NHL 20

NHL 20 Pro JR Pens on winning his first major championship

NHL 20 Pro David “JR Pens” Roebuck is coming off a very hot April. The Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania native went on a tear through the playoffs, making a storybook finish to his Northern Arena NHL 20 Cup journey.

I spoke with Roebuck about his NHL 20 pro scene experience, his run at the Northern Arena Cup, his first major tournament win, and how the game can grow as an esports title.

SQUAD: How did you first get involved with NHL esports?

Roebuck: NHL 13 was when I started to play online competitively. I grinded the Versus leaderboards and made it to number 1 rank in the world and held that for at least six months. In NHL 14 I did the same thing and was top 10 in Hockey Ultimate Team as well. But I was 16 at the time, and you had to be 18 and older so I couldn’t compete in tournaments. I took NHL 15, 16 and 17 off because I was playing prep and junior hockey.

Once I got settled into school, I got back into the competitive scene in NHL 18 and I’ve been competing since then.

Other esports genres like shooters and MOBAs have a variety of ways to hone your skills as a player. How do you train and improve yourself as an NHL esports player?

In NHL 18, I didn’t have the mechanics or skill in the game. I had to win by outsmarting my opponent. If I tried to play a skill for skill game, I didn’t have a chance. In NHL 19, I got away from that and tried to go for pure skill and I felt like that hurt me. This year I went back to focusing on my opponents and how they play. Playing some of these guys, I know which styles work against different guys. I tweak my game to find tendencies or weaknesses to exploit.

You went up against Josh “HK” Fuss in the first round of playoffs. You got blown out 12-1 in the first match against him. What was your plan going into the rematch?

Whenever I play HK, it’s very nerve-wracking to play but fun for people to watch. I don’t know how to defend him so I just throw defense out the window and it’s just a shootout. I hate playing him because you have to keep scoring, if you don’t you’re getting blown out. I think, at his worst, he’s among the top two or top three offensive players in the game.

You sweep Fuss and move on to John “JohnWayne” Wayne in the second round. You opened up your regular season with a close loss to Wayne, were you confident you could change things up this time?

This year in particular, I felt John has had my number playing against him in games and tournaments. It’s always a good game, but I always lose by a goal. With him being from Alaska, it’s a slower game so it’s all about matching that. I didn’t feel I needed to change against him, just focus on playing my way and a little more on defense, and hope for that extra goal.

So you make it to the Eastern Conference Finals against Justin “Regs” Reguly. When did you start to believe you really had a chance at taking it all? 

When I won game one against Regs is when I started to really think I could win. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been knocked out of tournaments by Regs in the past few years. There was one weekend in NHL 19 when the Washington Capitals and the Winnipeg Jets had their qualifiers, three of my four losses that weekend were from Regs.

You took game one off of Reguly but he bounced back with a 6-3 win. What did you do to recover for game three?

Yeah, I just lost and it’s going to game three, but the series turns into a best of one against Regs now. The last two games can be thrown out the window, I just had to refocus and play my best. You’re not going to sweep Regs, your goal is to make it to game three. If you can make it to that game three, then anything can happen.

How did it feel to beat Regs and make the finals over him? 

It felt like the monkey was off my back. It felt like no matter what I did I couldn’t beat him. I tried watching him, seeing how he plays, his tendencies and just no matter what he always was able to win the game.

The monkey off your back, now you’re facing Matthew “YungGren” Grenier in the Cup finals. How did you prepare for him?

Going into my final series, the couple minutes I had to calm down was what I really needed coming off the match with Regs. That’s been a two-year thing I’ve been trying to do and I just needed to refocus on the finals because it wasn’t over. There was no doubt in my mind that I could have taken it against Grenier, I just knew I had to play my best.

It’s game three of the finals and you head into overtime, what’s going through your mind?

Just that whole concept, the thought of championship game, final game, overtime. I’ve always thought about that with NHL and I didn’t know how I would handle that. At the same time, in that moment, that wasn’t even a thought. I felt no different in terms of nerves.

The other thing that I think helped me, is I noticed I was losing a bunch of games in overtime. Karl “Nuke” Caslib and I started wagering games of NHL where first goal wins. I think it got me in a better mindset for overtime, because I think that desensitized those nerves.

It could have gone either way, Gren could very easily have won that game. It was a matter of who got that bounce and luckily for me, I did.

How much did winning the NA NHL 20 Cup mean to you? 

It meant a lot to me! With finishing school, pulling all the upsets and everything else, one thing that’s been attached to me is that I haven’t won a big tournament. After getting the monkey off my back beating Regs, it was the same feeling winning a big esports tournament. I’ve been waiting almost three years for this. That was another thing that was very relieving. At every previous tournament, I would make it to the end and always fall short. This was the first time I was able to pull it off.

 

For any traditional hockey fans, what would you say to convince them to tune in to the NHL pro matches?

Given the pandemic, there’s obviously no hockey, but there’s still competitions with the same sporting aspect. In the Northern Arena Cup, especially the playoffs, there have been some high quality games, and they are entertaining to watch. I hope it draws more people into esports and even when life goes back to normal you’ll have more continued interest in it.

Getting people into the space is more of an esports issue than just an NHL 20 issue. Esports has blown up recently. Back when I played NHL 13 and 14, it was “Cool, you’re ranked high,” that’s it. There was no publicity, no tournaments, no money. When I came back, I started making money in wagers and smaller tournaments. My parents didn’t understand the concept of it, making money from playing video games.

That blew up with me making the NHL Gaming World Championship. Making it all the way to Las Vegas, going to the finals and seeing my friends and family get drawn in. If you can get someone into watching it, they could get hooked just like traditional sports. Once you explain the competitive aspect and what’s really there, that’s where it really takes off.

[This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.]

SQUAD would like to thank David “JR Pens” Roebuck for taking the time to chat with us! You can catch Roebuck and other top NHL esports players in the months Northern Arena NHL 20 2v2 Cup at the Northern Arena Twitch stream or the official Xbox Canada Mixer stream.

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Matthew Murray

Matthew Murray is a Canadian writer, journalist and public relations specialist. PC gamer, fan of FPS and RPGs. Follower of several esports titles including Rainbow 6, Overwatch and CS:GO. Every software or game he touches will magically have inexplicable issues somehow.
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