Horst Lichtner about eHockey: "The sky’s the limit"
by Christian Bellinger
Horst Lichtner, General Secretary of the IIHF, talks about the idea of the IIHF Esports Fan Championship and the future of Esports at the International Ice Hockey Federation.
How did the IIHF come up with the idea for the virtual fan championship?
We have been observing the growth of Esport through the last few years, especially with the initiatives that were pushed by the NHL and its clubs through their gaming championships. With the cancellation of the 2020 IIHF World Championship, we saw a chance to offer fans a way to stay engaged with the IIHF and with the sport in a safe, fun and entertaining way.
Which aspects were particularly important to you in the conception and planning?
We wanted fans from the countries that would have had a team competing in the 2020 World Championship a chance to participate in this Esport tournament. Just because everyone is at home does not mean we can’t organize something with our fans remotely, and the Esport Fan Championship is an ideal solution.
As this is a pilot project, we also decided that there would be no sponsorship associated with this tournament. The IIHF has made an investment into this initiative and we aren’t aiming for a profit. We want to run this tournament for the fans as a special offering this year, and in the process to evaluate if this has the potential to grow into something bigger for the future.
What do you hope from the tournament?
Most of all I would like for us to have robust participation numbers in each of the 16 national championships that will take place. This is a pilot project that we hope will be successful not just for the IIHF but also for our Member National Associations.
If it is successful, we can aim to expand this Esport offering to include more of our member nations, and in the process develop an Esport Championship that is even larger in scope.
How much hockey tension can a virtual simulation transport?
We are very confident that this will be the case! Ice hockey is very entertaining for fans watching it live and on television. The pace is fast and constant, with teams at both ends of the ice creating scoring chances in the blink of an eye. From what we have seen in demos of the game itself and of the skill level of some of its top Esport players, I have no doubt that this will be an entertaining offering.
What would you like to give to all participants in the Fan Championship?
We are always looking for ways to bring fans closer to the international ice hockey experience. There is a special feeling and passion that comes with watching your country compete on the international stage. By giving people the opportunity to represent their country themselves in an IIHF Esport tournament, we hope that this will grow interest in our game and create a new generation of ice hockey fans. Who knows? Maybe in the future we will be hosting a massive IIHF Esport tournament in an arena next to where the World Championship is taking place! That would be very exciting to see.
How are you involving your Member National Associations?
We are providing them with content to promote the game and also have asked them to help spread the word within their domestic ice hockey and Esport communities.
How will you promote the Fan Championship?
We will utilize influencers within the Esport community who have experience in playing the game at a competitive level, to promote the championship to their communities. We have engaged our members to help spread the word and provided them with promotional material in their native language. We are also using the IIHF website and IIHF social media channels to let our fans at home know how they can take part.
Where do you see eSport going for IIHF in the future?
The sky’s the limit, but most of all we want to give all of our member national associations, and ice hockey fans worldwide, the opportunity to take part in an Esport competition. Esport, just like sport itself, should be for everyone.