And now, for something completely different.
For decades, from Swingers to Top Shelf Cookie, there's been a dominant way to play hockey video games. You plug in your controller and play either against a friend or the computer, taking responsibility for all the players on your team whenever they have the puck.
That's the 1v1 format followed by the NHL World Gaming Championship, as well as millions of players across the globe since the glory days of NHL 94.
But there's also plenty of people interested in a more realistic gaming experience, which is shown in the growth of 3-on-3 tournaments and even 6-on-6 gameplay. And it's that latter market CBJ Gaming is tapping into with the start Wednesday of the CBJ/Pepsi Summer Cup, a six-week XBox One NHL 20 tournament that will match up the best 6s teams from across North America with a $2,000 prize on the line.
To Cam Halbert, aka NoSleevesGaming, who will provide broadcasting for the event on the CBJ Gaming Twitch feed, the tournament is drawing a lot of interest because of the spotlight it will provide for a passionate and growing segment of the gaming universe.
"I think the most competitive way to play NHL now is 6v6," Halbert said. "The 6v6 community is very passionate. We're a niche part of the community for these video games, but the people that play it consistently are super passionate."
That passion is shown in the size of the field for the CBJ/Pepsi Summer Cup. With more than 100 teams having signed up to play, it will be the largest 6v6 tournament staged for a growing community.
In a gaming world where such titles as Fortnite and Call of Duty have become massively popular because of the team-based strategy and gameplay that allow gamers to come together with their friends to have a good time, it's only natural that sports video games would follow.
The CBJ/Pepsi Summer Cup should highlight the best of the best, especially with weekly game broadcasts that will feature the best teams and built excitement as the tournament goes on.
"You're gonna get the most competitive 6v6 teams in this tournament," said Halbert, a popular streamer and esports broadcaster who also is an EA Sports game changer who collaborates with the game developers on issues facing the game. "Everyone in the 6s community from casual fans to Columbus Blue Jackets fans to the most competitive 6s teams in North America will be competing in this. It's going to be the highest level of game play.
"On the broadcast, we're going to be highlighting the best matchups every single week, developing those storylines and try to make it as exciting as possible so you can really follow along and see what the game is like played at the highest level."
The tournament will consist of a four-week regular season, followed by two weeks of playoff competition featuring the top 16 teams facing off in best-of-five series culminating with the championship final Aug. 23. The championship series will begin at 8 p.m. ET and be streamed live on twitch.tv/NHLBlueJackets. The winning team will receive $1,400 with the runner-up receiving $600.
The Blue Jackets also have teamed up with LeagueGaming, one of the largest online hockey gaming communities in the world, to help promote and run the event.
"To get this tournament off the ground we talked with Cam and explained we wanted to hold a top-tier event for the community," said Anthony Allocco, Blue Jackets Digital/Social Media Coordinator. "He put us in touch with LeagueGaming and we never looked back. The team at LG has done this for over 15 years and teaming up with them has been great to reach the top teams and create hype for this event."
It's all part of the growing esports community, one the NHL and its teams are trying to highlight to help grow the sport on the ice and with the sticks. The NHL Gaming World Championship debuted in 2018 to crown a world 1v1 winner, a tournament won in 2019 by Blue Jackets fan and central Ohio native Matt Gutkoski, aka Top Shelf Cookie. Many teams around the league stage one-off 1v1 tournaments with prize money for those who take part, and such tournaments have been growing in popularity for elite players and less experienced players alike.
In addition, teams like the Blue Jackets and Washington Capitals have created gaming arms. CBJ Gaming, which launched in April, has so far featured events in which players like Elvis Merzlikins and Zach Werenski have taken part while also reaching Twitch affiliate status. The club has staged multiple NHL tournaments in the 1v1 and 3v3 realm to this point, and by the conclusion of the CBJ/Pepsi Summer Cup, the Blue Jackets will have awarded $14,000 in prize money for gaming.
"I think you're at an interesting point now just in terms of getting kids involved in the game," Halbert said. "Hockey is an expensive sport to play, and one way to grow the interest of fans, whether they played or not as a kid, is the video game. The competitive aspect of it puts more eyes on it, and when kids see, 'Hey, I'm good at a video game, why can't I go and do this competitively?' you not only create NHL video game fans but hockey fans as well."
For more information on the CBJ/Pepsi Summer Cup and all of CBJ Gaming initiatives, fans can visit www.BlueJackets.com/cbjgaming. All live streams will be available via the CBJ Gaming Twitch account at twitch.com/nhlbluejackets. Fans can also follow on Twitter at twitter.com/cbjgaming and the CBJ Gaming YouTube page at https://cbj.co/CBJG-YT.