ABU DHABI (Reuters) - British teenage gamer Brendon Leigh became Formula One’s first eSports champion after winning the finale in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
The 18-year-old kitchen manager from Reading, who had never before left Britain or attended a Formula One race, collected a total of 74 points to come out on top of the 20 finalists competing at the finals inside the F1 paddock.
More than 63,000 hopefuls worldwide had entered the competition back in September by competing on PlayStation4, Xbox One and Windows PC platforms.
The rewards for the winner, apart from taking away the inaugural trophy, included the right to be a non-driver character in the official F1 2018 game and automatic qualification for next year’s semi-final.
“Winning here means a huge amount to me. I am the first one to do it. That is special,” Leigh said after finishing six points ahead of Chilean Fabrizio Donoso Delgado after three races - Montreal, Spa and Yas Marina.
“I am not sure how to celebrate. I don’t drink or anything: I think I might just go to bed,” added the teenager, who swept past Delgado on the final lap of the virtual Abu Dhabi circuit to win the title.
The top three gamers will have an official prize giving ceremony on the grand prix podium after Sunday’s real season-ending race.
“The attraction to a broad and committed younger generation of F1 and Esport fans is something that we are proud to support and nurture,” said Formula One’s commercial manager Sean Bratches in a statement.
“We look forward to establishing a season-long series in 2018.”
The eSports Series is a partnership with Formula One, game developer Codemasters and events and competitions specialists Gfinity.
U.S.-based Liberty Media, who took over Formula One in January and have targeted gaming as a growth area to drive revenues and connect with younger audiences, are also due to reveal a new logo and branding for the sport on Sunday.
Some of Formula One’s participants are already embracing the world of eSports, with McLaren executive director Zak Brown saying all teams could eventually have their own virtual counterpart.
McLaren recently appointed a gamer as an official simulator driver and twice world champion Fernando Alonso has launched his own eSport team.
Writing by Alan Baldwin in London, editing by Nick Mulvenney