Fitness platform Zwift will stage a series of virtual races and challenges in 2024 which the company says will be the ‘largest cycling eSports event ever held’.
The Zwift Games are the company’s response to losing the hosting rights to the UCI Cycling eSports World Championships to MyWhoosh.
Zwift hosted the eSports World Championships since its inaugural year in 2020, but was outbid by their Abu Dhabi-based rival in the latest tender process.
The announcement about the Zwift Games came on the same day the UCI issued provisional details about its first eSports event on MyWhoosh next October.
Zwift has claimed their Games will be the ‘most democratic cycling championship ever held’ and is marketing it as being more inclusive than UCI-sanctioned events.
They will host races across three disciplines – Sprint, Epic and Hill Climb – and will offer equal prize money for their male and female champions.
The Sprint Championship is built around the best elements of the Zwift Battle Royale, which the company pioneered for this year’s UCI Cycling eSports World Championships.
Racers will tackle a series of events on different courses, with the top finishers progressing to the ‘Elite Finals’ for the chance to be crowned overall Zwift champion.
The Epic Championship will be a long-distance event over more than 60 kilometres which will be staged on the new Coastal Causeway in Zwift’s Watopia world and a new route.
Gluttons for punishment will compete in the gruelling Hill Climb Championship, which will be staged on the iconic Alpe du Zwift course featuring stiff ascents and a plethora of hairpin turns.
The launch of the Zwift Games undoubtedly throws a spanner in the works for the global cycling eSports community, especially from a loyalty perspective.
While the loss of the hosting rights to the UCI Cycling eSports World Championships hit Zwift’s management hard, they clearly believe competitors will remain loyal to their brand.
An intriguing sideshow to the hosting rights issue is how other stakeholders will react to the news that UCI have switched their championships to the MyWhoosh platform.
These include major broadcasters and sponsors, who may be reluctant to switch allegiances to a company with its headquarters located in the United Arab Emirates.
The gambling industry faces a similar conundrum, particularly in nations where eSports betting is still in its infancy. These include Australia, where the infrastructure for eSports is yet to fully develop.
Several new sports betting sites in Australia have previously offered odds on the UCI Cycling eSports World Championships and it will be interesting to see where their loyalties now lie.
Given the reputation Zwift has built up as a host of cycling events in recent years, it would be a major surprise if their new Games failed to attract the top eSports exponents on the planet.
These include Australian riders Ben Hill and Vicki Whitelaw, who both previously competed at world level in traditional cycling before switching to eSports.
If they and other top eSports cyclists remain loyal to Zwift, the firm’s newly-launched event will be a much more attractive proposition to online betting companies.
However, given that MyWhoosh is backed by UAE government support and funding, there is no guarantee that Zwift will retain their status as the primary platform for eSports events in cycling.
The key factor in determining which firm will win what is set to become an increasingly bitter battle will be which platform the International Olympic Committee (IOC) favour.
Zwift was used during the Olympic eSports Week in Singapore in June, but MyWhoosh will likely be eager to forge links with the IOC for future global events.