The National Hockey League (NHL) has said that it will not initially follow the likes of the National Football League (NFL) and the National Basketball Association (NBA) in creating an esports mirror of its existing competition.
Chris Grolier, NHL’s vice president of business development, told ESPN that the NHL’s esports expansion plans will differ from its counterparts by not immediately establishing a full-blown league. Rather, year two of the NHL’s esports competition will incorporate the 31 NHL franchises in some capacity, with locally activated tournaments serving as a large component.
Keith Wachtel, NHL executive vice president and chief revenue officer, explained further: "We want to get more players involved. 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’.”
A cautious yet successful debut year with the NHL Gaming World Championship saw the NHL enjoy streaming metrics on par with its aforementioned North American sporting rivals, a rarity in almost every other popularity metric.
Commissioner Gary Bettman wants the NHL’s approach to esports to be holistic with its younger fanbase.
“We wanted this to be another touch point and another connection to our real game,” he said. “We weren’t looking to start something different. We weren’t looking to start a different league. We wanted to have our fans, who were into esports, to have a way to play our game and connect to our game.”
“We want to use esports to build more interest and a greater connectivity to our game through the hockey video game. It’s complementary.”
The inaugural NHL Gaming World Championship received 15,500 entrants and ultimately saw six finalists competing for a total prize pool of US$100,000, with eventual champion, Finland’s Erik Tammennpa, pocketing US$50,000 last month.