If you go to any public gym, you’ll see an indoor cycle. What online platform Zwift has done to not only reinvent indoor cycling, but turn it into a game in its own right, is nothing short of impressive.
Allowing users to train and compete in a virtual world, much of the gameplay is reliant on physical prowess and fitness – something rather unusual to esports on a wide scale. What was once an innocent attempt at livening up the activity of indoor cycling may have introduced a whole new genre to the burgeoning industry of competitive gaming.
Once you get past the somewhat-costly fee required to acquire a solid setup, it’s as easy as inputting your information and getting going. The harder you pedal, the faster your in-game avatar rides – it’s that simple.
OK, but how is it an esport?
It’s undeniable that the online platform incorporates elements of gaming into its offering – just take one look at what’s happening in-game – though, perhaps most interestingly, it provides the most true blend of both physical and virtual competition we’ve seen yet.
We’ve seen transferable skills in simulation racing – with the Formula 1 launching its own esports initiative, for example – and Zwift seems to fall into a similar, if not more intense, category. Physical fitness and endurance is needed to compete among the best, but strategy and mental smarts is what separates the winners from the losers.
In September last year, the International Cycling Union announced a partnership with Zwift to launch its very first esports world championship in 2020.
At the time, David Lappartient, President of Union Cycliste Internationale explained the decision: “Zwift is a platform that is enjoyed by people of all ages and abilities. However, there is a particularly exciting opportunity through esports as we look to attract a younger audience to cycling. Together we have an opportunity to support a fitter youth, through the creation of a new sustainable sport.”
The definition of esports is somewhat loose and changes depending on who’s asked about it, but most would agree that it simply boils down to fair competition taking place on video games. Zwift has evolved indoor biking into its very own video game, retaining the physical aspects while incorporating elements of the ever-popular gaming industry to appeal to a whole new audience.
Some will say it’s an esport, others will flat-out deny it. Either way, teams are forming and taking it as seriously as rosters do in any esports title you can think of. There’s even the likes of Zwift Community Live, the leading broadcast initiative for the competitive community, led by Nathan Guerra – who many consider to be the voice of the esport. Covering competitions with expert, professional commentary and insight, Zwift Community Live is doing a good job at highlighting the esport, its riders, and its teams.
Meet EVOQ.BIKE p/b Enshored
Though Zwift is undoubtedly still in its infancy when it comes to its status as an esport, teams are forming with real athletic prowess and the smarts to match: meet EVOQ.BIKE p/b Enshored, a professional team co-founded by Patrick Mahoney, CEO of We Are Nations. Incredibly well-versed in esports through running We Are Nations, Mahoney and his teammates formed the side in late 2019.
There isn’t a $30 million Zwift World Cup that attracts millions of viewers just yet, but EVOQ.BIKE p/b Enshored is still showing other teams how it’s done while the esport develops and grows. Crafting a professional appearance, infrastructure, and approach to competing, this team in particular is simply setting itself up for when Zwift – in their minds, at the very least – inevitably blows up.
With both an in-game and real life kit already designed and ready to go, the team practices daily with each rider having their own speciality and preference when it comes to the types of races available. Take Adam Zimmerman, the 2018 USA National Zwift champion, for example. Before he even took to Zwift, he was an accomplished, elite rider in the traditional sense. While taking care of a new-born baby, Zimmerman practices for hours each day from the comfort of his own home – preparing for the next time that he’ll be competing.
Zimmerman isn’t the only example of racers jumping ship, either. There’s a whole host of riders that train and race on Zwift that currently compete in the UCI World Tour, the top flight of competition for professional riders on the world stage. Much like sim racing can help drivers get into shape for a race, Zwift offers that opportunity for real-life riders too.
Speaking of competitions, one look at Zwift Power will show you the breadth of races available for budding and professional riders alike. Zimmerman, according to the database, has competed in 265 races – the highest among his teammates – and has covered almost 22,000 kilometers at the time of writing. That’s some undeniable dedication.
There are a growing number of competitors for EVOQ.BIKE p/b Enshored showing up on Zwift, but it’s fair to say that it’s setting the standard. The future of Zwift esports isn’t as clearly defined as other titles but whatever direction it takes will break new ground, an occurrence that’s all too familiar in the trailblazing esports industry.