Kayane's portrait
25 January 2016

“Gamers are enthusiasts who want their passion to be recognised by the wider public” #HistoiresdeFrance

As the Digital Republic bill proposes the formal recognition of video game competitions, discover French champion Kayane’s story. Aged 24, Kayane is already a “veteran” professional video gamer. Competing in tournaments since the age of 9, she has an international track record including a Guinness World Record for her 42 podium finishes – enough to make an elite athlete green with envy. She also has a clear goal: to promote her passion to the widest possible audience and help get it recognised as a sport in its own right.
Content published under the Government Valls II from 2014 26th August to 2016 11th February
 
KayaneA gamer since childhood, Kayane travels the world “to represent France in her favourite fighting games”. A true celebrity in the world of gamers, this young woman is also a presenter on the specialist GameOne channel.
 
To say she was mature beyond her years would be an understatement. She started playing video games aged 4, when she was still known as Marie-Laure, “fun” games to begin with like Tetris and Zelda on Game Boy. But from the age of 6, she began to switch to fighting games so that she could play with her older brothers. Respectively 7 and 11 years older than her, they were both Tekken champions, in one case European champion, and passed their passion onto her. A passion for gaming, but also for competing: “when they practised at home, the tension was palpable, I was in awe watching them!” And even though her interest in fighting games stemmed from this desire to “be like them”, they quickly became her driving passion.
 
Before beating all comers at Street Fighter, her game of choice, Kayane earned her stripes on SoulCalibur. “That’s the fighting game that got me into this genre”, she explains. A victory she claimed in this game is still the young gamer's greatest source of pride. “I was 12 and playing against the practically unbeatable SoulCalibur champion. He was the French Champion and runner-up in the World Championships. We often went head to head in the final, but he always won! That day we were in a big cinema, in front of a huge crowd. The prize was €1,500, which was a lot of money for me at the time. But most of all, I wanted to beat him, just for once! The first to 10 points would win the game, he was leading 5-1, and I don’t know how it happened but I got riled up and drew level before finally winning 10-5. I was completely stunned.”
 
“I know that the career of a professional gamer is short, you never know what tomorrow will bring. Eventually you come up against someone stronger than you. I wanted to keep a backup option and so I decided to pursue my studies.”

She only became a professional gamer when she turned 18, which meant that she could sign a contract and be paid for taking part in tournaments as well as competing abroad. But she had also just begun her studies. After passing her baccalauréat ES (A-Level-equivalent qualification in the Economics and Social Sciences stream) and a DUT technical diploma in marketing techniques, she had just started at a business school. It was then that she was asked by GameOne, a French TV channel, to present a show on e-sports, the first in France. It offered her a professional contract as opposed to her previous sponsorship. “Not only did I have a sponsor, but also a monthly salary. But I couldn't give up my studies overnight. I know that the career of a professional gamer is short, you never know what tomorrow will bring. Eventually you come up against someone stronger than you. I wanted to keep a backup option and so I decided to pursue my studies.” As the young gamer explains, it is hard to compete as a professional in the long term because the body can’t keep up. “I was seen as a video game prodigy, but my reflexes aren’t what they were when I was 10! Younger players soon overtake you. After 15 years of tournaments, my passion hasn't changed, but I have less time to devote to it.” She says that once she turns thirty, she will think about a change of career, as a video game commentator, manager, or events organiser. “There are quite a few prospects. E-sports are yet to turn 20, but quite a lot of gamers are switching to new professions.”
 
Kayane playing Street Fighter Her entry into competitive gaming at an early age allowed her to forge a reputation. In 2012, she set a Guinness World Record for her 42 podium finishes, the record for a female participant in fighting game tournaments. “That really earned me respect in the gaming community”, she admits. Indeed, few women play fighting games, and tournaments are still primarily mixed. “In France I think I’ve only ever seen five female gamers, no more! I figured that women love games but don't get involved after seeing the comments they read online, which can sometimes be hurtful, and assuming it'll be the same in real life. But it's not true at all, the community is lovely! I’ve met my best friends here.”
 
That said, Kayane admits that getting women involved in gaming is not easy, even though there is no physical difference between gamers. “Teams are often formed of a circle of friends, and that leads to teams of all guys on one side and all girls on the other. It's very rarely mixed from the outset. And it has to be said that the guys don't give girls a chance, which is a real shame! It creates a vicious cycle: they remain on the sidelines and continue to be excluded. Tournament organisers try to include girls, but it's done rather clumsily. Yet, by continuing to compete in female-only tournaments, women are limiting themselves. We can only improve by competing against a maximum number of gamers and that means playing against men.”
 
Now 24, Kayane does not make her living solely from her professional gamer status. “It's hard in France, especially in my discipline – fighting games. There aren't many cash prizes, as it's a discipline that comes from Japan where honour counts above all else. It's particularly frowned upon there to make a living from video games.” She manages to get by thanks to her other activities: her gaming contract with a sponsor, her television show where she and other gamers present the latest gaming news, as well as events she attends across France where she meets the public, and which provide a small source of income.
 
Kayane’s joystick To keep her hand in, Kayane practises 2 to 3 hours per day. Street Fighter is a single player game, and the matches are quick, only lasting 5 minutes, she explains. “It's very different from team games like StarCraft or League of Legends. You have to plan together, think up a strategy; that takes a lot longer.” The young gamer sees e-sports as a mental sport, but also a question of skill. “Viewers don't always realise, but when you’re playing, a huge number of physical factors come into play: reflexes, concentration, dexterity […] The same goes for StarCraft gamers, for example. Some professional gamers make 300 moves a minute whereas an amateur will manage about 40. That requires daily training: you have to do finger exercises, like a pianist does on a keyboard." Gamers also have to train in teams, or against an opponent.
 
“Finally, you make progress in e-sports thanks to others, by challenging yourself, and thanks to team spirit: these are all values you find in elite sport”, Kayane explains. Nonetheless, “much remains to be done in terms of recognition for professional gamers. But Axelle Lemaire says she wants to help boost the recognition of e-sports and propose initiatives. I really hope we can make some headway there.” The young gamer hopes the public authorities will take a greater interest in this area, providing investment and helping to finance or organise events. “Above all we need a federation to regulate the discipline”, she says.

 
“Professional gamers are the stars of the new generation”.
“We've been sidelined for a long time because our passion is viewed as marginal”, the champion laments. And yet, “in France, we have a very expressive audience. Gamers and viewers create the atmosphere! Having travelled almost all over the world, I've realised that the French public is particularly enthusiastic. It’s very different in Japan, for example! Japanese gamers remain unmoved no matter what happens. Here in France, we go wild with excitement when we win, and we cry when we lose!” An enthusiasm that can be explained, in her opinion, by the frustration felt by gamers at being ignored by society. “It’s a form of revenge! We want to prove we're not idiots, just enthusiasts, and that this passion should be recognised by the wider public.”

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