Tyler Gallagher of Authority Magazine asked me some great questions. I hope you enjoy my responses.
When Yitzi Weiner, the Editor-In-Chief of Authority Magazine reached out for an interview I had to say, “Yes!” Virtual cycling and esports are my passion. I am motivated to do whatever I can to promote and raise awareness. I appreciate the opportunity!
Authority Magazine - Introduction
The eSports market size is now more than a billion dollars. Teens and even children as young as 6 can now earn hundreds of thousands of dollars competing in eSports. What does one have to do to succeed as a player in eSports? What are the challenges and opportunities that pro gamers face? What does the eSports lifestyle look like? How is it similar to traditional athletics, and how is it different?
In this interview series, called 5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In eSports, we are interviewing professional gamers, eSports coaches, esports tournament organizers, and executives from gaming companies who share lessons from their experience about the “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In eSports.”
As part of this series, we had the pleasure to interview Christopher Schwenker, P.T.
Christopher Schwenker, Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit, and through its work and the pages of his virtual cycling blog site www.thezommunique.com, Chris is committed to helping others with his bike. He lives on the North Fork of Long Island with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two college student children.
The Interview by Tyler Gallagher
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about your background and your backstory?
My pleasure! I have been a physical therapist in private practice for almost twenty years. I have been interested in my fitness for even longer.
I discovered cycling after the untimely passing of my father. Unfortunately, he did not take care of himself, and our family health history of cardiac issues caught up with him. I was heavy into bodybuilding and strength training at that time. I avoided anything that involved cardio.
It opened my eyes and motivated me to make a lifestyle change. I began cycling as a way to improve my cardiovascular fitness. Much like all things that I do, I took it to the next level. I have ridden and raced my bike all over the country.
After a few nasty crashes on my bike while racing, I realized I needed to find a different outlet to pursue my passion. There was no way I could care for my family and direct my practice if I was in the hospital or worse. I was introduced to virtual cycling, and it wasn’t long before I was hooked.
The virtual cycling app that I ride on currently has over 3 million subscribers worldwide. I am a member of a team of over 10,000 called D.I.R.T. (Dads Insider Riding Trainers). I race against competitive cyclists from all over the globe without leaving my basement. I am fully immersed in the culture and community of virtual cycling.
In an effort to give back to my fellow cyclists and the sport of cycling, I created a fitness and virtual cycling blog. I explore topics that I feel will be helpful to cyclist. It is called The Zommunique. www.thezommunique.com
In addition, I created a cycling related charity devoted to assisting members of my online cycling team and other fellow cyclist requiring financial assistance. It is called the DIRT Dad Fund www.DIRTDadFund.com
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this particular career path?
Of course! I was always an athlete and participated in organized sports throughout my life. I played Div. 3 soccer at Brandeis University and studied pre-med. My dream was to combine the two.
I was accepted to medical school and studied to become an orthopedic surgeon. My ultimate goal was to be a professional team physician.
My studies were going well until I began spending time in hospitals and interacting with other orthopedics. The work was fascinating and what I wanted, but the lifestyle didn’t suit me. I knew that if I devoted myself to being a good surgeon, I would have to sacrifice other aspects of my life. Being less than 100% present for my family was not an option.
I took a leave of absence from medical school despite tremendous pressure. I was criticized for squandering an opportunity that very few get. It didn’t matter to me.
I pursued physical therapy as my profession. That was about 25 years ago. I have never regretted my decision and never will.
I still may be on a leave of absence from medical school, but I doubt they would take me back now.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you first started? What lesson did you take out of that?
My parents weren’t strict, but they had a few strict rules. One was, No video games! They thought they were evil and would rot my brain. An exaggeration, of course, but you get the idea.
When I had children, I adopted a similar mindset with them. As they grew and showed an interest in gaming, I felt my responsibility to learn more. I realized that my belief was based on ignorance and a lack of understanding of the positive aspects of video games.
My wife and I became more flexible, allowing the children to play for a set amount of time per day. We also monitored the types of games they played.
Fast forward a few decades. My son is now a graphic arts student with the goal of working in the gaming industry. Video gaming and culture are a big part of his life and future dreams. I support him fully.
It isn’t exactly a funny mistake — more an ironic twist. I spend a portion of each day essentially playing a video game with my friends. We are virtually cycling or racing, but it is a video game. My life revolves around my online community, the virtual cycling blog, and the charity I created. Life is funny!
