Culturally, the suspension of all sports has been one of the biggest disruptions in daily life in the Age of Corona.
For many people, especially those in North America who hadn’t yet seen firsthand the damage being inflicted by COVID-19, the gravity of the coronavirus crisis didn’t really hit home until the NBA decided to suspend its season on March 11. Major League Baseball and the NHL followed a day later. European soccer leagues, particularly in Italy and Spain, had already stopped amid the pandemic spread in those countries, and the English Premier League first suspended its season on March 19.
While Major League Baseball reportedly explores a plan to start its season in a quarantined Arizona and rumors have surfaced that the NBA has considered running its playoffs in Las Vegas this summer, one sports league isn’t waiting for the curve to get flattened or to play in some kind of biodome.
If you had the Finnish Hockey League as the sports league starting up its season again today, hope you bet on it.
There’s just one catch: The new games are not being played on ice.
The league has teamed with Telia, a broadcasting company and esports provider in Finland, to set up a tournament played on EA Sports’ NHL 20 video game that will be broadcast on national TV—with commentators and everything—as if it were the real thing. Each team has chosen one representative to play as their team, with players ranging from real-life pro hockey players such as Harri Pesonen, Joni Tuulola, and Joona Luoto, but also Finnish celebrities and other hockey fans.
“We needed to make the decision to determine the official season over just before the playoffs due to coronavirus outbreak,” says Finnish Hockey League marketing manager Aija Saha. “Of course at the time, the decision was not to declare the champion for Liiga at all this year. But still we thought about whether we could bring something fun and entertaining for hockey fans. There were a lot of requests from the fans for the playoffs to be played unofficially virtually, and we started to create the concept together with Telia.”
The playoff series will be played with a best three-out-of-five format, and matchups will be directly based on the rankings of Finnish Hockey League’s regular season, with all 10 teams that made it to the playoffs included.
It may not be the authentic article, but seeing as this crisis is far from over, this would be an awesome concept for North American sports to consider. Who wouldn’t want to see LeBron v. Giannis on NBA2K? Or David Pastrnak against Ryan O’Reilly in NHL 20?
Desperate sports times call for desperate sports measures.