Red Deer College Kings hockey veteran Jacob Wozney has been involved in esports for several years, so when he had the chance to compete in a NHL 21 league put together by P.J. Swales, RDC Manager Sports Facilities and Event Services, he jumped at the opportunity.
“I got an email about it and it looked like fun,” he said. “I already play in a couple of leagues with guys I know and I enjoy it.”
It also helped fill the void left with the cancellation of the Kings season.
“Since COVID I’ve been at home and playing a lot. Without hockey it was something I really looked forward to each Thursday.”
In the end, Wozney came away with the championship, beating a player from Lethbridge 2-1 in the best-of-three final. He won the first game, lost the second and scored with 20 seconds remaining to take the third 4-3.
“I was sweating more than in a lot of hockey games,” he said with a laugh. “Really I did a lot of mental prep that day. More than at any time I play video games.”
The league had two platforms — Xbox and PlayStation.
He was involved on the PlayStation side.
“There were a few more players on the Xbox side, but we had six players and I finished third in the round-robin. The top two received a bye in the first round and I played the lowest placed player,” explained Wozney.
He went into the tournament playing as the Tampa Bay Lightning but after two straight losses switched to the Colorado Avalanche.
Swales couldn’t have been happier to see a RDC player in the final.
“It was a lot of fun, watching that final game. As much as watching real games,” he said.
Swales has been interested in esports for the past four years and with COVID thought it would be a good time to start.
“We’ve had earlier discussions but this year it was a good time to step in and see what other schools were doing. In Quebec and Ontario they’ve really started to develop esports conferences, related to the CCAA (Canadian Colleges Athletic Association), but not officially with them.”
The idea of an esports league was circulating around the ACAC with 11 institutions interested. It’s not fully endorsed by the conference but they are looking at it to see where it may go.
Swales ran the program through the intramural program.
“It will run through intramurals but we’re looking for it to continue to develop to a point were we have the number of students where they can start a club and guide and lead their organization. Once it continues to build we can take it to an even more competitive level and be associated with the ACAC and CCAA, where they implement bylaws and operating procedures where it’s safe for the students to compete fairly.”
Swales, who was working with the Edmonton Sport and Social Club, indicated this year was a great opportunity to learn and see what’s involved in running a league, or a tournament.
Although the number of students involved was limited Swales couldn’t have been happier with the assistance he received.
“The people at RDC were ready to assist and help in putting together the plan this year and moving forward.
Swales couldn’t say enough about the support from the RDC administration led by Doug Doran, Chief Information Officer, Information Technology Services; Matt Adams, of the IT department and Sports Facilities lead attendant, Laurent Schmidek.
“They were vital as we are moving forward,” he said.
While they ran NHL 21 this year there’s an unlimited number of possibles moving forward.
“That’s an interesting side,” added Swales. “There’s not just one sport or one platform. There’s Xbox, PlayStation and PC Gaming playing a various number of sports.”
There’s a number of levels from kids to professionals. It can develop into not only provincial, but national and even international competitions.
Just a lot of opportunities,” said Swales.
“I believe it will continue to grow. I could even see tournament play and the Gary W. Harris Canada Games Centre would be perfect for that with big screens showing games and with 1,000 people watching.”
But first it’s small steps.
“We’re all learning. This was a test project,” said Swales. “We need to see how sustainable it is and see the growth. There has to be a discussion on what games we’ll play and what’s all needed.
“But I know it’s interesting to see how much it grows and where it goes from here. Now the main thing is to get the students active.”
If Wozney, who has played three years with the Kings, is around next season he’d be interested if it doesn’t conflict with hockey.
“If it’s like this year, and run each Thursday, I’d be interested for sure and if the opportunity arises I’d love to compete in a big tournament.”
Wozney also plays Madden NFL and Call of Duty.
“I usually rotate between the three, but a little more toward NHL and Madden.”
As for returning to the Kings, it all depends on if he can get into the middle school Bachelor of Education program.
“I hope so, although it’s limited. If not it’s been a lot of fun. RDC has a great program and do an great job with their sports teams.”
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org