Like many of the competitors in the NHL Gaming World Championship, Arda Ocal is living out a fantasy.
Ocal will be the voice of the tournament, serving as play-by-play announcer for each of the three Regional Finals as well as the World Finals in Las Vegas on June 19.
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"I think it's going to be very exciting," Ocal said. "I've been in broadcast for more than 15 years, and when I started, there was no way to be involved in tournaments to this scale. For this to happen, I'm sure it's the same for many of the competitors, but it's a dream come true."
There are 24 competitors in three regions vying for the title of NHL Gaming World Champion. Ocal leaves for Stockholm, Sweden on Thursday to call the European Regional Final at Viasat television studios on Sunday. He'll also be in Toronto for the Canada Regional Finals at Sportsnet studios May 11 and the U.S. Regional Finals at NBC Studios in Stamford, Connecticut, on May 20. The winner and runner-up from each region advance to the World Finals.
Ocal, 36, is a commentator on New Jersey Devils broadcasts on MSG Networks and the host of "The MSG Hockey Show" in New York. He also is an avid video-game player who has reported on esports such as the King of 94 tournament, where competitors play head-to-head in EA Sports' NHL 94.
"I have the extensive hockey background that led me to think I'd be a good fit to be on the broadcast team for this tournament," Ocal said. "I guess I had a good blend of gaming knowledge and hockey knowledge to bring to the Gaming World Championship."
Ocal's experience may be vast, but he has seen how the NHL's involvement in the inaugural tournament, where the world's best gamers compete one-on-one at EA Sports' NHL 18 for a share of $100,000, is unique. He's also seen how it can grow.
"I think the League backing something like this is crucial," Ocal said. "I think with the NHL officially involved, it can certainly become a yearly thing; it can even grow from there. The opportunities are endless, and they are bountiful in what this can become. This is a fantastic way to kick things off with NHL and esports."
Ocal will be calling the games with analyst Andrew Telfer and rinkside reporter Andrea Helfrich. Despite the stage, Ocal has channeled his nerves into positive energy.
"I'm definitely more excited than nervous," Ocal said. "I'm more anxious for the moment to be here, and to be able to be part of that soundtrack for the people watching is much more exciting for me."