While the NBA 2K League may get most of the headlines when it comes to the world of organized team sports gaming, there’s been a recent push to expose more people to the potential of 6-on-6 team hockey through the ongoing Caps Gaming Showcase hosted on Battlefy. The tournament is being played through the World of Chel mode in NHL 20 and has teams of 7 players (including one alternate per team) from across the United States and Canada squaring off against each other over an 8-week regular season.
This mini-season then determines which teams will comprise a 32-team single-elimination tournament that eventually will lead to four teams being flown to D.C. to participate in a live event where they will battle for a $15,000 prize pool.
With all teams slated to play their final games of the regular season this Saturday or Sunday night, Jan. 25-26, it’s a good time to check in on where things stand in the event. It’s also not a bad time to take stock of what this entire endeavor means for the future of competitive hockey gaming in the grand scheme of things. Though the EA NHL series has taken some steps towards becoming a legitimate esport in recent years, the focus has been almost entirely on the realm of 1-on-1 competitions up until this point.
Unfortunately, this has forced players to have to grapple with the limitations of their own AI-controlled teammates just about as much as their actual opponents. If the Caps Gaming Showcase is successful, it could potentially pave the way for more 6-on-6 events, and possibly even an entire league in the future.
Where We Stand
With one game left for every team to play, only a single team remains undefeated in the Caps Gaming Showcase. Dahlia has served notice to the rest of their competition that they are the team to beat, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are invincible. All series are best-of-three affairs, and Dahlia has suffered defeats in three of their seven contests so far. However, in each of them they were able to maintain their perfect record by virtue of winning the other two games against their opponents. Even if they’re not able to keep that loss column unblemished in the final weekend of the regular season, they will likely be considered the favorites heading into the tournament portion of the event.
Beyond Dahlia, there are plenty of other good teams in the competition. Just behind Dahlia in the standings sit four teams with 6-1 records — Turning Point, Jinx, Black Ice and Hidden Potential. Of these four teams, only one has faced off against Dahlia thus far, with Turning Point suffering their only loss of the season without winning so much as a game against the leaders. But this weekend’s final games feature what should be a closely contested battle between Dahlia and Hidden Potential that will either cement a perfect season for the former or catapult the latter into front-runner status.
Moving on, there are 13 teams with a 5-2 record who are all but ensured a chance to play on in the ensuing tournament. The 30 teams with a 4-3 record or worse all have do-or-die games ahead of them this weekend if they hope to be able to make that elimination bracket.
The Zamboni Missed Some Spots
As should probably be expected in a competitive scene still finding its footing, the official broadcasts of the games are hardly as professional as the NBA 2K League, or even those of the NHL Gaming World Championship, which serves as the ultimate showdown for those involved in the 1-on-1 realm. On the Caps Gaming Twitch channel, you’re able to watch a featured game or two every weekend with commentary from one of NHL’s top competitors, John Wayne Casagranda (and if you’re lucky, maybe an appearance by his adorable dog).
There are even occasional check-ins to other games happening at the same time during intermissions of the featured game, but one would expect that there may be more of an attempt to broadcast every single game once the elimination rounds of the tournament start.
There have certainly been bigger problems than the state of the broadcasts as well. Even before the Caps Gaming Showcase began, there was an outcry from residents of Quebec about their exclusion from participating, prompting a change in the rules that allowed them to compete. Then just a couple of weeks ago, a team was disqualified and removed from the Showcase due to racist comments towards another player, a clear violation of the rules regarding unsportsmanlike conduct. There have also been the predictable drops from teams as the weeks have progressed, with 34 teams currently listed in the “Did Not Finish” portion of the standings alongside the 48 remaining teams in contention.
This is understandable given how daunting it may be for some players participating in an event like the Caps Gaming Showcase where there are elite teams with established chemistry that are capable of making anyone look bad on any given night.
How To Get Involved
Fortunately, there are a lot of ways now for someone to dip their toe into competitive 6-on-6 NHL action. With no shortage of organized leagues out there for those willing to put in the time and effort, anyone can get acquainted with how to play well with others and perhaps build some meaningful relationships that could eventually blossom into long-term squad mates for future events like the Caps Gaming Showcase.
My own personal experience with the LG league, which I’ve written about in the past, has only deepened my appreciation for team hockey and whet my appetite for organized competitive play. The league can serve as an ideal initiation for those seeking to see how they stack up against others and also happens to be getting ready to start a new season soon — whether you’re playing on PS4 or Xbox.
The many questions surrounding the future of competitive 6-on-6 NHL play remain difficult to answer at the moment. Will there be other events similar to the Caps Gaming Showcase in the near future with different NHL teams also entering the arena? Will the powers that be eventually have to make a decision between 1-on-1 or 6-on-6 being their dedicated esport mode, or can the two co-exist with each other and offer people an option depending on their own preferences? Will the type of prize money being offered in 6-on-6 events be enough to entice people to compete given that any money that’s won will need to be split six (or perhaps even seven) ways?
These questions will all need to be answered in time, but the Caps Gaming Showcase is essentially serving as the proverbial canary in the coal mine, testing how much interest exists among both players and audiences in the NHL community. As the teams in contention strive to be the last one standing heading into the elimination tournament, some can’t help but wonder if this event will be the first, last and only of its kind. Alternatively, some others are wondering if this is just the beginning of a brave new world of competitive hockey gaming that could potentially culminate in a league of its own.