North America's top hockey video gamers are facing off in the inaugural Snider Hockey Cup.
It's the first tournament using the made-in-Canada EA Sports "NHL 18" title for WorldGaming, although the gaming platform has put on hockey events since 2010 under its previous guise as Virgin Gaming.
"We have the NHL supporting and blessing this all along the way," said WorldGaming general manager Wim Stocks.
The NHL is expected to ramp up its connections to esports, with the NBA and MLS having already announced plans for their own esports leagues. WorldGaming hopes to be part of that.
"Our goal is to have a significant involvement with the NHL game with a more structured sports type of approach," said Stocks.
"The NHL is very interested in how it brings a tighter engagement to players, how it works as a marketing tool to broaden interest in the game on a global basis," he added.
The NHL did not have an immediate comment on its esports plans.
It's also the first major WorldGaming competition with a tie-in to a benevolent group, in this case the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, which was created by the late Philadelphia Flyers owner to build lives and unite communities through hockey.
"Ed Snider was a visionary. What better way to honour Ed than to be the first foundation to embrace the esports industry with this tournament that will ultimately benefit the student-athletes of the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation," foundation president Scott Tharp said in a statement.
Interest in the competition has been keen, with one of the largest sign-ups in WorldGaming history.
Stocks says WorldGaming is talking to other NHL teams with similar benevolent affiliations.
"It's a model I think we could have fun with and I think do some good in the process," said Stocks.
The tournament, which features one-on-one play, has three stages.
Online qualifiers started Jan. 10 and will run through Feb. 10 with online playoffs scheduled for Feb. 17-18. The live championship is set for March 7 in Xfinity Live! Philadelphia, an entertainment centre that is part of the Wells Fargo Center.
The four finalists — two for Xbox and two for PlayStation — will also attend the game between the Philadelphia Flyers and the Pittsburgh Penguins that night at the Wells Fargo Center.
The EA NHL game franchise sells between two million and 2.5 million units a year in North America, with half of that in Canada, according to Stocks.
"As much as we're welcoming in the broad base of players from the U.S., our Canadian base is still the most important of this particular game," said Stocks.
There is more than US$17,500 in prizes, including cash, merchandise, apparel and tickets. First place is worth $4,000 and a signed Philadelphia Flyers jersey.
The tournament is open to players in Canada and the continental U.S. (excluding Arizona, Maryland, Tennessee, and New Jersey) who are 14 years of age and older, on both Xbox One and PlayStation 4.
The official name for the tournament is the Snider Hockey Cup Sponsored by Xbox, Powered by WorldGaming.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press