Zwift, the gamified indoor cycling training platform has gone from strength to strength and continue this trajectory with announcement of the 2020 UCI World Cycling Esports Championships. For everyday riders, zwift takes the boredom out of indoor training. The connectability of the internet allows you to ride with, and compete against other cyclists across the world in the comfort of your home. By allowing any brand of indoor trainer or technology to connect, the hurdles for participation remained low.
The competitive possibilities of Zwift have been in continual growth so that the platform can already be described as Esports (Electronic Sports). The fundamental difference to ‘traditional’ video game Esports which rely on dexterity, strategy and skill is that athleticism defines performance.
Previously Zwift replicated the UCI Road World Championship courses inside the application to allow riders to virtually compete on the routes. This year they also started the KISS Super League, a 10-week series with Men’s and Women’s UCI Pro Continental Team and UCI Continental Teams (along with some community teams).
Bookmarked for 2020, Zwift and the UCI have announced the launch of the new UCI Cycling Esports World Championships. Exact dates and racing formats have not yet been publicised.
For the UCI, the hurdles are relatively low as this electronic format for competition eliminates many of the logistical costs associated with traditional events.
While Eric Min, co-founder of Zwift remains the CEO of Zwift, Craig Edmondson is the CEO of Zwift Esports and says “The beauty of creating a new cycling discipline is that we have a blank slate and no limitations”.
Mechanical Doping from the Comfort of Your Home?
Although the Esports version of competitive cycling removes many of the costs associated running a live event, it is likely that regulations for competing will mean that the UCI Cycling Esports World Championships will still need to be physically anchored to ensure that equipment is checked and approved and to eliminate cheating. This could resemble a big indoor spin-cycle event.
For competitors, many of the unknowns of regular cycling competition are removed. The position and strategy of competitors is visible while rider concentrate can also shift to focus on pedalling without needing same awareness of the surroundings and conditions. But any gamer knows that there are also tricks and techniques to improve performance so riders who can more quickly identify these and adapt their riding to the framework of the Zwift environment will benefit from the technical advantages (such as in-game drafting).
As a spectator event however there are two sides. On the one hand it could be a more accessible and interactive experience when viewers choose which rider data and camera angles to view. On the other, for remote viewers it remains a sterile computer generated environment and watching avatars in a computer game is not as engaging as riding yourself or sitting on a hill in France and watching the Peloton ride past.