“Oh, there’s nothing like drone racing. It is high speed is like high-intensity every single heat. Every single time I’ll go to different places and I’ll see people flipping through the TV and whatever drone racing’s on it. It always makes them stop. Even if they have no idea what it is, but what the heck is this?”
HIs Week’s Key Question
“Who’s ready to bet on the Drone Racing League?”
This Week’s Guests
2020 DRL SIM Cup Champion Christian “Amari” Van Sloun is 25 years old from Ames, Iowa. He is also one of the Drone Racing League’s hottest drone racing pilots. He joined the 2020 DRL Allianz World Championship season as a rookie and has continued to dominate all season. He earned his spot in the league by winning DRL’s largest ever open DRL SIM Tryouts, beating out thousands of pilot hopefuls and winning 10 out of 10 total heats in the Finals. He then went on to win DRL’s first pro fantasy, virtual drone racing competition, the 2020 FanDuel DRL SIM Racing Cup, donating his prize earnings for Covid-19 relief efforts. In early January, the Drone Racing League (DRL) announced a deal with DraftKings to make the sports technology and entertainment company an Official Sports Betting Partner of DRL. With that deal, DRL drone races became the first aerial sporting event upon which fans can wager. Mobile sports betting on DRL drone races is now legal in Colorado, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Tennessee and West Virginia with regulatory approvals pending in additional states. This partnership promises to elevate the popularity of DRL’s drone racing to higher levels.
What We Learn
Amari talks about the Drone Racing League, the Draft Kings sports betting partnership and he provides insights into DRLs final two races of the 2020 DRL Allianz World Championship Season scheduled for January 26 and January 30.
Opening by Amari: Oh, there’s nothing like drone racing. It is high speed is like high-intensity every single heat. Every single time I’ll go to different places and I’ll see people flipping through the TV and whatever drone racing’s on it. It always makes them stop. Even if they have no idea what it is like, what the heck is this
Intro: You’re listening to the drum radio show podcast, the show about drones and the people. He used them for business fun and research hosted by Randy goers.
Randy: This is Randy Goers, and welcome to the drone radio show podcast episode 305. Who’s ready to bet on the drone racing league?
Randy: In early January, the drone racing league announced a deal with draft Kings to make the sports technology and entertainment company in official sports betting partner of DRL. With that deal, DRL drone races became the first aerial sporting event upon which fans can wager mobile sports betting on DRL. Drone races is now legal in Colorado, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Tennessee, and West Virginia with regulatory approvals pending in additional States. This partnership promises to elevate the popularity of DRL drone racing to higher levels. My guest today is Christian van Sloan. The two 20 DRL SIM cup champion, who also goes by the pilot name, Amari. Amari is 25 years old from Ames, Iowa. He joined DRL this year as a rookie and has continued to dominate all season. He earned the spot in the league by winning DRLs largest ever opened SIM tryouts beating out thousands of pilot hopefuls and winning 10 out of 10 total heats in the finals.
He then went on to win DRLs first pro fantasy virtual drone racing competition to two 20 FanDuel DRL SIM racing cup donating his prize earnings for COVID-19 relief efforts. In this edition of the drone radio show, Amari talks about the drone racing league, the draft King sports betting partnership, and he shares insights into DRLs final two races of the two 20 DRL Alliance world championship season scheduled for January 26 and January 30th.
But before we hear from Amari, I want to thank those of you who are supporting my funding campaign, whether it’s a dollar $100 or much more, you can help defray the cost of production and keep the podcast going and growing. Go to drone radio show.com/donate. So let’s learn about the partnership between Kings and the drone racing league with Christian Amari van Sloan. Let’s pick up the interview where I ask Amari to introduce himself.
Amari: My name is Christian van Sloun. I go by Amari in the drone racing league and let’s see I’m 25 years old and I race drones.
Randy: How did you get involved with drone racing?
