Sailing launches eSport virtual competition

The eSailing World Championship is the sport's attempt to engage new audiences.

Story highlights

  • Sailing launches eSport virtual regatta
  • World Sailing develops eSailing World Championship
  • Sailing to vote on Olympic classes

(CNN)It is the epitome of an outdoor sport, with wind in the hair, spray in the face and your boat bouncing over sparkling seas.

But sailing has succumbed to the relentless creep of the digital age.
Like Formula One, soccer's FIFA and sports organizations the world over, sailing's governing body World Sailing is tapping into the eSports generation.
    Innovation and expansion beyond their core areas is the buzzword for all sports these days -- from fantasy leagues and virtual simulators to shortened formats, added entertainment and even a revolutionary wave pool in professional surfing -- as officials, financiers and those with an eye on building the grassroots attempt to attract a new raft of engaged fans.
    And eSports is growing at such a rate worldwide that it will feature as a demonstration event at this year's Asian Games in Indonesia.
    As such the inaugural eSailing World Championship, launched at the organization's modern new London headquarters, is sailing's attempt to harness the global digital community and spread the word about the sport.
    The online platfom allows gamers all over the world to compete in virtual regattas.
    The free-to-play game, developed by Virtual Regatta, offers players worldwide the chance to race against others, taking account of their boat's behavior, wind and conditions. All from the comfort of their homes.
    The online competition will take the form of weekly races with different boat types and venues.
    The available boats include the J/70 keelboat, the Nacra 17 (the Olympic mixed multihull), the 49er and 49erFX (high-performance men's and women's Olympic skiff), and the Melges 32 keelboat.
    The top five players from each weekly challenge, plus some from the ongoing world rankings, will qualify for a playoff series before a live arena final in Sarasota, Florida on October 30.
    World Sailing resident Kim Andersen says the body has a duty to "develop and promote the popularity of the sport" and "embrace the future with open arms," and claims the game will take sailing into "a brave new world that is going to revolutionize our sport."
    The Dane's claim is a bold one, but China's Lijia Xu, a two-time Olympic sailing medalist and London 2012 champion, suggests it could have some substance.
    "Almost everyone in this world plays some sort of technology so if some non-sailing people play this eSailing championship and think it's really fun they may try a real boat on the water," said Xu, who was present at the launch in London.
    "I know many, many people in China play games in other sports so I'm really glad to see that sailing has something to play with on a phone or iPad."
    Virtual Regatta's founder Philippe Guigne says the company, which also developed a platform for sailing's Volvo Ocean Race, had one million active players of its games over the last 12 months, including a record 485,000 online participants for the Vendee Globe game.

    Olympic sailing under review

    Andersen is set to preside over a meeting which could have far more wide-reaching effects on the sport as World Sailing's global members vote on the future of five of the current 10 Olympic sailing classes for Paris 2024.
    Under review are the men's and women's windsurfer classes, the men's single-handed heavyweight dinghy (Finn), and the men's and women's two-person dinghy (470).
    World Sailing says it has received 58 submissions from class associations and national authorities over the make-up of the Olympic classes, and the body's council will vote next week on the final list of events for Paris 2024.
    "It's causing a lot of, not uproar, but interest and the outcome could go in many directions," Andersen told CNN Sport.
    "Personally, I'm very much focused on the issue of gender equity throughout the sport, not just in Olympic events. This is why I'm in favor of four mixed events at the Olympics going forward."
    At present the Nacra 17 is the only mixed event on the program.