The Card Game of Champions

Blitz Champz can be enjoyed by football fans and novices alike.
02/05/2024

Meet Adrienne Smith

Pro footballer and game inventor

by Victoria Ritter

Games have played a significant part in Adrienne Smith’s life. Growing up, she learned good sportsmanship while playing Candyland, gained a mind for strategy by playing chess with her dad, expanded her vocabulary with rounds of Scrabble with her mom and appreciated teamwork while going on Dungeons & Dragons missions with her friends.

Smith went on to play games in a professional capacity, becoming a renowned football player; today, she plays for the Boston Renegades which is part of the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA). She was a member of the first U.S. National Women’s Football Team in 2010 and scored the first-ever touchdown in the history of women’s international tackle football. Smith has won six WFA national championships and has been named an all-star 10 times. In 2013, Smith founded Gridiron Queendom, an organization dedicated to support the sisterhood of girls and women in football.

More recently, Smith has another accomplishment, slightly off-field: she is a game inventor.

“I never set out to be a game designer,” Smith stated. “I was always very creative growing up. I used to write stories and plays.”

One evening in December 2015, Smith was sitting at her desk at home, looking for a way to bring a love of football and excitement and strategy to others. That night she prayed to create a card game that encapsulated the experience, emotions and excitement of football. The next day, she started writing down the rules for what would become Blitz Champz. “I feel as if everybody deserves the chance to know what it feels like to be a champion,” Smith stated.

Blitz Champz is a competitive game that can also be used as a math learning tool. Players race to be the first to make 21 points using a collection of offensive, defensive and continuation cards.

Smith created the prototype just in time to share it with her relatives at Christmas. Her extended family had varying degrees of football knowledge. As it happened, Smith’s aunt, who had never played football, was the first winner of a Blitz Champz game. It was a win for Smith as well.

“I saw naturally how, whether or not you knew about football or had played the game, Blitz Champz was still enjoyable,” Smith observed. “I thought I was on to something. The game played well regardless of one’s affinity for football.”

It took Smith all of the following year to fully develop Blitz Champz. A key piece of the puzzle was the graphics on the cards. Smith wanted both men and women and all races to be represented. “My goal with Blitz Champz, from day one, was that anyone who picked up a Blitz Champz game anywhere in the world would see themselves reflected in the game, and know Blitz Champz was for them, football was for them.”

Smith was able to contact Jason Narvaez through her alma mater Columbia Business School to craft the final graphics design for the cards. Narvaez is an experienced art director and graphic artist who has worked with multiple mainstream animation properties including Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Yu-Gi-Oh! and Marvel superheroes. “He came up with these designs, we worked back and forth and here we are,” Smith stated. “The cards are absolutely beautiful. I love what he’s done.”

Additionally, Smith researched popular card games including Uno and Phase 10 to determine what deck size allows for optimal game play. Smith reached out to the Columbia Business School alumni network who were proficient in game design for their feedback. She played rounds by herself and with test groups to figure out timing and ideal player numbers. “This is where my MBA kicked in,” Smith said. “It was less about creativity and more about logistics and economics.”

Blitz Champz went to market in 2017 and won the National Parenting Product Award (NAPPA) that same year. The Blitz Champz NFL collection, which encompasses all 32 teams, is distributed exclusively in the U.S. The O.G. Blitz Champz game is available in countries which have an interest in American football, spanning from North America to Europe and Asia.

Retailers can purchase Blitz Champz through faire.com or blitzchampz.com; wholesale orders are available.

As the card game was hitting shelves, Smith introduced it as a learning tool to elementary and middle school students in New York City through her organization, Harlem Hip Hop Tours. She saw first-hand how Blitz Champz could work as a math tool, to the excitement of kids and mentors alike.

“I’ve always believed education can, and should be, fun. Everything I create is based on edutainment – educate through entertainment,” Smith said. “The beauty of Blitz Champz is that it’s super fun to play, but you also use math skills. I found that kids loved the game and they didn’t realize they were doing math! They don’t realize they’re learning, practicing and enhancing their math skills; they just think they’re playing a game.”

An added benefit of the game was how it built confidence in girls.

“Within 15, 20 minutes of teaching the game and going through some practice rounds, I can see the confidence levels of these girls increase by a billion-fold. All of a sudden, they’re like, ‘Wow, I am good at this. This game is fun. And I’m beating the boys!’ That is powerful to see. On the other side of that coin, the boys start looking at the girls in a new light as they see how they know the game and see them as equals.”

Becoming a game inventor and innovator came as a surprise to Smith, but she views it as an honor and pleasure. “We’re literally out here creating toys and games. It doesn’t get better than that. Our job is to create happiness.”

Her hardest challenge was overcoming racial and gender stereotypes, which she observed are present not only in the toy industry, but also in the sports and education fields and American culture. She counteracted those stereotypes by demonstrating her intelligence, creativity and prowess in executing ideas; now she’s in a place where she can tell people how her ideas will benefit them.

“I feel blessed to be a part of this community,” Smith said. “It spurs me on to want to develop more.” Smith has plans for additional renditions of Blitz Champz in the works and is open to the possibility of creating new games.

At ASTRA Marketplace & Academy in 2023, Smith was part of a panel that addressed diversity in the toy industry. When asked what advice they would give to innovators, she said: “Give yourself permission to be great,” explaining the importance of affirming and encouraging yourself. She stands by her statement today.

“Sometimes people hold themselves back because they don’t want to face ridicule or they don’t want to make other people feel uncomfortable,” Smith stated. “That serves no one. We’re all given gifts, and we need collectively everyone to recognize, cultivate and maximize whatever their gift is.”

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