CrossFit Open 2011 Criticisms

19:56 Sun 15 May 2011
[, , , ]

Through the seven weeks of the CrossFit Open, plus an additional week or so to allow for the system to settle on a reliable ranking for me, I’ve been focused on my own performance and hitting my goals. But it was impossible not to be very aware of the significant mess that CrossFit HQ made of the event, and the problems in the community this exposed.

I didn’t particularly want to write this post—I don’t want to write CrossFit posts about how annoyed I am by the CrossFit organization. I’ve been doing CrossFit for just under two years and it’s been really fantastic for me. I’m in the best shape of my life because of it and I’ve been inspired by it, and it’s brought about major positive changes in my life. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to let the incompetence and disdain displayed during the CrossFit Open go by without comment.

These were the main problematic areas: Website Problems, Attitude, Community Reaction, and Athletic Programming.

Website Problems

That they got it working in the end doesn’t really alter how much of a disaster the site was the outset. While there were quite a lot of problems, two stood out in particular:

  • The inability to deliver the details of the first workout for several hours after it was supposed to be announced.
  • The inability to properly accept registrations and score submissions.

For an in-depth critique of the approach that likely led to these problems, see “CrossFit Games Website – Some 3:00 AM Musings”. I agree with just about everything in that article, and the emphasis on the lack of testing is entirely appropriate. I’d go further and argue that behind the lack of testing was an attitude that encouraged a focus on “cool features” instead of making sure that the key functionality was rock solid.

All the technical problems were annoying, but technical problems can happen to anyone. The really problematic side of this was the attitude exhibited by CrossFit HQ.


Before the Open began, there was a lot of talk about how great the website would be; there was also a strong suggestion that things would be very tightly run. To set up those expectations and then have the site fall over when the Open is supposed to start is a classic case of over-promising and under-delivering.

The organizers’ response to the technical difficulties preventing the details of the first workout being disseminated was indicative of their questionable focus throughout. As soon as it became clear that their site wouldn’t be able to handle the traffic, there were two obvious steps to take:

  • On games.crossfit.com, redirect all traffic to a simple, non-dynamic HTML page with the workout details on it. Nothing else on the site was as important as finding out what the workout was. Releasing the workout would both deliver information to people and, as they got that information and stopped refreshing, decrease the load—also, of course, plain HTML content is really easy to deliver, thus also decreasing load.
  • Put the workout details out through all other available channels, particularly crossfit.com, crossfithq on FB, and crossfit games on FB.

They never did the former, and didn’t do the latter for six-and-a-half hours, the difference between being able to do the workout in the evening and having to do it in the middle of the night—a difference that later caused them to extend the entire competition by a full week.

I can only think of three explanations for why they didn’t do both immediately:

  • It wasn’t technically possible for them.
  • It didn’t occur to them.
  • They had their heads up their asses so far that they didn’t want to release the info without the surrounding features they’d been talking up.

I’m really not sure which of those is worse, although I do see those three as different realms of incompetence. Not being able to figure out how to do it technically would mean lack of appropriate skills and experience; not thinking of the option would mean a broader problem-solving inability; not wanting to do it would mean prioritizing pride and stupid shit over the interests of their most committed users.

After the registration/score submission problems, the organizers’ responses were as bad if not worse. They didn’t put up any articles on the site addressing the problems and giving users any info on how to deal with them. They did continue to put up other articles, however, making it look as if they were unaware of or ignoring the problems.

With no indication of how to get help, users were left submitting comments with their scores in them instead of registering, and there was no systematic response to those comments either. The first official reaction to those issues, bizarrely, came in the first “This Week at the Open” video—and was at the end of it. If it’s obvious that users are freaking out, and you know you need to address this, why would you wait until you record a video to address the problems? It’s clear that the right thing to do would have been to put up an article detailing the steps users could take and acknowledging the problems. Instead, they appeared to use the fact that people were desperate for information as a way to get them to watch the video.

In that video, the response left a lot to be desired: instead of being forthrightly apologetic and acknowledging that a lot of entrants had had to waste time and energy dealing with something that should never have been an issue, they instead chose to emphasize what an ambitious project the whole thing was and tried to spin it as a success because “only a tiny percentage of users were affected”.

Even though they charged people $10 for a service that would track their performance through the competition, they didn’t seem to feel that it was fair to expect them to actually provide such a service. Their response should have been an immediate and sincere apology, followed by a refund for those affected—not that that would have really been much comfort to those entrants, but at least it would have shown that they were taking the problem seriously. If it’s true that about 1% of users were affected, that’s around 300 people, and so a mere $3000. That they did neither of those things demonstrates a distinct lack of respect for their users.

If the site were a free one and were run by a bunch of volunteers out of a Santa Cruz garage, then its performance might have been excusable. I certainly would have been more sympathetic to their issues—but that’s not the situation. It’s a hugely successful business with tremendous resources and a sponsorship deal with Reebok rumored to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars. While money doesn’t guarantee their getting the technical side right, it certainly helps, and it absolutely means they should accept responsibility for the situation. Instead, while running a movement built on the idea of giving your all and holding yourself to high standards, they seem to think that “we got most of the way there, it’s cool” is an appropriate response.

Community Reaction

Much of the community response I saw to the problems was appalling. Most of it fell into either telling the organizers that it was okay, or berating the people reporting problems as “whiners”. A number of people seemed to think that the CrossFit philosophy of being ready for the unexpected somehow meant that entrants should treat the hurdles placed in their way by technical incompetence as if they were part of the competition.

Some people spent hours refreshing their browsers in attempts to register their scores; how is that acceptable in any sense? How is that something they should have to put up with as if it were part of the competition? To do so and then to be admonished by HQ to “not wait too long to submit their scores”, as happened in week two, is beyond ridiculous.

The community response should be to say “hey, I care about this community, and therefore the other people in it, and I don’t think anyone should have to go through this bullshit trying to compete”—and then to tell HQ that this kind of crap is unacceptable. Which it was and is. If instead you’re telling the people unlucky enough to have submission problems to “suck it up” and telling HQ that you “understand” the difficulties they’re having because it’s hard to build a website, you’re not a supporter, you’re an enabler.

Athletic Programming

This wasn’t anything close to as big a problem as the above, but even so, I hope they adjust it for next year. Six workouts is too many. Four workouts seem like enough to achieve separation between those who should make Regionals and the rest.

I don’t mind that the workouts were all AMRAP variants, but even apart from that they were too similar to each other. Three and four stood out as somewhat different, but the other while the other four certainly tested different skills, they felt too alike. There should clearly have been a build-to-max-weight lift in there as well. I would have programmed something like this:

  1. AMRAP10 of:
    • 5 power snatches at 95 pounds (real power snatches only, here).
    • 30 double unders.
    • 15 pushups.
  2. 20 minutes to do as heavy a lift as possible for back squat, deadlift, and shoulder press (or push jerk if judging the shoulder press is too hard).
  3. AMRAP12 of:
    • 60 bar-facing burpees.
    • 15 overhead squats at 135 pounds.
    • 15 clean and jerks at 155 pounds.
    • 10 muscle-ups.
  4. AMRAP20 of:
    • 5 thrusters at 120 pounds.
    • 10 toes-to-bars.
    • 15 wall balls at 10 feet/20 pounds.
    • 10 chest-to-bar pullups.

Leave a Reply