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?
This is simple. “If it is worth doing, it is worth doing well”. When I make a commitment to do something, anything, I approach it with the same level of effort and determination. No matter what. I owe it to myself. I hold myself accountable for everything that I do.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting new projects you are working on now?
I started my fitness and virtually cycling blog site a few months ago. As the sport of virtual cycling continues to evolve and more athletes are getting involved, I realized that there was a need. I use my physical therapy and cycling experience when exploring topics I feel will be helpful to online cyclists. The response has been overwhelming.
I created the blog to raise awareness for my non-profit. When you belong to an organization as large as my online cycling team, you become familiar with many good people. Unfortunately, there are times when those good people fall on hard times.
My charity gives them a helping hand. The support we have received from the online cycling community is humbling. The blog raises awareness of the charity.
What would you tell a young person who aspires to follow in your footsteps and emulate your career? What advice would you give?
I would tell any young person, whether they aspire to follow a path similar to mine, or any other, that they can’t be afraid to fail. I will sound hypocritical when I say this, but my greatest fear is a fear of failure.
My only recurring nightmare is sitting at my desk in high school, unprepared for a math test and knowing that I will fail. I wake up every time in a sweat with my heart pounding out of my chest.
So what do I mean? You need to set lofty goals even if you know there is a chance you may have challenges. Then work as hard as you can night and day to achieve them. You should always be seeking new and innovative ways to reach your dream. Refuse to contemplate failure as an option.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Through the generosity of my family, friends, and teammates, my charity has raised enough money to help many in need of financial assistance. We have donated to a fund to pay for experimental medication for the wife of one of our members. We contributed to the college fund of a teammate who suffered a fatal accident.
To name a few. The ability to lend a hand to someone less fortunate makes all the hard work and sacrifice worthwhile.
The truth is that none of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person that made a profound difference in your life to whom you are grateful? Can you share a story?
One of my core beliefs is that one person can not be an expert in everything in business and life. To be successful, you have to surround yourself with good people. Much of the success is in realizing your shortcomings.
Even more important is finding the right people. Find professionals who are experts in their field and follow the same beliefs in their business and life as you do.
When you do, they will make you look good.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many of our readers may be familiar with gaming, but they haven’t been exposed to the culture of professional gaming. What does the eSports lifestyle look like? What is life like for a professional gamer?
While there are presently no professional virtual cycling athletes, to my knowledge, that make a living exclusively by competing online, there will be. The sport of virtual cycling is constantly evolving, and the growth is exponential. There as several major virtual cycling esports companies fighting for a piece of the market.
With that will come competition for marketing and promoting. Professional events will become more common, and the resources available to athletes will increase.
In effect, I have harnessed this potential for my charity and blog site. So I know it is out there. The popularity is growing, and with that will come the financial backing.
The eSports lifestyle for virtual cyclists is one focused upon promoting the sport and getting noticed. The more the individual athletes do on the grassroots level to get the message out, the faster it will spread. The athletes have to work hard to overcome the stigma associated with cycling indoors. The traditional cyclists are ofter a stubborn bunch.
The spectator experience is far superior in virtual cycling than in real life. Through live streams of events, the viewer can watch an entire event. Not only a few seconds as the group of cyclists flies by or fleeting camera shots from helicopters or motos.
From the athlete’s point of view, competition and experience rival real-life without many of the challenges that come with it. Of course, there are many ways that virtual cycling must improve. But there is tremendous potential.
Many major cycling events have realized this and are committing. Like the Tour de France, major cycling events have crossed over and promoted virtual events contested by professional esports and traditional professional cyclists.
What are the unique opportunities that pro gamers have?
Virtual cycling eSports athletes have a unique opportunity. They have a chance to influence the growth and development of cycling eSports. In addition, they are in the enviable position of capitalizing on being involved from the ground up, day one.
What are the unique challenges that pro gamers face?
Virtual cycling eSports athletes have a tremendous challenge ahead. They must open the minds of traditional cyclists and cycling fans to all the unique and exciting aspects of virtual cycling. In my view, it starts with setting a positive example and promoting the sport. It is more a lack of knowledge and understanding than a poor or unrealistic product.
I have rarely come across an athlete who didn’t acknowledge the virtues of virtual cycling. Having the staunch traditional cyclist agree to try it in the first place is the greatest challenge.
From there, the eSports athletes will have to jump all of the hurdles any professional athlete faces in any sport.
