Another pro sports league ups their involvement with the esports world.
If you’re at all familiar with the pro-sports scene, you know that the NHL All-Star Game happened this weekend, January 25th, at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis Missouri. The NHL sets aside a weekend every year to showcase the talent of the hockey players in the league.
For the past three years, the NHL has been partnering with EA Sports to host the Chel Gaming Challenge, where a handful of athletes and video game personalities compete in NHL 2K. According to the EA website, the ‘World of Chel’ mode is “the fan-favorite online mode that lets you join a team to play with and against others in a highly-competitive hockey community.” This year’s event included: Seth Jones of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Jack Eichel of the Buffalo Sabres and Matthew Tkachuk of the Calgary Flames, along with United States women’s hockey star Hilary Knight. The hockey stars competed against Gaming Hall of Famer Johnathan “Fatal1ty” Wendel and the NHL Gaming World Championship’s Andrew “Nasher” Telfer.
Chris Golier, NHL VP of business development/global partnerships, stated that just two seasons ago, no one had taken initiative to start the integration between hockey and its digital counterpart. He called this year’s event a promotional vehicle, with the NHL and EA Sports collaborating with some big-named sponsors, like Honda and Great Clips.
Because of the initiative taken, about half of the NHL teams have formally launched their online and live gaming activities for this season or have been on-record stating that they are coming.
The Washington Capitals were the most recent team to start up their own gaming brand, Caps Gaming, in late 2019.
They started their journey with the Caps Gaming Showcase, a tournament with a $15,000 prize pool. The months-long tournament will be conducted through EA NHL’s six-on-six EASHL mode, now integrated with ‘The World of Chel’ mode in NHL 20.
Along with the creation of the tournament, Caps Gaming signed streamer John “JohnWayne” Casagranda, making him the first NHL esports professional to be officially signed by an NHL organization.
Unlike other pro-sport leagues like the NHL and NBA, the NHL is wanting to use their esports counterpart as a way to increase interest in the sport itself. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman stated in an interview with ESPN, “We want to use esports to build more interest and a greater connectivity to our game through the hockey video game.”
This explains why the esports initiative is being encouraged through individual teams, rather than the league as a whole.
With the Washington Capitals stepping up by signing a streamer to Caps Gaming, it’s only a matter of time before other NHL teams, start their own leagues. Especially those teams located near already established esports communities, namely the L.A. Kings being close to Team Liquid’s headquarters, and the Dallas Stars being right next door to Envy gaming’s new office.
It’s safe to say that the line between traditional sports and esports is blurring everyday. Leagues just need to identify that the common ground between the two is the love of the game.