“It’s absolutely sweeping the nation.” — Auston Matthews, on the dreaded Fortnite
That video games, particularly the current rage, Fortnite, are a popular time-killer for young people, including hockey players, is not news.
That playing Fortnite — or, more specifically, broadcasting your fondness for Epic Games’ award-winning cooperative shooter-survival title — could harm your chances of landing an NHL gig is.
Go ahead and get a tattoo, just don’t let it peek out from whatever you wear to that job interview.
“An OHL team employee tells me some players have been advised to scrub Fortnite references from social media accounts. Some NHL teams consider the video game a major distraction/obsession,” sportswriter Rick Westhead tweeted Tuesday, to the tune of a thousand likes and twice that many debates.
Another hockey reporter, TVA’s Renaud Lavoie, told Sportsnet 590 that he ran into an unnamed NHL general manager last week (not Montreal’s Marc Bergevin, he specified) and the game came up.
“That GM told me it’s an issue,” Lavoie said on-air. “Before, the athletes were going to bars. Now, they’re staying in hotel rooms or at home and playing video games for hours.”
We’ve been reminded of Red Sox pitcher David Price’s bout with controller-induced carpal tunnel syndrome.
And, of course, there was Jeff Marek’s report this past spring on the 31 Thoughts podcast of an anonymous first-round draft pick whose video-game compulsion is so serious that his NHL future is now in doubt.
“Oh, it’s definitely addictive,” Erik Gudbranson said Wednesday at BioSteel Camp when we asked about the Canucks’ video game culture. “A lot of the young guys are gamers, big time. They all play Fortnite, which doesn’t come as a shock, for sure.”
The 26-year-old defenceman said he used to invest some hours into Call of Duty back in the day, and still owns an Xbox, but crawled out of the rabbit hole unscathed.
“To be honest with you, these kids are too good with this game. I go on there and I get roasted. I get sick of it,” Gudbranson said. “I’m more of a golfer. I like to go out there and get in the sun.”
Jordan Subban is a 23-year-old prospect who’s spent time in the Canucks, Los Angeles Kings, and now the Maple Leafs systems. Games like Fortnite, NHL and NBA 2K, he agrees, are a prominent way to soak up downtime.
“It’s been pretty big. Even when I was in California last year with the sun all year round, a lot of guys still go home and play video games. I try to not play it as much, but it’s hard,” Subban said Wednesday.
“I just feel I can do more productive things with my time — try and read or something. Not too much video games, but I love it. I could play video games all day.”
Subban says he’s never been asked by a manager or coach to limit his gaming time, however.
“I don’t think guys mind because it keeps guys at home,” Subban reasons. “It keeps them out of the bars and stuff, so it’s good.”
All the most popular games among NHLers — Fortnite, Call of Duty, NHL, NBA 2K, FIFA — are team-oriented and strategic.
In Las Vegas, the Washington Capitals caved themselves in a hotel suite and duked it out on MarioKart before going out and hoisting a Stanley Cup.
The 2017-18 Maple Leafs, for instance, would hold regular group Fortnite sessions that strengthened team bonds.
“I’ve been playing a lot lately,” Auston Matthews said mid-season. “Off days, I don’t really leave my apartment too much, just because you want to relax, so I’ve been trying to get better every day in Fortnite, and it’s been going pretty well.”
Asked how he’d spend the hours between the morning skate and puck drop before April’s Game 7 in Boston, Mitch Marner said, “Go home, eat, sit on my phone, probably look at Twitter, look at video games, watch people playin’ Fortnite, to be honest.
“Just get my mind off hockey, not think about it at all.”
“I don’t usually even have to shoot him a text,” Laine told the Florida Sun-Sentinel last winter before a real-life Jets-Panthers game. “He’s always online.”
The NHL is purposely growing its relationship to the lucrative esports world, hosting its inaugural world championship this past June.
As I type this article, a press release from the Arizona Coyotes EA Sports release party just popped up in my inbox. (After this, I will go pick up my seven-year-old from hockey camp; there’s a 94 per cent change he’ll floss between the rink and car, and the kid has never even played Fortnite.)
Heck, the Carolina Hurricanes even arranged a team-building field trip to Epic Games headquarters during development camp this summer:
Anaheim’s Adam Henrique engaged in Call of Duty when he skated for OHL Windsor. He’s OK with junior teams keeping an eye on just how much their players play.
“To see how much this has taken over, how much guys talk about it, how much they play it … Everybody’s doing the dances here. It’s on social media. You almost can’t get away from it,” Henrique said on a Wednesday radio appearance.
“As a player, those are things you have to learn — that modesty is probably better, and you have to be careful how much you get stuck on those things. Next thing you know, you’re gonna be up till 1 or 2 a.m. and you got a game the next day. That’s always gotta be the first priority.”
Yes, Fortnite is sweeping the nation, and gaming — like so many delicious vices out there — can absolutely be addictive. But it’s dangerous to condemn something outright, or rush to label an activity problematic just because you don’t understand it.
“Everybody has to do themselves, as long as they’re ready to go come game day,” Gudbranson says.
“Seven o’clock at night? It doesn’t matter what you do home.”