Amari: So I actually stumbled across drone racing entirely by accident. I was home over winter break back in 2016 from college, and I was watching some Overwatch videos just trying to up my game there. And I remember seeing a, just a random thumbnail off on the right hand side of a video, and it was drones racing at dolphin stadium or something to that effect. So I had to know what that was about. So I clicked on it and it was really cool. It was the very first season of DRL and they were flying around these really like awesome led, covered drones that lit up. And I thought it was cool and everything, but what really pushed it over the top for me was when the cameras panned away from the drones and showed all the pilots flying and they were all wearing goggles and I put two and two together and figured out they are flying from a point of view from inside the drone. And I thought that was just the coolest thing ever. It was literally a real life video game. It was at that point, I knew that I had to get involved in this, graduated this last year with my industrial engineering degree. I’ve always been super hands-on with tech electronics and the whole nine yards has always fascinated me. So it was perfect fit. And just pair that with my insatiable desire for competition in drone racing was a match made in heaven for me.
Randy: Were you a computer gamer before drone racing?
Amari: Definitely. So I had competed a lot in league of legends. I hit diamond back in like season four to five. And then when I went to college, I joined up with our school’s competitive Overwatch team and I was doing collegiate Overwatch and we did really well at that. It was really cool, but yeah, through like tests but compete and stuff. So that was fantastic. I really enjoyed doing that.
Randy: Did you go out and buy a drone and start learning the basics?
Amari: No, and I was really happy. I didn’t, because that was another one of the draws to me. I’m definitely super hands-on, especially when it comes to tech, things like this, and I didn’t have to learn how to solder or anything. Those were skills I had previously been taught by my dad and just had growing up. The cool thing about drone racing I found out is that everyone runs what they brung, if you will. So you go out and you figure out what, what motors you want, what flight controllers, camera VTX, propellers, the whole nine yards. There are kits now out on the market right now that you could go and buy and they’re definitely very competitive, but back then it was a very fledgling new sport. And you basically had to build everything from the ground up at yourself and take a YouTube university education to figure out how to put everything together and program.
Randy: So you built your own drone, but how did you get into the actual racing?
Amari: I knew that I wanted to race. Like I wasn’t going to build this just to toot around the yard and have fun before I even hovered my first job. I had already went out to my local home improvement store and gotten PVC pipe and, everything and was making makeshift DRL Gates. So that way I could have like a course set up because that’s where I knew would be the fun for me is the racing aspect of it. So after I got my first drone up there, hovered it around a little bit, we had a local chapter for STV, which was just like a handful of guys, 10 to 15 guys who got together once a week and they’d set up a course. It had a timing system. And that’s really how I got started with like the racing aspect of it, because my goal was to get onto DRL. And it’s an invitation only league. That is the only way you can be on the DRL.
Randy: Yeah. Let’s talk about that. How did you get a spot on the DRL racing team?
Amari: So I secured my invitation to the drone racing league through the tryouts process. Now every year they have a massive competition through their simulator, the DRL simulator, which is on steam and now X-Box, it’s awesome. And it’s a great practice tool as well. We’ll get to that later though. And it’s one of those things where they have a competition and then whoever wins that competition each year gets a contract to fly for that upcoming season. Now they’ve done it for four or five years now and I’ve competed and I think I’ve done it for cause there’s only one I hadn’t competed in and it took this year, which was my third try to finally get on via that way.
Randy: If I heard you correctly, the tryouts have gone on for four years and it’s taken you three years to make the team?
Amari: That is correct. Yes. I’ve competed in every tryout since its conception, except for the very first one, I went to New York back in 2018 Vegas in 2019. And then this year it was, or last year it was online.
Randy: Can you describe what that process was like?
Amari: It’s grueling. It’s incredibly intense because it’s one of those things where everyone and their mother wants to be on the DRL obviously. And you have to find a way to be better than everyone else. And everyone is putting in just an incredible amount of time, especially on a simulator. It comes down to just who makes the fewest mistakes. You get to the point where everyone’s like crazy fast, but you have to find a way to separate yourself from everyone else and just have a level of consistency that no one else has.
Randy: How has your prior computer gaming contributed to your success?
