Player representatives from all 31 NHL clubs (as well as NHL Seattle, which was approved as an expansion franchise in December 2018 and will begin play in the 2021-22 season) will play in an NHL 20 charity exhibition, the league announced today. The NHL Player Gaming Challenge will take place over the course of four weeks, during which players from each NHL team will play head-to-head games to be broadcast on Twitch, YouTube, Facebook, and NHL.com. Each club will play once during the competition, creating 16 individual matchups. NHL Seattle will be represented by Seattle Seahawks player Luke Wilson.
Additionally, NBC Sports will air games on NBCSN while Sportsnet will air select matches on Sportsnet ONE, with all of the competitions made available on its subscription service Sportsnet NOW. The National Hockey League Foundation and EA (publisher of NHL 20) will also donate $100K USD to novel coronavirus (COVID-19) relief efforts.
Honda has signed on as the event’s presenting sponsor. The automotive brand has also supported the NHL’s other esports initiatives such as the NHL Gaming World Championship since 2018.
The competition is being produced in coordination with global tournament organizer ESL, which is providing “the production, creative direction, and logistical guidance for the event,” according to a release.
While players from the clubs will be competing against each other like they do in official matches, NHL VP of Business Development and Innovation Chris Golier told The Esports Observer that the focus of these broadcasts will be on engagement rather than competition.
“We’re seeing a lot of our players out there actively streaming. Some are doing it with a charitable component, some are doing it because they just love gaming and they’re just getting out there and talking to fans. So we don’t see this as being much different than that – it’s a nice loose, laid back format that helps to create and continue the conversation. We think that it’s a good format for engagement.”
Golier added that some match-ups had been planned based on friendships between players or other connections to further encourage that comfortable dynamic and “facilitate good hockey conversation.” That conversation will be facilitated by Los Angeles Kings TV play-by-play announcer Alex Faust, who will serve as host for each week’s matches.
“We want to talk hockey. We want to get hockey in front of the fans, having conversations, and we think this kind of format where our teams are featured is a good way to do that.”
In addition to the Player Gaming Challenge, the NHL is currently in the midst of online qualifiers for the third year of its primary esports initiative, the NHL Gaming World Championship. Earlier this year, the NHL announced that it would be increasing the prize pool for the World Championship to $150K for 2020.
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