Boundaries between physical and digital sport events are becoming increasingly permeable. The upcoming UCI 2023 Cycling Esports World Championships, which will be held on the virtual cycling platform Zwift is a perfect illustration of all things good about the metaverse. Real-life humans from around the globe competing remotely and simultaneously for world champion status. Riders will wear ECG monitors and attach their bikes to indoor 'smart trainers' which transmit heart rate, power and pedalling cadence data to the Zwift (and to viewers via live webcast overlays controlled by commentators), propelling their in-game avatars forward.
What makes this such a compelling entertainment package is that it blends the best of the physical and digital world. Zwift simulates real-world physics (including aerodynamics, meaning riders expend less energy when in the 'draft' of others). However, riders also collect 'PowerUps' which temporarily adjust in-game metrics (such as the 'feather' which decreases the rider's weight, leading to higher uphill speed). This adds a layer of strategy for those racing and depth for those watching. Riders will race through a digital world that mimics the flora, fauna and architecture of the beautiful Scottish city of Glasgow (where the real-world UCI Cycling World Championships take place this summer) and its mountainous environs. However, they will compete on custom-built routes that celebrate and exploit the unique strengths of virtual racing, rather than dogmatically reflecting real-world roads.
The event is overseen by the UCI (cycling's global governing body), meaning it will be subject to the same stringent anti-doping program and regulations that apply to the Tour de France. In short, the races will be both fun and fair.
Cycling isn't the only sport well-suited for a transition to the digital world. Platforms such as RP3 and EXR Rowing provide a similar experience for rowers and the latter is likely to add racing functionality in future. With the rampant growth in the adoption of such platforms, we expect a corresponding proliferation of digital sport events. As a lawyer, I can't help but muse on the legal hurdles organisations must overcome to deliver immersive and entertaining digital sport events in the metaverse, including:
- Rights clearances for the real-world assets included in the digital world, such as music, logos, designs (bicycle frames, sports clothing, architecture etc.), photographs and artwork;
- Participation agreements with athletes addressing issues such as image and likeness rights, particularly if rendering their appearance as an avatar;
- Talent agreements with the commentators and presenters crucial to ensuring an exciting viewing experience;
- Marketing agreements for event partnerships, endorsements, and the sale of virtual ad inventory and ad overlays for broadcast or webcast;
- Licensing distribution rights, including for broadcast, streaming and VOD platforms;
- Considering merchandise rights to monetise audiences for additional revenue streams;
- Trade mark issues, including whether trade mark protection (for example, a trade mark protecting a bicycle shape) extends to the digital world;
- Jurisdiction issues, particularly where there is no way to geo-block an event;
- Consumer protection compliance (for example, ensuring prize promotions that give viewers the chance to win digital or real-world items or experiences comply with applicable laws); and
- Privacy and data protection compliance (for example, obtaining consent from athletes to collect and display their heart rate data to viewers in real-time).
This list is by no means exhaustive. If you would like to read more, we take a deep dive on this topic in the second edition of our Guide to the Metaverse, which also addresses issues relating to web3, NFTs and the blockchain. That should provide food for thought, until I see you in Zwift on 18 February.