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After an update on Wednesday, Zwift allows you to hide the data provided in the heads-up display view. That’s right, you can now just look at your avatar pedaling around the virtual course without all of the numbers and metrics.
Pressing the “H” key will bring up a screen to allow you to suppress all ride data — speed, distance, elevation gain, time, nearby riders, power, cadence, and heart rate — and display only your avatar, and others’, in the game.
To reveal data and go back into the familiar view, press “H” again.
A future update to the Zwift companion app will provide similar functionality to using the keyboard.
Updates to rider data viewable have been put on pause
VeloNews reported last week that ZwiftPower was planning to hide riders’ heights and weights from being publicly displayed, with similar masking of these data points in the Zwift Companion app.
Height and weight are not displayed in the Zwift game, however, watts/kilogram can be viewed.
Zwift senior public relations manager Chris Snook said that Zwift will also hide a rider’s height in the Zwift Companion app in a forthcoming update. Riders will still need to upload their accurate height and weight, however, those statistics will simply no longer be visible to other competitors.
“When these changes roll out, my understanding is you’ll see name, age, country, and that’s it,” Snook said. “You’ll still be left with all the other information time splits normalized power average power watts per kilo. And then have all those broken down by five-minute power 10-second power, [it’s] just the labels that will be removed.”
The changes are for the entire Zwift universe, and not just competitive Zwift racers.
“The purpose for this rollout is to just remove those labels, and it’s not primarily targeted at the high end of racing; it’s targeted at every user,” Snook said.
Zwift is taking steps to address other aspects of health and wellness, and not just improving fitness by riding a bike. Concerns about eating disorders among riders are being addressed. Snook acknowledges that it’s hard for Zwifters to not compare their own height and weight to other riders, and this may lead to unhealthy practices.
“Health and wellness is something that we’re focusing on more and more, and it has been a topic of conversation that’s come up within the Zwift community, on a more frequent basis,” Snook said. “Concerns around disordered eating, health problems, RED-S, exist within the sport, and particularly within endurance sport and cycling being one of those sports where [the] right weight really becomes a consideration and it can lead to problems.”
“There are necessary inputs like weight for it to work, and what we just want to do is try and reduce some of those issues, as well as have a healthy conversation around eating correct training and fueling,” Snook said.
Community policing of Zwift cheats
Of course, hiding riders’ heights and weights beg the question of how to police in-game cheating. Inputting an artificially low weight allows riders to climb more quickly, while a low height reduces one’s aerodynamic drag in the game, which may also allow for greater speeds with less effort, depending on route, and several other factors.
While hiding some of these metrics may have some altruistic intentions and has been created with good intentions, questions remain about community policing of cheating outside of premier league racing.
“I think the conversation has naturally flowed towards racing and anti-cheating measures,” Snook said. “So yeah, we’re gonna pause [the rollout to hide weights], we’re going to make sure that we address those anti-cheating measures.”
Zwift said that they have been focusing on improving all aspects of the game, and not just the racing element. This means addressing weight doping, sandbagging (ed., entering a race category that’s easier than one’s game-suggested category), or other cheating methods. And Zwift hints at looking at other means and methods for race categorization.
“This is a challenging issue and it will continue to be a challenging challenging issue, so long as weight is one of the key metrics,” Snook stated. “We don’t want to make any promises around what’s going to be delivered, or when it might be delivered, but there are a number of different options available and they can potentially reduce the emphasis on weight and particularly watts per kilo.”
Currently, Zwift is not planning on any changes in the immediate future to the Premier League racing, or rules and requirements for racing (e.g., rider-submitted weigh-in videos no more than two hours prior to racing, dual power measurement, heart rate monitoring, and more).
Snook said, “as far as weight and accuracy of weight, it’s really buttoned down for those with Premier League. There’s a verification process that you need to follow that involves a number of steps it’s all done by video scales are calibrated weights are verified.”
“In the Premier Division [it] is extremely accurate, but some of the measures that we’ve, we introduced before Season Three were aimed, or focused on the wellness [of racers],” Snook said. “Game dynamics do change relatively frequently. We’re always tweaking with algorithms to improve they call the pack dynamic to ‘the blob.’”
