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We may be in the midst of Winter Olympics fever at the moment, but we’re only a couple of months away from an exciting new triathlon event: the Arena Games Triathlon powered by Zwift Series, which will crown the first-ever Esports Triathlon World Champion.
Although we were introduced back in 2020 to the Arena Games Triathlon concept, which blends a real life and virtual race experience, this new esports series gives participating athletes the opportunity to earn points toward their World Triathlon rankings, thanks to the new partnership between World Triathlon and Super League Triathlon (SLT).
But what, exactly, does that mean for athletes and fans?
The Esports World Tri Series
The first event of the three-race series will take place in Munich on April 9, 2022, with the second in London on April 23, and the Grand Final in Singapore on May 7. Athletes will collect points over the course of the series, with the male and female winners from the first two races receiving 250 points each, and the finals winners earning 500 points, decreasing by 7.5% for each position thereafter, according to Super League Triathlon CEO Michael D’hulst. The world championship titles will then be awarded based on an athlete’s highest combined score from the finals and one other series event.
And make no mistake—those points are no Monopoly money situation. They’ll also contribute to the athletes’ totals in the World Triathlon rankings. “The championship final is at the same level in terms of points as a World Cup event,” D’hulst explained. “The series events are at the same level as a Continental Cup event.”
While the point levels may match, the fields are much smaller than those typical outdoor events, with only 16-20 athletes each in the mens’ and womens’ races in the Arena Games series races. In the finals, 30 men and 30 women will compete—but that’s significantly smaller than the 60 or more one might see in similar level World Triathlon events. That means Arena Games athletes have a considerably better shot at earning those points, not to mention the prize money and the opportunity to nab a World Championship title.
Unsurprisingly, that has a lot of athletes pretty excited, said Olalla Cernuda, World Triathlon’s head of communications. “Everyone is extremely happy with this announcement… Having these events before the season starts gives them the opportunity of going back to races early in the season,” she said.
As with the other Arena Games races, each event in this series will take place in an indoor facility, with athletes swimming 200m in an Olympic sized pool, then using Zwift on a self-powered treadmill for the 1km run legs and a smart trainer for the 4k bike portions. And these races are formatted a little differently than a traditional triathlon:
- Each event will have heats consisting of two stages (swim-bike-run/swim-bike-run), with the second stage in a pursuit format, meaning the athlete with the fastest time will start first, leaving others to try to catch up.
- The fastest athletes will move on to a final with three stages (swim-bike-run/run-bike-swim/swim-bike-run); the third stage will be in a pursuit format, based on the athlete’s times for the first two stages.
- The grand final in Singapore will also include a repechage, where those who didn’t win their heats, but still placed well, have a chance to compete for a spot in the final.
Who’s Racing — and How to Watch
So, who’s actually competing for this new world title? Those details are coming soon.
“There is a small group of athletes that will be selected by Super League Triathlon,” said D’Hulst. The announcements of those athletes will begin in the coming weeks. “The remainder will come through their federations, and this process will follow the same as it would for other World Triathlon events, meaning start lists will be available around four weeks before the event.”
Because Zwift’s online platform will translate the athletes’ speed and power into a visual race, not only will spectators be able to see the athletes’ epic race faces in real time, thanks to close up shots (which are certainly easier to get when athletes are on a treadmill or trainer than on the road), but they’ll also see what this race would look if the competitors were sharing a stretch of pavement. (Having a hard time picturing it? Take a look at the highlight reel from the 2021 Rotterham Arena Games; you’ll get the idea.)
Tickets are available for in-person spectators in London, and SLT promises entertainment and hospitality options unlike anything the triathlon world has seen before. Organizers hope to be able to offer the same in-person option in Munich, but that all depends on COVID restrictions come April. There are no in-person ticket options for Singapore at this time.
What’s Next for Esports Triathlon?
Crowning an esports Triathlon World Champion is, of course, a huge new step, but there’s more to come—such as, potentially, an extra Olympic triathlon medal with this format.
“Our sport is not easy to implement in the virtual world, but I think the Arena Games is a perfect solution to combine both physically doing a sport and virtually competing against each other,” Olalla said. “It really brings another vision to the sport, and it will open, in the long term, more options of different formats and races that can potentially be part of the Olympic program.”
“The International Olympics Committee wants to see formats like this, so without doubt, it is part of the future of sport. It must be,” D’hulst said.
Although organizers are currently focused on making this series a success, they’re already considering ways to expand—in addition to that Olympic bid. “Future options include potentially running regional leagues for aspiring pros to try and broaden entry and appeal into the sport,” D’hulst said.
In the meantime, start making your predictions about who might be named as the first-ever Esports Triathlon World Champions.