Edward Nicol-McCabe grew up playing EA Sports’ “NHL” video game, sometimes as a way to cope with life, and now he’s good enough to play for a North American championship and five-figure prize money.
The Whalley-area resident, known as SAP Alien on the competitive gaming scene, will be in Montreal for the 2022 NHL Gaming World Championship: North American Club Final, to start Wednesday, July 6.
He’s among eight finalists – five Canadian, three American – vying for the $26,000 grand prize involving games played at 1909 Taverne Moderne, a bar next-door to the Bell Centre, home of the Canadiens and also the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, July 7-8.
Nicol-McCabe, 21, has played “Chel” competitively for three years, since 2019, but has adored the video game for as long as he can remember.
“I spent a lot of time in the foster care system,” he revealed. “I’ve been playing the game for a very long time and used the game to help get me through some issues.
“I definitely had a rough upbringing,” Nicol-McCabe continued, “and like a lot of kids who’ve gone through foster care, or youth in care, they feel powerless or unheard. My therapist told me that playing games like this, you know, for a lot of kids they just want to win. But kids in foster care don’t win in life – not as children, anyhow. They’re stuck in a situation, so for me, playing video games took me out of that messed-up situation, even just for a little bit, and allowed me to be normal or exceptional and allowed me to win, so that’s why I played.”
His SAP Alien handle is an homage to Vancouver Canucks forward Elias Pettersson, who used the phrase “speed, agility, power” (SAP) in a car commercial in his rookie season, and is sometimes known as the Alien.
In Montreal, Nicol-McCabe will represent the Ottawa Senators, not his beloved Canucks, due to a ranking system that assigned him a random team during qualifying.
“I chose the Canucks, but then placed below a player who’d also chosen Canucks, so that player got to play as the Canucks,” he explained. “I got stuck with the Senators, and by no means am I an Ottawa Senators fan. I wish I was representing the Canucks in this, but that’s just how it is, I guess. My best friend Logan is an Ottawa Senators fan, so that’s just an odd coincidence.”
Away from the video game world, Nicol-McCabe does youth-advocacy work with Ministry of Children and Family Development and is studying at BCIT to become a sports broadcaster.
“I’m married and have a wife, her name is Florence, but hockey is my first love,” he said. “That’s why I love the fact that I’m good at a hockey video game, because it’s a sport I love. I suffered a bad knee injury when I was 14 and couldn’t play hockey anymore, and the video game offered an alternative, even though I’d been playing it for years before that. It became my new focus after that.”
SAP Alien is seeded eighth, and will face the top-ranked player in the opening round.
“I’m confident,” he says, “and I hate using the term underdog, but it’s just the way this is. My first-round opponent is Jos x 10, who is representing Detroit Red Wings, but if I could compare him to an actual NHL team, he’d be like the Edmonton Oilers – very offensively driven, very dynamic. And myself, I’m more like a really defensive team, like Tampa or maybe St. Louis, a team that’s very stingy and rough and will force you to beat them. A lot of people in the competitive scene don’t see that as viable, but I’m made it this far, so I’m definitely not going there to say hi and make friends, I’m going there to win $26,000 US.”