Amari: It’s definitely helped. I was saying before, I definitely come from a background of computer gaming and not only that, but competitively, I don’t even pick up a game anymore. If it doesn’t have a competitive scene behind it, I’m pretty weird that way I’ve never really played games for fun. It’s always been for a competitive outlet for myself. So I definitely had had the discipline going into like say, okay, you know, this is what needs to happen. Like w when DRL tryouts like rolled around this year, I went as far as I deleted everything off my computer that wasn’t DRL or school-related because I’m like, I don’t want to be distracted. I don’t want to have a chance to do anything else. If I’m going to do this, this season, this is going to be my season. And this is what it’s going to take.
Randy: Did the simulator evolve over the last four years?
Amari: Yeah, definitely. And then that’s why it’s always important for me to keep up and stay frosty on it. Especially before I had gotten onto the league, because they are always making changes and improvements. They have like the most realistic physics model and everything. The racer four, which is the drone that we all fly with in the league is the drone that we all compete and fly in in the simulator obviously. And you cannot get the drone anywhere. You can’t buy it. You can’t build it yourself. There’s no way to have this drone, unless you are a part of the league, which is kind of cool. It brings another level of exclusivity to it, but you can fly the drone in the simulator. And my experience as someone who has at this point in time, over 1600 hours of experience in the simulator with the drone, is that it’s one to one. I definitely felt right at home. Once I finally got my racer forest mail domain started practicing with them in real life. I was very impressed.
Randy: Tell us about this season. What’s it been like?
Amari: This season has been super wild. So traditionally DRL obviously does IRL events, but COVID kind of threw everything for a spin. And I’m just really glad we ended up having a season and DRLs really well-poised for a situation like this to capitalize. And we were able to just do a pivot and ended up having a virtual season of live racing, which is really cool because this is one of the first times that like many races in the season have been live broadcast as it’s going. It’s always like a lot of fun, but a multi-monitor setup. So while we’re racing in between heats and stuff, I can look it over and see the chat for everyone while it’s being broadcast and talk with people. It’s really cool. It’s been nothing like I’ve ever experienced. I’ve been to a lot of in real life, drone races traveled all over the U S to both national and international competitions and nothing is quite like DRL. It’s extremely impressive. It’s everything I hoped. It would be in more that’s for sure.
Randy: I know that all DRL pilots have a strong fan following, but during the pandemic, did you notice any changes in fan interest?
Amari: Well, I definitely felt there was a lot more involvement because, you know, there’s not a lot of traditional sports that were happening while we were able to be flying and stuff like, NFL, NBA and everything really hadn’t been because of the same reason that we weren’t doing in real life competitions. It’s a really unique position that DRL was in to be able to do it a virtual season online because it’s so similar to real life. I mean, drone racing is a real life video game.
Randy: DRL have recently announced the partnership with DraftKings and became the first sport in the year that fans get to bet on what makes DRL made for sports betting.
Amari: Oh, drone racing is fantastic for betting. There’s just so much data behind everything that we’re doing, and it really makes it easy for fans to get in on it. Cause it’s very, it’s a very visually feedback sport. Like you can look up and pick up what’s happening very quickly and get a grasp. And we have 12 different pilots, obviously, so everyone can grab their favorite. And like you were saying, like, I do think we’ve had an increase of fans and like following. So everyone knows what people are getting strong at. It’s really, really, so I have the unique position of being a pilot behind the sticks. So the type of pressure I feel is entirely different VMs of a pressure and excitement that you’d feel like having skin in the game yourself on that that would be like comparable to probably what we’re feeling behind the control.
Randy: But from the pilot’s perspective, there’s really no difference. Other than the fact that you’re aware that there’s now a new dimension added to the sport.
Amari: That makes it really interesting. That’s another level of like accessibility that we have to just like be able to interact with those people in the same way. Obviously we’re giving it our all every single year and no one wants to lose for sure.
Randy: Well, you know, what’s next, you know, as soon as people start betting on a sport, somehow fantasy sports will find its way into drone racing league.
Amari: Oh yeah, no, I I’m looking forward to that. Trust me. I can’t wait for it to get to the point where I can shut out after a heat race where I do well. I hope everyone has me in their fantasy lineup this week.
