In an interview with ESPN, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman says he is looking to do bigger and better things within the realm of esports.
They will be following in the footsteps of the NBA and the NFL, who have already begun their own esports leagues. The NBA has the NBA 2K League, and the NFL has the Madden 18 Ultimate League Championship. In fact, the Madden League has already aired on ESPN2 and Twitch on April 28. However, according to Bettman, the NHL wants to have an esports league that connects fans to their game.
Bettman was able to test the waters with the NHL Gaming World Championship. The GWC was successful in attracting 15,500 fans from around the world. The two best players from Canada, United States and Europe were flown to Las Vegas to play for the trophy. The final two players would square off in a best-of-three challenge to determine the first ever NHL GWC winner. Erik “Eki” Tammenpaa, an 18-year-old native of Espoo, Finland, won the $50,000 grand prize.
The NHL does not want to create something like the NBA 2K League. However, they do think that all 31 teams in the league will participate next year. They will also be moving towards a more team-based initiative, instead of one versus one. Chris Golier, NHL vice president of business development says:
In year one, we wanted to be prudent and approach this cautiously. We needed to test and learn, and we did that in a number of different scenarios from the content and promotion. In year two, we’re going to invite our clubs in. It’s not going to be a full-blown league, but we’re going to have teams participate in some way, shape or form. We’re going to have locally activated tournaments that will be part of the overall construct of the league. The clubs are excited.
The main goal for the NHL stepping into the esports world is to reach a younger demographic. Younger people will be playing the hockey games, and watching NHL esports tournamets. Therefore, they become fans of the sport, the teams and connect with the community. “We want to use esports to build more interest and a greater connectivity to our game through the hockey video game,” says Gary Bettman, “It’s complementary.”
Keith Wachtel, NHL executive vice president states that they really want the pros and teams to connect with the fans and players of esports.
We want to make this more about the clubs and teams and have players involved where players and teams are getting on social media and saying, for example, ‘Root for Player X, who’s representing the Philadelphia Flyers at the NHL World Gaming Championships.’ I think more people will get involved and engaged when that starts happening.
They believe that if fans see their favorite NHL stars are rooting for esports players, then people will want to interact in the esports scene. Bettman actually emphasized the importance of the esports scene at the board of governors meetings in Las Vegas the next day.
“This was an incredible rollout,” Bettman says. “But this is just the beginning of us doing bigger and grander things with esports.”
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