Drift Wars Season Prologue
Around the turn of the new year, the off-season rumor mill is usually in full effect. All the sponsorship contracts are wrapping up, builds are coming out of the paint booth, and organizers are dotting T’s and crossing I’s on their contracts for the season. But what if there was an entire other group of drivers and organizers preparing for the drifting season in their own way? Equipped with their own set of off-season rumors, sponsor contracts, and driver changes? Well, welcome to the world of E-Sports Drifting.
If you’re not familiar with E-Sports don’t be alarmed, while it has gained an impressive amount of popularity over the years, it is not yet a common household name. Now, E-Sports has primarily been ruled by fighting games, top down strategy games, and first-person shooters over the years. However, there’s a competitive side to gaming that has yet to hit the limelight, the world of competitive Forza Motorsport drifting.
One of the series that is new on the scene but has already gained quite a lot of traction throughout the online community is the organization of Drift Wars. What started in Forza Horizon 3 as a “just for fun” competition, has grown into a massive field of drivers and spectators in just under a year of operation. This week I spoke with Henry Woollard (Nnezzie), the founder and creator of Drift Wars to get some insight on what exactly Drift Wars is, how it started, and what direction he sees the series heading in the future. I also got a sneak peek at some of the changes being made for the upcoming season. Nnezzie has been active in the Forza drifting community since the very early days of Forza Motorsport, and has been competing throughout the years. On top of his series, he also owns and manages TED Drift Team, a Forza team that has seen more growth and popularity than any other team in recent history.
“I told my friend that I was going to start up a competition, and he (sarcastically) said yeah sure sounds like fun…”. That was all the motivation Nnezzie needed. What his friend didn’t know, was that Nnezzie was about to throw himself head first into Drift Wars, and the community was ready for it, more than ready. The first event, held in a parking lot on Forza Horizon 3, was meant to host a drift, drag, and racing competition. However, the only drivers that signed up were there to drift, thus Drift Wars was born. What Nezzie or anyone else could have never imagined, is just how positive and embracing the Forza community would be to the series. Within just a few events his drivers count had grown from around 11 drivers, to dozens, to hundreds, to over 1,000.
So, how does such a small crew take on such a massive driver’s list? How do you qualify over 1,000 drivers? One…at…a…time… For 15+ hours, 3 days a week, Nezzie and his team would go through the list of drivers, one by one. These drivers would join a lobby hosted by Nezzie and his crew, where they were then given 2 laps each to qualify, similar to what we’re used to seeing in FD. What we’re not used to seeing in FD however is the sheer growth and accessibility that Drift Wars offers. You don’t need a 1,000hp monster with a rear mounted radiator and full wisefab to compete here. You don’t need much of anything really, just time, and the willingness to hone your drifting skills endlessly on a gaming platform, and perhaps a SIM steering wheel.
Over the year the series has presented more than its fair share of challenges to Nnezzie and his crew, but that hasn’t slowed them up one bit. Finding additional support for the series has proven to be difficult, but a few companies have decided to take a chance on the the organization even in its early stages of development. Initially, Drift Illustrated was the sole supporter of Drift Wars during their inaugural season. However for the upcoming season, Nnezzie has gained sponsorship attention from the likes of NRG Innovations, Doc, and EverythingDrift.com, as well as maintained his current relationship with Drift Illustrated. Turn 10 has also recognized the series, and has allowed Drift Wars to use its official logos, certainly they’re getting the right attention. Nnezzie was nervous about approaching sponsors with his ideas at first, not sure of how receptive they would be to the world of online gaming, but to his surprise the community has been truly embracive. “I can’t thank these guys enough for their support” Nnezzie tells me with a bit of a lump in his throat. This experience has been very educational for Nnezzie and his crew, as well as humbling, none of them ever expected the amount of positivity they would be met with. Of course, every sport has it’s growing pains though and Drift Wars is certainly no exception.
