I think the key is to not seek a balance. At least, not in a singular system.
A ranking system where you can only go up is not a ranking system.
If the goal is fair racing, reward for improvement, understanding where you sit amongst your peers, having something to race for in every race regardless of how it was set up and what your expected performance was before the race, a ranking system like ZR.app does the job. Of course there are lots of opportunities to refine it further, but the general feeling right now is it’s in a great place, and we’re dialling in that last few percent rather than anything major.
This, along with, most importantly, variable pen boundaries (sorted however the organiser sees fit), solves for the majority of the problems in Zwift racing.
Then you come on to gamification. Adding a global competitive structure. A reason to race more. A reason to vary race type or race length. There are many ways to do this, but a seasonal points structure seems like a good one. The amount of points available in each race could be determined by the quality of the race, defined by the ranks of the riders taking part. Then modified to account for racing variation, race length, etc. Maybe the Zwift Power points structure is already good for this, but to be honest I’ve never dived in to it, only the ZP ‘rankings’.
The worst thing is to try and achieve both with one system. They can work alongside eachother, but as soon as you try to account for both sets of needs in one ‘rank/points’ system you end up doing one or both things badly.
Example - rank. I am a Gold 1 currently (1785). In off-season and fitness has declined a lot. If I improve my fitness, and/or my skills, I can expect to beat some better riders and improve my rank, probably to Platinum. That is the sole way to improve my rank - get better at the game. Rank is about accuracy.
Example - points maybe I am not going to get fitter. Maybe I don’t train much. Maybe I like to race 10 times a week so am rarely fresh. I want to feel like I am achieving something as I race. I could try to do as well as possible in the Zwift points league this season. To do that I want to race in some good fields - maybe platinum ones so I am up again strong riders. I want to race regularly. I get points for variation, so I do a TT, a short race and long race each week as a mininum. My points are achievements - they are medals. It doesn’t make sense to ever get negative points. I want to be the best gold ranked rider this season in the points league, so I will race based on that goal.
2 very different things.