The celebration of the Vancouver Canucks' 50th anniversary season is well underway as the Canucks hit the ice on Saturday - the digital ice as their NHL 19 avatars that is.
Eight of BC's best NHL 19 Playstation 4 gamers faced off one on one on the main stage of The Gaming Stadium in Richmond, BC in the inaugural Vancouver Canucks Chel Challenge ("chel" as gaming slang for the EA Sports NHL video game series).
Gemini award winner and Canadian broadcaster James Cybulski, the voice of the soon-to-be-released NHL 20 video game, and Max Sussman, host of The Game Show on Sportsnet 650, were the play-by-play commentators, giving the event the same big-league feel as one would come to expect as if watching the Stanley Cup playoffs.
As the first-ever Chel tournament hosted by the Canucks, Kaitlin Imai, Fan & Community Engagement Manager, expressed the excitement behind this opportunity to connect with fans through esports. "Gaming is a huge reality for us, so if you're consuming the Canucks brand through a game versus in person, or both, that's great. Either way, you're still a fan," said Imai. "That's why we're doing it - to really be able to speak to another group of people."
To kick off the event and congratulate the top eight finalists for reaching the highest level in most of their NHL gaming careers, Imai handed each competitor a Canucks heritage 50th season jersey customized with their gaming names on the back, along with a copy of the NHL 20 game coming up in September.
The competitors secured a spot to play in the live finale through four days of online Battlefy qualifiers earlier in the month of August. Over 900 entrants from across British Columbia duked it out with the top two players from each qualifier moving on to the final showdown in Canada's first esports arena.
Squaring off in a series of single-elimination match-ups, all eyes were on East Vancouver native Karl "MGxNuclear" Caslib (a.k.a. "Nuke"), who proudly represented Western Canada in the Grand Finals of the 2019 NHL Gaming World Championship held in Las Vegas in June. Nuke did not make the final on this day as the tournament-favourite was eliminated in the first game of the day against the 8th-seeded challenger; it suddenly became anyone's tournament.
While it was the youngest finalist, 17-year-old Trevor "KingClutchx77" Brown, who stood out in the quarterfinals with an impressive 6-0 shutout of Eamonn Farquharson (using his first name as his gamer handle), KingClutchx77 ended up in 3rd place, winning a Canucks Sports & Entertainment ticket prize pack.
Meanwhile, the championship final went to two of the more understated players in the semifinals: Edward "SAP_Alien40" Nicol-McCabe versus Adil "Bajwuhh" Bajwa. Both played their matches against more dominant opponents, spending much more time in the defensive zone, yet skillfully and opportunistically converting fewer scoring chances into goals.
It was an exciting rematch as Bajwuhh had defeated SAP_Alien40 in the qualifiers, and both had developed reputations for playing well under pressure throughout the tournament. After an early goal by SAP_Alien40 in the first two minutes of the final game, Bajwuhh roared back with four straight goals en route to a 6-3 win to stun the crowd in Richmond.
Video: Interview with Canucks #ChelChallenge Winner
Fittingly, the primary assist on the last goal came off the stick of none other than Adam Gaudette, Bajwuhh's all-time favourite Canucks player, who he models his real life hockey playing style after. Securing the coveted title of the 2019 Canucks Chel Champion, Bajwuhh won a Canucks VIP experience and the opportunity to play NHL 20 with a Canucks player.
Although diehard Canucks fan SAP_Alien40 (whose moniker is a salute to Elias Petterson's "Speed, Agility, Power" commercial) suffered a hard loss, he was still awarded with a Canucks VIP experience and a post-game player meet-and-greet. And perhaps there will be further championship moments to celebrate in this 50th anniversary season.
"The Canucks winning the cup would be the pinnacle of my whole life," said SAP_Alien40, perhaps shadowing a successful upcoming season for the Canucks.
Is it October yet?