Over the past couple of years Nnezzie has noticed a shift in the online competition scene. Drifting has seen a massive influx of newcomers to the sport. Both online and in reality. While it is a good sign of the progress the sport is making, it’s also an opportunity for a rift to form. However, we as a community have the ability to control this rift, and educate everyone on the true spirit of drifting, having FUN! As long as you’re having a good time, it shouldn’t matter what car you drive or how much horsepower you have, we all drift because we love it. While Nnezzie and his team haven’t seen this impact in the online community much, they’re still taking steps to make sure that everyone has a place to drive regardless of what style they may prefer.
This year, Nnezzie has plans to bridge this growing gap, by providing events that cater to all sides of the coin. Whether you just want to drive grassroots and have fun with your buddies in a structured and controlled environment, or you want to challenge yourself amongst the best drivers the world has to offer, Drift Wars has a place for you. Throughout the season the Drift Wars team has plans in store to bring you up to 8 events per month! These events will include a Pro-am/Pro competition, a “Street Legal” series aimed at keeping things at a grassroots level of competition, and an open competition in which signing up is literally as easy as signing up! “This year the Pro-Am series will require a registration fee”. Nnezzie has done his best on his own so far, but he can only do so much before the need for some sort of financial backing became apparent. “This year I’m taking this on full time”. He tells me sincerely. “For as long as I can anyway”, but without outside financial assistance, it’s difficult to see how the series can maintain on its own solely based on volunteer work. Therefore, all drivers looking to compete in the Pro-am/Pro series will be required to pay a registration fee.
This fee has been kept to a minimum in hopes that it won’t deter any drivers looking to compete. It will provide Nnezzie with a bit of funding to give back to the series in the form of prizes, media coverage, promotions, etc. Of course, eventually he would love to also be able to give back to his staff and other community members who have helped him so much with the series. “I really can’t thank the community and everyone involved enough. I never expected the series to be welcomed the way it has, it’s been incredible”. I can hear the tone of his voice, Nnezzie is humbled and motivated. “If it weren’t for guys like Greg from DI, and Nemesis Empire for guiding me throughout this process, and all the members of the community who have stepped up, I don’t think we’d be at this point. They really showed me the way when it comes to approaching companies with proposals and really selling the program to sponsors. Massive thanks to all of the sponsors on board for the coming year. Doc, NRG, EverythingDrift.com, Drift Illustrated. Jason from J-Dimensional also gave a massive hand with the new website over the last few months, massive thanks to Jason.”
With support from major brands like NRG and Doc, and media support from EverythingDrift.com and Drift Illustrated, plus lots of new prizes and rewards coming into the series, it’s easy to see the amount of potential this series has. Forza drifting is a much more cost effective solution to getting sideways and having fun with your friends, and with the SIM technology making leaps and bounds, the gap between real world drifting and virtual drifting is closing rapidly. So what are you waiting for? You can drive year around without all the real world issues. You know, like the price of tires, mechanical failures, transport and logistics, all a non-issue with virtual drifting, and all of this can enjoyed from the comfort of your sofa! Though, don’t get me wrong, this competition isn’t a cake-walk and you’ll have to train just as hard if not harder than your fellow competitors to keep up. Think you have what it takes to compete against the best in the world? Or maybe you just want to get your feet wet with some friendly competition? No matter what you want out of drifting, Drift Wars has a place for you. So hopefully by now, you’re interested and want to know where to sign-up right? Well, Nezzie and the crew have been working extra hard this off-season to bring you a fully interactive website in which you’ll be able to sign-up, follow series news and events, view fully interactive and live Driver Profiles, as well as a forum for the community to get together and discuss different tunes, paints, and have open discussion and feedback about the series. As of the release of this article the website will be live, so head over to www.driftwars.tk to get in on the action!
While the future of Drift Wars and online drifting is uncertain, there’s no doubt in my mind that the future is in the right hands. It’s rare to see such passion anywhere in the drifting community, let alone in the virtual world. But within a couple hours of speaking with Nnezzie, his passion is apparent, and his determination is undeniable. I’m excited to see what the future has in store for Drift Wars and the rest of the online drifting community. I’ll be keeping up with the Drift Wars series throughout the season, as well as bringing you an inside look at some of the teams and drivers who are at the forefront of the series. I will also be competing in the series myself this year, and I’ll be taking you with me on my journey through the ranks of Drift Wars. I look forward to many good times to come this season, and hope you will come along for the journey!