By Nick Frias/For Somos Sports
PHOENIX — The Arizona Coyotes became the first team to sign an eSports athlete when they added EA Sports NHL ’18 No. 3 player John Wayne Casagranda to the Yotes family during the previous season.
Now, with a new NHL season beginning and the new EA NHL ’19 video game being released, the Coyotes hosted a gaming tournament Wednesday night. The competitors came from local club hockey teams, all of which fought for the grand prize of $3,000 given to the winning team’s organization.
Arizona State University’s Division II ACHA team and Grand Canyon University’s Division II ACHA team cruised to a championship bout against each other. After GCU jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, the Sun Devils mounted a comeback before falling 4-3.
Sun Devil DII participant Cole Kamin enjoyed the experience as a whole, despite losing in the finals of the NHL, known by gamers as the “chel”, tournament.
“Obviously we would like to have won,” Kamin said, “but we played a couple good games of chel and some games don’t fall your way, and that’s what happened.”
Kamin’s teammate Jared Minton expressed his own disappointment, but he justified it, saying, “That’s chel. Anyone can beat anyone.”
Even with the championship victory, the Lopes’ night wasn’t over just yet. Despite already winning the trophy and $3,000, they were given the chance to play Coyotes players Christian Fischer and Brendan Perlini with an extra $1000 on the line.
GCU jumped out to a 7-0 lead through two periods, and at that moment Casagranda subbed in for Fischer. The pros scored a few times in the final period, but it was not enough to prevent Grand Canyon DII from pulling in another $1,000 for their program.
Despite playing a new version of the NHL franchise for the first time in a game with money involved for one side, the loss did not dampen the spirits of the Coyotes competing, although it also did not prevent excuses from flying.
“I honestly haven’t played NHL since I was 10,” Perlini, the only one on the losing side to play the entire game, said. “It’s been a long time and I remembered a few of the buttons, but for most of it I was just skating around in a circle. Managed to score one goal though, and that’s all that counts.”
The tournament had its own rules, most importantly that the only playable team was the hometown Coyotes. It came just a few weeks after NHL scouts and GMs discussed their views on prospects gaming.
Many of the players shared similar sentiments on the issue, including one of the current NHL players in Perlini.
“I’m mixed on it,” the Coyotes forward said. “I agree in a way, but also video games for me was a huge part of my childhood.”
Perlini grew up across the pond in England, so FIFA was his go-to video game, but the NHL games taught him the popular names in the world’s premier hockey league.
Coyotes radio color analyst and Barstool podcast host Paul Bissonnette shared his thoughts on the matter, saying “If are not being used excessively and the kids aren’t staying up until (expletive) four in the morning, it’s better that these guys are at home gaming than out boozing.”
Around the same time that NHL executives were deterring players from video gaming, a horrific tragedy occurred in the eSports world. On August 26th, 2018, a competitor at a Madden tournament in Jacksonville, Florida opened fire after a loss, killing two competitors and injuring ten others.
Security watched over Wednesday’s event, with a team of people checking bags and frisking attendees in search of weapons. A spokesperson from the team said security was part of the event plans from the start.
Despite the security and the news of the shooting, the participants seemed unfazed.
“It honestly didn’t affect my decision to come here,” Kamin said, and Minton echoed his teammate’s thoughts.
Perlini chose to attend despite the news as well, stating that although he has not forgotten about the tragic event, it did not cross his mind that something like that could happen at the Coyotes’ event.
Even Casagranda, a professional eSports player, said he did not fear a shooting at tonight’s event, praising the Coyotes’ event planning. Despite his absence of worry for tonight, August’s event hit home for him.
“When I found out what happened to Trueboy and SpotMePlzzz, it’s just heartbreaking man,” a choked-up Casagranda said. “Before the NHL eSports community took off, I thought about going pro in Madden, which I was never good enough to do, but I did watch all those guys, so it hit home. But that shouldn’t judge any one community or turn people off from video games.”
Even in today’s world, where a shooting can take place at a Madden tournament and professional sports executives can discourage prospects from playing video games, eSports continues to grow at an alarming rate.
Many of the Major League Soccer teams have official eMLS players, 21 of the 30 NBA teams have an eSports roster, and each NFL team has a representative in the annual Madden Challenge. If Casagranda’s success in hockey eSports circles is any indication, an eNHL league could be on its way in the near future.