What Zwift Racing can learn from CrossFit’s Growing Pains

Shirtless partners race holding a short rope because bros don’t hold hands in CrossFit. credit: games.crossfit.com

Around 10 years ago, I was early in my athletic life. I hadn’t played sports since middle school and was skinny fat and really out of shape as my 20’s drew to a close. After a few years of inconsistent mountain and road biking, I discovered CrossFit right around the time it was exploding. Like many, I was hooked, wearing my suffering like a badge of honor and posting the hieroglyphics of my daily workouts to Facebook.  At the time, the CrossFit Games, where the winners are crowned The Fittest Man and The Fittest Woman on Earth had been going on for a few years and they were having growing pains. For the first few years, you could just show up at the competition and enter for a chance to win but it was apparent that this would be untenable in the future. So, a new paradigm was created with Sectional events. Winners from the Sectionals advanced onto Regional events and the best placed athletes from the Regionals advanced to The CrossFit Games which is their version of The World Championships.

 

But even this was short lived and in 2011, an online qualifier was created called The CrossFit Open. Here’s how it worked. Each week, a new workout would be released. You could either perform these workouts in front of a qualified judge in a CrossFit gym or if you were not able to do that, you could film your workout and submit it online. Judges in gyms needed to take on online test on standards of movement and those submitting video needed to video their weights, a running clock and make sure the entire workout was performed in full view of the camera. While imperfect, it was good enough to develop a pipeline where the best performers over 5 weeks advanced to a Regional event. In the last few years, there have been more changes but I’ve been riding a stationary bike in my shed and haven’t kept up so if you want to learn more, just click here. There were lots of growing pains ranging from complaints about the workouts to entering fake scores to having the website crash numerous times as there was a glut of competitors trying to enter their scores at the last minute causing system overload.  But over the years, they’ve rolled with the punches to create a system that worked pretty well.

A few racers dry humping at the start line. Zwift might be able to fix this

So, what does this have to do with Zwift Racing? My feeling is that Zwift is now in a very similar place as CrossFit was 10 years ago. It’s growing fast and people are starting to take it really seriously. We are starting to get our first celebrities and draw attention from the fitness community. And I think that Zwift can look at the progression of competition that CrossFit has gone through for some ideas. First, create a competition for all! This would be an online contest very similar to The CrossFit Open complete with weekly competitions, deadlines and of course, a leaderboard! You’d be able to cross reference all kinds of cool data. Who’s the fastest in your city, state, nation, gender and age group? How fast are your buddies from high school that you haven’t seen in decades? Also, you have to pay to play. It’s about $20 to sign up for The CrossFit Open. A modest price for a Zwift comp would show that you have some skin in the game and that money would be used to pay for a media team and in real life venues. Just like The CrossFit Open, suspicious performances can be subject to scrutiny and a call to repeat can be given. There could be local volunteers that would verify body weight and calibrate equipment just like official CrossFit Judges for repeat performances. Then the best of the online comp could compete for the next level. Regional events sponsored by equipment manufacturers could be hosted. These could be paid for with sales of tickets, pizza and beer. Finally, the winners of these contests could compete for an annual World Championship Race.

It’s definitely worth taking a look outside of the cycling industry for inspiration.For all of the annoying shit that goes along with CrossFit, they definitely got some things right. They had their community involved and hyped on a grass roots level and had high quality media coverage. And, they just fired a bunch of staff on their games and media team so this could be a good opportunity for Zwift to capitalize on a talent pool of unemployed workers.

A recent live Zwift event held in New York City. Much better conditions than typically found on DIRT Zwift Team. Almost Peloton level minus the penthouse view of Central Park and a cougar in a sports bra

Thanks for taking the time to read and I’ll see you in Watopia. RIDE ON!

Ken “The Badger” Nowell

thebadger@dirtcyclingclub.com

 

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