By Zach Leonsis
Wayne Gretzky vs. Alex Ovechkin. ‘The Great One’ vs. ‘The Great Eight.’ The greatest goal scorer in NHL history vs. the first player in generations to have a fighting chance at surpassing Gretzky’s lofty record for total career NHL goals. Wouldn’t it be awesome to see them play against each other live? For years, fans and analysts alike have debated who the best players of all-time are. These debates are challenging, and seemingly unwinnable, as historians constantly debate over varying player abilities and adjusted scoring differences that exist across several generations of hockey. We may never be able to settle those debates, but we certainly tried our best in organizing a friendly NHL20 competition between ‘The Great One’ himself and our very own, Alex Ovechkin. Last Wednesday’s stream between these two NHL legends was a bright spot for us at Monumental Sports & Entertainment and the Washington Capitals, as we facilitated this matchup in the name of raising funds for MSE Foundation’s ‘Feeding the Frontlines’ program, an initiative supporting COVID-19 relief in our local community.
The idea for the charity-driven event was led by Wayne and Alex’s shared desire to give back to their communities during a time of real need. One evening this past March, Tristan Gretzky shared an Instagram video with his father that Ovi had posted featuring him playing NHL20 with his son, Sergei. This post sparked Wayne’s interest, which prompted him to reach out to Alex to see if the two could leverage their collective followings to stream a game of NHL20 for charity. Alex quickly agreed and our team here at Monumental and the Capitals quickly sprang into action. In close coordination with both players’ agents, we quickly identified two fantastic programs to support in both Washington, DC and Edmonton, Alberta. We then identified the key pieces of hardware that each player would need for the event and made sure to complete a proper training, and even a dress rehearsal, in advance of their streaming debut. One critical component to the execution of the event came down to our previous experiences with our NHL esports streamer, John Wayne. With how big of a following Wayne and Alex both have, we knew that we would need to make their stream as full proof and as reliable as possible. Not only does John Wayne bring an incredible amount of gaming experience to the table, he also brings streaming experience which we could leverage to take that burden off of the two players. With someone on board who could easily stream the match between these two great icons, we quickly assembled our two teams: Alex Ovechkin and John Wayne representing the Capitals vs. Wayne and Tristan Gretzky representing the Oilers.
Conducting our dry run for the match was one of the most fun moments of the entire project. Watching Wayne and Alex catch up just purely as friends was truly a sight to behold. Seeing these legends enjoy themselves with their guards down felt way different than any interview you’d watch with a professional athlete. This didn’t feel like a normal media opportunity. This felt like something far more fun that we knew our fans would really enjoy.
And sure enough, the real matchup streamed live on Twitch was one to remember. Over the course of the near hour and forty-five-minute stream, the matchup enjoyed nearly 300,000 total viewers with peak concurrent viewership maxing out at over 26,000 fans – bigger than a max capacity crowd at a major league arena! Those fans cared too! We are thrilled that the stream blew through its originally stated $10k goal and ultimately raised well over $41k for charity, with Wayne and Alex themselves each volunteering to donate $8k each. Last Wednesday’s stream will now be edited down into an hour-long television length program that will feature additional commentary from both players. Tune into NBC Sports Network on April 28th from 5pm to 6pm or NHL Network on April 30th from 7pm to 8pm or SN1 in Canada on April 30th from 8pm to 9pm to enjoy these two in action for a great cause!
Andrew McNeill and Jordan Zelniker contributed to this article.