The proposed removal of weight and height metrics from display in Zwift Power caused quite the community backlash – the common theme of the response was that transparency of these metrics helped the community self-police weight-dopers.
But the truth is, the Zwift community do not have a need or want to see people’s weight and height. What they do have, though, is a strong desire to ensure that racing is as fair as possible – because a fair racing platform is more engaging and more rewarding!
This article explores cheating in Zwift, and looks at ways that it could be tackled in the future, should Zwift determine that community racing is a core part of the platform that deserves development time, money and resources.
Aside: Whilst the total number of active racers on the platform may be a small percentage of the overall user base, I would argue that these are the most engaged Zwifters, and their marketing impact is huge. If you look for Youtube videos or articles about Zwift, racing is nearly always the focus. An active and engaged racing community is critical to the long term success of the platform.
What Factors Contribute to Performance Inaccuracies?
Fundamentally there are four factors that, if not correct, can lead to an ‘enhanced’ racing performance.
- Weight – a deliberate input
- Height – a deliberate input
- Power – determined by the trainer/power meter. This can either be inaccurate by accident (poorly calibrated, poor quality trainer) or deliberate (knowingly using the trainer or power meter in a way to give you an unrealistic advantage, or faking power output)
- Category manipulation – racing in a lower category than you should, either by ‘cruising’ (managing your output so that you do not get upgraded) or entering a joining a lower pen than your Zwift Power assigned category.
How Can These be Managed?
Remove the incentive and reward gained by cheating
The current category system is founded on the W/Kg metric, so falsification of weight or height can easily give you an advantage by moving you to the top of the category in terms of output, or keeping you in a lower category than you should be racing (reverse weight doping).
A focus on forcing accurate weight and height, perhaps with technology (e.g. smart scales) or by pre-race validation or exposure of weight and height metrics publicly, is a wasted effort in my opinion. Cheaters will always find a way to exploit the system to gain a benefit, so instead we should look at the behavior and the psychology behind it. If falsifying metrics is not really worth it, will they bother?
I have previously proposed a results-based ranking and matchmaking system for Zwift racing. If this were implemented, manipulating weight and height may mean a racer gets an unrealistically high ranking, but their chances of winning would not be increased – they would just race tougher opponents.
In this scenario, is cheating really worth it? (It’s worth noting that, at the highest level where there are more rewards, more stringent validation is already in place to prevent this in the first place).
Most big online games use anti-cheating tools to recognize cheating – be that manipulated code, or patterns of suspicious behavior. A toolset could be developed to highlight and flag suspicious performances, which either automatically disqualify a rider or flag the rider for race organisers to determine the outcome.
For example, the system may catch changes in height (height is generally consistent, so any changes should probably require a direct request from ZHQ), suspicious changes in weight, suspicious power behavior (large performance gains, sticky watts), etc.
Race organisers should be able to mandate a certain standard of equipment or a certain level of performance validation. I am not really a fan of dual recording, but this could be required, as well as privately submitted weight/height validation or power validation. A standard of trainer could also be required, for example direct drive trainers only, or factory-calibrated direct drive trainers. Of course, limitations like this reduce the potential audience, and would likely be limited to specific competitions.
All of the above developments would require a big commitment to community racing on the part of ZwiftHQ. I hope that this commitment can be made, and that Zwift can engage with the community as this system progresses to ensure it is fit for purpose.
I truly believe that if this is landed well, it could massively improve the proposition to a large community of users that become more engaged with Zwift, promote the platform, and ultimately drive revenue. The stakes are high: Zwift racers are some of the most passionate users, and if they move across to a system provided by the competition, they will likely bring a large number of more casual users with them.
My Questions To You
I have a few questions to the wider Zwift community. Can you give me your feedback in the comments section below?
- If the above systems were developed, would there be any need to see height and weight?
- Would the above systems see you racing on Zwift more often, the same, or less?
- What other changes could make you feel like Zwift racing is fairer?