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NHL creates players-only esports competition

The National Hockey League has become the latest major sports organization to create a players-only esports tournament to help fill the sports competition void amid the global Covid-19 pandemic.

In partnership with esports company ESL Gaming and the National Hockey League Players’ Association, the NHL has created the inaugural “NHL Player Gaming Challenge”, which will include player representatives from all 31 NHL teams, as well as the Seattle expansion team.

Participants include Filip Forsberg of the Nashville Predators and Evgeny Kuznetsov of the Washington Capitals, while Brady Tkachuk of the Ottawa Senators will take on his brother Matthew, who plays for the Calgary Flames. NHL Seattle, which is scheduled to begin play in 2021-22, will be represented by Seattle Seahawks tight end Luke Willson.

Starting on April 30, players from each NHL team will play head-to-head games on EA Sports’ NHL 20 game using Sony PS4 gaming consoles over a four-week period.

Games will be broadcast on NHL Twitch, YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook platforms, as well as the official league website. In addition, select games will be broadcast by NBC Sports in the United States and Sportsnet in Canada.

Honda, the NHL’s official automotive partner, is the title sponsor of the tournament.

There is a charity element, too. The NHL Foundation and Electronic Arts will donate a combined $100,000 in support of the CDC Foundation’s Covid-19 relief efforts.

“Over the past several weeks, the NHL, its clubs and player community have been very active with gaming initiatives in an effort to connect with fans while social distancing – such as charity tournaments, simulated games and nightly streams,” said Chris Golier, NHL vice president of business development and innovation. “The ‘NHL Player Gaming Challenge presented by Honda’ will take gaming to another level. We know how competitive our players are, and coupled with the interaction between players, these series of competitions will be extremely fun to watch.”

The esports tournament is an expansion of the NHL’s fan-engagement initiatives in a bid to stay active and keep supporters engaged amid the sports shutdown caused by the coronavirus crisis.

This week, NHL greats Wayne Gretzky and Alex Ovechkin faced each other in a NHL 20 showdown, in which they raised $41,000 for Covid-19 relief efforts. Around 286,000 fans tuned into the livestream on the Washington Capitals’ Twitch channel.

The NHL, which is on an indefinite hiatus, has abandoned its plans to restart the season at neutral sites and is looking at a solution where one team per division hosts all the games at their home arena. Multiple games throughout the day at these sites could be staged in an attempt to finish the regular season in timely fashion.

It is hoped the NHL will restart sometime in the summer, possibly July. But all plans remain strictly provisional at present due to the ongoing effects of the public health crisis.

A litany of other sports properties have also created esports events, involving athletes from their respective sports, professional gamers, or celebrities, to help fill the competition void.

Among them are Nascar, Major League SoccerMajor League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, LaLiga, Formula 1Monumental Sports & Entertainment, IndyCarMajor League Rugby, and the English Premier League, among others.