With fast paced flying, acrobatic maneuvers, and inevitable crashes, drone racing seems primed to grow into a unique viewing experience. Now that quadcopters are becoming more commonplace we are starting to see all sorts of racing leagues pop up.
The one making the biggest waves as of late would be the Drone Racing League (DRL). Back in late January, they made the front page of Reddit and many other aggregators with their promo video titled “The Sport of the Future”. Check it out below:
The slow motion heavy, news site quoting promo gives a first look into the sport of drone racing for many viewers, attempting to ramp up excitement for its inaugural season. The video showcases the first race in its 2016 season at the Miami Dolphins (NFL) stadium. As of the writing of this post (around one month after the video was originally uploaded) the video has 1.7MM views and the channel has gained 42K subscribers. Since the channel is so new, YouTube aggregators such as VidStatsX and SocialBlade have very little in terms of growth analytics yet, but it seems that the video has been received favorably by viewers.
Enter the first race – Miami Lights Qualifiers
Since the first promotional video, the DRL channel has uploaded short race clips, pilot interviews, and explanations on the rules of the event. On February 22, a month after the release of the promo video, they uploaded the first episode of the qualifying races at Sun Life stadium in Miami. Check it out below:
This fourteen minute video showcases the qualification rounds while also introducing the viewer to the pilots and rules of the event. From the onset it is clear that the production budget for the series is massive. DRL pulled out all the stops when they rented out Sun Life stadium to film their first major event. Similarly, the production quality from editing, onscreen graphics, to even the cameras used show that the team has invested serious money to ensure that their race looks as close to something you would expect to see flipping through the sports channels on your home TV. All in all, the footage itself looks great, the course is interesting and exciting, and there is a wide variety of clips and angles that can be used to tell the story of the Miami qualifiers.
How did it go? After a full week of release the view count sits at 244K views with an average view duration of 4:51 (of a 13:50 video).
So let’s talk about what DRL got right and what could be improved.
What DRL got right
the clips of flying are well shot and do a great job of capturing the speed and maneuverability of the quadcopters. For people who have never seen these things in action, it does a great job of showcasing just how fast they can fly as well as the agility in turning and changing elevations.
Who wouldn’t want to fly on something the scale of Sun Life stadium? The course is massive and has a great variety of turns, elevation changes, and gates for the pilots to fly through. I would love to see just how they wired the stadium to allow the pilots such a huge video transmission range throughout the course.
The production quality
From the on screen graphics to the quality of the video footage, the team at DRL did a great job collecting a variety of angles and points of view during the event. Similarly, what a great idea putting so many LEDs on the quads – it definitely makes them easy to see on camera and matches up nicely with the placement leaderboards.
What could be improved?
I found it interesting that the average view duration was 4:51 for a 14 minute video. When I went back through the video to this timestamp, it syncs up almost perfectly with the very end of the summary and showcasing the leaderboards of the first qualifying race. This ending summary however is almost a full TWO MINUTES after the end of the first race (race one ends at around 3:07). This is a lot of time to sit through for most viewers who just want to see the racing and may not be interested in the post flight commentary from the pilots.
It seems that the team at DRL realized this and added annotation to the video so users could skip to the second race, however most people I know deactivate annotations completely across YouTube due to how annoying they can get.
The point of view
The video constantly shifts between the race and the pilots in an attempt to give the viewer a better understanding of the sport and start to build the personalities of the pilots. I think that while in theory this is a good thing, it clutters the video. The perspective of this video does a little bit of everything averagely rather than showcasing one thing well. The episode feels almost like a reality show overview of the event rather than putting the main focus on the racing.
I understand this is probably a major challenge for DRL. On one hand, they want to build up the sport and show the action of the flights and the skill of the pilots. On the other, they want to make it exciting by repeating clips of the crashes and building a narrative by giving the viewers pilots to root for. The problem however is if the viewer doesn’t already understand drone racing, it will be harder for them to connect to a pilot during the race or in the post-race commentary. I think a better approach for DRL would be to introduce the pilots, showcase the race in its entirety (with an easy to find option for FPV view or following camera view), and then tie in the pilots after the race. Cutting to the pilots and their reactions mid race takes away from the tension and pacing of what is happening on the field.
Similarly, this seems like such a missed opportunity for a four tiled screen (think local multiplayer console games like Mario Kart) to show the perspective of each racer at the same time while the race is underway.
For the view switching – something like the feature in the below Honda ad would work amazingly for switching between camera types in racing. Imagine being able to switch between FPV and chase cameras within the same video. Best of all, it has already been done on YouTube:
Again, this goes to the POV argument above. The commentary feels like it was scripted in post-production rather than live commentary. It takes away from the excitement and seems more prepackaged than it needs to be.
The DRL channel is so unorganized
This one arguably hurts the most. The content on the channel is so disorganized and fractured that it is confusing to find the right video to view. They have a great video of just the races without all of the cuts, however it is buried among a ton of other videos.
The DRL team needs a better way of organizing the videos on their channel and site to make it much more approachable for the viewer to see the content that they want.
It is exciting to see that DRL is investing the resources to help increase the relevancy of drone racing. Hopefully things like this help the public perception of quadcopters by showcasing the variety of uses these machines have. Overall, the DRL put together a great first attempt at showcasing the sport and can hopefully improve from here. With a few minor tweaks, DRL’s events could be a great viewing experience that I would look forward to weekly.
Final note – live viewing. This needs to be on Twitch ASAP!