NHL Launches First Esports Tournament Around "NHL 18"
The NHL is making its first formal move into esports, launching an int’l one-on-one tournament for EA Sports’ “NHL 18.” The tournament, which will be called the ’18 NHL Gaming World Championship, is a venture between the NHL and three of its global broadcast partners -- NBC Sports, Sportsnet and Sweden’s Viasat. Players from across the U.S., Canada and Europe will be able to participate in the tournament, competing for a $100,000 prize and a trip to the NHL Awards in Las Vegas, where the finalists will compete at the Esports Arena Las Vegas at the Luxor Hotel and Casino. The effort is being supported by NHL corporate partners as well, with Bridgestone and Honda serving as global partners across all three regions. Dunkin’ Donuts and Geico will sponsor it in the U.S., while PepsiCo Beverages Canada and Scotiabank will sponsor it in Canada. NHL Chief Revenue Officer Keith Wachtel called the tournament “absolutely a phase one test,” noting that the league wanted to initially move into esports by providing the largest opportunity for players to participate across the world. The NHL has spent the better part of the last year working on the project.
HOW TOURNAMENT WILL WORK: The tournament is structured into three stages. The first step will be an online qualifier open to any player residing in the U.S., Canada or the European Union that will run through April. The top eight players from each region will travel to a regional final in May hosted by the broadcast partners in Stockholm, Toronto and Stamford, Conn, respectively. The winner and runner-up from each regional final will compete in a round-robin style tournament at the Esports Arena Las Vegas on June 19. The winner will be crowned in a best-of-three final and be presented a trophy, the cash prize and will be featured at the NHL Awards. In addition to hosting the regional events, the three broadcasters will also produce unique content throughout the stages of the competition, which will be made available on both their own and NHL digital platforms, as well as on the NHL’s Twitch channel, which was launched for the event. FaceIt will serve as the official tournament platform for the competition and will host and administer the tournament.
PROMOTING THE EVENT: NBC Sports Ventures Senior VP Rob Simmelkjaer said the net will help promote the tournament across several of its platforms, including digital and social channels, on NBCSN during NHL games and across RSNs that carry NHL games. NBCSN will use a studio to host the U.S. regional tournament and will lead television and content production around that event. While plans for broadcast talent are still being discussed, Simmelkjaer said the tournament will receive on-air coverage during playoff games on the net, likely during intermissions. This is not the first esports event that NBCSN has been involved in, as it hosted the Universal Open last year, which featured the game "Rocket League." NBCSN also worked with FaceIt on that event, and Simmelkjaer said the net is looking into more opportunities to move into esports. NHL players also will help promote the tourney, and the league filmed several players playing “NHL 18” during the All-Star Weekend in January.
FIRST OF MANY TO COME: Both Wachtel and NHL VP/Global Partnerships Chris Golier said that the league is committed to holding more esports events in the future and will continue to evolve the tournament based on feedback from players. Golier said this tournament, which will see players be able to choose any team in the league to play as, was a “good way to express their fandom and still have fun, whether they pick their favorite team or one they like competing as.” The NHL has been reaching out to players in the “NHL 18” competitive scene for several months to discuss the league’s approach, getting a sense of what may or may not work, said Golier. “If we don’t have their buy in, then this won’t be successful.” Wachtel said the NHL believes esports is “a standalone business opportunity,” citing the enthusiasm from league partners to be involved. While he noted that the tournament was not going to make money for the league in the short term and was being viewed more as a marketing opportunity, the league sees tremendous value in diving deeper in to the space.