Thoughts about cheating on Zwift

Saturday, February 2nd, 2019 at 7:19 pm | 819 views | trackback url
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Let’s talk about cheating for a moment. There, I’ve said it. Throw the tomatoes, the Park wrench or the AppleTV remote at me. Save the criticism for the comment section!

I’m a huge data nerd. Many of you already know that. Having clean and correct data on Zwift, only helps us improve as athletes and riders.

I’ve put a LOT of thought into this over the last few years, and have had personal conversations with Eric, Steve Beckett., Jon and others about it, including sharing some of the ideas I’ve had to mitigate it. I’ve read the rants, the promoters, the detractors, all of it from all sides. So has Zwift HQ.

Forget streaming video of riders, or putting trainers on a platform with integrated scales or integrating weight-in equipment into the bikes themselves. When you do that, you kill the enjoyment for others who can’t reach that echelon, but still want to “race” on Zwift. You’d be excluding people who might have the ability, but not the means.

So here’s my proposal, a draft that I’ve been cooking up for a few years, which hopes to not only help curb cheating, but also increase the adoption of Zwift in local centers, the LBS, as well as make sure you don’t constrain race events to KICKR or TacX Neo only events.

  1. Begin the distribution of Certified Zwift Engineers (aka “ZCE”). These would initially probably be the bike mechanic at your LBS to start with. They’re already there, they have the gear and they’re probably fixing your bike or adding equipment each season already. The ZCE would be able to train up on all aspects of Zwift, including app/game configuration, optimizing the experience for the end user. Oh, you have a Dell laptop with an integrated video card? Here’s some settings you can apply to make that work for you during crowded group events.They’d also be trained in how to configure and validate bike fit, power meters and sensors that tie back to the machine/device used to run Zwift. Having drop-outs? Here’s the tools to identify drop-outs and some workarounds that can help.

    This engages the LBS mechanics and the LBS itself to be a part of the growing Zwift ecosystem, not only just as an endpoint for bike upgrades and repair, but a full, end-to-end solution for building out a Zwift environment for the riders.

    Incentivizing those LBS mechanics to become ZCE then has the potential to ensure that more people come into the shop for bike fit, possible recommendations, upgrades, etc. I haven’t met a single bike mechanic who hates cycling. They do it because they have a passion for it, and they, like others, want to grow that passion. Who wouldn’t turn down the ability to learn something new and exciting about your passion?

  2. Those same LBS that have their mechanics certified as ZCE, can now brand their shop as “Zwift Certified Training Center”, and teach riders how to use Zwift (ala spin class? LBS Fondo?). Tactics, when to drain your power-up so you can pull the next one over that hill. Buying a trainer at Best Buy won’t have the same overall value as buying it at your Zwift Certified LBS, even if Best Buy has them for 10% cheaper.
  3. Those same LBS + ZCE, can now perform equipment certification and qualification. They can properly calibrate your Power Meter + trainer combination, regardless of what you’re using. Forget trusting Qalvin on your iOS device to calibrate your Quarq PM or trusting your Garmin Vector pedals to be accurate out of the box, let the ZCE at your LBS (ZBS?) handle that for you.

Trust, but verify, as we say in my field.

They can also do the weigh-in right there at the shop, after calibrating your gear. The output of that now-calibrated Zwift setup and weigh in, is a printed certificate of authenticity of your bike, trainer, gear and your own fitness.

A piece of paper, so what you say? But wait, there’s more. What can you do with that?

Printed ON that certificate, is a unique code, generated by Zwift itself (this service does not yet exist, and would have to be created, more on that in a moment). You would then be responsible for making sure that your gear is not “altered” before or during a race. Alterations like that can be detected (ZwiftPower + formerly ZADA have tools to do this already).

This unique code would be entered before you join a race event, either at the time you sign up, or right as the event starts. It would be entered much like we do for jersey promo codes today. This is your “Zwift Race Number” (ZRN? Too many TLAs yet?).

If your gear is found to be ‘suspect’, you are unable to qualify until you remediate your gear. Your ZRN is now locked, and you can’t use it to enter any ‘official’ race events until address it. To do so, you get one free re-calibration at the ZBS, and they can unlock your ZRN for you, before further re-calibrations come at a cost.

So, what’s missing from this approach?

For starters, Zwift does not have the ability to generate these unique codes, nor any way to manage them in your user account record. Yet.

But the scaffolding to enter codes to unlock capabilities is already there. They’d have to design and build that frame work, and work with partners to make sure fits the needs of their own roadmap. It’s not something to be taken lightly, but neither is eSports or the growing community of cheaters who are going undetected.

They also don’t have a ‘Certification’ program, defined criteria, training modules or anything like that. That curriculum would have to be developed, tested and disseminated amongst the interested LBS/ZBS, training centers, bike mechanics and anyone else who wants to open up their own Zwift Certified Training Center.

But having the certification program begins to create a standard, that all trainers and eSports athletes have to begin to adhere to. It’s a great position for Zwift to be in right now, helping to define the standards and at the same time, increasing their market share by pushing eSports and ZCEs/ZRNs into the LBS.

You, as a potential eSports athlete, would now be held accountable for making sure your own gear is calibrated, your weight accurate and true, and that you manage that ZRN with all the power that comes with it.

As eSports moves up the ladder and starts adding purses for winning, and actual financial incentives, sponsorships, team selection criteria, it becomes more and more important to take steps like this.

So sure, throw your streaming camera up there, show people you’re really the 70kg your profile says you are, that’s fine. But if you want to compete in a race that has value, actual impact, financial incentives to win, then grab your trainer, bike and head to your local LBS, get weighed in, certified, and enter that ZRN the next time you want to join those events.

At some regular interval, or when you upgrade gear, bike, power meter, or the start of a new season, you go back to the LBS/ZBS, schedule an appointment for a bike tune-up, equipment review and re-certify with your new ZRN, ready to smash those Zwift Racing Event records online!

I think this has some real potential, by engaging the participating LBS’ to get onboard with certifying Zwift equipment, trainers, power meters, but also bringing them into the fold of eSports.

It’s very unlikely someone who has the intent to cheat, is going to take all the effort to get their ZRN at their local ZBS, take that gear home, and alter it to gain an advantage. If they do, there are checks-and-balances in place to DQ them, invalidate their ZRN until they go back and re-certify, and keep those events clean.

It also helps validate those riders who TRULY want to compete, and will make sure their gear is dialed in.

So let the cheaters can go ahead and tinker with their gear, take the effort to certify and then falsify their gear and get DQ’d. They only do that to the embarrassment of themselves, not Zwift as a growing eSports platform.

Your thoughts? Let’s discuss.

Last Modified: Saturday, May 30th, 2020 @ 19:52

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