Zwift and indieVelo’s Partnership Leads the Way For Legitimization of Cycling Esports

The new Zwift Grand Prix Ruleset outlines indieVelo's responsibilities and marks the initial move toward independent oversight and legitimization of top-tier cycling esports.

Zwift Grand Prix cycling esports
Photo: Zwift

When the avatars push off on October 19 for the first of Seven Rounds of the 2023/24 Zwift Grand Prix, it will be the first time the sport’s highest level will be under the watchful eye of other than Zwift itself. Until now, the in-house Zwift Accuracy and Data Analysis (ZADA) team oversaw all elite and international racing on the platform.

According to Bjoern Ossenbrink, the former head of ZADA, that’s the direction we need to head.

“Physical esports is pushing into boundaries and levels that require independent verification. The World Rowing Federation (WR) and the International Cycling Federation (UCI) have offered the highest level of competition over multiple years in awarding Esport World Championship titles.

These titles bring responsibility for ensuring accurate performances and results. An independent verification and testing service will conduct performance testing using verification tools that are constantly being developed and tested. Therefore, international federations, major event organizers, or other sporting bodies can rely on true sports and its value of fair play, integrity, and sportsmanship.”

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In an August 11, 2023, email to prospective Team Managers, Zwift Race Organizers announced, For 2023/24, we will continue to work with Dr. George Gilbert and Bjoern Ossenbrink from indievelo (previously part of ZADA), who will provide an independent governance and performance verification service for the ZGP on Zwift. This service will be delivering PV and governance solutions only.

 This will provide continuity in process and personnel from previous years, with a few small alterations. The final framework is being developed, and this will be distributed to teams alongside answers to all of the PV and governance questions raised to date before the application deadline.

Dr. George Gilbert, a former chair of Zwift’s Cycling Esports Commission, played a crucial role in shaping esports policies and anti-cheating measures at Zwift. He also supervised multiple UCI Cycling Esports World Championships.

In addition to his Zwift contributions, Dr. Gilbert is a seasoned cycling event organizer. He managed a pre-2012 Olympic test event and served as Vice-Chairman for British Cycling’s Board of Directors. With a background in cycling and astrophysics, he’s now focusing on developing the virtual platform indieVelo.

Bjoern Ossenbrink, a leading expert in digital cheating detection, and the rest of the former Zwift Accuracy and Data Analysis team (ZADA) joined him. Under Ossenbrink, this Zwift-funded team was crucial in running Zwift’s in-house, elite-level esports competitions.

Since departing Zwift, Gilbert has continually affirmed indieVelo’s stance as an independent service provider for other platforms.

“Critically, for athletes and fans to believe in a sport, there needs to be independent assurance over the legitimacy of results. To paraphrase, you cannot mark your own homework.”

Ossenbrink and the former ZADA team have transitioned to indieVelo, in coordination with UCI and Zwift, to offer independent governance and oversight. Specifically, indieVelo views itself not as a competitor to Zwift or other platforms but as a complement to them.

“A symbiotic relationship where our independent expertise in technology, cycling dynamics, and performance verification ensures that online racing, wherever it takes place, is credible and together we achieve that Olympic dream,” emphasizes Gilbert.

Zwift partnership with indieVelo for performance verification
Photo: Zwift

The New Zwift Grand Prix Ruleset

The Zwift Grand Prix 2023/24 Ruleset details, released on September 2, 2023, outline that relationship. 

1.2 Zwift & indieVelo

          1.2.1 Zwift shall act as the “Event Organiser” and be responsible for the management and running of the event on the Zwift platform, including the production of the results.

          1.2.2 indieVelo shall act as the “Independent Commissaire” and be responsible for ensuring the integrity of performances in the event and the management of decision-making regarding racing incidents, potential breaches of this ruleset, and performance verification.  

          1.2.3 indieVelo shall have the power to update the results of events, request information from riders to assist with the technical analysis of performances as set out in Appendix A (“Performance Verification”) and apply sanctions to riders as set out in Appendix B (“Sanctions”).

