The evolution of Esports in triathlon – How supertri brought virtual racing to the mainstream

With less than three weeks to go until the 2024 E World Triathlon Championship powered by Zwift, we take a look back at the evolution of triathlon’s most innovative racing format.

Scheduled to take place this year in London on April 13, the hybrid mix between virtual and reality triathlon racing has established itself in the global calendar since launching in 2020.

Many of the world’s best short course elites, including Beth Potter, Alex Yee, and Cassandre Beaugrand, have previously been featured. And even long course stars such as Lionel Sanders and Lucy Charles-Barclay have taken part. E racing is extremely popular amongst PROs and fans alike. We explore how E Sports came to triathlon, and why supertri have made it a must-watch event in the race calendar.

What is Esports?

Esports is short for electronic sports. It’s generally a competitive version of a sport, involving a type of video game or virtual platform where players compete against each other in an online world.

Women's final at the Arena Games Montreal 2src23
[Photo credit: Super League Triathlon]

The format, which has been popularized by widely played video games such as FIFA and Call Of Duty, started to creatively incorporate mainstream sports over the last decade or so.

In 2017, FIA Formula One Esports Series created a virtual championship using the official F1 video game. After attracting 60,000 players from around the globe, the series crowned a champion. The following year, official F1 teams joined the initiative. Online racers competed for the chance to virtually join the Esports driver lineup for top F1 teams, including Mercedes and Red Bull Racing. The format even facilitated the hosting of a Virtual Grand Prix in 2020 after the pandemic disrupted the usual real-world racing series.

Triathlon and cycling embrace virtual racing

In the multi-sport world, Zwift has been the main player responsible for gamifying both cycling and triathlon training and racing. In 2020, the UCI established a Cycling Esports World Championship which continues to be run on the platform. And Zwift themselves host a yearly Academy program which provides amateur virtual cyclists with the opportunity to compete for a place on professional world tour development teams.

In triathlon, supertri (formerly known as Super League Triathlon), launched the first Esports triathlon event during the Covid-19 pandemic, hosting the Arena Games Triathlon in Rotterdam in August 2020. Amid Covid-19 restrictions, creating a ‘concentrated’ version of triathlon became possible by using indoor pools, turbo trainers, and treadmills when the traditional real-world configuration of the sport wasn’t feasible.

The Olympic Games and Esports

The Olympics continue to be the pinnacle of sports, and ‘regular’ triathlon was added to that mix in 2000, with the multisport event first included at the Sydney Olympic Games.

CEO Michael Dhulst Super League Neom 2src23” width=”128src”>
Michael D’hulst speaking in Neom in 2023 [Photo redit: Super League Neom 2023]

And now there’s an ambition to take a new form of swim-bike-run to the Olympics. Plenty of talk has circulated about including the Esports triathlon format in the Olympics with supertri co-founder and CEO Michael D’hulst a big proponent of this dream.

Last year, in a promising step, the IOC held The Olympics Esports Series, with sports including cycling, motorsport, baseball and chess. 2023 also saw the first ever Olympic Esports Week in Singapore with supertri’s Arena Games triathlon format featuring as an exhibition event. IOC President Thomas Bach has since explored options to create an Olympic Esports Games, which involved the creation of the IOC Esports Commission and the launch of the Olympic Virtual Series.

The Arena Games and triathlon’s Esports evolution

Since the launch of the Arena Games Triathlon in 2020, supertri have organized an event or series every season. Featuring a pool swim, a virtual bike ride on a turbo trainer powered by Zwift, then a treadmill run leg also powered by Zwift. The action is non-stop and gives fans a whole new spectator experience as they see all the action unfold live and up close.

The racing has seen stars such as Lionel Sanders and Charles-Barclay, plus WTCS World Champions and Olympic medalists like Beth Potter and Henri Schoeman, battle it out for the world titles in recent years. While the world grappled with the continued impact of the pandemic in 2021. Rotterdam and London set the stage for two Arena Games Triathlon events.

In 2022, the series was expanded to three races in Munich, Singapore and London. A partnership with World Triathlon meant the overall winner would be awarded the title of Esports Triathlon World Champion. In the men’s series, Alex Yee bested Justus Nieschlag and Hayden Wilde to take the title in the final. And for the women, a dramatic injury for Jess Learmonth in the final left Beth Potter to battle it out with Zsanett Bragmayer and ultimately take the overall crown.

In 2023, the Arena Games Triathlon format continued with the three race series, crowning a World Champion after events in Montreal, Sursee and then the Grand Finale in London. There were fireworks aplenty over the course of the series. From Lionel Sanders’ appearance in Montreal, to Chase McQueen’s impressive display of butterfly in London. The young next gen athlete Fanni Szalai exploding onto the scene in Sursee and establishing herself as one to watch. And an epic battle between Cassandre Beaugrand and Beth Potter, while Sophie Linn ultimately took the overall title in London.

The racing, which captured the imagination of triathlon fans and breathed new life into the sport, heralded an innovative addition to triathlon during the pandemic and has continued to evolve since.

Arena Games Triathlon, London, UK, 2src23 men's podium finishers” width=”128src”>
Photo Credit: Super League Triathlon

History of Arena Games Triathlon Winners

2020 (Single Race): Justus Nieschlag (GER) / Jess Learmonth (GBR)

2021 (Rotterdam): Marten Van Riel (BEL) / Sophie Coldwell (GBR)

2021 (London): Marten Van Riel (BEL) / Beth Potter (GBR)

2022 (World Championship Series): Alex Yee (GBR) / Beth Potter (GBR)

2023 (World Championship Series): Henri Schoeman (RSA) / Sophie Linn (AUS)

The 2024 E World Triathlon Championship

The top professionals will battle it out over a single day of racing for the world title at this year’s E World Triathlon Championship, scheduled for Saturday April 13 in London.

Taking place at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, the professionals will race over heats and finals. The heats will consist of two stages of swim, bike, run with a short break between them and a pursuit start for stage two. 

The finals will be the full supertri E World Triathlon Championship format (Swim – Bike – Run // Run – Bike – Swim // Swim – Bike – Run) with a pursuit start in stage three.

While 60 athletes will start the competition at the beginning of the day. Only 10 men and 10 women will make it through to the evening finals, which will see them competing in front of packed crowds at the London Aquatics Centre. Amid the top names competing for the short at the biggest crown in virtual racing, you’ll find the likes of Olympic hopefuls Jonny Brownlee, Cassandre Beaugrand, and Katie Zaferes. Making it a must-watch event during the build up to the Paris 2024 Olympics.


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