Making a name for yourself in the world of competitive gaming is a severe challenge at the best of times and it takes a special kind of person to climb the ranks of this cut-throat environment to gain even the slightest recognition.
But what if you’re a woman? What kind of additional tests of character will you encounter in a sport traditionally dominated by male participants?
El33tonline was fortunate enough to speak to South African pro gamer Stephanie Fouche (aka Steph1401 online) to find out how she got her start in competitive gaming, the challenges she has had to overcome, her stringent training regimen, and how she became sponsored by peripheral manufacturer Gioteck.
- Stephanie Fouche (aka Steph1401)
El33tonline: Let’s begin at the beginning: How did you get started playing games and how did that lead to competitive gaming?
Stephanie Fouche: I actually started gaming when I was younger, so it was never an online thing for me, it was usually singleplayer until April  I started playing online and it got really addictive. I go by ‘Steph1401’ [online], 14/01 being my birthday so that was the first thing that came into my mind, so I use that for basically everything.
I had another PlayStation account a while ago called ‘KitanaSF’ because of Mortal Kombat, which is what got me hooked into everything.
El33tonline: Was that the first game you ever played or had you been playing before then?
Fouche: I’ve got older brothers and sisters so I was playing ‘GameStation’ and all of those things with them, and by the time they left the house I moved to PlayStation 1, then PlayStation 2, and it was on PlayStation 2 that we started playing Mortal Kombat: Deception and we got a bunch of friends together, which is when I realised that I’m a little bit competitive, because they would beat me and I would jump on them and go “No, no, no!” [laughs], using any means necessary to win!
I think that got me really addicted, because I started playing with them in a little singleplayer here and there, but then after I started playing more games and the PlayStation broke…
I didn’t have a PlayStation for a couple years until I met my boyfriend and he had a PlayStation 3, which is the first time I started online gaming and was basically just me and him split-screen in Black Ops and things like that. So when Battlefield 3 came out [and he was playing] he asked “Oh, don’t you want to play for me quickly? I just need to go do something.” So I put his headset on and started talking to these people and started playing, discovering all these other classes… and it all completely hooked me.
- Mortal Kombat: Deception (PS2)
El33tonline: Since starting playing competitively in April last year, what kinds of tournaments have you been involved in?
Fouche: I had the opportunity to play in an international tournament, but I didn’t want to be a part of it, it was way too hectic for me, I was still trying to better myself and get somewhere.
So I joined a clan, which was just very entry-level just us trying to figure things out, and then I went up to the next clan, NiN, which was one of the best clans in South Africa at that stage. It was between NiN and SASS – those two always ended up in the finals. So what I did was I started playing for them and became a leader, but they trained and helped me to better myself as well.
We did the ‘Conquest League’ and came second place, and SASS beat us [laughs], but then our clan split up after that and SASS also split up and formed a new clan called Legion, and I’m with them at the moment. Then we did the ‘Close Quarters League,’ and we won there as well so it’s been fantastic.
Then we started an inter-provincial league to get everything going – because lately with all of the new games coming out everyone’s kind of on their own mission, so the Battlefield community isn’t that close anymore – so we’ve tried to create an extra league just to get everyone together instead of doing it with the clans, because I think people get a little bit tired after you beat them so many times and they don’t want to play with you anymore! [laughs]
So the inter-provincial leagues will be Cape Town versus Gauteng, for instance, and we split Gauteng into two because there are so many players here. Things started going absolutely crazy so we put that to an end and we’ll continue with that on Battlefield 4.
El33tonline: Why do you choose to play on PlayStation 3 versus Xbox 360?
Fouche: I’ve always been PlayStation my whole life, all the way. My boyfriend actually had an Xbox, but I’m so used to the PlayStation controller. I think I’m more comfortable with PlayStation, it’s automatic like the back of my hand.
