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Volume 26 No. 50
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NHL Aims For Esports Growth With All-Star Weekend Gamer House

The NHL will host a gamer house-style event during its upcoming All-Star weekend with active players and gamers streaming on Twitch and creating content, the latest effort by the league to grow its presence in esports and engage a younger demographic of fans. The activation, which is being called the "House of CHEL," will be held at a league-rented 30,000-square-foot-mansion in Palo Alto, Calif., that also has an indoor ice rink. The league will host six gamers and two hosts at the house Thursday-Saturday as they compete in EA Sports’ "NHL 19" to be streamed across NHL social and digital platforms as well as its Twitch channel. It also will be featured in other produced segments and content that will be released at a later date alongside other NHL esports-related programming. The list of participants includes pro gamers and Wild RW J.T. Brown, who also has his own Twitch channel and frequently streams himself playing video games on the platform. “This is something that I think can be huge for 'NHL 19,'” Brown said. “Having a gamer house like this, especially with these players who are really skilled, will not only showcase how good they are at the game but also help people get to know their personalities.”

SECOND FORAY INTO ESPORTS: The NHL made its first official foray into esports and gaming last year when it launched the ’18 NHL Gaming World Championship, which featured regional tournaments across the U.S., Canada and Europe and a live final in Las Vegas. The gamer house is aiming to further build on what the league views as a promising fan engagement initiative. “We’ve seen more properties getting engaged in esports whether that’s dipping a toe in or going all in -- we wanted to try something a little different,” said NHL Chief Revenue Officer Keith Wachtel. “As we started to look at what would be a great launching point for year two while being a little irreverent and getting some buzz out there, we decided to do this, which is a little bit like the NHL meets 'The Real World' meets esports.” Wachtel said that this will be the first time a North American league has create this sort of gamer house, something that is more common among professional esports teams and organizations competing in games like League of Legends.

KEEPING A BUSY SCHEDULE: Across the three days, the gamers and hosts will take part in a variety of activities, ranging from playing "NHL 19" on the league’s Twitch channel to taking part in on-ice hockey challenges at the house’s rink. They also will interact with viewers who tune in as well as with NHL All-Stars who stop by the house. It is all aimed to shine a spotlight on some of the more well-known gamers linked to "NHL 19." “When you look at what drives viewership, personality is the key thing,” said NHL VP/Business Development & Global Partnerships Chris Golier. “Sitting and watching people playing hockey in a video game is not that interesting to the average viewer who isn’t already a hockey fan, so being able to capture fun, lifestyle content that can bring out those personalities will help attract viewers and other younger gamers.” Defacto Entertainment will produce content for the league during the activation, effectively filming 24/7. The NHL is overseeing the operations of the house, and is in conversation with several partners around the operation of the tournament. Golier said much of the captured content will be released alongside the ’19 edition of the leagues Gaming World Championship, which will be promoted at the gamer house and begin in earnest later this spring.

SPONSORS WANT IN: Several NHL partners are expected to activate alongside the gamer house slate of content, although details regarding which partners was still be finalized. Wachtel also noted that there have been discussions with partners regarding activation alongside the league’s competitive esports event as well. "We view this as a tremendous opportunity for us that not only allows us to connect with several important constituents but can also become a program that is easily tailored to any of our big events whether it’s the all-star game or the Stanley Cup Final,” Wachtel said.

For more coverage of the business of esports, visit our partners, esportsobserver.com.