You used to hear these phrases now and again. But at the moment they are being heard much more often.

‘I’m not a gamer but it’s growing on me quite a bit,’ or ‘this is THE time for esports.’

While the real world still has the pause button applied to a large extent, the virtual world thrives and continues to bring magic moments such as Charles Leclerc’s ‘bananaman’ impersonation and of course the launch of Formula E’s Stay at Home Challenge for UNICEF.

With real-world racing in a holding pattern across the world, drivers, teams and fans have turned to the world of esports to get their fix of action and adrenaline.

Mahindra Racing was an early advocate of the brave new world and has worked closely with Rudy van Buren, who was appointed simulator driver in 2019. The Dutch ace has been a winner in The Race’s All-Star series already and is the 2017 World’s Fastest Gamer competition champion.

“There are managers behind the scenes, we’ve got websites, social media, so it is really professional,” says van Buren.

“We apply it in the same way as the traditional motorsport pros, we do the test sessions, we go to the data logging, we analyse, we change, we adapt, we do everything as if we were at a race track. But there’s definitely plenty of correlation going both ways where I learn and apply with esports and real life work too. After all ‘racing is racing’ on lots of levels.”

Virtual racing has been around for decades with a committed fanbase of participants. Specialist companies and a mini-industry has sprung up around esports and a spotlight has been cast upon it in recent months since the beginning of the covid-19 crisis.

There is now a plethora of competitions that feature esports specialists and real world race drivers, some mixed and some separate. The questions about esports have long since dissipated.

While the esports boom is far from a bubble, the questions of how it will sustain itself and grow post-covid-19 are already being discussed.

Will it be in a better position when some kind of normality returns and will its stars like van Buren have an enhanced profile and be more familiar to the motorsport world at large?

As ever with sports, legacy is often just as important as the achievements of winning races or titles.

“While I firmly believe that the dial has been moved in terms of the validity of virtual racing as a standalone sport, we have to be mindful of what might happen when on-track racing returns and ensure that virtual racing is left in a strong and stable position and not left trawling through the pieces of an over-inflated burst bubble,” said World’s Fastest Gamer chief Darren Cox in a recent column on motorsport website The Race.

It is a sensible position to take because such a vibrant and competitive discipline surely has to be viewed as so much more than just stand-in entertainment while the real-world gladiators are temporarily benched.

So for now, and long in to the future, let’s enjoy the tron-like world of pro and sim racers competing together and also separately and giving fans all over the world entertainment and wonder.