China's Xu Lijia celebrates her gold medal at London 2012 (Photo: AFP)
Chinese Olympic gold medallist Xu Lijia says eSailing can sharpen decision-making on the water and open up the sport to a new audience as gamers battle it out to be the first world champion.
Virtual Regatta's free Inshore game offers millions of armchair sailors the opportunity to pit their wits against the forces of nature -- all without the need to get wet.
The inaugural eSailing World Championship, which comprises a series of weekly challenges and playoffs, with the boat types and venues changing on a regular basis, runs from May until October.
The playoffs, involving 1,000 competitors, will be an online regatta and will last up to 14 days in September.
The top four ranked women and top four men from the playoffs will qualify for the eSailing World Championship Final in Florida.
Xu, who won gold at London 2012 in the Laser Radial class, is in no doubt the online game can help professionals hone their skills.
"Because it is so fast-changing it can help us become faster in reactions and decision-making and we can apply that on the water," she said at last week's world championship launch in London.
"This is a few minutes and we have to react quickly, otherwise we get left far behind."
Xu, an Olympic bronze medalist on home waters in 2008, is also confident the game can open up the sport to a whole new audience.
"I think almost all kids in China are brought up with technology," said the 30-year-old. "But I hope they can still go out and enjoy the real sport, see the sun shine, experience the fresh air and the water.
"For those kids who are particularly interested in those games this may well fuel their interest and they will say 'mummy, daddy I want to go out in a sail boat'."
World Sailing President Kim Andersen said eSailing could inspire millions more to engage with the sport.
"Aimed at everyone from expert sailors to sports gamers, the eSailing World Championship will enable sailors on shore and fans without access to sailing equipment or facilities to become engaged and inspired by the excitement of sailing," he said.
The game's creator, Philippe Guigne, said thousands of people had discovered sailing through the game and had gone on to try it for real.
Guigne, who was part of the winning team in the 1997 Tour de France a la voile, talked about the challenge of making the sport accessible for all.
"I discovered with my Paris friends who I brought down to La Rochelle to sail that they had no idea of the terms I was using and implored me 'Speak French to us'.
"I realised the terms made the sport inaccessible to a lot of people.
"Thus it has always been in my head to make the language simple to those who do not sail but at the same time you do not want to vulgarise the language so professionals are offended and find it disrespectful. It is a delicate balancing act."