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Online riding platform Zwift and the UCI have agreed to terms to host the first ever Esports World Championships in 2020.
The details aren’t yet worked out, but a rough plan is in place. The event will occur sometime near the 2020 Road World Championships, which begin in Aigle, Switzerland, on September 20th. Riders will gain entry through regional and national qualifiers, which will be scheduled in gaps between WorldTour races, allowing road racing’s top riders to enter.
Zwift expects riders from multiple disciplines, including track and mountain bike racing, to show interest, as races are likely to be closer to 45 minutes than the six and a half hours of road worlds.
Parity is a major focus. Men and women will run the same schedules, the same distances, with equal prize money.
“We’re looking at different formats, both individual and team competitions,” said Craig Edmondson, Zwift’s CEO of Esports. “The racing you see on Zwift today is maybe not the racing you will see in the future.”
“We’ll be looking at different age categories. U23, and also masters categories. If you’re a Zwifter today, we want there to be something for you.”
The announcement isn’t exactly a surprise. The UCI indicated that it would create rules for an esports Worlds last fall, and body president David Lappartient became head of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) esports Liaison Group, which is looking to guide esports into the Olympic movement. However, the UCI had not previously named a technical partner. Zwift was the obvious choice, as the world’s largest online riding platform.
Lappartient joined Zwift at its Draft House pop-up in Harrogate, around the corner from the road to make the announcement.
Zwift already had a year to practice putting on esports races. It launched the KISS league last winter and has been running events throughout the year, including a series of races in Harrogate this week, around the corner from the road worlds finish line. Zwift also partnered with British Cycling to run an esports national championships, which was broadcast on television.
At the end of 2018, it picked up $120 million USD in Series B funding to help push its esports effort forward.
“We have been looking at the emergence of esports for some time with Zwift,” Lappartient said. “As the governing body for the sport, we need to remain open to technical innovations and change, and to remain relevant to all audiences.”
Eworlds, according to Zwift, is just the beginning.
“We are looking to establish a new cycling discipline,” said Eric Min, Zwift CEO and Co-Founder. “This partnership is a significant leap in that journey as we move further towards our ambition of delivering competition at the highest level in sport. We are at the very beginning of a long and exciting road here at Zwift as we look to establish a new and innovative discipline for cycling.”