EA celebrates moments that thrill hockey fans

Instead of gameplay, the developer focuses on a brand-first approach to connect its NHL series with both casual and diehard fans.

By Salmaan Farooqui

EA Sports’ NHL franchise is now 30 years old, and instead of focusing on shiny new features like it typically does for new editions of the game, it’s turning the spotlight on the sport’s biggest personalities and most exciting moments to appeal to all levels of hockey fandom.
Sean Ramjagsingh, executive producer at the game’s developer EA Vancouver, says players in the league have started to capitalize more on their personal brand value in recent years. That culture shift isn’t lost on his team, who decided the best way to build off this was to create a multi-part docu-series with Sportsnet about Alexander Ovechkin’s rise as a star, as well as stand-alone episodes about other notable and innovative moments in the history of the game.

“Hockey’s always been team-first, but what you’re seeing now, especially with the rise of social media, is these young superstars understanding their individual brands and embracing them off the ice,” says Ramjagsingh. “As we start to think about our game as more of [its own] brand, we also want to be able tell compelling stories that tie back to our game.”

He says it’s a step in a new direction compared to EA’s usual strategy of simply highlighting the latest features that were added to the yearly release.

While Ovechkin is a household name that’ll attract newcomers, the docuseries is also trying to keep the hardcore fanbase satisfied with the kind of flashy moments they get excited about and share on Twitter and Reddit. One episode of the docu-series, produced by Toronto’s Partners Film and directed by Trevor Gourley, stars Canadian Mike Legg, a relatively unknown player who, while playing for the University of Michigan, picked up the puck with his stick – similar to how one might in lacrosse – dumping it into the net behind the goalie’s back.

With the shot being utilized by NHL players over the years, EA honoured it by including Legg in the game and allowing players to mimic his legendary shot as a gameplay feature. The doc episode ends with the team revealing this to Legg.

While EA had this strategy in mind before the pandemic, Ramjagsingh believes it is good way to get the attention of people looking for more entertainment options at home, especially hockey fans facing the prospect of no games being played until the new year.

The Ovechkin series was released through EA and Sportsnet’s online channels, with the shorter documentary episodes living on EA’s online channels.