Zwift has done the impossible. The company has turned one of the most boring, universally-neglected pieces of exercise equipment into an exciting MMO, or massively multiplayer online game.
The arrival of COVID-19 has radically accelerated the rise in indoor exercise - indeed, Cycling Industry News stated that the indoor trainer market is amongst the greatest beneficiaries of the pandemic. According to Market Watch, the worldwide market for indoor cycling bikes has a value of $630 million in 2020, and is projected to grow to $932.7 million by the end of 2026.
Zwift, a MMO platform for indoor running and cycling, has just secured $450 million in funding led by global investment firm KKR. Other investors include Permira, Specialized Bicycle Components’ venture capital fund, Zone 5 Ventures and the Amazon Alexa Fund, in addition to their existing investors True, Highland Europe, Novator and Causeway Media.
To say Zwift is popular would be an understatement, given that the platform now boasts 2.5 million registered accounts across 190 countries. With the newly secured funding and unprecedented market growth, this figure looks set to rise even more.
The investment will be used to further develop Zwift’s proprietary software platform and to introduce its own bike for the market - a wise move for the company given how much indoor cycling has taken off during the pandemic.
Stephen Shanley, Director at KKR, said in a release that Zwift sits at the intersection of digital health, gaming and at-home fitness, adding that, “We see tremendous potential ahead as Zwift invests further in its digital and physical products to enhance the experience for its global community of enthusiastic users.”
Zwift brings cycling and running indoors via your PC, Mac, smartphone or tablet. Slip on some exercise gear, sign in to the platform, and immediately start training in an immersive 3D world where your avatar can traverse some 240 miles of track. With eight virtual worlds to choose from, riders and runners can participate in various training programs and plenty of new events to join on a daily basis.
The social aspect of the platform has proven to be very popular with users craving personal interaction as a result of social distancing. The platform allows runners and cyclists to create their own groups and meet up from the comfort of home.
With a potential second wave of COVID-19 on the horizon, holding live sporting events that attract large crowds anytime soon is looking increasingly unlikely. In the meantime, platforms like Zwift make it possible to exercise and socialize safely during the pandemic.
Now, Zwift is partnering with the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the world governing body for sports cycling, to host the very first UCI Cycling Esports World Championships in December 2020.
The event, which will be broadcast around the world, will take place within Zwift’s virtual world Watopia. Competitors will race on identical courses over equal distances and for equal prize money irrespective of gender - a first for competitive cycling.
This isn’t the first time Zwift has hosted a prestigious sporting event in its virtual world, either; having already hosted the first virtual Tour de France in July.
Zwift finds itself in close competition with a number of other indoor exercise platforms, the most prominent of which are Rouvy and TrainerRoad.
Like Zwift, Rouvy has also proved keen to jump into hosting real-world events on its virtual platform, having launched the first virtual races to feature pro cycling teams back in April in partnership with the Tour de Suisse and Velon. Nineteen of the best teams in the world competed in the Digital Swiss 5 for five days using the Rouvy Indoor Cycling Reality platform as fans livestreamed the event around the globe. Unlike Zwift, Rouvy opts to use footage of real roads to create their cycling courses, complete with elevation changes.
Despite the competition and rapid expansion of, until recently, a rather niche market, Zwift looks set to maintain its speedy expansion on the back of its latest funding acquisition.