Behind The Scenes: Super League Triathlon CEO Michael D’hulst on The Logistics And Tech Behind The SLT Arena Games

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Column: Super League Triathlon CEO Michael D’hulst

We are counting down the final days until the debut of the SLT Arena Games in Rotterdam and I can promise it will be an event like no other.

The unique nature of what we are doing via our partnership with Zwift with in real life racing coming together with the virtual world, the challenges posed by turning it into a seamless and immersive viewing experience and the additional layer of complication of COVID-19 means the level of planning required is quite extraordinary.

There is no comparison to what we previously thought of as a normal triathlon and we are having to constantly adapt to an ever changing world.

Here’s an overview of some of the challenges we are tackling:

Transporting the athletes

Super League is normally a bit of an international circus with people travelling – athletes, staff, media and television – but now we are doing as much as we can remotely or in a controlled way.

The logistics is even more tricky now that we are in the era of ‘local lockdowns’.

Some of the French athletes and also Javier Gomez are racing the French Grand Prix the day before so we are hiring a huge double decker bus to bring them to Rotterdam.

The drivers have to ensure they have filled up with gas in France and then drive straight through Belgium as we have to be conscious of the local lockdowns in Antwerp.

Also, we had to consider the size of the bus to give the athletes more than enough room for social distancing.

Javier Gomez Noya is competing in the SLT Arena Games in Rotterdam

Remote broadcasting

Originally we planned to do a broadcast where the producers and executive producers were all on site, having bigger and COVID appropriate OB facilities, but now the risk of lockdowns and quarantines has meant we are migrating to a remote broadcast set-up.

The producers won’t be on site and only local cameraman and equipment will be at the venue with the images streamed back to the UK where the producers sit.

This is already a tech heavy event and that becomes even more acute with remote broadcast making connectivity a major topic:

  • The cameras film in Rotterdam and those feeds go into London.
  • We have data going from Rotterdam to Singapore and back to London for graphics
  • Zwift is played out by the athletes in Rotterdam and goes to Edinburgh for editing and then to London for world feed production
  • Zwift will use our graphics so they get the data from Rotterdam, overlay graphics in Edinburgh and then feed to London
  • Will and Macca are doing commentating from their homes in Sydney, Australia feeding that also into London where then the final production of world feed happens and broadcasts to the world

We have to make sure that while all this information is going across the world in real time that there is no delay on anything

Zwift set-up

Traditionally Zwift is set up for individuals to have a gamified experience of cycling or running in their homes. What we are doing is not just cycling or running, we have a cycling and running race, continuous with multiple athletes competing against each other over different disciplines.

We have worked relentlessly with Zwift to adapt the system to cater for that.

For the moment it is not possible to do a continuous duathlon on Zwift so we have to create 40 avatars – ten male cyclists and runners and the same for females – we have to dress them up and give them the facial expressions etc and ensure they have the correct equipment and allocate them to the right races.

We are implementing a Triple Mix format which means it is ever changing.

Anybody who has been on Zwift understands logging onto a race and saving it after is a procedure and now that has to become part of what we do behind the scenes while the athletes seamlessly jump on and off the hardware to race the Triple Mix.

Timing is extremely tight as we are fitting it all into two hours of TV and practically have men and women doing three triathlons each.

We are planning this second by second for the event, anticipating all the use-cases and simplifying so as little as possible can go wrong. Zwift have helped enormously with this.

It’s been a great collaboration but it’s a lot of work to adjust to the reality of a Super League race.

There is definitely a lot of moving parts and a lot more than a normal triathlon to be dealing with.

Super League Triathlon eSports Cycling Series on Zwift Max Stapley

Social distancing for athletes and COVID precautions

It starts with getting the athletes to the venue as described above, and continues with accommodation. Normally there is sharing of rooms but this time absolutely not.

Onsite we have our locker rooms for athletes, that now are carefully to allow for distancing so there is a maximum capacity of five people so they are relatively empty.

During the physical racing we set up the static bike with the Tacx Neo 2T and run stations so they are squares of 2.5m to ensure they are always socially distanced. The only interaction of any kind is running around the pool but that is extremely limited.

Everybody in the venue for the racing other than the athletes while they are racing will wear masks, and as we have all become used to there will be social distancing in place and almost another swimming pool’s worth of hand sanitiser.

The event will have a very distinct look and feel because it is a stadium with a capacity of more than 400 people that will have less than 100 in it so it will be very different, as will pretty much everything about the SLT Arena Games. It’s what makes it so exciting.

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