By Alan Baldwin
LONDON (Reuters) - Traditional sports can learn a lot from esports in using virtual world technology to stay relevant for younger audiences, says former International Olympic Committee (IOC) member Angela Ruggiero.
Speaking to Reuters at a SportsPro Live event, the 1998 U.S. Olympic ice hockey gold medalist put a twist on the debate about whether esports should be included along with regular sports at future Games.
"We’re focused on how do we actually become more like esports," Ruggiero said of the Boston-based Sports Innovation Lab that she co-founded.
"How do we take and capture what esports are doing really well?
"Let’s explore it and be open minded. Let’s look at what they are doing really well and figure out what we can pull into the traditional realm."
A member of the IOC's digital and technology commission, as well as the coordination commission for the Beijing 2022 Winter Games, the four-times Olympian is on the board of directors for the Olympic Channel.
She left the IOC's executive board after February's Pyeongchang Olympics, having served on the athletes' commission for eight years, and was also chief strategy officer for the Los Angeles 2028 bid.
"I believe esports is delivering in a way that traditional sports is not today," she said.
"And traditional sports are scratching their heads and going 'why are all the young people going to esports' and 'why aren’t they playing real sports?'.
"Honestly I think a lot of it is they are raised on social media, raised engaging with others, they know cell phones like the back of their hand. They have a computer in their hand from the day they were born and esports lives on that media.
"If you want to stay relevant, then you (as a traditional sport) need to follow the trends and you need to understand why."
Ruggiero cited platforms such as live-streaming service Twitch, a subsidiary of Amazon.
"Twitch and some of these other platforms are creating interactive forms... really just doing things in a very innovative way that are attractive to younger people," she said.
"Why can’t we create more Twitch type of platforms for traditional sports?
"If you take a step back and look at what it actually is, it’s a community platform. So I’m interested in what we can learn from that."
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Pritha Sarkar)