Randy: Now for fans looking to get involved or get some skin in the DRL race on draft Kings, they can do that soon because my podcast is going to air on Tuesday, January 26. And there’s a race that night in a race, this coming Saturday, what should they be looking out for?
Amari: So there is a DraftKings free to play pool, which you can enter for like a share of a thousand dollars. And then if you’re trying to get like a little bit of insight on maybe what you should be putting your money on, we have a pre-game show that airs ahead of the races. So that’ll be on Monday and Friday at 7:00 PM Eastern standard. And that’ll give you a little bit of insight on maybe what you should be looking for, kind of how the pilots are feeling and what you should be betting on.
Randy: Now, going back to the betting options?
Amari: There’s a free to play pool is what DraftKings is calling it. And everyone is competing for their chance to win a share of a thousand dollars. There’ll be a handful of questions in the past. It’ll have questions somewhere along the lines of like, will a pilot win a heat in the level by more than two seconds or how many consecutive heats will be won by a pilot things along those lines. It’s pretty unique if there are a lot of fun and we go over things like that in the pregame show as well.
Randy: And the other option is straight betting on who of the 12 pilots will win the race or some variation.
Amari: Yes. And that’s taking place in Illinois, Colorado and New Hampshire and New Jersey, Tennessee and West Virginia so far.
Randy: So initially it’s only allowed in some States
Amari: To do betting like that, but everyone could participate in the free to play pool.
Randy: And of course the opportunity to expand to other States in the future.
Amari: Absolutely. Yeah. We’re the first aerial sports ever be allowed for sports betting. So it’s, it’s huge. We’re extremely excited about that.
Randy: Will you be on the pre-flight show yourself?
Amari: Yeah, that’ll be me and flexi given you our background onto what’s going to be happening in the upcoming level, talking through some of the different DraftKings questions that we get. And then as well as like how the season’s been going, what our goals are.
Randy: So maybe we can get a preview of the pre-flight show for Tuesday night’s race. What should we look for
Amari: I would be looking for people that seem to be on their game. You can kind of look, they have a look in their eye and it definitely shows in all of their performances, just, someone’s not winning every heat. If they are finishing every heat, relatively high in the standings and not crashing. That’s huge. That really is big in DRL. The only thing that matters is first, but the way our format is laid out, really rewards consistency. So crashing will never let you win a heat.
Randy: Did you see an uptick in fan interest after draft Kings became involved?
Amari: I definitely had an increase of people like just reaching out saying, Hey, I’m watching you on DRL. Like kill it this week. Things like that definitely started increased. At least for me being a rookie on this year, I definitely haven’t had an opportunity to garnish the, following that some of the other like three and four year DRL veterans like jet and gab have, but I’m definitely working on that.
Randy: COVID this week’s races are still going to be in the simulator, which allows you to race anywhere in the world. So on Tuesday, where will you be racing?
Amari: So Tuesday night, this upcoming Tuesday night at eight o’clock Eastern, we are going to be racing at biosphere. It is a ecological like laboratory testing center in Arizona, and they had a race there in real life. I want to say about two or three years ago. It’s a really incredible scene. And the cool thing about DRL is all of their tracks are always lit up and typically they happen in dark environments. So that way everything pops really cool. It’s really aesthetically pleasing. It’s really cool. And then Saturday at four 30 Eastern on NBC and Twitter and Facebook, we’ll be having our race on Allianz Riviera. And that takes place virtually a niche, France. That’s another cool track there. You’ve done a lot of interesting races. There
Randy: Sounds pretty exciting now for people that want to learn to race like you, what do they need to do to get into the sport?
Amari: YouTube university That’s the best thing I can say. And then DRL themselves has a whole bunch of resources online as well. There’s a bunch of series with NERC, kind of walking people through how to get started and how to get fast on the simulator. And I can’t sing praises enough for the simulator. Just, that was my introduction of how I started flying first too, because I mean, I was a young college kid, not a whole lot of money to my name. And so the simulator definitely saved me a lot of time and hassle of learning, how to fly before I started having the real-world consequences of crashing in real life. But yeah, I definitely also look up, there’s a couple of different playlists or the DRL YouTube page with both jet and NERC going over different, like things like how to get fast, what you should be practicing and learning a lot of like stick disciplines.
