During the past few years, drone racing has quickly gone from a hobby to a lucrative profession. You can now find televised drone races on high-profile networks like ESPN and Sky Sports, while organizations like the Drone Racing League (DRL) have become highly respected. With that added legitimacy comes much larger purses for the competitors. The idea of eSports has been gaining steam for some time, so it only made sense that the popularity of other tech-related sports would also grow. Among these, the largest is easily drone racing. And as the machines become more complex and exciting, so do the races.

Some dedicated drone enthusiasts have (not unlike video game players) turned their hobbies into profitable full-time careers. Players in the DRL have earned contracts of up to $100,000 while another pilot earned $75,000. Not bad for a growing sport that’s not even a decade old. The DRL held their first global race series in 2016 and got more than 28 million viewers on ESPN. Those numbers aren’t noteworthy for most major leagues, but it’s downright incredible for a sport that’s just starting to find its feet. Things are expected to get even bigger this year as the DRL begins to roll out its second season and even more leagues try to get in on the action.

drone racing league

As viewership rates grow so will the available prizes, but it’s more than the drone pilots making bank off of these competitions. The newfound popularity (and money) involved in the sport has caught the eye of spectators and investors trying to cash in on this fledgling opportunity. Stephen Ross, owner of the NFL’s Miami Dolphins, invested $1 million to start the Drone Racing League and this level of high-profile support has helped to lend some important credibility to a new sport trying to establish itself.

However, drone racing is about much more than just sports—it’s also about technology. As the needs of the sport have grown, so have the needs of the hardware. And that’s just the beginning of the symbiotic relationship between the two. The DRL has designed its own drones from scratch and laid the groundwork for the future of professional drone-based sports. A lot of people took a big chance because there’s never any telling whether or not a new sports venture will be successful, but so far it’s looking as though the faith of those who have believed since the beginning is paying off.

The 2017 DRL season is coming later this year with the Allianz World Championship to be held in June. If the sport can continue to develop its audience and push the envelope of what these machines are capable of, the sky is the limit for what they’ll be able to accomplish. Keep a close eye on the DRL and other major drone leagues this year, because the sport will likely become a household name soon enough.

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