People are tired of the sandbagging and constant abuse of the race category system by a few against a majority of paying subscribers, ruining the fun and motivation of thousands. Nobody likes it. It cannot be justified. And there is only one way out of it. And that has nothing to do with Watt dampeners, cones, ghosting, enforcing ZP categories, introducing age categories or anything of the kind.
Instead the W/kg based categorization must be removed and get replaced by the only proven system within sports and esports that has ever had a chance to deliver fun, challenge, personal development and fairness across the board over all demographics and levels of fitness, skill or aptitude. And that is a results based system. Past achievements (not efforts) should determine your race category and nothing else, because nothing else matters more.
In the interview with the Zwift Podcast of Feb 6 Eric Min hinted at a future replacing of the W/kg categorization with some form of ranking or results based system. In the meantime we were to be given some sort of consolation in the form of various measures against sandbagging, which have since replaced each other because none of them really works. And the reason why they don’t work is that they don’t solve the underlying problem.
So why the delay? Why the hesitation? Why are we not seeing a results based categorization yet? Granted, it is no easy task to fine tune such a system, but it is not rocket science. It worked for chess players, what, a 100 years ago already? And many esports have already implemented their versions of player rankings and quite successfully too. Oh, and in the US this is how riders are categorized in IRL racing since forever. So obviously it would work for Zwift too.
Any race category system will suck for some, even a system where you have only one category, because that is also a categorization. The problem with the current system is that it is as bad as categorizing riders based on their shoe size. So if your race performance is 3.1 or 3.9 +/-0.2 or your shoe size is 10, then you are a contender by definition. And if you’re not, then you’re a loser. This will happen with any system. The problem with the current system is that it does not encourage category mobility, not enough. There is no inherent mechanics to put riders in their proper categories. You give riders the incentive to stay size 10 even when they are not. Not everyone will grab the opportunity to stay behind, but the opportunity is there and will always attract enough people to ruin racing for the majority.
Nevermind the weight or height cheaters, the problems are worse still. Look at the result list of any race, look at the participants and their efforts. In any race there will be people giving it all to do the very best they can. The zone 4 crowd. And then there are those who ease along in zone 3 until there is a hill or a final sprint. That’s when they drop the competition, while still carefully managing their average W/kg.
There will always be an overrepresentation of the Big Fish in a Small Pond type on any podium below cat A in Zwift, and in cat D and C it is particularly bad. I’m talking about the people to whom winning is so important that they’d rather stay behind in a lower category than move up to where they belong. Just so that they can win. Thereby they remove some of the incentives to participate in the race for everyone else and they also cause some other problems in races. We all know that. I’m perfectly fine with getting beaten by my superiors. Fair is fair. I want them to beat me. But I don’t want to pay to get beaten by cheaters. And these ‘effort managers’, who know how to stay within limits in a lower category, are effectively cheaters. They get rewarded for not doing their best.
Now imagine instead a system where past results will determine your category. If someone has a bad day and can’t or doesn’t want to give it all, then that is fine. But you can’t easy-mode yourself into wins if wins or otherwise good results is what moves you up to the next category. There will always be an incentive to do your best. There will be no way to stay behind in a category and keep winning at the same time. You will have to choose, if you even have the opportunity to. Category limits will still hurt those who happen to fall just above them, but at least the system won’t encourage dishonesty and sub-par efforts.
A results based system will not work well without certain standards when it comes to races. And this will put some pressure on the many clubs in Zwift who do an amazing job already in staging races. But I think most would agree that it would be worth the effort as it benefits everyone in the long run.
So what do I propose? Two things:
Zwift should deliver on the promise ASAP. There should be a results based category system NOW.
As for you Zwift riders… well, why don’t you do like me? If you can’t beat them, join them, they say. So why not help create urgency and emphasize the need for a new category system by breaking the current system apart? I’m dropping category now. Officially, it’s due to previous covid-19 infection, ‘corona kilos’ and a new set of scales. But I intend to crush in the category below me after summer and ■■■■■■ podiums from honest, hard-working, paying subscribers. I’m just waiting for the ZP 3 month cooldown. I suggest you do the same. Because this nonsense has to stop.