Games Changer: The Future of Competitive CrossFit

This week, CrossFit headquarters fired something like 40% of its staff, and stated that the format of the CrossFit Games would be changing. They are altering the three-stage selection process, and are seemingly trying to shift the emphasis of their organization from how the larger world sees them now into something different. 

The Open is staying, but is being moved up to October (for next year). The Games are staying, and will continue to be held in August. The Regionals, on the other hand, are going away. 

In place of the Regional competitions, we’ll have “16 qualifying events throughout the year” between the Open and the Games. Events some of you may know and follow like Wodapalooza and the Granite Games and the Dubai Fitness Championships would probably become Major-like tournaments that would serve as a kind of Pro Circuit for the athletes. Winning one would get you a spot at the Games. 

Apparently, every country that has a CrossFit gym will get to send an athlete to the Games via the Open. Like the Olympics. So now there are dozens of athletes trying to find a country with a single gym where they can be the top dog. 

It’s all odd. It’s most certainly incomplete information. 

I have some initial judgements. 

The Games must have been losing way more money than we thought. It can’t have been profitable, even with everyone’s Open fees pooled together, to put on an event of that magnitude every year. The Regionals especially have to have been a financial sinkhole. Being in the red was probably a decision made by the Games division as a way to “market” for affiliate gyms. A marketing expense that they didn’t see paying off. Moving to Madison, trimming the fat on the equipment (re-using gear multiple years in a row), and other thrifty moves were like little warning signs that something like this was coming. 

When CrossFit first started its Games, other competitions cropped up as “CrossFit” events because of the popularity of the first and second backyard barbecues in Aromas. In defense of their brand and name, they squashed the use of their name in any non-sanctioned event (anything other than the Games). As a result, you saw a lot of “CrossFit” competitions going by names like “fitness championships” and “throw down” and stuff like that. It made some sense at the time, but it always rubbed me the wrong way. This recent move seems to have robbed them of their leverage as an organization, as they now appear to be coming hat in hand to these other comps and asking them to be a part of their pro circuit. 

The best thing that could have happened to the CrossFit Games is for it to be taken away from Dave Castro. The level of control he exercised over the sport, and in turn the athletes’ lives and livelihood, was a stranglehold that choked growth and innovation. He’s a talented programmer, but the last three years have shown what I think are some blind spots that a round table team of masterminds could have prevented. As it stood, he was surrounded by sycophants and was never challenged when he had bad ideas. 

This news came out not as a press release, or an official statement, but as part of an interview with Greg Glassman. He’s the creator of CrossFit, but has been deep in the litigation side of things for the last several years. His comments on the new format alongside the firings of most of the Games staff are classic HQ. It’s another unprofessional cluster of speculation at this point. A media and PR team could do something about this, but they all just got let go. 

Here’s what I like: 

I like that events around the year will become more cohesive. Wodapalooza and the DFC and the Granite Games are awesome events, and they can get tons more attention now that the "ultimate proving ground" cares what happens there. 

I like the idea of competing year round as a sport, from October and through the winter and spring at these other events. I would LOVE to go to Wodapalooza, for one. Anyone else coming this year? 

I like that CrossFit is saying that their emphasis as an organization will be more on health than the elite performers. They’ve always declared this, but with all the focus on the Games, the “everyday affiliates” were most certainly overshadowed. 

I like that Dave Castro might have his stranglehold on the sport loosened so it can grow. 

Here’s what I don’t like: 

I don’t like that the Regionals are going away. They’re fun: I’d even say they’re MORE fun than the Games! The stakes seem higher, as everyone there is trying to get a ticket to the big show.

I don’t like how CrossFit is trying to get other comps, which it spurned in the first place, to play into its Games. 

 

I don’t like that (as it appears right now) one man, woman, and team per country gets to go to the Games. It’s not the Olympics. I don’t want to watch Mat Fraser stomp some token Madagascar dude, nor a landlocked nation state team drown in the Lake in Madison. 

I don’t like how Glassman runs his company like a biker gang, by fiat. CrossFit has so many fervent, passionate, professional, and somewhat dependent collaborators in the form of affiliate owners and athletes, that shoot-from-the-hip announcements and decisions like this make them look like amateurs. 

There’s no guarantee that the Games will stay as the ultimate league for the sport of fitness. Nike has more market share on CrossFitters’ feet than Reebok, and Reebok had a 3-year head start. All it would take to unseat the CFGames as the Super Bowl of exercise is a competition willing to match or beat the prize money. If Dubai pays out 500k for first place, there might not be a Games in 3 years. 

Those are my initial thoughts. I reserve the right to change them as more information comes out. If it comes out. 

In the meantime, I’ll see you on the floor. 

-M