This release is newsworthy if only to show how far Zwift racing has come. As the Zwiftcast’s Simon Schofield said, “We’ve come a long way from ‘let’s meet on the Richmond start line’.” As esport cycling evolves and organizers seek to attract top racers, a globally-defined set of rules and regulations must be put into place to help ensure fair competition. This is the UCI’s first attempt at such a ruleset, and even though it’s a fairly small document, it lays necessary groundwork for further development of cycling esports on the world stage.
As the first esports regulations ever published by the UCI, this document is certainly worthy of discussion. Let’s dig in to the most interesting parts.
Chapter 1: General Provisions
The UCI begins by defining what a “Cycling esports platform” is. It’s worth noting that “Zwift” is not mentioned anywhere in this document. Rather, the UCI keeps it generic, allowing the rules to apply to any esports platform which may be developed.
1.1 – A cycling esports event is held on a cycling esports platform. A cycling esports platform is a software that, when coupled with certain hardware, allows individuals to participate in cycling races in a virtual environment. The cycling esports platform must at minimum provide a form of continuous feedback to the participants as to their progress within the competition as related to other participants
Categories of Riders
1:6 – Participation in races is organised on the basis of the age and gender categories set out in articles 1.1.034 to 1.1.037 of the UCI Regulations.
If you’re waiting for UCI-sanctioned races using “standard” Zwift categories… don’t hold your breath. Races will be based on standard UCI categories defined in their main ruleset, which are based on age and gender. So we’ll have men’s juniors, U23, Elite, Masters, etc. No surprise here! While lower-level Zwift racers enjoy the competition of categories B, C, and D, the UCI is just concerned with the top racers in particular age/gender groups.
The UCI defines two types of esports races in section 1.7:
- In real life races, in which all participants and the necessary equipment are verified by a commissaire at the race location.
- Remote races, in which participants and the necessary equipment are not verified by a commissaire at the race location(s).
This is notable because the UCI is leaving the door open for UCI-sanctioned esports events where competitors are remote and therefore using non-verified equipment.
Chapter 2: Equipment
Participants in a UCI-sanctioned esports event must use a UCI-legal bike or a smart bike that is compatible with the platform:
2.1 – Subject to any applicable competition guide and applicable UCI Regulations, bicycles used for cycling esports races shall be (i) bicycles as defined in part 1 of the UCI Regulations in combination with a smart trainer compatible with the cycling esports platform, or (ii) smart bicycles or other equipment compatible with the cycling esports platform.
Heart Rate Required
While the rule leaves it up to the race organizer, by default heart rate monitors are required:
2.2 – Unless explicitly specified in the competition guide for a race, riders must compete using a power meter or smart trainer, paired together with a cadence sensor and heart rate monitor
In addition, up-to-date firmware and proper spin-down/calibration of power meters is required. Some of this language appears to be taken directly from Zwift’s own eRacing Ruleset.
2.3 – Riders shall be responsible for following any manufacturer’s specifications on maintaining the accuracy of their equipment including but not limited to using up-to-date firmware versions and conducting a spin-down, zeroing or other calibration or offset procedure for power meters or smart trainers immediately prior to a race.
Chapter 3: Performance Verification
This section is interesting because of what it does not say. Far from spelling out how performance verification should take place, the UCI merely states here that:
3.1 – The organiser of a cycling esports event is required to have a performance verification system.
This leaves the specifics of performance verification up to the event organizers. Is this the UCI smartly deferring to organizers who know their platform well? Zwift has their own performance verification system set up, although it is still evolving. Does this rather loose rule open up the sport up to platforms that mismanage performance verification? Time will tell, but it seems certain that this section of the rules will be expanded as cycling esport develops.
Chapter 4: Specific Regulations for Cycling Esports Events
Most of this section is dedicated to defining how event organizers must publish a “competition guide” for their event. This would contain details like participation requirements, qualification system, specific performance verification measures, prizes/titles to be awarded, and more.
Nothing unexpected here, but it is clear that UCI-sanctioned esports events are on a much higher level than a typical Zwift race where a rider can sign up from within the game itself and never see a bit of information about the event except the title!
Chapter 6: Specific Infringements for Cycling Esports
This section details specific infringements and the punishments to be given for each. Yes: this includes fines! The maximum fines are 5000 Swiss Francs (~$5000US), while initial fines begin at 200 Swiss Francs. Riders receiving the maximum fines also receive a lifetime suspension.
There are actually three sets of infringements listed, varying from more minor infringements to more serious.
The first set of infringements includes out-of-date firmware, unintentional disconnect from the server for over one minute, and other situations that could be construed as accidental and fairly minor. The sanction defined for these is “Refusal to start, elimination or disqualification.”
The second set of infringements is significantly more serious, carrying definite intention to gain an unfair advantage. This includes:
Incorrect Rider Height/Weight Providing inaccurate information about height or weight. Any information varying by more than 5% from the real measure shall be considered incorrect.
Does 5% seem high to anyone else? That’s over 9cm (3.6″) of height if you’re 183cm (6′) tall. And that’s 3.75kg (8.26 pounds) if you’re a 75kg (165 pound) rider! Probably a much lower number for height, and a slightly lower number for weight would make sense.
Also included here is “Using bots or simulated riders either in-competition or out-of-competition for any reason.” It looks like the UCI learned a lesson from British Cycling/Cam Jeffers here.
This second set of infringements carries escalating penalties:
- First violation: Refusal to start, elimination or disqualification + 200 CHF fine
- Second violation: One-year suspension + 1000 CHF fine
- Third violation: Lifetime suspension + 5000 CHF fine
The third and final set of infringements are the most serious of all: fabricating data, mechanical fraud, hacking/game modification, etc. It also carries escalating penalties:
- First violation: One-year suspension + 1000 CHF fine
- Second violation: Lifetime suspension + 5000 CHF fine
Reactions from Zwift Racers thus far have been mixed. Some say the regulations contain a lot of loopholes, others say they want the UCI to stay away from Zwift racing, and still others see these rules as a necessary step toward greater acceptance of cycling esports.
What are your thoughts on the UCI’s new esports rules? Share them below!