In recent years, we’ve seen professional sports franchises from all over the world invest in esports. Basketball, football, and auto-racing have all made waves. But what about golf?
This week, as reported on Venturebeat, the gaming company Topgolf is seeking to extend its core business by offering dedicated esports centers in at least six of its venues across the United States.
What is Topgolf?
The game is essentially a more competitive variation on a typical driving range. On old-fashioned ranges, players will hit a number of balls using different golf clubs in an attempt to improve their swings and accuracy.
Topgolf has updated the concept for the 21st century and the gaming sphere. Its driving range is separated into comfortable bays, similar to those of a bowling alley. Players then have a selection of clubs and balls to select, and it is here that things get far more advanced.
Topgolf uses golf ball tracer technology to measure the accuracy of the shots, together with sensors on the ball, out on the range itself, and around the different targets. This measurement then gives players a score for competing in their group.
Topgolf players can not only play within their group but also across leagues and tournaments. So far the company has seen over 100 million visitors to its complexes across the United States.
The six esports venues
So why would a golf-orientated business want to become involved in esports? Part of the answer lies in Topgolf’s acquisition of the online golf game World Golf Tour (WGT), which has millions of players registered and competing in online golfing tournaments.
When asked by GamesBeat why the company was adding esports Topgolf President YuChiang Cheng responded:
“When Topgolf acquired WGT, they realised that they didn’t want to just be a venue, a location-based business. They realised that the secret to Topgolf is that they use games to bring people together. It just happened to be a golf game, a driving range, at the time.
“We’re embracing console and mobile esports as well as PC. We’ve embraced miniature golf. If you go to small versions of Topgolf Swing Suites, you can actually play baseball, football, hockey and zombie dodge ball and all sorts of stuff.”
Cheng revealed that all 20,000 Topgolf staff will be trained in hosting esports events. Six venues across the United States will begin offering esports events shortly, with the potential to offer similar access across another 58 venues in the country.
Could Topgolf develop its own esport?
One of the most intriguing questions Cheng answered in the interview cited above was whether the company had any inclination to develop its own esport.
“We kind of already do that with WGT. WGT is up to 16 million players. In the last virtual U.S. Open, which we’re going to start renaming, that was one of the original esports, right? We ran the WGT virtual U.S. Open tournament over eight years. Now we need to rebrand it and make it look and feel like modern esports.
“Last year we had 350,000 participants in that tournament. We have out a trip to the real U.S. Open and all sorts of other prizes. We’ll continue to invest in WGT as a professional [esports] golf platform.”
This is potentially exciting news for golf fans who have been starved of any real esport. And it’s a void to be sure. Even back in the days of 8-bit gaming, games such as Leaderboard, PGA Tour Golf, and Microprose Golf proved to be huge hits with gamers of the ’80s and ’90s.
Fast forward a few years and online games like WGT sit alongside established other games, such as EA Sports golf offering, plus a number of other titles.
As yet though, there isn’t an established esports community for golf. This move by Topgolf could change that, especially if the company brands its WGT game as a playable esport and offers prizes to attract top players.