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Finalists to battle for first-ever Blue Jackets gaming crown

Ohio State student, Connecticut native to meet for NHL 19 crown

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

The Blue Jackets won't play hockey at Nationwide Arena on Monday, but there will be an event worth watching. 

The first-ever Blue Jackets EA Sports NHL 19 tournament will conclude at 5 p.m. with two top gamers facing off with $5,000 on the line. There will be a Columbus tie, with the two players each playing as the Blue Jackets. One finalist of the 650 gamers to enter is from central Ohio, and the finals matchup, which will be streamed live on the Blue Jackets' Twitch stream, will feature commentary from Columbus' own Nasher before the noted gamer takes on the champ in a friendly match. 

If you're familiar with the popularity of the NHL 19 video game, all this will make sense to you. If you're not, trust us, it's not as weird as you think.  

And if you're asking, why watch people play video games? For the same reason people watch people play hockey: It's a skill, and they're really good at it.  

First, here are bios of the two finalists -- Lewis Center native Matt Gutkoski and Connecticut native Josh Fuss. 

Matt Gutkoski (Top Shelf Cookie) 

Home: Lewis Center, Ohio 

System: PS4 

Twitter handle: @TSCCookie 

Accomplishments: Made it to the semi-finals in the NHL Gaming World Championship last year in Vegas 

How he got into high-level gaming: "I've been playing video games since I was 5 years old. I didn't actually start playing hockey until first or second grade, so I think I was playing video games before I got on the ice. I started playing competitively last year, and that was because I started playing NHL and was slowly creeping up the leaderboard and starting to hang around near the top. I started beating some relatively big-name players, so when the Gaming World Championship came out, I was like, 'I'll give it a shot. I literally have nothing to lose.'"

 

Gutkoski, 21, is a marketing major at Ohio State and attended Olentangy Orange High School, where he played on a team that won the Blue Jackets Cup as champion of the Capital Hockey Conference in 2015. He's taken part in a number of team tournaments throughout the season but finally broke through with a win in the PS4 bracket of his hometown team's event. 

"I've done a few of them, but nothing to get to that next step," Gutkoski said. "Honestly, to be able to get to the Blue Jackets one, if there's any tournament I would have wanted to make, it would be this one. It's nice to finally win one." 

Josh Fuss 

Home: Greenwich, Ct. 

System: XBox 

Twitter/Instagram/Twitch/YouTube Handles: OFs_5 

Accomplishments: Participated in the Winnipeg Jets tournament, winning the XBox bracket 

How he got into high-level gaming: "I started playing a high level of NHL with NHL 17 but didn't really start competing in tournaments like this until this year." 

Fuss, 17, does have a connection to the Blue Jackets despite being from Connecticut. Though his favorite player is Sidney Crosby, he might have had a bit of an advantage in the CBJ tournament -- the Blue Jackets are his favorite team to use in the game. 

"I like using the CBJ because I personally think that they are the most well-rounded team in the game and have a lot of really good star players in the game," Fuss said. 

When it comes to this tournament, Fuss said he was a bit lucky after being unlucky on the first day. He had planned to take part in the PS4 bracket but overslept, then the next day he ended up with a good bracket and was able to win the XBox version of the tournament. 

"I was placed into kind of an easy bracket to start things off and then from winning all those games I was able to just stay on my win streak until the end," he said. 

Getting To Know Chel 

Gaming has been popular for decades now, but its real moment of growth seems to be happening right now. If you've ever heard of Fortnite, Overwatch or League of Legends, you know esports is taking off, with universities sponsoring teams and television networks lining up to try to get a piece of the pie. Twitch, a website where users can watch and interact with popular gamers, has become one of the most visited sites in the world. 

With the popularity of sports video games, too, pro teams and leagues are getting involved. Many NHL teams now sponsor tournaments like the Blue Jackets' event, and the NHL itself is behind the Gaming World Championship last year that matched up the top gamers in the U.S., Canada and Europe. 

"I'm sure I speak for everyone here: We all like to see these different teams offering us chances to travel all around the world to play against each other to play for big prizes," Fuss said. "It's very fun." 

It also allows the competitive juices to keep flowing for people like Gutkoski and Fuss, who each played hockey growing up. At some point, it became clear they wouldn't make the highest level on the ice, but gaming off of it scratches that itch in a similar way. 

"In my case, I played hockey growing up and playing through high school, and I played a little bit of D-III club," Gutkoski said. "I knew I should probably give up hockey, but I wasn't really trying to yet. Now with playing competitively through the video game, it's allowed me to keep that sense of competitiveness that was missing when I stopped playing." 

There is also an element of synergy between playing the game and in real life. Both Gutkoski and Fuss said playing hockey on the ice has helped them with strategies in the game, and the game has allowed them to come up with some new ideas and creativity to take to the ice. 

"Before I stopped playing hockey in real life playing the game really helped me out seeing the ice more and helped me learn new plays that I have never seen before done by anyone that would be extremely creative in real life," Fuss said. "It's definitely same thing for the video game." 

Gutkoski also points to a benefit for the sport of hockey as well. The more people watch and care about the game, the more exposure hockey and the NHL get. 

"I think overall that's great for not only the video game but the actual game itself," Gutkoski said. "It's just adding more and more reasons to watch games and follow it." 

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