There’s an old joke amongst gamers that “I went out IRL today… the graphics were great but the gameplay sucked.”
After the first round of the “Zwift KISS Super League”, we can now say that cycling went indoors today, where there wasn’t much gameplay to speak of and the sound *totally* sucked. (On Facebook Live at least, apparently Youtube was much better.)
As a marketing device, cycling has long relied on professionals to sell goods, and it’s not offensive or surprising that Zwift is now doing the same thing through the KISS Super League. As a modern day equivalent of roller racing, Zwift racing’s natural progression was always going to include riders who the UCI calls “professionals”. It may be – or maybe not, we don’t know yet – that Zwift downloads and subscriptions increase following the League, in which case it is (by its only real measure) a success.
But was it entertaining?
To me (late thirties, rode a bit of Zwift a year ago, prefers going outside, not much of a gamer) I’m afraid to say it was a bit of a chore to sit through the whole thing. They say in film production that audiences can live with poor picture quality, but the smallest flaws in sound make it unbearable. Things settled down after the first few minutes of racing but it was still hard going on the ears for the duration.
One of the major gripes of the armchair cycling fan is what the commentators talk about during 8 hours of coverage during stage 3 of Le Tour, across the plain plains of Northern France. At 50 minute long, Zwift must be a breeze to talk over, right? But then what is there to even say about an e-race (or is it e-bikerace? bike e-race?)? Apparently very little other than listing the names of the riders who are on screen and mentioning their power output over and over.
In the first respect, perhaps e-racing is no worse than a dreary flat stage of the Tour de France, although the commentators can at least talk about vineyards and read sections of the race manual out loud (“Did you know, Phil…”). In “real cycling” – or just “cycling” as we need to remember to still call it – there’s the history, rider palmares or years of personal anecdotes from Sean Kelly to fill the airwaves, none of which are so relevant in Zwift’s first pro event, so it is hardly a fair criticism at this stage…
And the racing?
Well… I know it was the first race, but there wasn’t really any racing to speak of. After a few UCI pros were caught out in the early stages, the bunch pretty much rode about together then arrived at the finish, where Ian Bibby took the win in a distinctly un-nervewracking manner. I expect we’d know that he produced a number of watts in the process, had we not been on mute by now.
Like the real life mobster who found Grand Theft Auto lacked the buzz of real life racketeering, I can’t help feeling that road racing just loses all of its appealing qualities when taken onto an indoor trainer and reduced to its component parts of people pedalling on bikes. Road racing is about seeing the other rider’s heart break as he drifts off your wheel, using the gutter to break the bunch up in a crosswind, bumping elbows as you move up to the front and shouting at those blokes who “chase and sit” for the whole of the third cat criterium. E-racing has none of that and without it was just a bit… sterile.
So when’s round two?
All that said, I’m willing to give it another chance… nobody seriously enjoyed their first taste of beer after all.