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First F1 Arcade in America kicks off Boston opening with launch party

“When you grow up, you’re not supposed to play anymore. Why? … Why can’t I cut loose and pretend I’m in Monte Carlo?” shouted Kennedy Elsey, a “huge F1 fan,” over the din of a hundred conversations and thumping club hits at the new F1 Arcade’s launch party in Seaport on Thursday.

Elsey was one of many guests who took turns pretending to be their favorite Formula 1 racers on multi-screened racing simulators, which shook and rattled like a real F1 car would on a track in Europe, said Elsey, the co-host of “Karson and Kennedy,” a radio show on Mix 104.1.

People race in a game at an F1 Arcade in Seaport. This F1 Arcade is the first one to open in the United States, and it drew a large crowd, proving the support for F1 sports in Boston. TRUMAN DICKERSON/DFP PHOTOGRAPHER

In the United States, Formula 1 racing has exploded in popularity. An average of 1.21 million viewers watched the 2023 Formula 1 World Championship season on ESPN, ESPN2 and ABC, according to ESPN Press Room. And, two years ago, Disney signed a multi-million dollar contract extending their broadcast partnership with Formula 1 through 2025.

With F1 races now occurring in both Austin and Miami, it seems apparent that F1 is attempting to capitalize on burgeoning American interest in the sport — specifically in Boston.

England already has two F1 Arcades, but the first of its kind in the U.S. opened in Boston’s Seaport on Monday. Another is currently being constructed in Washington, D.C., and the vice president of operations for the Seaport F1 Arcade, Matthew Baizer, said that there are “secret” plans “for about three more” in the States.

“Boston understands the concept of competitive social life,” Baizer said. “In particular, the Seaport has been very successful with social gaming concepts.”

Baizer went on to say that the Seaport location was “just a really good match” for the company’s first U.S. location.

“It’s wicked cool,” said Davis Clarke, a social media influencer and capital management manager at Citizens Bank. “It’s awesome it’s right here in Boston [in] the local community. That’s big for all of us.”

For Jack O’Neill, a freelance podcast creator, it’s no surprise that America’s first F1 Arcade opened in Seaport, which Vivid Maps named the most expensive neighborhood in Massachusetts this year.

“It’s an expensive neighborhood in one of the most expensive cities in the entire country,” he said. “It attracts a certain kind of people … who would be interested in F1.”

Whatever the reason for the F1 Arcade’s choice of Seaport, it was clear from Thursday’s launch party that interest in the sport is thriving in Boston.

Corey Whatley, a junior at the Boston University School of Hospitality Administration, said he can “definitely see [F1] being very big here in the States.”

Elsey credited the hit Netflix series “Formula 1: Drive to Survive” as the reason she became interested in the sport.

Others, like Eric Chi, a senior media manager at Streamlabs, discussed the intense drama involved and the “Kardashian” celebrity status of the racers as reasons for his interest.

“There’s just the drama around the sport that I feel like you don’t see in a lot of other sports,” Chi said. “It’s a lot of very rich people just being very petty to one another. I think that’s really funny.”

Other attendees, such as Whatley, did not know much about the sport before attending the F1 Arcade opening. Whatley received an invitation from his job at a North End hotel, and he said he thinks he will engage more with F1 after attending the event.

“It’s way more interesting than NASCAR,” Whatley said. “It seems more fun.”

One of the biggest attractions of the arcade is the “F1 Racing Experience,” a racing simulator which features a variety of race tracks at different skill levels for players to drive on.

“[It’s] absolutely electric in here,” Clarke said about the racing simulator. “The atmosphere is wild.”

Every racing simulator was free to use during the event on Thursday, but in the future, guests will have to pay $20 to purchase three races.

Stephen Bukoff, the F1 Arcade’s executive chef, foresees F1 Arcades becoming more popular in different cities.

“If you just go down the street and start talking to people, F1 is becoming a very popular brand,” Bukoff said. “In America, it’s definitely becoming something big.”

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