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By Amy Tennery
(Reuters) - American tennis great Chris Evert and four-time Olympic ice hockey medallist Angela Ruggerio are helping jump-start a new initiative with Misfits Gaming Group (MGG) aimed at developing female talent in gaming, the firm told Reuters.
The partnership marks the first foray into the esports sector for 18-time Grand Slam champion Evert, who will headline a speaker series as part of the "Women of Misfits" platform.
Ruggiero, also a featured speaker, said she was drawn to the "Women of Misfits" programme in order to combat the stubborn notion that esports and gaming are the primary domain of men.
"There is a common misconception not only that women aren’t often gamers but that women don’t understand the business of esports (and) gaming and that couldn’t be further from the truth," said Ruggiero, who won gold for Team USA at the 1998 Nagano Games.
Nearly 40% of gamers are women, according to MGG, and Ruggiero, the co-founder of the Sports Innovation Lab, a sports and technology firm, said esports represents a large part of her business.
"We saw COVID - as with many other technologies and consumer behaviors - accelerate the industry's interest in esports," said Ruggiero.
"With so many fans stuck at home the industry scrambled to figure out how to incorporate virtual sports and esports into their fan experience portfolios."
The "Women of Misfits" initiative also includes mentorship and development programs for women within MGG, as well as advocacy programmes across the broader esports landscape, where female gamers are still frequent targets of gender discrimination.
"There's some great examples of female gamers out there who are really strong, independent and wildly successful," said Misfits CEO and co-founder Ben Spoont.
"In that first inkling (a person has) of 'this is really cool, I think I can do this, I want to do this' but then it gets shut down - that mental aspect, I wish (the industry) would talk a lot more about and provide a lot more resources for women.
"Because that barrier doesn't exist for a guy."
(Reporting by Amy Tennery, editing by Pritha Sarkar)