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The strange and surprisingly intense world of Wii Sports speedrunners

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A duel to become the fastest motion-control golfer

July 24, 2009 -- Wii Sports Resort--Matthew Jagdeo tries out the new Wii Sports Resort game which wa Photo by Carlos Osorio / Toronto Star via Getty Images

The Wii is Nintendo’s most popular home console, selling upwards of 100 million units since its launch in 2006. Of those millions of consoles, 82 million came equipped with one specific game: Wii Sports. Wii Sports and the complementary Wii Fit functioned as a riposte against the generational stigma attached to games, largely dismantling the idea that video games were exclusively tied to a younger demographic. The Wii has even become a valuable asset in nursing homes, where elderly people can hit home runs in baseball, score strikes in bowling, and, sink holes-in-one in the hugely popular Wii Sports Golf.

Wii Sports is generally remembered as a fun-oriented game, something light to play with friends and family. That’s why it’s strange to consider the bizarre speedrunning scene attached to Wii Sports Golf where players compete to finish a round as quickly as possible using a variety of different techniques. In this category, players who go by the handles Dannyh09 and Alaskaxp2 hold world records for first and second place, respectively.

“I started to speedrun ‘Golf 9 Hole’ in Wii Sports so I could practice specific things for my ‘All Sports’ runs,” Alaska, a 15-year-old from North Carolina, tells me. All Sports is another category in the Wii Sports speedrunning scene in which runners attempt to finish every game in the Wii Sports oeuvre as quickly as possible. However, Alaska quickly realized that the world record at the time was beatable. In their words, it wasn’t “optimized,” meaning that it didn’t represent a perfect run with zero mistakes. Since then, the record has been surpassed by almost an entire minute.

“I grinded out a couple hundred attempts and beat it by less than a second on August 19th,” Alaska says. However, after several months as top dog, Alaska lost their spot to a new kid on the block. “A top Super Mario Maker creator named DannyH09 came into the community and found his game really quickly,” they say. “That’s when I started to get worried, and the community began to center around 9 Hole, making for several new runners and a lot of strategy development.”

Wii Sports is the game I first played on the Nintendo Wii because it came with it,” says current world record holder Danny, a 21-year-old from England. Danny always enjoyed Wii Sports Golf the most, possessing an adroitness for the game since he was nine years old. He revisited it in 2018 out of nostalgia and immediately realized that he could storm through 9 Hole quickly and accurately, despite only playing for fun.

Wii Sports Club
Wii Sports Club on the Wii U.

“After timing a 9 Hole run at 5:20, I discovered that the world record was 5:18 on speedrun.com,” Danny says. “I found the Wii Series speedrunning Discord server and met a bunch of other people speedrunning golf. I managed to obtain world records in the 9 Hole Golf and 3 Hole Golf categories which still remain unbeaten.” Danny’s current time sits at 4:36:70, roughly 43.3 seconds faster than the record Alaska originally set out to beat in August 2018. Alongside this, Danny also has world records in 18 Hole Golf and “a bunch of the 3 Hole categories.”

“Back when I was really speedrunning in 2018, there were five or six active runners who were all pretty much equally skilled,” Alaska says. This surge in popularity occurred after Alaska broke a record that went unbeaten for several months. Once people realized the scene was on the rise again, Wii Sports Golf became more popular than ever. However, Danny’s records don’t look like they’ll be beaten anytime soon. “Golf isn’t as competitive as it used to be now the world records are optimized,” Danny explains. According to Alaska, only one person has a personal best within 20 seconds of Danny’s 4:36. As a result, 9 Hole — originally the most competitive Wii Sports Golf run — is essentially dead.

That’s not to say the whole scene is dead. Although Danny started out with Wii Sports Golf, he has since become invested in the wider Wii Sports scene. “[Golf] is definitely challenging but the All Sports category is the most challenging,” he notes, mentioning that baseball is particularly tough. “I have attempted All Sports ‘No Baseball,’ which is a popular category within the community.” However, according to Danny, All Sports proper has become the most prestigious run in the community in recent years.

The fact remains that these runners resurrected a dead and bizarre speedrunning category in order to shave almost an entire minute off the world record over a relatively short period of time. As a community, these runners devised and perfected strategies for skipping animations, speeding up shots, and all sorts of other techniques designed for the sole purpose of saving time. “In Golf, we do a no-backswing drive to start each hole,” Danny says. “I use no backswing on every shot, even putting.” In order to pull this off, you need to press and hold A and immediately swing the controller forward, which makes for a much faster shot.

Meanwhile, according to Alaska, a technique known as the “Driver flag shot” is the whole reason why the world record ever dropped below five minutes. “It saves four to seven seconds on any hole and involves using a driver and smacking it into a flag so that the ball rolls off and drops into the hole,” they say. “Another thing is using non-recommended clubs in order to make shots bounce less.” Some runners even purposely forfeit on the eighth hole in order to eliminate the luck factor involved in potentially scoring a birdie. “This costs about three to four seconds from a good birdie but saves four to six [seconds] if the birdie’s missed for a par.”

Nintendo Wii Stock 1020

Danny uses the driver flag shot, too, specifically mentioning that it saves a massive amount of time if used from the bunker on the second hole. “Judgment is key in putting,” he adds. “Knowing how far left or right to aim depending on how the green slopes seems to come naturally to myself and other speedrunners of this category.”

Along with being weird and wonderful, the Wii Sports Golf scene is wide and wild. The sequel, Wii Sports Resort, operates according to completely different strategies. “Wii Sports Resort Golf is totally different because we play to not chip-in or land too close to the hole,” Danny says. “This triggers a replay and we lose a ton of time — using backspin is key with north winds to land on the green and get the ball to stop rolling and save a few seconds.”

It’s strange to consider how Wii Sports Golf speedrunning came into play. Runners from all over the world gradually converted this family-friendly game into a surprisingly intense competitive scene, to the extent that they exhausted it almost as quickly as they brought it into being. Some communities persist for years before a world record is set in stone, and even still, they are reinvigorated with the launch of a new patch or the rise of a new player.

Wii Sports Golf is now a bizarre relic of the past, immortalized on speedrun.com as a testament to the community that brought it back from the dead and championed it as a truly competitive speedrunning scene.