When you think of cycling, perhaps the least likely thing you’d associate it with would be online gaming. Hours spent on the sofa, beer in hand, is a world away from eight-hour rides in the great outdoors, hundred-metre climbs or quick sprints. However, the prolific rise of esports means the marriage of the cycling and gaming world isn’t as far fetched as one might think. Now we’re not suggesting that you crack open a cold one and pick up a games controller (that’d be counterproductive) but more so that you hop onto your indoor bike set-up and ride into the virtual world. We spoke to Zwift All Star, Steve Young about the future of cycling within the world of esports.
Virtual cycling is not new news. There are few things more satisfying than sailing past your pals, other than maybe staying dry and warm whilst doing so. But what about the feeling of competition and a sense of achievement, I hear you cry? Enter: indoor racing.
After the immensely popular CVR World Cup series was founded in 2017, Esport races have been going from strength to strength, being broadcast online to fans all over the world. Donations for the CVR prize pot were in excess of £50,000 - which although is low compared to the prize pot in other esports - it is still considerably more than many semi-pro and domestic pro cycling races. Following on from the CVR success, Zwift have created their own e-superleague, a dedicated cycling competition giving seasoned Zwift high scorers the chance to compete against established pro cycling teams. But what exactly is it that’s made the world of virtual cycling so appealing?
Steve Young is an esport pro. Having risen to fame after competing in the CVR final in Canada, he’s built his own personal brand off his success. Nicknamed ‘The Python,’ Steve has joined Canyon for this year’s indoor race series. Following on from a career in football, Steve found cycling, and from there began to race professionally. A combination of factors, most notably winter seasons and the need for family time, led Steve to try indoor training on a Wattbike, and later discovered Zwift.
As a family man, indoor training became the perfect fit for Steve. Initially apprehensive, Steve found himself having one of his most productive seasons coming off the back of his Zwift training. He put it down to taking part in quick, intensive races that enabled to him to condense his training sessions.
Since launching their academy, Zwift has served as a platform for spotting and nurturing talent for some time. But the added advantage of the KISS Super League means that none pro’s have a chance of competing against pro teams; a format that provides platform users with motivation for improvement and a reason to use the app. Although Community All Star teams are selected from existing Zwift leaderboards, there’s still an air of attainability when you can analyse your own race data alongside your heroes. It’s also very cost effective, indoor cycling provides participants with a way to race without having to pay for travel and other rider costs - just the software subscription. Plus some Zwift races also award prize money for individual and team placings.
As the sport grows in popularity, Steve predicts a change in the cycling calendar. He notes that British Cycling are pairing with the platform to host the National Championships in March, and that many riders he knows are already factoring online races into their usual racing schedule.
Perhaps this will help to cement the sport’s legitimacy a little more, although sceptics are still quick to point out potential issues surrounding doping, weight and verifying riders. Last year, Zwift’s anti doping agency ZADA stepped in in an effort to regulate. Run by volunteers, however, they struggled to keep up with the fast-growing popularity of the competition and have since ceased operating. How and whether cycling governing bodies will step in to police this is still in question.
At the KISS Super League launch in December, Bradley Wiggins backed the esport, recognising it as an effort to inspire the next generation to take up exercise in addition to video games. He said its existence was more than welcome, especially if it meant getting youngsters into cycling at the same time and he also remarked that his son was involved with esports.
Steve stresses that despite it’s teething issues, virtual cycling is an important addition to the cycling landscape. “Esports is a place to have fun, train and race where you see fit but most of all (it’s all about) enjoyment! I still compete in real life where I see fit, but (i know) if I’m short on time I know I can still have fun through esports.”
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