How is professional gaming similar to traditional athletics? Can you explain with a story or an example?
Virtual cycling is similar to traditional athletics in that to excel on the professional level; you must be athletically gifted and motivated to train and sacrifice. There is little difference in that respect. In fact, there have been several examples of athletes who started in virtual cycling who became successful professional cyclists on the road.
How is it different? Can you explain with a story or example?
One significant difference lies in the gaming component of virtual cycling. There is a skill set that the athlete must learn. As an athlete who aspires to compete at the elite level, you not only have to be in top physical condition, but you must be the best at the game.
What do I mean by that? Learning the game means becoming skilled at the video game aspects, like becoming an expert at the drafting algorithms, pack dynamics, the online racecourses, and many other unique factors.
In addition, the athlete must become an expert in their technology and the hardware and software they use to perform optimally.
There are many examples of in-real-life professionals who have been humbled by their initial attempts to compete on virtual cycling platforms. When they get beat handily by virtual cycling specialists, they quickly realize there is more to it than just pedaling a stationary bike.
With traditional sports, young people get recruited by talent scouts who work for professional teams. Is it similar with eSports?
The sport of virtual cycling is young. There is a lot that needs to be done before it is at that level. But it does happen on the amateur level. It’s a matter of time!
If a young person reading this wants to become a professional, paid gamer on an eSports team, where do they start? What are the steps they need to take to get picked up by a team?
Suppose a young athlete is interested in becoming a professional cycling eSports competitor, they have to realize that it will take a lot of work on many levels. They will need to train hard and get the race results to get noticed. Then take that notoriety and use it to promote the sport in innovative and exciting ways.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. Can you please share “5 Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In eSports”? If you can, kindly share a story or example for each.
- Be motivated and willing to sacrifice for the good of the sport, your team, and your self. To break into virtual cycling eSports on the professional level will require a tremendous amount of patience, dedication, and careful planning. The athlete will be forced to put the sport in front of themselves and be willing to take a back seat. If the athlete keeps their eye on the big prize at the end, then all of the day to day hard work will be easier to accept.
- Set a positive example and act as a role model for other athletes. It will not be enough for the athlete to just be a great virtual racer, they will also have to be a strong positive influence and role model. The type of athlete that commands respect and is an influencer. An athlete who other young riders want to be like. The type of athlete who can make others want to be virtual cyclists.
- Interact with the virtual cycling community on a personal level and immerse in the culture. Virtual cycling, and eSports in general, has a huge social component. Gamers and professional eSports competitors consider themselves members of a community. In-game text and video chat allows the virtual cyclist the unique opportunity to interact with fans on a personal day-to-day level. Moreover, regular Joes and amateur athletes like me have the ability to ride alongside their eSports cycling idols. That is a powerful gift that the eSports athlete must embrace.
- Set up a strong support system and rely upon it to get you through the tough times. As I mentioned earlier, one person can’t be expected to be great at everything. That goes double for virtual athletes who must balance their jobs, family, and eSports careers. As virtual cycling becomes more mainstream the potential for athletes to support themselves through professional contracts and endorsements becomes a greater reality. Until then, the reality is that they can’t do it alone. The successful eSports cyclists will need a coach, nutrition professional, technological advisor, team director, and athletic trainer or physical therapist, among others. Most of all, they will require the unconditional support of their biggest fans, their family and friends. It is going to be hard. With a great support system behind you it won’t be impossible. The reward will be even sweeter.
- Train and race hard! Don’t give up! That goes without saying.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
While we are on this topic I am so passionate about; I would like to sit down with Eric Minn, the CEO of the virtual platform that I ride, train, and race on, Zwift. https://www.zwift.com/news/99-ceo-eric-min-shares-his-story.
I want to thank him for creating and nurturing an idea that has changed my life and the lives of so many of my fellow cyclists and teammates. In addition to potentially changing the lives of young athletes who will be professional eSport virtual cycling gamers in the future.
I’d like to know what the future has in store for Zwift and virtual cycling and how I can be a part. I’d be honored by the ability to give back to virtual cycling through the pages of my blog and the other work I am privileged to do.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success in your great work!
The pleasure was all mine!
How to find the Authority Magazine!
Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
You will read him promoting his passion on the pages of Cycling Weekly, Cycling News, road.cc, Zwift Insider, Endurance.biz, and Bicycling. Chris is co-host of The Virtual Velo Podcast, too!