Kuznetsov is among the most enthusiastic gamers on the Capitals. He says he plays when he can find time, given his on-ice career and family at home, but he tends to play after Capitals games as a way to unwind, or if the team is on a long road trip and he wants to relax in the hotel room. Still, he was no match for JohnWayne in NHL 20.
“How much [did] you pay for those referees?” the 27-year-old Russian quipped after his team took an early penalty in the first of two losses. Kuznetsov would get some revenge in a subsequent game of FIFA, when he defeated JohnWayne’s Barcelona while playing as hometown D.C. United.
The friendly competition — including the cross-continent banter between Kuznetsov, from inside a conference room at MedStar Capitals Iceplex, and JohnWayne, from his bedroom in Anchorage — was streamed on the Caps Gaming Twitch channel. It also helped promote the most recent example of the Capitals’ foray into esports.
The Capitals announced the creation of Caps Gaming in November, as part of a leaguewide effort to grow NHL esports. While the NBA has the NBA 2K League, which completed its second season last August, the NHL has no formal esports league structure and has instead left esports activations to individual teams.
Washington became the first NHL team to sign an esports pro when it tabbed JohnWayne to serve as an official ambassador of the Caps Gaming brand. JohnWayne streams weekly on Twitch, and he’ll represent the team in tournaments such as the NHL Gaming World Championship this summer. But Wednesday marked the first time he competed against a Capitals star.
“We think the NHL has a fabulous opportunity to engage a younger fan base by launching an NHL esports platform in the future,” Monumental Sports and Entertainment senior vice president of strategic initiatives Zach Leonsis said. “The NHL has allowed every team to develop its own local activation, and we decided to take it seriously. … Ultimately video games are fun. We’re having a lot of fun with it.”
Married with two kids, Kuznetsov said he’s not the biggest gamer, and mentioned Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin often brings his own console on road trips to play Fortnite.
As a rookie, goaltender Ilya Samsonov is tasked with bringing the PlayStation for him and Kuznetsov to play FIFA and NHL 20.
“He’s constantly losing,” Samsonov told The Post in November.
Kuznetsov denies that’s the case, or has apparently improved dramatically over the last couple of months.
“We pretty much play everyday,” he said. “Last three days, he won one game. We play 10 times.”