Changes in the game
While Zwift is looking after the health and wellness of all of its subscribers — particularly those who must submit verified height and weight as required for some events — racers are also asking for transparency to ensure that fairness is maintained, all while racing gets more competitive.
Holden Comeau, who represented the United States at the first-ever UCI esports world cycling championships (“Zwift Worlds”) said that changes are needed, to ensure competitors are practicing healthy habits but that for racing, fairness is still a major concern. He noted that there are still calls for Zwift to maintain fairness in the game.
“I saw a comment from a community rider somewhere who said, ‘We don’t want to see people’s height and weight. We want fair racing.’ Being able to see competitors’ height and weight is a critical piece in an otherwise inelegant solution at the moment,” the former world number-one racer said.
While he’s not been racing in Premier League events this season, Comeau has observed that since the UCI championships, community racing has become relatively easier, but the top races are much more competitive.
“There’s been this shift on the spectrum where community races have gotten easier. And the Premier League racing program races on the top have gotten considerably more difficult,” he said.
Comeau realized that at the pointy end of racing, the game is much faster. Whereas Comeau once raced into peak form, he can no longer take an unstructured approach to prepare for League racing.
“I never thought about training really, you know, I’m just gonna go and race, and I’ll race myself into fitness and stay on top of it enough so that I’ll constantly be fit just by racing four, five times a week,” he said. “That’s not enough anymore because just racing in community races throughout the week is not hard, and we don’t go hard enough.”
And while the community races may be easier, Comeau observes that top events are much harder, and require more commitment to achieve success.
“I’m at the point right now where I’m questioning whether or not I’m going to be able to continue,” Comeau said. “We’re going to need to make a significant adjustment and then figure out a way to reinvent myself as an athlete, even more substantially than I have been.”
Getting faster, but at what cost
Comeau observed the maturing of Zwift over the past several years, and with the maturity also came the temptation for unhealthy practices, and winning at great cost.
“I think it is important to keep sensitive data, personal data, private. Displaying height and weight — I think it leads to behaviors, you know, from the communities that are just not good, and that’s not what sport is about,” he said. “I think that was not in the spirit of good health and fitness to be putting something out there and putting that data out there that can lead to questionable behavior or dangerous behavior.”
While Comeau agrees with Zwift’s decision to hide some of the rider data — whenever this happens — he recognizes the challenges this poses from a technology standpoint, and also a fairness standpoint.
“There’s got to be some solution to policing, how this is all handled,” Comeau said. “I’m definitely in the camp of feeling as though it’s a good thing that sensitive data is no longer publicly available. I don’t think it was appropriate that that should be out there,” he said.
“[But] there’s been nothing from Zwift that is giving any confidence at all, whatsoever to the community, that, you know, that race is going to continue to be to move in the direction of fairness,” he said. “When you’re racing against other people who are clearly cheating in some way, it really ruins the experience is not fun at all.”
Comeau highlights the importance of community policing of community racing and the tricky issues which need to be addressed to keep all Zwift users and racers alike coming back for more rides.
“In all the community racing, you can do whatever you want. And having weight and height on display was just one of those things that helps people feel more comfortable — that the people who they were racing against were not cheating,” he said. Removing the display of weight removes the temptation for comparison, but it also removes the ability for riders to help ensure fairness in the events in which they participate. “There’s some risk that the experience could deteriorate even further [without transparency].”
Comeau sees fairness while fostering healthy competition needs to have a technological solution. Zwift is still at a point in which it relies upon its users for help in ensuring the best user experience.
“I think I think ultimately…they’re a tech company, [so there] needs to be a tech solution,” Comeau said. “It’s odd to me, you know, and particularly as these changes in rules are happening, there are just these oversights that seem sort of haphazard.”
Reacting to Zwift walking back the proposed changes to displaying riders’ height and weight, Comeau said, “I think it means they don’t have a solution yet for improving the integrity of community races.”