hotlapping, you’ll be through to some races. Again, the better you perform in the races, the more likely you are to progress to the next stage.
This will continue until the top players are invited to a live event. For example, last year I got invited to the finals which were held at Le Mans. I raced alongside the actual 24h Le Mans event in the first ever ‘esports’ category. It was an awesome event to be a part of.
Competitive Forza is simple, it rewards the fastest drivers with fabulous opportunities.
What are your thoughts on racing game esports? At the moment they seem to have their own niche, and aren’t as popular as the likes of CSGO, League of Legends etc. Do you think they can get bigger in the future?
Like its real-life counterpart, racing games are always going to have their own niche.
I believe that it is likely that CSGO etc will always be more widely viewed, as simply more people are interested in watching them due to the nature of the game.
However, I do think that the format of racing esports will improve over time and will provide increasingly better viewing experiences for spectators. This will lead to racing esports growing for sure, but It’s fair to say that it’s unlikely that it will ever overtake the current powerhouses in esports, such as CSGO or Rocket League.
“I gave a talk on esports at my Sixth Form and could tell that I had opened peoples’ minds to the concept. This experience taught me that when people understand what esports actually is, and the opportunities that it provides, it will be widely respected in the future.”
Please tell us about the tournament you’re taking part in at the moment.
I’ve been invited to Seattle for this years’ Pre-Season invitational.
My team, F4H Motorsport, was invited to compete in the first ever ‘team’ event on Forza, and I was selected as one of the three drivers to represent us.
Basically, my two teammates and I will be racing around several different circuits, trying to rack up enough points to win the event as a team. This is a very good opportunity for us as a team to earn the respect of many people watching on in the audience.
What are your long-term aims and ambitions in esports?
I really like the concept of the esports industry. It’s clearly growing rapidly and I believe that there is likely to be multiple career opportunities opening up within the industry over the next few years.
I am aiming to continue as a player for as long as possible. At 17 years old, I’m always being reminded that I have many years ahead of me – I’m very fortunate to have been able to get as far as I have so quickly.
I am also considering becoming involved behind the scenes with esports in the next few years. I hope that the experience that I gain now as a player could be especially useful to big organisations who organise events in the future.
Follow Tobin on Twitter here and in-game via his gamertag LZR Racerz