The National Hockey League will stage its first officially branded esports championship beginning this month, offering $100,000 in cash awards and other prizes to 24 challengers who prove themselves the best at EA Sports’ NHL 18 over the next month.
Qualifying in three different regions — the United States, Canada and Europe — will get underway in single-elimination online tournaments beginning Saturday, March 24. From there, each region will seed eight players who compete live in studios in their area in May. Finalists who emerge from that round will go on to the Luxor Hotel’s Esports Arena in Las Vegas for a round-robin tournament final on Tuesday, June 19.
The winner gets a trophy, a big chunk of the prize pool, and goes to the 2018 NHL Awards. The date for that has yet to be announced (it usually follows the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Playoffs).
Registration is currently underway via FaceIt, which is handling the tournament’s administration. Qualifying rounds will be spread across both platforms (PlayStation 4 and Xbox One) in all three regions and take place over four consecutive weekends starting March 24. Currently two regions in the United States and Canada and on the PlayStation 4 in Canada are full. Qualifying pools are capped at 1,024.
Those who wish to follow the action once the tournament gets underway can watch along on the NHL’s Twitch Channel. The regionals will be televised May 6 in Europe on Viasat; May 11 in Canada on Sportsnet, and May 20 in the U.S. on NBCSN.
The NHL’s Gaming World Championship comes about a week after the inaugural draft combine to set the player field for the NBA 2K League, announced to big fanfare last year. That season gets underway beginning in May, around the time the regionals in the NHL’s tournament will be held. There’s also the new eMLS, whose eMLS Cup will take place at PAX East 2018 next month.
The NHL’s event is different, of course — it’s an all-comers tournament as opposed to team-based championship events like the NBA 2K League and eMLS. But it is another league recognizing the growth and growing importance of esports and choosing to get in. It’s also important to Electronic Arts’ growing competition division, in which the EA Sports label already plays a big role through series like Madden NFL and FIFA.