Zwift is a massively multiplayer online cycling and running videogame and physical training program that enables users to interact, train and compete in a virtual world. The company responsible for Zwift, Zwift Inc., was cofounded by Jon Mayfield, Eric Min, Scott Barger and Alarik Myrin in California, United States, in 2014. The Zwift game was released in its beta version in September 2014 and became a paid product with a fee of $10 per month in October 2015.
Zwift allows players to ride their bicycles on stationary trainers while navigating through five virtual worlds (Watopia, Richmond, London, Innsbruck, and New York). Players may cycle freely around the game world and join organised group rides, races or workouts with other users. Zwift uses ANT+ or Bluetooth Low Energy technologies to transmit data that, in combination with athlete weight and equipment choices, is used to convert the athlete's efforts as speed and power (watts). "Smart" trainers, which include a built-in power meter, permit accuracy in the measurement of watts as well as enabling an immersive technology experience, where resistance is applied or lessened to simulate the gradient encountered on the virtual course. Zwift estimates the power of users on conventional trainers via the user's cadence and the power curve of a wide range of specified trainers.
Zwift was originally available only for users with personal computers. In December 2016 Zwift launched on iOS, and in November 2017, the application became available via Apple TV. Zwift also includes a mobile app which allows users to change direction, take screenshots, communicate via messaging, use power-ups and follow other athletes. As of January 2018, there were over 550,000 accounts.
In December 2018, Zwift raised a Series B investment of $120 million. Company CEO Eric Min announced the money would be spent on categories expansion, including eSports tournaments and further development of Zwift Run. Zwift ranked fifth in Fast Company's 2019 Most Innovative Companies (Sports Sector).
In 2012/13 Eric Min had recently sold his previous company, Sakonnet Technology. Min, a lifelong cyclist, found himself confined to riding indoors, and dissatisfied with current interactive options, he believed he could improve on them by "making cycling social". Around this time, Min saw an online post by programmer Jon Mayfield describing a "3D trainer program" he was developing as a hobby project. Min promptly contacted Mayfield, making arrangements to fly to Los Angeles to speak to him; the two agreed to co-found a company around the project.
The first virtual world, Jarvis Island, was released as an invite-only beta product on September 30, 2014. The product proved unexpectedly popular, and more than 13,000 applications were received for 1,000 beta places. The launch took place simultaneously in Rapha Clubhouses in London, New York City and San Francisco. By May 2015 Zwift had moved into open beta. A virtual version of the Richmond (Virginia) 2015 UCI Road World Championships Course was introduced on September 3, 2015.
On October 30, 2015, Zwift launched as a fully fledged product with a $10 monthly subscription fee.
There are five courses, or maps, in Zwift: Watopia, London, Innsbruck, New York and Richmond. The latter is a realistic depiction of the course used by professional riders in the 2015 UCI Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia, United States. The course is urban and the first "real world" map Zwift attempted.
Recent maps such as Titan's Grove have leaned more into fantasy territory, for instance including dinosaurs in the forest.
As of 2017, Zwift had more than 100,000 fans on the social media site Facebook. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg used the platform to help continue training after suffering a broken arm. An article in La Velocita called the game's fans "Zwifters“. An early partnership between Zwift and ride-sharing site Strava has led to integration with Zwift rides being automatically uploaded to Strava if users enable the function. One of the earliest groups to offer established racing on Zwift was KISS, which started races in late 2015 and had grown by 2018 to become one of the largest organizers on the platform.
The game has also inspired a fan community on Youtube, as videos showing races have hundreds of thousands of views. Youtuber Shane Miller (GPLama)'s channel is among those dedicated to reviewing gear such as trainers and discussing Zwift, for instance posting videos of himself cycling through new maps with commentary.
In early 2016 Zwift launched the Zwift Academy program, which utilises the platform to test would-be riders for their suitability for professional bicycle racing. In the inaugural competition, 1,200 cyclists entered, with former marathon runner Leah Thorvilson being crowned the winner and securing a contract with the Canyon–SRAM team for 2017. The Academy expanded for 2017, adding a men's competition: that year the women's competition was won by ex-triathlete Tanja Erath, who finished first in a field of 2,100 entrants and won a contract with Canyon-SRAM for 2018, whilst the first men's competition was won by former speed skater Ollie Jones, who beat 9,200 other cyclists to secure a place with the Dimension Data for Qhubeka team. The Academy initially centers on an eight-week training program incorporating 16 events, with interval training and virtual group rides and races, before ten riders are selected for the semi-final stage and then a final three are chosen to compete against each other in real life.
In 2018, the Zwift Academy talent identification concept was expanded to include the sport of triathlon. Four athletes were selected to the Specialized Zwift Academy Triathlon Team; Rachael Norfleet (USA), Geert Janssens (Belgium), Golo Philippe Röhrken (Germany), Bex Rimmington (United Kingdom).
eSports Professional Cycling League
The 2019 debut of a professional cycling eSports League (KISS Super League) was announced in late 2018, with the participation of four UCI Continental men's professional cycling teams confirmed: Team Wiggins Le Col, Canyon–SRAM, Hagens Berman Axeon and Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka U23.
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