Six of the best virtual hockey players in the world competed at the 2018 NHL Gaming World Championship on Tuesday, with Finland’s Erik Tammenpää ultimately leaving with the trophy and the $50,000 first prize.

NHL Gaming World Championship
The NHL Gaming World Championship took place on Tuesday at the Esports Arena Las Vegas at the Luxor. (Image: Erik Verduzco/Las Vegas Review-Journal)

The event was held at the Esports Arena Las Vegas at Luxor, just two weeks after the Stanley Cup was awarded to the Washington Capitals down the street at T-Mobile Arena.

The game they were playing was EA Sports NHL 18. Competitors came from a series of qualifying events held in different regions across the world.

Eki Sweeps Competition

The 18-year-old Tammenpää, who is known online as “Eki,” was dominant throughout the entire competition. He was the only player to finish the tournament with a positive goal differential, and swept the best-of-three final over Pittsburgh Penguins fan David Roebuck, winning 7-3 in the clinching game.

“It’s a dream come true to be a World Champion,” Tammenpää told TSN. “I just wanted to win this thing so much, and I didn’t want to believe for one second that I wasn’t going to. You can’t win anything if you don’t really believe in yourself.”

Roebuck, who won $15,000 for finishing second, credited his opponent for creating defensive challenges he couldn’t overcome.

“His defense is the best I’ve ever played,” Roebuck told NHL.com. “My offense, I feel, is very good, but he’s so hard to crack. It makes you get impatient. Once you start having breakdowns, he’s able to capitalize on everything.”

Tammenpää immediately took to his role as an ambassador for future NHL esports tournaments, issuing a challenge for next year.

Esports Arena Takes Center Stage

The tournament was one of the first showcases for the Esports Arena at Luxor. The 30,000-square foot venue was designed from the ground up with competitive esports in mind, and includes a 50-foot LED video wall along with a full broadcast center and production studio. Along with professional tournaments, the arena hosts public events, and individuals can also purchase time to play games in the complex.

The players at the NHL event certainly seemed to appreciate the high-tech venue for the finals.

“The scenery, the production, everything, the value is another level I’ve never seen before,” said Canadian Nicola Bruna. “They make you feel like a celebrity.”

Adding to the championship atmosphere was the presence of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, who awarded the trophy and prize money to Tammenpaa.

“To have the finals here in Las Vegas really brings the game home,” Bettman told the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “We think this is a great connection to our real game on the ice.”

While the event was undoubtedly a success, there were a few signs that the NHL could still improve their esports offering. According to a report by TSN, the NHL Twitch stream broadcasting the tournament achieved a peak of about 28,000 concurrent viewers. That’s a significant audience, but well below the viewership for most major esports competitions.

One potential improvement could be a move to the EASHL six-on-six format that is popular in online play. That format sees each person control one virtual player on the ice, allowing individual skill to shine and making teamwork a critical factor. That’s the format used by the NBA 2K League, where franchises drafted individual players to create lineups of virtual competitors.

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