Maple Leafs kick off online gaming tournament, with finale at Scotiabank Arena


TORONTO — Having already brought the Raptors and Toronto FC into the esports world, Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment is now looking for the best hockey video gamers.

The Toronto Maple Leafs and WorldGaming Network have announced Leafs Gaming League, a one-versus-one online ladder for “EA Sports NHL 19” gamers.

“We want to find the best ‘NHL 19’ gamer in Leafs Nation and crown them as the Leafs gaming champion,” said Shane Talbot, MLSE’s esports manager.

From Oct. 3 through the 2018 holiday season, “NHL 19” gamers can compete online with ladder rankings determining qualification for various promotions and tournaments, including the grand finals Jan. 3 at Scotiabank Arena.

The prize for the winner has yet to be announced.

All players will use the Maple Leafs as their team, moving up and down the ladder depending on their results.

The top eight players on the ladder as of midnight Oct. 18 will also take part in Leafs Gaming Day on Oct. 21 at Real Sports Bar and Grill in Toronto.

Organizers are not sure how many gamers the online tournament will attract.

“What we know is that Toronto is well-represented in the NHL (gaming) community. We know there’s a lot of top players in Leaf Nation. So we’re excited to see what the response is,” said Talbot.

The NHL’s first foray into esports was the NHL Gaming World Championship which netted Finnish winner Erik Tammenpaa US$50,000 in June.

The league has also encouraged its franchises to pursue esports locally.

WorldGaming partnered earlier this year with the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, created by the late Philadelphia Flyers owner, for the inaugural Snider Hockey Cup. The event, whose final was in March, drew more than 4,000 gamers.

It was the first tournament using the made-in-Canada EA Sports NHL title for WorldGaming, although the gaming platform has put on hockey events since 2010 under its previous guise as Virgin Gaming.

Sumit Arora, MLSE’s senior director of strategy, expects more NHL teams to announce their own tournaments.

“This player community has been wanting more formal and more official sorts of events and activations,” said WorldGaming general manager Wim Stocks.

“The NHL has encouraged us to do a lot more franchise-by-franchise activations now that they’ve got a really good sense of how competitive video gaming can help the brand, can help them from a marketing perspective can help them, can help them addressing this audience which has been so difficult to reach,” he added.

Raptors Uprising GC finished fourth in the inaugural NBA 2K League in August. MLSE has hired pro gamer Philip Balke to carry Toronto FC’s flag in the eMLS Cup and other events.

WorldGaming has already partnered with MLSE and Raptors Uprising on “NBA 2K” tournaments.

Several NHL owners have already invested in esports.

The Aquilini Group (Vancouver Canucks), Kroenke Sports & Entertainment (Colorado Avalanche) and Comcast Spectacor (Philadelphia Flyers) have bought into teams – a Vancouver expansion franchise, the Los Angeles Gladiators, and Philadelphia Fusion, respectively – in the Overwatch League.

The Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps also have pro soccer gamers.

WorldGaming is also working on content to help NHL gamers improve their play. Stocks expects future tournaments to expand to three-on-three and six-on-six modes.

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