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Pro hockey players to partake in NHL 20 esports competition

The NHL Player Gaming Challenge will feature nearly 50 NHLers

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NHL 20 screenshot of the New Jersey Devils’ P.K. Subban with his stick in front of him, having just taken a shot Image: EA Vancouver/Electronic Arts
Samit Sarkar (he/him) is Polygon’s deputy managing editor. He has more than 15 years of experience covering video games, movies, television, and technology.

With their seasons suspended or postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, professional sports leagues around the world have turned to esports to give their fans some competition to watch while staying inside. The NHL is the latest organization to go virtual, announcing Thursday that nearly 50 real-life hockey players have signed up to represent their teams in an NHL 20 competition called the NHL Player Gaming Challenge.

This won’t be a tournament per se; the NHL has set up a series of one-off games that will play out primarily during the month of May. It sounds like the league organized these head-to-head matchups around fun themes — for instance, one of the first games will feature the Calgary Flames and Ottawa Senators, with the intra-Canadian contest pitting Matthew Tkachuk against his younger brother Brady Tkachuk.

“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. You can see the full list of participants below and on the league’s website.

a list of all 31 NHL teams (plus the unnamed Seattle franchise) and the players representing them in the NHL Player Gaming Challenge Image: NHL

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.

The NHL’s announcement of this esports event follows similar initiatives from other sports leagues. Baseball players have engaged in heated competition in the MLB The Show Players League, while soccer fans have been able to watch their favorite players from both Major League Soccer and the English Premier League duke it out in FIFA 20 tournaments. And this won’t be the NHL’s first foray into esports during this pandemic. Last night, Alexander Ovechkin and Wayne Gretzky played each other in NHL 20, helping to raise more than $40,000 for charity.

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