The first time I tried out drone racing at CES 2015, it was still a largely amateur affair, with events put on by racing groups or sponsored by companies directly involved in the drone industry. In the year and half since, drone racing has become far more mainstream — securing venture capital funding, million dollar prize pools, and distribution on major media outlets like ESPN. Now big brands are getting in on the action. Mountain Dew announced today that it will be hosting the DR1 Invitational, a "one-hour drone-racing special slated to air on both Discovery Channel and Science Channel."
To promote the race, Mountain Dew created an ad that imagines a new sport: drone hunting. A group of motocross racers chase a drone through the woods, trying to snag it with butterfly nets. It's a savvy attempt to bridge the gap between the extreme sports the brand has been sponsoring since the X Game days and the still-nascent world of turbocharged quadcopters. I've got to say, there isn't any good reason I can think of not to make the joke from this commercial into an actual event. There are already a half dozen drone-racing leagues competing for attention.
The biggest question on the table with drone racing is how to make it work as a spectator sport for a live audience. It can work if you live in the arena, but even then it can be difficult to follow. On television, tiny drones don't read nearly as well as big, brightly painted automobiles. The story on this event has been framed as a way for Pepsi Co. to tap the burgeoning e-sports market, and the race will be streamed live on gaming's platform of choice, Twitch. Following along from the drone's-eye view — the same first-person view (FPV) that the pilot sees — can be exhilarating. Unfortunately, as warnings on YouTube clips, posted by a rival drone-racing league, make clear: it can also be nauseating for viewers who aren't accustomed to seeing their world flipped and rolled at very high speeds.