El33tonline: You spoke about other players getting tired of you beating them all the time, so how do you practice? With your clan online or…
Fouche: Oh gosh, yes! We practice with the clan online, especially when we’ve got an upcoming league we have practices every Tuesday and Thursday evening so everybody has to be there. We squad up and we have our leaders and everything, and the leaders will work through the map and say, “OK, let’s try this, this person will be there…” Every person has a specific role.
And then we also do accuracy [training]. We’ll take sniper rifles – no sight – and try to shoot each other, and everybody will just use that. And it’s one shot one kill if you shoot [the right target], and you need to otherwise you’ll get taken out. That gets really hectic because you’ve got people jumping to miss your bullets, and it helps. It takes a long time and you get frustrated because you want more action, but we do it for a reason.
So we do many of those [training exercises] and we practice against other clans and internally against ourselves, and we try to practice against international players and clans as well because obviously their faster internet speeds give us a greater challenge and we also don’t show [local] clans our tactics. We put a lot of time and effort in.
- Battlefield 3
El33tonline: How many hours per day or week would you say you put into playing?
Fouche: At a stage I got highly addicted, I think I got one of the top hours in South Africa for Battlefield. Especially during Double XP [weekends], you literally tell your friends “Listen, I’m going into a cave for a weekend!” [laughs] I’ll see you next week! It becomes routine.
I actually overdid it at a stage, I can admit that, I got completely addicted. I would get home, I wouldn’t speak to anyone, I was just like, ‘Play-play-play-play-play.’ Go to bed at two or three in the morning, wake up at six again and go to work, and at work you’re half sleeping so by the time you’re back home you’re like ‘Oh yay, Battlefield!’ It was all about getting better and working my way to the top, and being a girl you’ve got a lot to prove, a lot more than most of the guys. It’s a lot more difficult for us because everybody expects you to not be good, so a lot of time and effort went in.
So it was… come home, do everything you need to, get on PlayStation and play literally until you get tired or until you decide ‘Listen, I need to [take a break], I need to now.’ So that’s an every single day thing, and on weekends as much as possible, if you’ve got other things to do when you come home… you don’t even watch TV or anything, there’s no time for that, it’s so consuming.
But what I did eventually was, I found a balance between life and online gaming – I actually didn’t have that routine. So when I found the balance I could do the entire routine. Before it was ‘Come home, switch on the PlayStation, cook dinner, run back to play’ – it was seriously throwing my whole life upside down, so it was quite hectic. So when I found that balance I got into a routine, ‘I need to do all of these things first, and then I can spend the rest of the night gaming.’
It changed a lot of things for me personally as well, and the thing is I still put that time and effort in and practice twice as hard, but you still have the balance and that mindset of, ‘My life is OK.’
El33tonline: Much better, much more healthy.
Fouche: Yes, definitely.
El33tonline: How did the Gioteck sponsorship come about?
Fouche: At the time I wasn’t actually looking for a sponsorship because I had just joined Legion, and that’s how I met Quinton [Davies], one of the directors at Apex Interactive, through online gaming. And he was always online as well, he saw everything and he was there every step of the way with me. He saw the time I put in, he saw the effort and he saw what I tried.
I was still playing with a Gioteck earphone and I was getting frustrated because it only had a few hours battery life and then it would die, and it wasn’t the type that you could charge and speak to people, you had to leave it there, and everyone would go “Where’s Steph?” I’m usually a talkative person so when I go quiet something is wrong! [laughs]
So [Quinton] made me a deal and he said he would try organise me a headset so it wouldn’t keep dying, because if it dies during a clan match I get so frustrated. I spend so much time playing online I need [a good headset].
I used to do, and still do, video montages where I record my gameplay and upload it to YouTube, so he said I should mention Gioteck in one of my videos and he might be able to organise a headset for me, which I thought was an awesome deal. A couple days later I uploaded the video – I do my own editing, but I’m still very, very entry-level teaching myself how to do it – and Quinton phoned me one day saying, “Oh, congratulations, you’re sponsored by Gioteck.”
I was like “What?! Don’t lie!” I thought he was joking, it was such a big shock!