Appendix A includes Pre- and Post- Race information that racers must provide to indieVelo, like a weight and height video, real-life performance data, equipment specifications and details, performance testing (formerly called the ZADA test), and a streaming and external video of the indoor testing session. 

The indoor performance test consists of five efforts: 2-min, 4-min, 12-min, and two 15-sec (max) sprints. indieVelo will provide a proprietary Critical Power Test workout file for the athletes. 

Real-life (outdoor) fit file data of the rider’s best 5-15-sec, 1-min, 3-5-min, and 10-20-min efforts are required, in addition to a Strava or Training Peaks account link. 

Appendix B outlines the Sanctions (penalties) for rule violations or breaches of the ruleset.

In the near future, indieVelo plans to back both the athletes and Zwift, following the guidelines set in earlier elite Zwift races. Given that the events are just weeks away, making significant changes like real-time API access is not feasible.

However, the movement of race oversight and governance beyond Zwift’s four walls and the elimination of Zwift from the name of the oversight committee-ZADA-is a monumental step forward for legitimizing cycling esports.

Zwift's Crucial Initial Move

The move is an essential first-of-its-kind advancement for the sport, and the natural progression, according to Zwift.

“We believe this partnership is right for this stage in the development of Cycling Esports. The agreement will ensure consistency for experienced racers while adding an extra layer of independence in the performance verification process—both positive for the sport. The Zwift Grand Prix will be the first Elite cycling esports competition that uses this new structure, and no doubt it will develop over time.”

A Digital WADA

The long-term objective is establishing a digital governance body akin to WADA, with support from all digital platforms, UCI, IOC, and potentially WADA (World Anti Doping Agency).

The goal is to develop further a digital analytics space for real-life and virtual athlete data, resembling WADA’s model. The independent entity would fully integrate with all platforms and gain endorsement from governing bodies like the UCI, IOC, and possibly WADA.

In reputable sports, it’s untenable for the event organizer to also serve as the oversight body. Such a setup inherently leads to conflicts of interest and raises indefensible questions about impartiality. Establishing an independent body for digital sports performance verification and governance enhances the overall credibility of the sport.

The existing alliance marks progress and shows Zwift’s commitment to future stability and evolution, but there’s a long road ahead with more conceptual issues to iron out.

Photo: Zwift

Can a Competitor be Impartial?

The question of whether a competing platform can be impartial is complex. indieVelo’s creators insist it’s not a competitor and has no plans to organize events. Although the platform is currently free to use, that could change. Ultimately, the real asset is a user’s time.

Some may view it as competition if a cyclist chooses to spend time on indieVelo over another platform. Given this, evolving to place the performance and governance functions outside of indieVelo, making them truly independent, would be the essential next step.

Is indieVelo a Competitor?

However, indieVelo’s creators don’t see it that way and draw on a familiar analogy—the comparison here is with the UCI. Though the UCI owns its own velodrome and international pro cycling team, most don’t view these as competitors but as centers of excellence and training grounds for the future. How the organization acts matters—in this case, the UCI and indieVelo.

By offering their expertise to help other platforms, much like the UCI makes its resources available to National Governing Bodies, coaches, and athletes, indieVelo demonstrates that they aren’t in competition but are collaborators.

Seeing indieVelo merely as a platform where athletes allocate their time overlooks its broader role and impact. It’s not a winner-takes-all scenario—gaining an additional rider on indieVelo doesn’t necessarily mean losing one on another platform.

Most indieVelo users, the competitive esports community, are also active on other platforms, so there’s minimal revenue loss for others. The value proposition of indieVelo is sector-wide innovation, benefiting everyone involved.

Should indieVelo ever change its cooperative stance, such as halting technology sharing or merging with a platform like Zwift, MyWhoosh, or Wahoo-RGT, there’d be no question that governance and performance functions would need to become independent entities.

It is a step that Gilbert, Ossenbrink, and Zwift should endorse and could be another piece of the cycling esports popularity puzzle.

Perhaps the better question now is, “Should the “Independent Commissaire” model be adapted for the UCI Cycling Esports World Championships?”

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