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Virtual faceoff

by Ronil Desai / Vancouver Canucks

Big Screen? Check. Gaming Console? Check. Add a comfy couch and a bowl of snacks and the list is complete for a group of 12 gamers.

Every monthly occasion calls for a video game tournament, in which these lower mainland residents position themselves in a friends living room located in Burnaby to take part in the fastest game on virtual ice.

The key ingredient to the mix is NHL 12, a video game developed by Electronic Arts that has motivated a group of spirited Canuck faithful to take their passion for gaming to new heights. The competitor’s battle it out against one another on Sony's Playstation 3 and the ultimate winner will not only claim bragging rights but more importantly, will earn the respect from all those in attendance.

Playing road hockey on a daily basis is a thing of the past for these friends who have grown up together from an early age. As time passes and they embark on their education, the 16-22 year olds rarely meet, as a result, brought the stick and puck indoors to play in a tournament that allows them to reunite, relive their passion for the game, and embody the athletes they idolize.

“We’re all about the game of hockey and this allows us to experience it from a different point of view,” said 19 year old Vivek Kothary, the host of the tournament. “It gets pretty intense and since we’re all competitive and grew up in Vancouver, the passion to cheer on the Canucks and play with them through this game brings out that aggressive spirit, even if it is just a video game.”

The evening kicks off with a random selection of teams, which then helps form the tournament bracket. With six players in each conference, players are then placed in a pool of opponents to determine their first round matchups.

After hours of screaming at the screen and maneuvering their favorite players all through the power of their controllers, the tournament eventually arrives at a climax, as two player’s battle it out for the championship in front of a sold out living room.

The on-ice product has its clear advantages but that doesn’t mean the tournament sparks a little competition and hysteria. While the players on the ice are in the elite category, the video game allows the average Joe to become a pro for the day as he makes the saves and tallies the game winning goal.

Year after year, the style and features of the game become increasingly realistic with replays, commentators critiquing the action, players protesting bad calls and signature celebrations following a victory.

“The game forces us to actually think rather than just play the game,” said Vishal Patel, a UBC engineering student. “It takes practice to be able to formulate a play, cycle in the zone and remain strong defensively all while ensuring the right players are on the ice during the key moments.”

There is no comparison to going to the game live which is why setting the atmosphere and making sure the surround sound is in full effect is crucial to the overall game play. From the sounds of the puck ringing off the crossbar to the vibration of a heavy hit, these devoted gamers will do whatever it takes to enhance the experience.

Vinay Panchal, a senior at Riverside Secondary, explains the mentality behind the tournament. “We’re jumping off our seats if we score but were also pretty down on ourselves if we fall short. We got everything you need, a little play-by-by announcing and pre and post game interviews, we love to replicate the real scenario.”

What’s striking about participating in these tournaments is the fact that these games are educating the consumers on everything from a team’s roster to the intricate salary cap; the video game turns gamers into savvy hockey fans.

For these virtual gamers, the monthly NHL tournament is a tradition that is showing no signs of slowing down, unless of course a few items go missing from the checklist.

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