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NHL jumps into esports market with international tournament

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The National Hockey League is finally entering the esports market and teaming up with EA Sports to deliver the 2018 NHL Gaming World Championship, a bracket-style 1-on-1 tournament that will begin on Saturday, March 24 for players in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

Players can register at FaceIt.com with the single-elimination tournament being held over four weekends.

From the NHL:

All games will be played in standard competitive ‘Online Versus 1-vs-1 Mode’ within NHL® 18. For each region, two Qualifiers will be played on Xbox® One and two Qualifiers will be played on PlayStation®4. Each Qualifier will produce a winner and runner-up who will each advance to the applicable Regional Final. The PS4 console will be the platform for the Regional Finals and World Final.

At the conclusion of all of the Qualifiers, eight players from each region will travel to a Regional Final, comprised of a double-elimination, in-person tournament. The European Finalists will compete at Viasat studios in Stockholm, Sweden, on Sunday, May 6. Canadian Regional Finalists will compete in Toronto, Ont., on Friday, May 11. U.S. Regional Finalists will compete at NBC Studios in Stamford, Conn., on Sunday, May 20.

The winners and runners-up from each regional final will move on to the 2018 NHL Gaming Final in Las Vegas, which will be held on June 19. They will participate in a round-robin style tournament with two winners advancing to the best-of-three championship, with the winner being awarded a share of the $100,000 prize pool and presented a trophy during the NHL Awards show on June 20.

NHL

For those who have played the EA Sports Hockey League in the NHL series, you’re probably wondering why the NHL decided to go with a 1-on-1 format as opposed to the usual 6-on-6 that gamers are used to.

“What we wanted to do, and this is a little bit different than everyone else, is to be as inclusive as possible,” Keith Wachtel, the NHL’s chief revenue officer and executive vice president of global partnerships told ESPN.com. “This is a participatory vehicle for us. We’re making it extremely simple. It’s a test-and-learn phase for us.”

If this runs smoothly for the league, maybe next year’s competition goes to the team-based format that gamers have come to love with the EASHL. Then, maybe someday, we’ll get an NHL ’94 international tournament where the “Brass Bonanza” theme song will run wild.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.