The Panthers will hit the ice this weekend.
Well, sort of.
With a spot in the 2021 NHL Gaming World Championship's North American Final on the line, the Panthers will look to Christo "Wrxsto" Vasilakos to bring the organization some digital glory as he battles it out against seven other participants in a quest to claim the Central Division title.
The quarterfinal matches will be played off-air, but broadcaster Cameron "NoSleeves" Halbert will provide full highlights and results before the semifinals begin at 2 p.m. ET at Twitch.tv/NHL.
If he manages to best the competition and reach the final, Vasilakos will then face off against the winners of the three other divisions (North, West and East) for a chance to take home a $25,000 prize and cement himself as one of the top EA SPORTS NHL 21 players in the world.
Sporting a custom Panthers jersey with "Wrxsto" on the back (he also has one of Aleksander Barkov's in his closet), Vasilakos recently chatted with FloridaPanthers.com's Jameson Olive over Zoom to talk about his pre-tournament preparations, love of NHL gaming and much more.
OLIVE: While there's still some very big games coming up, what does it mean to already be one of the final 32 players remaining in the 2021 Gaming World Championship?
WRXSTO: It means the world. Just the fact that I put in so much work this year, grinded the game and got good. I obviously stayed inside with COVID for a while this past year, so I just put so many hours into the game. It means the world to be one of the 32 finalists and represent my favorite NHL team, the Panthers. This was all something that I could've never imaged. It was my dream as a kid to be an NHL player, but since I can't do that then I guess I can do it virtually.
OLIVE: Growing up in Canada, how did you become a fan of the Panthers?
WRXSTO: I live in Quebec, but my family actually has a condo in South Florida. Every time we'd go down, we'd see a few Panthers games. Over, like, two weeks, we'd see every game that we could while we were there. Watching Aleksander Barkov in person, how could you not like the Panthers? He's just one of the best players I've ever watched. He's so fascinating to watch.
OLIVE: Have you ever met any of the players?
WRXSTO: I actually met Jonathan Huberdeau on XBOX during the "Sunrise Showdown" tournament that you guys hosted in December. He ended up joining our party chat and talked with me and all of our friends. He's got me added on XBOX, so it's pretty sick. We talked about the tournament and just regular stuff. I was going crazy. It was a dream come true for me.
OLIVE: From what I've seen, Huberdeau is actually a pretty good NHL 21 player himself.
WRXSTO: Yeah, he actually beat one of my buddies in the tournament. He was like, "I just can't do this. I just lost to a professional hockey player!" If it were me, I wouldn't have lost [laughs]. He added me on XBOX and said if he needed one for Call of Duty he'd invite me. It's awesome.
OLIVE: How did you get into the NHL gaming scene?
WRXSTO: My first game was NHL 03. It wasn't the newest version at the time, but I started playing down in the years on my PS2. But then my dad saw that I loved the game, so he'd buy me the new game every year. Then when NHL 14 came out, that's when I started putting in more hours. I started really focusing on it. Further on down the years, I then competed in the NHL GWC last year and made it to the top-32 on the Canada side. I didn't win anything, but it was still an accomplishment. That was top-32 in Canada, and now I'm top-32 in all of North America. It's a big step forward.
OLIVE: What's your preparation for the tournament been like?
WRXSTO: Before going into any game, I obviously run some practice games just to get into the groove. When my thumbs are cold, I play bad [laughs]. I just try to get warmed up, get into the right mindset and then when the game is on I just try to stay as calm as possible and focus.
OLIVE: What's it been like to see the strides NHL gaming has made in recent years?
WRXSTO: It's crazy. If it gets to the point where it reaches the levels of the NBA 2K competitive scene, that'd be unreal. This year was a very, very big step that they took. I'm happy with how it's going. I also have a 6v6 team for NHL and we compete in almost every organized event.
OLIVE: In order to become the Panthers representative in this year's tournament, you won an epic game in overtime to clinch the Club Final. Was that your most exciting NHL gaming win to date?
WRXSTO: That was definitely the biggest moment ever. Going into that overtime, I knew I was going to win. I beat him in overtime in Game 2, so both of my wins were in overtime. Coming back from being down 3-1 in the third period, I knew it was all me. My goalie made a big save in overtime, and then I came down the other way and knew it was going in. I was so excited.
OLIVE: How did your friends and family react to that win?
WRXSTO: It was so sick. My parents were watching upstairs and were like, "This is crazy!" They never believed I could make money through video games, but I proved them wrong. I also had a ton of texts and calls from my friends. They were all so excited. They know how much I put into this.
OLIVE: Well, we're certainly pulling for you in the next round of the tournament and hope that playing as the Panthers brings you plenty of good luck. As a final question, what does a 19-year-old like yourself do when you're not competing in NHL gaming events?
WRXSTO: I go to school at Concordia University in Montreal. I study economics. I just finished my deck in sports management and marketing at Champlain College. On the side, now that there's no school until August, I'm working two jobs. I'm making as much money as possible because University is expensive. As for other hobbies, I used to play hockey, but right now I just like hanging out with my friends. All of my friends are excited for this event.
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