from the why-the-puck-not? dept
As we’ve been discussing, esports is having something of a moment during the COVID-19 shutdown. While it’s been interesting to see the general uptick in interest for esports globally, it’s been equally interesting to watch professional sporting organizations and leagues, that can longer operate in real life, shift quickly to putting professional players behind gamepads and broadcasting esports matches instead. NASCAR was the first to jump on this and has certainly set the quality standard, but racing was quickly followed by other major professional sports leagues.
And now the NHL is coming online as well. In an announcement, the league said it will be hosting an NHL 20 players tournament featuring players from every team. They even have a major sponsor for it.
“The NHL Player Gaming Challenge presented by Honda will take gaming to another level,” said Chris Golier, vice president of business development and innovation for the NHL, in a news release. “We know how competitive our players are, and coupled with the interaction between players, these series of competitions will be extremely fun to watch.”
One or two players from each of the NHL’s 31 current clubs will participate in the Player Gaming Challenge. And the 50th competitor is another professional athlete, albeit for football instead of hockey: Seattle Seahawks tight end Luke Willson will represent Seattle’s upcoming NHL franchise, which is set to begin play in the 2021-22 season.
Frankly, perhaps the most exciting aspect of this is that the NHL got Honda to sponsor it. The NHL has long lagged the rest of professional sports when it comes to television and advertising revenue. Seeing this get sponsored is a sign that both the league and at least one company see value in the number of eyeballs projected to watch esports hockey. Likewise, that the NHL is getting this tournament broadcast not only on Twitch and YouTube, but also on the NHL’s cable channel and several broadcast partners, will only increase the esports’ exposure.
Games will take place on Thursdays and Sundays over the course of four weeks starting April 30, hosted by Los Angeles Kings commentator Alex Faust. The NHL will livestream every matchup on its Twitch channel and other social platforms, including YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, and all games will also appear “within NHL Network’s on-air programming,” the league said. In addition, some games will be broadcast in Canada on Sportsnet One (starting May 1 at 4 p.m. ET) and in the U.S. on NBC Sports Network (starting April 30 at 5 p.m. ET). Esports organization ESL Gaming is producing the Player Gaming Challenge, which will be played in the PlayStation 4 version of NHL 20.
It’s true that other leagues did this before the NHL. But it’s still interesting to see how uniform this move has become for pretty much all of professional sports.