NHL 21 Delayed – The Worst-Kept Secret

The Placeholder logo for NHL 21

During my time at Electronic Arts, although I was never officially part of the NHL Communications Team, a lot of the work I did was for them. I love the series and I’m always just as excited as the community when the first bits of information about the game are made known (or in my case, I get to read it before the public sees it). Traditionally, June is the big month when the information about the game was made available. Be it at E3 or during the NHL Award ceremony, June was the big month when the ramp to launch would start.

But, because of COVID-19 and the delay of the 2019-20 NHL season, that didn’t happen this year. EA Play came and went and all we got was a community manager post on Twitter saying that news around NHL 21 would be coming later. Now, in late July we finally have some news. And, it should come as no surprise that the game is being delayed until an unknown October date* and that there are no plans for it to have an upgrade/update specifically for Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5.

When both Madden and FIFA were being delayed, it was obvious that the NHL would also get pushed. The NHL Season won’t finish until September, so releasing a new game before the revised NHL Entry Draft and Free Agency didn’t make sense. As those both happen in early October, a late October release* (I’m predicting October 30, 2020 as the game’s official launch date) makes the most sense. Even with that, I suspect the game will need multiple game updates before the start of the 2020-21 season (whenever that ends up happening).

NHL 21 was also never going to get the upgrade path that Madden NFL 21 and FIFA 21 are getting. I am under the impression that NHL 22 will finally use the Frostbite engine (insider info: NHL was supposed to make the jump to Frostbite a while ago, but I’m not sure why it kept getting pushed). If NHL 22 is using a new engine, then it makes it all the more difficult to offer NHL 21 with Ignite for one year on a new platform.

What’s most frustrating about Monday’s announcement was the way they handled it. They should have announced the delay weeks ago, if not back at EA Play last June. NHL’s community manager teased news last week, so teasing a delay is a bad look. On top of that, the news post doesn’t bother to give fans something to latch on to. Instead, they tell their community they’ll have to wait until late August to get actual news on what to expect for NHL 21.

I hate to point the finger at the Communications team for NHL as I worked alongside a few of them, but they dropped the ball here. A few small changes would have made a world of difference and being upfront earlier in the year would make up for the disappointment fans of the series will unquestionably feel right now.

I can’t wait to learn more but it sucks that we’re getting months of silence between little morsels of information. If you’re marketing a game in any capacity, this is a good example of what not to do. Hopefully, they learn from this mishandle and knock it out of the park in August and September before the game eventually launches in October.

* @NHLComms on Twitter tweeted out that the game is coming out October 16, which seems way too close. Considering it’s not from the official account, a second delay is not impossible. I guess we’ll have to wait and see.