You’d never know to look at me now but I was an athlete from my late teens to my early thirties. I jettisoned the slow-moving high school football in my third year and picked up two years of fast moving, harder hitting rugby, and then got invited to come play amateur rugby for a year. I loved it. It was perfect for the interim year between that and the army, the qualifications for which would require a fitness regimen slightly less than what I myself was accustomed.
The army wasn’t for me and long story short, I stopped working out for a few years while I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. A few years, a college diploma, internship and a handful of bullshit jobs later, and I discovered martial arts and the training regimen was back on like Donkey Kong. It was slow going for awhile. I’d grown a spare tire over the hard earned weight-room muscles—something my metabolism would never let me lose—and there were new limitations to consider.
During the pandemic, I ran my first two 10K’s since my teens and look forward to getting back on the mats. Admittedly, I felt great after both runs. I got lucky with the endorphins, but the weeks after I had a brand new level of post-workout recovery pain ranging from cramped calves to Achilles tendons which still twinge to this day—maybe two months later.
Here’s Reza if you’d prefer to watch rather than read:
It’s these above limitations that have me curious and it would be excellent to have a place to go virtually or in person to maybe learn from experienced runners around my own age about what to expect.
That’s what tweaked my interest about ePlay Digital’s (EPY.C) latest partnership with Spartan.
Ostensibly, it’s a branding ploy. The partnership is combining Spartan’s recognized endurance and extreme wellness brand and ePlay’s augmented reality fitness app, Klocked. It includes a line of digital sneakers, athletic wear and gear to be offered as digital wearables in ePlay’s mobile games and apps.
That’s not what interests me, though.
“Spartan is, perhaps, the largest race organizer in the world. ePlay is committed, especially as we go back to in-person events, to contribute to phenomenal race day experiences for those able to participate in-person or virtually — in either case, users get the option to share their epic running accomplishments and their Avatar wearing Spartan virtual footwear and fan gear,” said Trevor Doerksen, chief executive officer of ePlay Digital.
Community plays a big part of any athletic lifestyle and running’s no different. We need a place to show off our digital trophies, share our sob stories and to complain and celebrate about the sacrifices we’ve made along the way. Slipping on a pair of funny glasses to do that wouldn’t be too much of a stretch, especially if it means you don’t need to move too much a day or two after race day.
The relationship connects ePlay and Spartan, but also their multibillion dollar industries of Endurance events, sports apparel and virtual goods. It helps develops ePlay’s franchises, enhancing their e-commerce line and interactivity. For the endurance sports side of things, it’s the chance to add programmable media and in-game utility through ePlay’s mobile sports, entertainment and e-sports platform.
“Performing your best at a Spartan event requires training, preparation and the right gear,” according to Spartan vice-president of global partnerships, Ian Lawson. “Spartans want access to technology like Klocked, which enables the tracking of training progress, personal bests and our physical journeys with advanced 3-D visualization and augmented reality. Plus it’s a fun way to stay active and when users want to wear the same Spartan ‘OCR Speed’ footwear as their Klocked avatar they can buy the physical merchandise on [Spartan’s website].”
My extreme sport of choice is ultramarathon running. That’s not to say that I’m in any kind of shape to lace ’em up and run the 18.2 km from home to work everyday (I looked it up) as a way of training for a 50K or a 100K. I’m struggling with 10K runs right now and at 42, there’s no way I’m tacking on more miles until that’s no longer a struggle. But those superhuman freaks of nature who do run the miles, and how much punishment they’re willing to put their body through, will always be a fascination of mine, and represent some variety of outside goal.
That being said, Spartan puts on 250 events in more than 40 countries and has had over eight million people finish. They operate DEKA, La Ruta, Spartan Trail and Tough Mudder brands. Branding makes me shrug, but looking up what an actual Spartan Trail run is—namely either a 10K or a half-marathon (13.1 mile) trail run—could make for an interesting physical challenge.
Outside of running, though, there’s more to be said about this deal. Even though the idea of virtual sneakers seems strange, there’s been a proven market for it.
In February, a new start-up sold $3.1 million worth of virtual sneakers in seven minutes. Estimates put the market for skins (or digital wearables for avatars in games like Fortnite) in the range of $40 billion annually. This is definitely a generational thing as I play some of these games and would only buy a new skin for my lily-white default character if someone else other than me paid for it. But some of the kids in these games are all over that stuff.
The 2020 registration fee for events, either virtual or physical, ranged between USD$26.44 and $87.58, and they get about 22 million to 30 million registrations. Also 6.3% of the approximately $1.25 billion registration fee market is driven from athletic wear and merch. The partnership will pick up revenue from fees, merch, and virtual goods and add-ons, including a little gamification wherein the runner can earn points in Klocked while passing other users in the app’s paid races and free group runs.
A little competition never hurt anyone.