Move aside, competitive Farming Simulator. Make way, e-tennis. Get out of here, professional Stardew Valley. There’s a new esport in town, the majestic British Cycling Zwift eRacing Championships, which took place this week.
The thing about eRacing is that it's not a biking simulator. It is actual biking, on what is essentially a stationary unicycle, which then gets transmuted into controls for your avatar. You can tell it’s a video game, though, because it also has power-ups. I can’t for the life of me figure out how you collect them, but they are there.
I love getting press releases for obscure esports in my inbox, so I read this one when it was sent to me a couple of weeks ago, proudly saying that it would be broadcast on BT Sport. That’s how you can tell an esport is legit, you see, is when you can watch it on the telly.
However, I didn’t fully comprehend it until I saw it in action. Up on stage are people really cycling in place while their in-game avatars work their way around a tree-lined road course.
The avatars are weirdly smooth, apparently customisable if the neon wheels are anything to go by, and they often clip through each other. This last part is at least an improvement over old-fashioned cycling where athletes often wipe out in pile-up crashes like horrifying dominoes.
The other improvement is the power-ups, obviously, which you can deploy when you like for improvements like making your avatar lighter or more aerodynamic. Like Mario Kart, but without the banana peels or blue shells. (There’s an idea for free, Zwift.)
Eventual women’s race winner and former professional rower Rosamund Bradbury credits good timing of her use of the sprint boost for her victory.
“It was pretty hard in that final race, it was so tactical. I got a good power up for the sprinting really early on, so I had to decide whether to use it and hope I’d get another one later or save it. And I went to save it and I’m glad I did. It really helped for the final sprint.”