Esports notebook: NHL wants ‘grander things’ with competitive gaming

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman speaks during a news conference prior to Game 1 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final. (Ross D. Franklin/AP)

After dipping a toe in the space this past season, the NHL is looking to do bigger and better things within the realm of esports.

Speaking to ESPN’s Arash Markazi, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman promised a much larger, more ambitious NHL esports plan is on the way.

A grand prize of $50,000 was handed out to 18-year-old Finn Erik “Eki” Tammenpaa at the inaugural NHL Gaming World Championship held in Las Vegas in June.

In total, $100,000 in prize money was handed out to the event’s finalists, and particularly encouraging to the NHL, according to the ESPN report, the Twitch streaming numbers of the NHL’s esports initiative matched and occasionally exceed that of the NBA and NFL.

“This was an incredible rollout,” Bettman told Markazi. “But this is just the beginning of us doing bigger and grander things with esports.”

The first “grander thing” is likely full six-on-six team competition similar to what’s seen in the NBA’s 2K League.

“In Year 1, we wanted to be prudent and approach this cautiously. We needed to test and learn, and we did that in a number of different scenarios from the content and promotion,” NHL vice president of business development Chris Golier told ESPN.

“In Year 2, we’re going to invite our clubs in. It’s not going to be a full-blown league, but we’re going to have teams participate in some way, shape or form. We’re going to have locally activated tournaments that will be part of the overall construct of the league. The clubs are excited.”

Since the initial announcement of the league’s foray into professional esports, the EA Sports NHL community have clamoured for the integration of the popular EA Sports Hockey League mode to be made the main mode in competition as it most closely simulates the real game and because team competitions have proven to be among the most popular in games like League of Legends and Counter-Strike.

Now the community may finally be getting its wish, with more support than ever from the NHL itself.

“We want to use esports to build more interest and a greater connectivity to our game through the hockey video game,” said Bettman.

Here are a few other things of note from around the esports world:

Overwatch League Playoffs begin Wednesday

The Overwatch League playoffs kick off with a pair of quarter-final matchups. At 8:00 p.m. ET the Phildelphia Fusion will take on the Boston Uprising. The London Spitfire will face the Los Angeles Gladiators at 10:00 p.m..

In total, six of the league’s 12 teams will be participating in the post-season. The league-best New York Excelsior and second-place Los Angeles Valiant both receive automatic byes to the semifinals.

Of note to Canadian fans, the playoffs will feature four Canucks: Lucas “NotE” Meissner playing for the Uprising, Joe “Joemeister” Gramano for the Fusion, Brady “Agilities” Girardi for the Valiant and Lane “Surefour” Roberts for the Gladiators.

With the opening match pitting Meissner’s Uprising against Gramano’s Fusion, it’s become a point of pride for each young man.

“I think Canada has a lot of talent in Overwatch, which doesn’t seem to be the case and a lot of other esports,” Gramano told Sportsnet. “So the fact that I’m able to participate in the first playoffs of the inaugural season is pretty amazing.”

Said Meissner: “It makes me feel proud that I’ve done so much from what you could consider a smaller country [in terms of participation in esports].”

The playoffs will run from to July 28, with the Grand Finals taking place at the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Team Canada announced for Overwatch World Cup

In other Overwatch news, the Canadian roster for the Overwatch World Cup has been announced.

All four Canadians participating in the OWL playoffs have been selected for the squad, which begins group play on Sept. 7 against Brazil.

Canada’s been placed into the “United States” group where it will compete against the U.S., Brazil, Austria, Switzerland and Norway. The team will aim to finish within the group’s top two to reach the event’s final at BlizzCon in November.

Team Canada reached the final of last year’s World Cup where they fell to South Korea.

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