The largest prize pool in the history of the event will be on the line when the 2020 NHL Gaming World Championship begins this week.
A total prize pool of $150,000 will be available with $60,000 going to the winner.
It's one of many changes for this year's tournament, which will see prizes awarded during Round 2. There will also be an expanded World Final that will see three finalists from each Regional final advance, up from two the past two seasons.
Matt "Top-Shelf Cookie" Gutkowski, last year's winner, said he's a big fan of the changes, including prizes being awarded at the Regional level.
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"If you got knocked out early, you would go home with nothing. You could have been the second-best player in the entire nation and walked away with nothing," said Gutkoski, who took home the $50K prize last year. "Now, even if you don't take a Regional, you still have a chance at a couple hundred bucks. No one is going to complain about coming away with some money."
Also, the entire Online Play-in Bracket Round has adopted a best-of-three format to give competitors a fair chance at advancing to each Regional final. That suggestion came from the gaming community.
"I'm excited for it. Personally, I like it," Gutkoski said. "In a best-of-three, it gives a better opportunity for the better player to advance. Last year the Bracket Play was a Best-of-1, so if (your opponent) had an odd play style that was maybe hard to adapt to, you may realize how to beat it by the third period, but you could be down 4-0 by then."
Also new this year, the European Regional final will be held in the studios of Viaplay and NENT Group in Copenhagen, Denmark to expand the Tournament's European presence in the Nordics.
"As seen most recently with our Chel Gaming Challenge during NHL All-Star Weekend in St. Louis, online gaming is a force -- and the NHL gaming community is more engaged and enthusiastic than ever," said Chris Golier, NHL vice president of business development. "The NHL Gaming World Championship allows us to interact with the hockey community in authentic ways that help extend the reach of the NHL brand to a younger, gaming-savvy demographic.
"The platform continues to attract a number of blue-chip NHL corporate partners who have experienced increased visibility across the global stage."
Registration for this year's tournament is open at NHL.com/gaming.
Round 1 will consist of a four-week period beginning on Wednesday. Players will compete using an existing or newly created Hockey Ultimate Team (HUT). Each week, the top 32 players from each region on each of the Xbox One and PlayStation4 consoles (based on wins in up to 25 games and their in-game Skill Rating) will advance to Round 2.
Round 2 for players who qualify for the European Union Online Play-in Bracket will be April 11 and April 18; for United States Online Play-in Bracket, April 18 and April 25; and Canadian Online Play-in Bracket, April 25 and May 2.
The World Final will be held the same week as the NHL Awards.
The HUT Draft also returns for each Regional final and again for the World Final. Participants will draft their unique rosters from a pool of available Hockey Ultimate Team Items featuring NHL players. Once a player is drafted, that player is no longer available, resulting in squads with no duplicate players or duplicate clubs. Draft dates and specific details can be found in the Tournament Rules.
Gutkoski, a 21-year-old student at The Ohio State University, defeated John "JohnWaynee90" Casagranda in the final last year in Las Vegas. Erik "Eki" Tammenpaa, from Espoo, Finland was the 2018 champion and finished fourth last year. He was defeated by Karl "Mg x Nuclear" Caslib in the third-place matchup.
The tournament will be streamed live on twitch.tv/nhl. Official rules and the full schedule for the event can be viewed on NHL.com. Sponsors of the tournament this year include GreatClips, Honda and Scotiabank.
As for Gutkoski, can he repeat as champion in 2020?
"I still think I am one of the better players around. I'm going to be scrimmaging as much as I can with good players. With school it is a very busy time," he said. "Now is the time of year, it's the real deal. I'll be cramming left and right. But I am very confident I will give it another run."