Well above par: Topgolf thinks innovation, introduces esports lounge

Topgolf is expanding its reach and hosting more esports events, like this recent Ascension tournament in Gilbert. (Photo by Jason Krell/Cronkite News)

GILBERT – Topgolf got its start as an innovator in the tradition-laden sport of golf. Now the company is innovating again by providing an alternative to traditional sports.

Topgolf recently announced a partnership with TCL, the Chinese television and consumer electronics manufacturer, to roll out esports lounges at select Topgolf locations, including Scottsdale, in an effort to expand Topgolf’s reach.

“Esports presents a new and unique audience and we recognized natural parallels between our existing audience and esports fans,” said Morgan Schaaf, Topgolf’s communications manager. “We create moments that matter for everyone and we figured we want to do the same thing for esports enthusiasts.”

The Scottsdale location’s esports lounge is still in development, but that hasn’t slowed Topgolf’s esports movement in Arizona. SAK Gaming, an esports tournament organization located in Tempe, recently collaborated with Topgolf’s Gilbert location to run an Ascension tournament series there. Schaaf said that the tournaments have been a massive success.

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“SAK Gaming has introduced Topgolf to the huge audience of gamers and esports enthusiasts that reside in Arizona.” Schaaf said. “Their events have gone so well that other states have begun reaching out to their local Topgolf to inquire about holding events.”

The Ascension tournament series is a monthly event featuring the best talent in the Southwest in the esports titles of Super Smash Bros. Melee and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. It is the only monthly tournament series in the world to serve as a qualifier for the official Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Power Rankings that the esports organization, Panda Global, tracks.

The series started using the SAK Gaming lounge, a 2,000-square-foot venue in Tempe, but as popularity grew, SAK Gaming had to find a bigger venue. After using the Education Lecture Hall building at ASU and the community center at Chandler-Gilbert Community College over the summer, the 300-plus entry tournament series has finally found a home at Topgolf.

Stephen Shackelford, the owner of SAK Gaming, said that it was Paul Ogdee, Topgolf’s head of esports strategy, that reached out to him. With the Ascension series looking for a new home, Shackelford said the timing couldn’t have been better.

“I was like, ‘Well, I have this 250-plus person event I need a home for. Would you be interested?'” Shackelford said. “And they said, ‘sure.'”

Topgolf Gilbert had the space that SAK Gaming was looking for, a 3000 square feet “Signature Room” complete with HDTV’s used for live streaming and even a private bar.

Topgolf might not be bringing an esports lounge to the Gilbert location, but what the location had already was more than enough to prove to Shackelford that hosting Ascension at Topgolf Gilbert was going to be a huge success.

“We have seen an increase in attendance because of Topgolf, but also there has been all of this excitement around it,” Shackelford said. “It’s so cool to be partnered with such a legitimate brand.”

The benefits are mutual, Schaaf said.

“Topgolf provides SAK Gaming with a unique, safe, and hospitable venue to host their tournaments,” Schaaf said. “SAK Gaming brings in an audience that otherwise might not have been to Topgolf and introduces the venue to that audience.”

The hospitality that Topgolf puts on for the attendees of the Ascension series includes a free lifetime membership to Topgolf, unlimited golf from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., a $10 Topgolf coupon and access to a fully stocked bar and restaurant, which are all included with the Ascension tournament fee.

Caleb Smith, a tournament organizer for the Smash scene in Tucson, has attended every Ascension tournament. He said Topgolf is an ideal fit.

“I think this is the best venue now that we have more standing room, more breathing room,” Smith said. “You can get away from the tournament if you need to take a breather and there are more things to do here than just play in the tournament.

“It makes the overall experience much more of a spectacle than just a tournament.”

Given the success of the Ascension series at Topgolf, the golf company is eager for its next esports step in Arizona.

“Our TCL Esports Lounge at the Scottsdale venue will be opening up soon and we encourage esports fans and enthusiasts to check out the space when it’s finished in a few months,” Schaaf said.

Sports Reporter, Phoenix
Sports Digital Producer, Phoenix