Randy: What is your typical practice schedule?
Amari: The SIM is incredibly competitive come around tryouts time each year. So for myself, I really don’t have an off season. It’s one of those things where I’ve worked it into my regular in real life practice schedule as well, because it is that good of a tool. And also I live in Iowa. And another great thing about the simulator is it doesn’t matter if it’s three in the morning or if it’s like raining, freezing snow as it does in Iowa way too often. And you obviously can’t fly in that. I still have a way to practice and stay frosty.
Randy: How has this experience changed your life?
Amari: 2020 was a wild year for, I have the unique position where it was definitely by far the greatest year of my life because I graduated with my four year degree. I got married to the love of my life and I got on DRL all in this period of about four months in 2020, it was absolutely crazy. So I figured I was going to be getting out of school and then immediately started looking for a job. But DRL has given me this opportunity to practice and do what I’m really, really passionate about to make a living. And I love every bit of it. I don’t have a job as far as I’m concerned. You know, you find what you love to do and you don’t really work a day in your life. And I’ve love working from home. I get to be with my wife a lot and I get to do what I love. I fly drones every single day for multiple hours a day.
Randy: When people ask you what you do for a living, what do you say to them?
Amari: I’m a professional drone pilot at the DRL. And it always turns some heads. It’s always fun because I get a talking 0.1 way or the other, you know, they haven’t heard of it yet, which most have, and I get to explain to it and then I show them it. And they’re like, this is the coolest thing ever. Or they’re like, Oh, I’ve heard of that before. Yeah. Cause typically how the conversation goes is I don’t directly answer the question I say is, have you ever heard of drone racing And the most common response I get is, yeah, I think I’ve seen it on TV a time or two. And I’m like, I’m on the show. Don’t worry about it. It’s pretty funny.
Randy: When we started the interview, you told us that you were very much a hands-on person that you like to experience and do things personally, but this year because of the pandemic, you’ve been pretty much online working through the simulation. How do you think it’s going to be when you transition back into the live racing with the other pilots?
Amari: So that’s a super unique position. I mean, this it’s this year has been online. I haven’t had the opportunity to travel to a DRL event and go through the whole nine yards that some of the other pilots have absolutely looking forward to that. And it’s going to happen in 2021. I’m taking a positive mentality stance toward that it’s going to happen, but it’s definitely going to be a transition for me. I mean, like I said before, there’s definitely not a lot of like big drone races that happen in Iowa of all places. I’m one of a handful of pilots around here. So I travel a ton. And when you travel a ton for drone racing, you’re typically bringing four or five drones and every tool and batteries and backup parts and your clothes and just everything. It’s going to be very, very cool as someone who has schlepped like bags across airports, multiple times to just like go to a drone race and just bring myself and like close. Like I could go to a drone race now and everything’s going to be there for me. I don’t have to bring anything except myself in some clothes and toothpaste basically.
Randy: Do you have a ritual for preparing for each race?
Amari: Basically, my big thing is that practice, practice, practice, practice practice, there is a level of consistency that needs to be achieved and do achieve that. You need to have practice that sets where your level of consistency is. And I do that a lot. I do. They have the race all the days leading up to the race, just trying to be there so I could put my best effort forth and do what I know I can do. And I found a lot of success this season, I’ve been able to win three out of the levels that we’ve flown so far. I’ve been really happy with that. I’m sitting second on the season leaderboard right now. So I’m definitely where I want to be. And then my other thing, and this is just kind of my trademark as a pilot, I have a Rubik’s cube that I liked to suspend him play with. I mean, I can solve it, but that’s not really what I’m doing between eights. I just like spin it to like, keep my fingers warm. It really helps keep my dexterity just to my fingers up, keeps my brain thinking about what I’m supposed to be doing. And that way, when it comes time to fly, I don’t feel cold. I feel like, okay, I’m ready to go. I know what I’m doing.
