Helping the GEF bridge the gap between esports and traditional sports is just the sort of challenge that storied athlete, respected administrator and barrier-breaking businesswoman Angela Ruggiero relishes
The USA’s Angela Ruggiero achieved just about everything you could dream of as an ice hockey player. Not to mention quite a few things no one but her had imagined before. But the memories that stand out are of shared moments not record-breaking achievements. And it is this sense of a #worldconnected that drives her involvement in the ever-expanding world of esports.
“I remember trading gear, talking to people, making friends and walking in opening ceremonies and it really impacts you as an athlete – you are like ‘Wow, we are part of something bigger than ourselves’,” Ruggiero, winner of one Olympic gold, two silvers and a bronze medal, said.
“And now you can do that in a digital space.”
Add on the potential to help write a new narrative and it becomes clear why the 42-year-old, one of the most well-known names in modern sport, has been involved in the Global Esports Federation’s (GEF) mission from the start.
“I am a female athlete and I do a lot of work around the market opportunities for female sport,” said Ruggiero, who is also co-founder and CEO of Sports Innovation Lab, a company that helps sports organisations identify and understand their fans through data analysis.
“And from the beginning with the GEF it was how do we get in front of misogyny and in front of some of the negative aspects of sport? How do we get in front of universality, so kids can get access to esports, no matter their social economics?
“That is one thing that resonated with me with Paul (J. Foster, GEF CEO) saying, ‘Look we want to set up this convening body (the GEF) that’s going to host prestigious events (such as the Global Esports Games) - look at the momentum, but also can we get people around the table to help with helping build the whole ecosystem, create great impact globally and make the areas safe for athletes and hyper-inclusive.’”
As both the owner of more international ice hockey caps than any other male or female USA player has earned to date and an innovative businesswoman – not to mention a former member and Chair of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Athletes’ Commission – Ruggiero straddles these worlds with aplomb.
It is why she led the GEF’s Coordination Commission for the 2021 and 2022 Global Esports Games.
“A lot of the work we have done has been about helping traditional sports understand esports – not just from what is it, but how they can organically integrate sponsors and brands. How esports are digital-first which gives them a leg-up in terms of appealing to this ‘fluid fan’, which we talk about all the time,” the 1998 Olympic champion said.
“And we are working with esports organisations to help them understand traditional sports.
“It’s like, OK we have got traditional sports bodies we have to bring into this new world, but this new world also has to adapt to the traditional world. We sit in the middle and can see both sides of the fence.”
Leading the way comes naturally to Ruggiero. In 2005 she became the first female outfield player to take to the ice during a men’s professional ice hockey match in North America. Her pioneering has not been limited to the ice either. In 2013 she and Canadian counterpart Hayley Wickenheiser (Canada’s four-time Olympic ice hockey gold medallist) were the first female Olympic athletes to appear as playable characters in an EA Sports game.
“I remember going into a Best Buy (USA outlet) and playing myself and going ‘this is pretty cool’,” Ruggiero laughed. “Now Sarah Nurse (a leading member of Canada’s Beijing 2022 Olympic Games gold medal-winning women’s ice hockey team) is on the cover (of EA Sports NHL 23) and a lot of other sports have women included.
“It motivates me now to motivate others, to get them to question the status quo. I am always just trying to say how do we make sports more inclusive and not have limitations whatever the sport, whatever the geography, whatever the gender, based on where you are from, what’s your income, what’s your race.”
It is exactly this kind of attitude that Ruggiero will bring to Istanbul for the much-anticipated Istanbul 2022 Global Esports Games as she seeks to build an Olympic-esque playbook for major GEF events. Visit www.Istanbul2022GEG.gg for latest updates on the Global Esports Games in Istanbul from December 15-17, 2022.