There have been lots of questions, including a recent New York Times article, about how the business of esports, and traditional sports teams and leagues fit together. During and around the Pandemic we saw meteoric growth with NBA 2K and Iracing, saw the NHL get into the gaming mix and witnessed investment from many sports teams into properties ranging from Overwatch to League of Legends, all hoping to ride the wave and the buzz of gaming to a younger demo.
The results were mixed, and the financial losses for some of the efforts, were pretty significant, with the value still very much to be determined. However there have been areas where the work is bearing fruit, one of which will take place next week at UBS Arena in New York, when the New York islanders will partner with one of the largest esports brands in the world, FaZe Clan, for a night of gaming, fashion, and oh yes hockey. In addition to bringing together some of the best champion NHL gamers, the Isles reworked their secondary logo, something rarely seen in sports, to come up with the “FaZe islanders,” and will be offering up limited edition merchandise only on site as step one of this partnership, which also has the element of returning home…the first FaZe house was not far from the new state of the art home of the NHL team.
We asked Jordan Zelniker, the head of the esports and gaming work for the Islanders, to tell us more.
Tell us about the growth of Islanders gaming since you came on board?
The brand as a whole has seen tremendous growth, leaning into the 50th anniversary of the team this season. Since inception, IslesGT has been welcomed and integrated into all parts of the organization’s business operations. We’re seeing success on both the business side and the virtual gameplay side. In season one, we were fortunate enough to attend and win both the North American and European NHL Gaming World Championships. Now in our second season, we have our eyes set on further growth, collaborating with FaZe clan to bring gaming culture to a live Islanders game at UBS Arena.
The event next week has two of the best in the world playing, tell us about how that will work and what makes them special?
To be the best at your craft in anything takes serious time, dedication and skill. Justin “Regs” Reguly and Erik “Eki” Tammenpaa are the two best NHL gamers in the world right now. Having not seen them face off against each other since 2018, we know we’re in for a treat. Both of them, when they won their respective NHL GWC Championships, were a bit unfulfilled. It’s in their competitive nature to want more challenge. This matchup motivates both of them to practice harder and reach their next level of competitive gameplay, which fans will have the chance to watch live in person on December 6th at UBS Arena.
Now lets talk FaZe Clan. How did the partnership come about and what’s the goal for the Islanders esports team both short and long term
The recent partnership with FaZe Clan, organic in nature, was a great fit for what both organizations were looking to do. The idea started at the North American NHL Gaming World Championship in Montreal this past July. As both of us are looking to amplify the NHL’s presence in esports & gaming, there are other natural ties between FaZe Clan and the Islanders. FaZe Clan’s first ever content house was based out of Long Island, which is where much of their history started. It’s a core memory for their fanbase, which this partnership successfully recognizes.
The Islanders logo will have FaZe elements. Why is that significant for fans of both hockey and gaming?
The FaZe Islanders collaborative logo is a gamechanger in the industry. Rather than just slap two logos together in a lockup, we’ve allowed FaZe to come in and manipulate subtle elements of the Fisherman logo, bringing their own branding and culture into the picture. This first of its kind collaboration in sports opens up opportunity across all the major leagues. The significance behind this is the opportunity to open up to two different fan bases, introducing the FaZe fans to the Islanders and vice versa.
How has the mixing of hockey and gaming fans gone in terms of engagement. Are there areas of growth you have seen?
The mix of hockey and gaming has grown exponentially over the past 5 years. Starting with the NHL GWC in 2018, NHL esports events have been growing amongst the NHL Clubs and their associated markets. A major boom came in 2020 with covid when teams were looking for virtual ways to engage their audience, but we saw a slowdown of the market in 2021 when live events began to come back. In 2022/23 we’re seeing the next major jump for the scene as the NHL has recently announced their updated tournament branding the “EA NHL 23 World Championship,” where all 32 clubs will have their own tournament.
This is a very unique crossover event in and around an NHL game, where would you like to see this expand in say, a year?
The best part about doing something new, is that you don’t necessarily know where it can take you. When we first brought up this idea, it wasn’t the same product that we have today. When you bring likeminded innovative individuals together, the plan evolves. In the next year, we could see this partnership continue to grow, highlighting multiple events, collaborative merch & more.