AP NEWS

Capitals host ‘Chel Classic’ as foray into esports market

March 20, 2019

A day before the Washington Capitals were set to host the Tampa Bay Lightning, the two teams squared off, 3-on-3 style. Alex Ovechkin and Steven Stamkos, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nikita Kucherov, traded goal for goal.

But these weren’t the athletes themselves. It was their “NHL 19” avatars.

The Capitals hosted some of the best gamers in the world Tuesday at Capital One Arena for their inaugural “Chel Classic” with the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team’s first foray into competitive gaming as hockey begins to catch up in the esports realm.

Six gamers were perched in a suite above the ice and played a best-of-five tournament. Both teams held qualifying tournaments over the past several months to choose their three respective representatives.

The Capitals’ team of Justin Reguly, Erik Tammenp and Josh D’Eri swept the Lightning in three games, 5-4, 5-2, 5-3.

The three winners in Washington’s qualifier, the Capitals Esports Faceoff, shared a prize pool of $10,000. Monumental streamed the “Chel Classic” on Twitch (“Chel” is gamers’ shorthand for the NHL series), with the live stream’s advertising revenue donated to the Boys and Girls Club of Washington D.C.

Capitals and Wizards owner Ted Leonsis is known for his belief in the future of esports and his investment in it. In addition to Monumental Sports and Entertainment’s stake in esports power Team Liquid, they also run Wizards District Gaming in the new NBA 2K League.

Grant Paranjape, who was in charge of coordinating the event, has been Monumental’s director of esports business and team operations for two years.

“My experience working (for Monumental) has been, any resource is at my disposal,” Paranjape said. “We have a full production staff. We actually have the largest production staff in the NBA.”

Basketball got ahead on esports earlier this decade, a charge led by Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, and now several NBA owners have esports teams. Similarly, “Madden” football tournaments have been held for years.

While basketball gaming has settled on a 5-on-5 mode where individual players control one avatar only hockey is still experimenting with which modes work best and are most entertaining.

“It was super cool having that creative freedom and being able to shape an activation with what you want to do,” Paranjape said.

Reguly (or “Regs_84,” his gamertag) and D’Eri (gamertag “THEY_SPEAK_OF_ME”) are from Ontario, Canada, and Tammenp (“I_EK_I”) came all the way from Finland to participate.

Reguly dominated playing as Kuznetsov. He said he preferred using left-shot players, and Kuznetsov was the best lefty on the Capitals.

“I think it’s great that the NHL and teams in the NHL are getting behind (esports),” Reguly said. “I think it’s really important for them, because they’re able to generate a new audience from it. I know some of my friends who don’t really watch hockey, but they play the game and now they’re watching hockey.”