A Beta-tester braves the bots to experience cycling esports platform indieVelo's anticipated Team Scratch Race format. Ready for prime time?
indieVelo update version v0.2.8, released July 31, 2023, introduced Team Scratch Racing to the rapidly evolving cycling esports platform. As far as I’m concerned, team-based online racing is where it’s at!
The unique technical aspects of online competition allow for cohesion and tactical coordination that I haven’t found anywhere else during my amateur cycling experience—indoors or out. Sharing the experience with my teammates while working together to achieve a common goal is fulfilling and rewarding, making team-based racing my format of choice.
As the Beta indieVelo evolves and my knowledge and experience develop, I’ve begun to see the platform from two perspectives. Always with one eye on the present and the other looking forward to the future.
That is to ask, does a virtual cycling platform populated primarily with AI-enhanced bots offer an immersive and fulfilling race experience? When humans replace them at some time in the future, will the innovative features and esports-specific enhancements make it the competitive environment of choice for discerning racers and virtual cycling enthusiasts?
I was looking forward to deepening my perspective.
According to the v0.2.8 update notes:
Introducing one of the most highly requested race modes: Team Scratch Racing.
This new race format allows you and your team mates to race together, and contribute to an overall team points total based on your individual finish positions. Results are all given live and in-game, updated instantly for everyone to see every time a rider crosses the line.
All aspects of an event are also completely configurable – routes, laps, number of teams, the sizes of the teams, and of course how many team points each finish position is worth. Try it out by either joining one of the many regularly scheduled events with full and competitive fields tailored to exactly your ability that run all day, every day, or create your own custom event, whenever and however you like it.
Version v0.2.6 introduced DS Mode:
Team Managers can now automatically spectate any event that one or more of their riders is participating in without any need for additional configuration or set up, or to enter the event themselves.
The new DS mode gives Team Managers a configurable camera view into events and the ability to send in-game team chat messages that can only be seen by members of their team.
Equally, team members can now send team chat messages which can be viewed only by other members of their team, and by their Team Manager.
indieVelo—Sign Up and Pre-Race
If you read “Lessons Learned From My First Three Races,” you know that finding and signing up for events is straightforward on indieVelo. It left me a little time to think about strategy. The likelihood was that all of my competitors would be Racebots, but treating them like human rivals would help me answer my questions.
My plan was to get a feel for the race and how my fellow bot teammates felt. If bots from opposing teams made moves, I would react while observing the behavior of the others on my team. All the while racing as smart as I know how and making decisions based on the abovementioned assumption.
indieVelo—In The Pen
I entered the pen early to assess my competition like any other race. indieVelo doesn’t have a way to select events and evaluate racers outside of the game yet, but it’s on the development roadmap. The 50-racer field consisted of ten teams of 5.
Looking at the nearby rider’s list, I saw that my LEVEL Velo team, directed by Si Bradeley, was listed first, meaning that my racebot mates and I were the top-ranked team. It was cool to see us all lined up sporting our custom in-game kit!
I did my best to memorize the team leader of the other nine teams while scrolling through the list.
I got a chuckle from the animal-themed names, especially the Indie Iguanas, but I had my eye on Alex Vaughan of the second-ranked Krowen team.
indieVelo—The Early Stages of The Race
The start was fast, and the pack settled down after the initial three minutes. During that momentary lull, the first attack went off the front. I remembered the name Stanley Reeves because he led my new second favorite team, the Indie Iguanas. I wasn’t going to give him much road.
I jumped from the group, didn’t get a response, and went across cleanly. We had a small five-second gap on the reduced chase group when at the 5:30 mark, Stanley attacked again. We couldn’t make any ground on the charging pack despite working together.
My break companion and I neared the only appreciable gradient change on the Coastal Loop forward route as the junction was about to be made. Taking it as a sign, I seized the opportunity. Stanley dropped, but there was no response from any of the other teams. I sat up and let the 38-rider group swallow me.
The aggressive tactics of the racebots didn’t show any sign of relenting as the race progressed. Flurries of attacks, chases, and counter-attacks whittled the field to around twenty riders.
Adjacent to the nearby riders list, the user interface illustrates the gap times to the groups up the road and behind. It’s a handy feature, especially in a team racing format.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t determine where my teammates were on the road relative to the other riders and teams. A team designation in both UI fields would be a differentiating enhancement.
At one juncture of the race, as the front group came back together, I fell to the back to recover. I thought, “Now would be a good time for one of my teammates to show themselves.” No such luck. Was this a function of my team’s strength or a limitation in AI behavior?
I didn’t know. What was certain is that it isolated me in the 12-rider final group, and the Freewheel Falcons had numbers.
indieVelo—Finale’ and The Finish
The finale played out like countless race scenarios etched in my cycling conscience. As any proper team with numbers in the break knows to do, a rider from the Freewheel Falcons launched early. I responded straight away, hoping to use the strength of my :1 to :3 power curve to my advantage.
As they drew it up, we were the perfect lead-out for the Falcons, who placed their three riders in the top ten. I held on for third.
Want to know how I knew? The points total populated in real time on the user interface right in front of me. If there had been sprint and KOM segments contested during the race, that essential information would have been there immediately too!
We managed a solid second place on the back of my 20 points and seven more from the next LEVEL Velo team member to cross the line in 14th.
Does the indieVelo cycling esports platform, populated primarily by bots, provide a fun and fulfilling competitive experience? I lost count at ten tactical moves during the 20-plus minute race, and when the dust settled, I couldn’t recall any periods of boredom-inducing downtime. I was totally spent, mentally and physically.
Despite exceeding those goals, nothing can replace the human interaction of team-based racing. I missed the strategizing and communication. That I can’t deny.
However, I have yet to see a bunch sprint on indieVelo or finish a race, thinking I had much more to give. And the game physics, wind, braking, and cornering add an unmatched level of authenticism and engagement.
In a way, racing against inanimate AI-generated avatars is more motivating. Who wants to lose to a computer? Not me! A real guy who I know and accept is stronger, younger, faster? It’s a little easier to take.
Will indieVelo’s innovative features and esports-focused enhancements create the go-to competitive environment of choice?
indieVelo claims to be on a path toward defining the future of online sport. The rapid evolution and developer’s receptiveness to exceed the racer’s needs is truly impressive.
If what I experienced during my first Team Scratch race is any indication, the future is bright for cycling esports. There’s much more work to do! When it’s done, indieVelo has the potential to be the standard by which we judge other cycling esports platforms.
As a Beta tester of the platform, I look forward to contributing my perspective and contributing to shaping the cycling esports landscape, now and in the future. That’s perhaps what excites and appeals to me most about the cycling esports platform indieVelo.
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!