The multi-million-dollar World Drone Prix stumbled today in its much-hyped but hastily organized Dubai premier event, as technical problems delayed races and left livestream viewers struggling to follow the competition.
But there is still another day of races before top finishers collect on a $1 million prize pool – and still time for the World Drone Prix to boost professional drone racing to new heights.
14 teams advanced to tomorrow’s finals by placing in the top two in four-team races: KT D Rush Team, Dubai Dronetek, Tornado X-Blades Kent, VS Meschcheriakov, Team Awkbots, Freybott, No Longer Noob, Vincbee Team, Tornado X-Blades Dronsky, TBS United Kingdom, Dutch Drone Race Team SQG, Rotor Riot Nowak, Tornado X-Blades Metal Danny, and Tornado X-Blades Banni-UK.
Organizers will redo Race 2, where Autek Racing and D1 came in on top today, to round out the final 16 teams.
The first of eight races today began over two hours behind schedule and with spotty livestream audio. On-board HD broadcast cameras initially tilted up so that those trying to watch the livestreamed FPV feeds saw only sky and the occasional flash of LED-illuminated gates. Organizers scrambled for fixes as afternoon dimmed into night, angling the quads’ broadcast cameras back down, restarting Race 3 after resolving telemetry issues, and presumably briefing the hapless English-language commentator – who saw his first drone race today and apologized to viewers for the audio problems.
The last race of the day began past 1 AM Dubai time, and the sole remaining live feed cut off just as they were announcing the race’s runner-up.
“In my humble opinion, from a streaming point of view, this is a disaster,” wrote Reddit user cww256 on the r/Multicopter subreddit. “I watched through to the race that had the Rotor Riot team with Steele on it. There was no commentary, no FPV footage, no identification of which quads were on what team. There were four unique colors but no way to know which pilot was piloting which color.”
The crowded bleachers thinned as some spectators, who paid the equivalent of up to USD 400 to attend the event, gave up in the face of the delays.
But those patient fans who stayed enjoyed the world-class drone racing we have been anticipating, as assembled teams cheered on others’ fine flying in an atmosphere of bonhomie. The Dubai event, the first in the new World Drone Prix competition, has become as much about bringing together a far-flung community of drone racing talents as the competition itself. Friendly competitors – who have been trading online gripes and rumors with each other in the lead-up to the event – mugged it up for the cameras and updated fans on their journey through social media.
Despite the high stakes – the first-place team will take home at least USD 250,000 – pilots, technicians and managers have mostly approached the competition with optimism, viewing any major effort as a boon to the young and growing sport. But the missteps have been impossible to ignore.
“It’s all been left very last minute, and everything keeps changing. Too many variables are being added and all it does is cause problems,” FPV Racing Events race director Joe Scully presciently told ThirdLawSports before today’s races. “We hope it works out well but it’s concerning.”
Organizers, meanwhile, are focusing on the long-term: “ESports is over a billion dollar industry, and our sport has the potential to take the industry by storm,” said Justin Haggery, CEO of the International Drone Racing Association and a co-founder of the World Drone Prix.
The global event did turn the spotlight on some talented but little-known teams. D1 from China had a “very very strong performance” in the pre-qualifiers, said a member of competitor team No Longer Noob, coming into today as the number two team and finishing second in their race against DroneXLabs, Charpu FPV (with pilot “UmmaGawd” subbing in for Charpu, who could not get his passport and visa in time to compete) and Autek Racing – although that race will be redone.
The experienced Korean Giga 5 teams – Team Youngrok included a member who has been flying quads for over a decade – also put in strong performances, though not enough to bring them to the finals.
And 15-year-old Luke Bannister broke out as an obvious star, piloting Tornado X-Blades Banni-UK to a win in Race 7 against Dutch Drone Race Team SQG, Tornado X-Blades Bad Side84 and FPVModel.
These world leaders in FPV racing will be facing down the splendorous Dubai racetrack – and each other – once again tomorrow. The pressure is on to make Day 2 a memorable experience – in a good way.