Randy: Do you have a special setup at home, like a special room or it’s isolated, sort of like a drone racing league cave set up thing?
Amari: That’s basically what it’s become. I share a three bedroom apartment with my wife and she’s got her office, our bedroom. And then the other office is where I do all of my computer stuff and my drone stuff at DRL. I wish I could send you a picture of it. It’s literally just like a DRL cave because we’ve had green screens. We’ve got studio lights, I’ve got two different Z cameras pointing at me, a ring light, three different monitors and three different computers. Now one of those computers is my personal one, but the has set all of this out in the spirit of spec. Goodness, we all have the exact same computers, obviously flying the exact same stuff. So there’s no advantage to be had there. And they’re really nice computers. It’s really cool. I am a huge tech nerd myself. Like as far as like I’ve been building computers since I was like 11. So that’s been another passion of mine as well.
Randy: And when you’re actually competing in a race, do you prefer loud music, cold silence? What’s the environment like for you?
Amari: I’ve tried both ways. Like when I’m practicing, I use music. I like to listen to a lot of like electronic music and stuff. And whenever I am like actually erasing, I, I don’t listen to anything. That’s 110% me focusing up.
Randy: What do you feel is the most important skill that a pilot needs to have to be successful?
Amari: Oh, focus. You, you need to have focus. You could have all of the skill in the world and all of the practice in the world. But if when time comes, you can’t just take a second to like calm yourself and be like, okay, it’s Showtime. You’re not going to do well. Being able to perform under pressure is like 99% of drone racing because it’s not physical. Everyone’s got the same thumbs that everyone’s working on the same muscle memory. It just comes down to your ability to execute when the pressure’s on. And even now so more that we’re live in front of millions of people. It’s really crazy experience. This would only happen in 2021 where, you know, you’re sitting down in an office with cameras pointing at you while you’re racing. You’re sweating because no one’s watching you. But at the same time, there’s millions of people watching you through your camera. You’re like, come on. I can’t mess up here
Randy: For my final question. Amari, why should we tune in to these final two races of the 2020 DRL Alliance world championship season?
Amari: Oh, there’s nothing like drone racing. It is high speed is like high-intensity every single heat every single time. You know, it’s got just such a wow factor when people see it for the first time, I know like I’ll go to different places and I’ll see people flipping through the TV and whatever drone racing’s on. It always makes them stop. Even if they have no idea what it is, what the heck is this And they get drawn in by it. And then we have like, everyone finds the pilot that they like. It’s, it’s a lot of fun. You know, you really get invested in different pilots and then different things. You can really feel the emotion and everything that’s happening on because it’s such a big buildup moment. You guys have the benefit of hearing the commentators while everything’s happening. But typically while we are all racing, we’re all in a voice comms with each other. We are dead silent. The tension is so thick. You can cut it with a knife. It has, it comes to that very last turn as you go into like the final gate and everyone lets out this big collective sigh of relief, some people are upset. Some people are just beyond happy and it’s, it’s a wild experience. It’s like a balloon popping.
Randy: That’s it for episode 305of the drone radio show. I hope you enjoyed hearing from Christian van Sloan and learning about the partnership between the drone racing league and draft Kings. I want to thank Christian for taking the time to speak with me. If you want to learn more about the drone racing league sports betting on drone racing, the 2020 Alliance world championship, or if you want to connect with Christian or as he’s known in DRL Amari, check out the www.thedroneracingleague.com. If you like the drone radio show, please consider supporting this podcast with a small donation. The content is always free, but for as little as $1, you can help defray the cost of production to donate. Go to drone radio show.com/donate. And thanks for listening. Your support means a lot to me and I hope you’ll listen to more episodes of the drone radio show podcast to hear how others are using drones for business fun and research for the drone radio show. I’m Randy Gordon.
Closing: This has been the drone radio show podcast. More information on today’s show can be found on our firstname.lastname@example.org. If you are using drone technology for business, fun or research, and we’d like to share your experience on the show, please visit our website and fill out a guest appearance application. And don’t forget to follow us on your favorite social media channels.
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