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The NHL World Gaming Championships brings hockey to a new platform

From the ice to the couch and around the world.

Kevin Sousa  via Getty Images

On June 18th, while the NHL Awards are being handed out, another group of players will be collecting trophies of their own. Players from Finland, the United States, and Canada will gather at the HyperX Esports Arena Las Vegas to find out who is the best NHL eSports player in the world.

There were big changes made to the tournament ahead of this year’s competition. Gaming began in February, open to every player in Canada, the US, and the European union. Everyone had 25 games to play a week, for four weeks. Once the top players were sorted out there were tournaments that weeded out the top eight players in each region, then the players gathered to play face to face. Once regional winners and runners up are decided, all six players will fly to Las Vegas, with the winners getting a bye to the semi-finals and the others playing for that fourth spot.

The regionals saw a tournament mode used over last years ‘VS’ mode. This had two advantages - the players could draft their own teams, choosing players that fit their style of play - and it kept matches from repeating teams, like last year’s Pittsburgh vs Pittsburgh games.

Youtuber Nasher (Andrew Telfer) did the colour and Arda Orcal was the play by play, and they both saw the changes to building teams as a huge boost to the tournament.

Nasher:

The draft was huge for this year, it helps with the stories for the game. Each player has their unique strategy going into it, building big teams, fast teams, and seeing them go head to head I think their decisions really helped them and make the team theirs.

Orcal:

The commentary this year is much more fun than last year. It’s not “Crosby this, Crosby shoots, Crosby has the puck.” It’s a lot more fun here. It adds a bit more where we have to explain the mode, explain the set up so they’re not wondering why Crosby’s a Leaf, why Tavares is a Canuck, it might be jarring at first. Setting it up is important, but after that it’s time to get into the game.

Two weeks ago, the Europeans had their chance and will be sending two Finnish players to Las Vegas; f0cus99 - Hannes ‘Hansulino’ Kettunen of Vantaa- was the runner up and Tilantekija - Erik ‘Eki’ Tammenpää of Espoo - was the grand prize winner. In Europe it’s an all Finnish affair. Last year in the inaugural tournament, seven of the eight finalists were from Finland - all ganging up on one poor Swede - and both finalists in Vegas were from Finland, including 2018 world champion Erik ‘EKI’ Tammenpää.

The European gamers are a breed all their own. Speaking with the NHL’s eSports play by play man Arda Orcal, he sees the Finns as an entire country playing together:

For the finals, there is a pride there among the countrymen. Especially with the Finns. For the second consecutive year seven of the eight European finalists were from Finland, and the two coming to Vegas are Finnish as well.

What I’ve noticed is that even if another Finn is eliminated they’ll rally around their countrymen as a show of support. They’re very proud of the fact that this country of 5 million people produced the world champion in NHL 18 and maybe now NHL 19.

Saturday night saw Canada host its regional finals, and it was a bit more spread out across the country. Four players came from Ontario, three from Quebec and one from British Columbia. A few familiar faces made the trip to Toronto this year - Sitful, ThaiUp34535, and Yung Gren all returned from the 2018 tournament, and just like last year, Yung Gren - Matthew Grenier - was the Canadian runner up.

Yung Gren had success throughout the season; he won the Toronto Maple Leafs and Minnesota Wild NHL19 tournaments as well as the Ed Snider Cup in Philadelphia; and we saw a rematch of that championship game in the early stages of the regional finals, and winning that was Grenier’s goal:

Grenier:

“I was coming up into the scene and [J-Fear] was the one person who everyone thought was the best in North America,” Gren said. “We chirped online before the tournament, and he won Game 1 (of the best-of-5 series). Right after winning, he threw up a ‘3-0’ sign. [But then] I reverse swept him, winning the series 3-1.”

The two rivals didn’t disappoint as each game of their best of three series went to overtime as the series went the distance.

Nasher:

The best series has to be Fearless vs Yung Gren, we haven’t had many close match ups, but that series every game went to OT.

Ocal:

It’s been the most dramatic and intense video game tournament I’ve ever called. I was up out of my chair and jumping up and down. These two with their history, how invested they were, to be able to provide an audio soundtrack to that was amazing.

However it was Mg x Nuclear - Karl Caslib of Vancouver - who won the entire show, despite being the only west coast entry into the regional finals, and playing his first year of competitive gaming. His day job has helped him get into some of the lesser aspects of competitive gaming.

Karl:

During the day I’m a casino dealer, I deal with a lot of different personalities, I’ve been yelled at, called names - it doesn’t faze me at all anymore.

The Canadian champion is a stone faced rookie, literally, as he rarely cracks a smile through the final round, focused on the game at hand, but also not getting caught up in the hype.

Karl:

It’s just kind of how I play, I don’t want to take things too serious. I’m going to enjoy [this win] but also focus on getting ready for Vegas. I’ll watch clips of the European and American players and be ready.

He was an unknown rookie coming into this tournament and now he’s the national champion. You can’t ask for a better story than that, especially when it’s your job to tell the story.

Ocal:

I love the storylines. I get invested in people’s journeys. He ended up becoming Canadian champion and that’s phenomenal because no one knew who he was. It would be easy to pick Josh, or Matthew, or [others] because people have seen them before.

I think Karl came in with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, because a lot of players from the west coast get disrespected a bit. The bulk of the elite level is on the east coast, the streamers are more out there, so he got to be a bit like I represent BC, I represent the west coast, and those players because we don’t get a lot of love sometimes. I’m going to lead this charge.

The 2019 Canadian regionals were a smashing success for the NHL this season, with 50,000 people watching the final games play out on Twitch with a total of 2.7 million viewers over the course of the tournament.

The Americans will play their tournament - the final games before Vegas - tomorrow night on Twitch.tv/NHL, and then the finals will take place June 18th, two weeks after the six finalists draft their teams on June 5th.

If you want to check out the games from the Canadian and European finals, you can replay them on the NHL’s Twitch account.