Kevin Dowd September 14, 2016
You are, somehow, in the cockpit of a custom-made, 800-gram drone whizzing across a football field at 80 miles an hour. Another brightly lit quadcopter pulls into your vision and banks sharply to the right, shooting toward a small entryway into the main concourse of the stadium. Your drone follows, jockeying for position, until you clip the other vessel just before the opening. The bump is enough to push you off path, and instead of continuing the course, the drone crunches into a wall of concrete.
Back in the television studio, a team of announcers bemoans your fate while the crowd goes wild...
Welcome to the Drone Racing League, a fledgling VC-backed organization that has inked a deal with ESPN for the network to broadcast 10 hours of DRL content this fall, concluding with the world championships on November 20.
The DRL pits pilots—who the league refers to as “drone jockeys”—against each other in races across three-dimensional obstacle courses: think football stadiums, abandoned buildings or industrial facilities. Cameras are mounted on the drone itself, and pilots wear quasi-VR goggles that allow them a first-person perspective of their flight while steering their drones with handheld controllers.
The use of that same first-person camera angle in television broadcasts is part of the reason ESPN is betting on the upstart organization to follow in the line of poker, spelling bees and other non-sports that have found an audience on the Worldwide Leader.
In addition to ESPN, the DRL has reached an agreement with Sky Sports Mix and 7Sports to broadcast races in Europe. The company has also raised $12 million in funding from a group led by RSE Ventures and Lux Capital that includes Sky, Hearst Ventures, Muse lead singer Matt Bellamy and Courtside Ventures.
The DRL raised an earlier seed round that saw participation from Lerer Hippeau Ventures.
The league pitches itself as a new-age Formula One, offering a global championship race series of large events at exotic locations. But the DRL (and ESPN) aren’t counting solely on the sport’s excitement to draw eyeballs. ESPN’s broadcasts will include a heavy emphasis on the back stories of the pilots, and reality TV legend Mark Burnett has come aboard to create an unscripted show about the league, according to The New York Times.
(Images courtesy of DRL)