Dustin Johnson, Bubba Watson, and Ian Poulter have appeared as playable characters in EA’s golf series in the past, but their inclusion in the upcoming video game “EA Sports PGA Tour,” along with other golfers joining LIV Golf, is something of a question. Open due to the ongoing feud between the world’s two leading professional tours.
The battle between the blue-blooded PGA circuit and the well-paid, inventive LIV started in 2021, when the Saudi Tour dumped massive amounts of money at big-name PGA players to take part in the new LIV-run, non-weekend events. Cuts in the field and guarantee participants money. In June of 2022, the PGA announced that it was suspending any golfers participating in LIV events from any tournament run by the PGA or PGA, causing it to see some of its top players – including Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Patrick Reed, Brooks Kupka and Cameron Smith and Sergio Garcia – defected from the Saudi Tour over the course of that year.
With the LIV Tour and its newly acquired golfers sparking outrage in the United States over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record and allegations regarding the country’s ties to the September 11 attacks, the rotation between tours and players has been somewhat controversial. This tension, and the political implications of which golfers can play at which events, creates a difficult situation for third parties like EA who want to build popular and highly profitable products around licenses for tournaments and players.
The crux of EA’s character dilemma revolves around two parts of its upcoming game, “EA Sports PGA Tour,” which will be released on March 24. One is obviously the list of professional players included in a game with the PGA Tour in its title. The other is a major differentiator between existing golf games such as “PGA Tour 2K23” for 2K Sports: The Great Golf Games.
Instead of marketing the game around a widely popular golfer, as it did in the past with Tiger Woods and, briefly, Rory McIlroy, EA is framing its new offering around its exclusive inclusion of golf’s four major tournaments: The Masters, the US Open, The Open and The Championship. PGA. These tournaments, the most watched and most prestigious in the annual golf calendar, are not run by the PGA Tour, meaning that each major is able to select participating golfers.
In late 2022, The Masters, the first major tournament of the golf season, announced that it would allow LIV golfers who received waivers by winning previous major championships to participate in the 2023 event. Royal and Ancient, which runs the Open Championship, said it would allow For LIV Participation competitions. So where does that leave EA when players play Augusta’s in-game for The Masters? Can we see Dustin Johnson’s name on the leaderboard?
In response to a question from The Washington Post about how the game would treat golfers on the LIV Tour and whether they would be included in the game, EA responded:
“For many players, the main draw in golf video games is creating their own characters and playing against some real-life pros on real courses. This mode is still evolving with the PGA Tour and LIV Golf and although we are watching closely, it has not currently affected For our development of the “EA Sports PGA Tour”.
“As for our golfer roster reveal, we’ll have more to share on this in the future.”
This also becomes a wild card around another major marketing point for the EA game: The Ryder Cup. The press preview event in mid-January alluded to the inclusion of the Ryder Cup – in a way – the hugely popular biannual event that pits the best golfers from the United States against their European peers. (When asked, EA declined to say whether the Ryder Cup would be a playable mode, but said that 2023 host Marco Simone Golf and Country Club course will be added to the game “among other updates and content related to the Ryder Cup” and added the company is “still exploring details.”) He’ll share details later.”) The full Ryder Cup mode is supposed to include playable rosters for each side, similar to the Pro Bowl rosters in EA’s Madden NFL franchise. But would all of these players be available in the game if the rosters included LIV golfers in real life?
Unlike the majors, LIV golfers were previously barred from participating in last year’s President’s Cup, a similar event, and their status in the Ryder Cup was not determined. Previously, some of the notable golfers were – Like McIlroy, a staunch opponent of LIV Golf – have stated that they do not believe LIV players should qualify. Furthermore it, The qualification process requires players to collect Ryder Cup points, which for the USA team is conducted by the PGA of America and requires players to be members. LIV players will not accumulate points through LIV events nor will they be able to do so while suspended from PGA events. So how might this affect EA’s roster of pro gamers?
EA has not yet fully released the full pro roster. During the press preview event, the game developers showed off footage that includes photos and mentions of PGA players Scotty Scheffler (2022 Masters champion), Tony Finau, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Cantlay. All four of these PGA players have backed the PGA in its struggle with LIV Golf, with Scheffler, Finau and Spieth publicly stating they have no intention of joining the Saudi Tour. Earlier this month, Cantlie Drop the rumors He was planning on joining the LIV Tour, though his response included qualifying “so far”.
So what happens, if Cantlay decides to leave for Liv? Did EA remove him from the game because the PGA Tour wouldn’t let him play at their events? Perhaps setting a precedent, “PGA Tour 2K23” from 2K, another PGA license holder, still includes playable versions of Bubba Watson and Harold Varner III, who both pulled off with LIV Golf.
EA finds itself in the unfavorable position of being affected by forces beyond the company’s control. Omitting LIV golfers deprives the game of some of the most outstanding golfers in the sport today. Their inclusion risks backlash from the public or EA’s licensing partner, the PGA Tour.
It will be interesting to monitor whether the tour vs. tour clash has any in-game impact on the EA Sports PGA Tour over the next year, particularly in relation to a sports game franchise best known for its slogan: “If it’s in the game, it’s in the game.”