London will next month host a bike race with a difference – one that will be ridden in the virtual world of Zwift as the city follows Las Vegas in hosting a round of the Cycligent ESports World Cup, which its creators claim “will change the landscape of cycling forever.”
If you haven’t yet heard of esports, believe us, you will. Pioneered in South Korea and now big business in the US and elsewhere, the market was estimated to have generated around $750 million in revenue in 2015.
It’s usually associated with video game genres such as multiplayer online battle arena (MOPA) where the League of Legends World Championship carries a first prize of $1 million and last year attracted a peak live audience worldwide of nearly 14 million viewers.
Next year’s Asian Games in Indonesia will feature esports as a demonstration event, and it will become a full medal sport in 2022 when the multi-sport event is held in China.
And with a young, fast-growing fanbase attracting sponsors, there is every chance of it becoming an Olympic sport within a decade – something that the broadcaster ESPN, among others, have predicted.
So following the rise of platforms such as Zwift, it was only a matter of time before esports embraced cycling.
Last month saw the inaugural round of the Cycligent ESports World Cup, held in Las Vegas in front of a live audience and also streamed online in high definition, with competitors riding bikes on smart trainers in the Zwift virtual environment, with the action beamed onto a big screen.
The format will be coming to London on Tuesday 6 June, when Kachette on Old Street hosts men’s and women’s races that will each see five riders from the UK take on five riders representing the World, including entrants from the US, Ireland, Australia, the Netherlands and Poland.
The women’s race begins at 6pm with the men’s event starting at 8.30pm, both being streamed live in high definition at this link.
It is free to attend for spectators, although due to limited space at the venue booking is required, and donations to the charity World Bicycle Relief are requested.
The competition was devised by Cycligent Virtual Rankings (CVR), which describes itself as “an international ranking system that ranks virtual cycling racers and aims not only to identify the top virtual cyclists in the world but also make racing more enjoyable for everyone.”
It adds that before the event, “CVR officials ensure that equipment is calibrated properly and participant’s height and weight are entered correctly, ensuring their avatars are correctly reflected during the competition and certifying a fair and accurate race.”
The Las Vegas and London events form part of a series of races to be held around the world over the next year that will culminate in the 2018 World Cup Finals, to be held next April.
One competitor at that debut event in Las Vegas, Jonathan Sandoval, was even offered a guest place on a team at this month’s Redlands Bicycle Classic in California after he impressed an agent from Mission Sports Group.
Not only did the 24-year-old ride the race, finishing 59th overall, but he also had a stint in the white jersey as best young rider.
CVR founder Frank Garcia, said that reflects how esports are already changing cycling.
“This will not only continue but will accelerate in the future,” he said.
“We are bringing cycling to esports and that will change the landscape of cycling forever.
“It will be better for riders, better for spectators, and better for those who participate online in the virtual landscape,” he added.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.