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NHL launches esports competition

North American ice hockey league the NHL has become the latest major sports organisation to embrace esports by launching an official tournament.

Utilising EA Sports’ NHL 18 game, the 2018 NHL Gaming World Championship will offer a prize purse of $100,000 (€81,000) when it crowns its first champion in June. Players will be able to register on the FACEIT platform, the official tournament platform of the tournament, with the NHL joining forces with broadcast partners to stage events.

NBC Sports in the US, Sportsnet in Canada, and Viasat, which holds NHL rights in the Nordic region of Europe, will each host a regional event in their respective markets and produce event content.

Beginning March 24 and for the following three Saturdays, registered players will be able to participate in a single-elimination qualifier tournament, which will take place online for residents of the United States, Canada and the European Union. 

Eight players from each qualifying region will travel to a regional final, comprised of a double-elimination, in-person tournament. The European finalists will compete at Viasat studios in Stockholm, Sweden, on May 6. Canadian regional finalists will compete in Toronto on May 11. United States finalists will compete at NBC Studios in Stamford, Connecticut, on May 20. 

The League said these three regional events will offer fans unique content which will be available on NHL and broadcast partners' digital platforms and the NHL’s Twitch channel. The winner and runner-up from each regional final will advance to the 2018 NHL Gaming Championship hosted at the new Esports Arena Las Vegas at Luxor Hotel on June 19. 

The winner will be presented with a trophy, receive their share of $100,000 and take part in the 2018 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

“We are excited to enter into the competitive gaming world and provide another way for gamers and fans to connect with our great game,” NHL vice-president Chris Golier said. “Our approach was to align with the best partners to create a fun and engaging competition. The exposure, prize pool, and unique experiences from the NHL Gaming World Championships should bring out the top players and show whose 'Chel skills are best.”

Meanwhile, NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly has said participation in the 2022 winter Olympic Games is not essential to the league’s efforts to build its presence in the Chinese market. NHL players were absent from last month’s Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, after the league said last April that no dialogue had taken place to convince it of the benefits of disrupting its season to allow its stars to compete at the Olympics.

The move ended a run of five consecutive winter Games with the NHL’s players, but it was believed that the destination of the next Olympics, Beijing, may be more attractive to the League. China represents a key strategic market for the NHL, which last September staged two pre-season games in the country when the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks faced off in Shanghai and Beijing.

“I’m not making any news today, I will say certainly it’s a possibility,” Daly said while speaking at the annual SXSW Interactive conference on a panel about the NHL’s efforts to build ice hockey in China. “We have (a couple) of years to kind of make that decision … I don’t think it’s a critical element to our being able to grow the sport in China … I don’t think it’s an essential.”

Daly added, according to the Associated Press news agency: “In South Korea, we felt ultimately there were a lot more negatives than positives than going. I expect we’ll go through the exact same process (before 2022) … There may be more positives to participating in Beijing.”

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