Last year [at rAge], Alexia [Scotten] also tried to bring more awareness to girl gamers, and I think that was one of the main things, to find a [talented] girl gamer, and because I put the time and effort into it I think that was another reason I got sponsored. So it came as a shock but it was awesome.
- Gioteck PlayStation 3 Triggers
El33tonline: How will the Gioteck sponsorship help you, right now and in the future, how has it been so far.
Fouche: Wow, it’s been quite a ride actually. Firstly, whenever I need help all of the people at Apex Interactive and Gioteck are always there to answer questions for me and to help me with everything. The support I’ve got from them is amazing. Every time I have an idea they’re very supportive of it, they’re always willing to try, and willing to listen – it’s a proper relationship. It’s real.
They gave me the entire Gioteck range, and they’ve given me games and shirts and everything – I was completely kitted out, there’s constant support. For example, I love triggers, I can’t play without [Gioteck] triggers and I’m very hard on my controllers because I do a lot of tagging [in Battlefield 3], and every once in a while I’ll get frustrated and slam the thing and it breaks off! [laughs]
I haven’t had one day where I couldn’t replace a trigger, because they know that and I have a constant supply, saying ‘Are you still OK for triggers?’ And then the next week again, ‘Are you still OK for triggers?’
So it’s a lot of support, and they know me, too, they know the types of games I play and they know me personally and the type of person that I am, so it’s been absolutely amazing. Every time I have an idea, like ‘I’m starting a Gauteng gamers league over all the platforms that I want to grow really big,’ they’ve been completely supportive of that and say ‘If you need anything, let’s talk and we’ll help you.’ Let’s go to Cape Town gamers and introduce you to all the people…
El33tonline: Come to Durban gamers!
Fouche: Yes, we’ll do that too, half my clan is in Durban anyway! So yes, I couldn’t have asked for anyone better.
- Battlefield 4
El33tonline: What do you think of the changes in Battlefield 4 so far in the beta?
Fouche: Look, it’s still Battlefield, but there are a lot of changes. Some of the weapons, the attachments, a lot of changes, and the buttons as well. Every time I want to crouch, I knife instead, so I think that’s going to take some getting used to – that has been the main issue so far in getting used to it, the change of the buttons. Before you could get in and out of a tank by pushing ‘Circle,’ now you push ‘Square’ and you actually have to hold it and it takes a while.
But that’s just the beta so I’m hoping they’ll change a couple things for the full release. I’m mainly an infantry player, I’m an ‘Assault’ player, number one Assault player in South Africa, so I push that really hard and I don’t spend a lot of time in vehicles, but I play with two of the best chopper pilots in South Africa so I usually jump in there as a gunner for them, and one of them taught me how to fly and I’ve just got used to it [in Battlefield 3], but now I see in Battlefield 4 [they’ve changed it], so I think the vehicles will be a little bit difficult to get used to.
Infantry-based, it should be fine, but I’m just worried about the vehicles.
- Alexia Scotten, Stephanie Fouche and other girl gamers at rAge (Image Source)
El33tonline: Changing track a little bit, what to you is the difference between a male gamer and a female gamer?
Fouche: My view? Completely nothing. I don’t think it should be classified like ‘Oh, you’re a female gamer?’ A gamer is a gamer and there shouldn’t be a distinction. I think a lot of people see it like that because there are females in a male-dominated arena, but I don’t think it should be like that at all.
When my mic is off it says ‘Steph1401’ online, you won’t know if I’m a girl or a guy and that’s how I like it. You can’t classify the guys in a certain way either, because some of them are very nice to you and very sweet, and immediately accept you. But others are completely shocked and can’t get over it, and keep on nagging you and carrying on with you which is very annoying. Then you get the guys who flirt with you and ask you… not nice questions! [laughs]
Then you’ve got my clan mates who treat me like one of them, completely. I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be. People need to get with the times, because you have no idea how many girls there are playing, internationally and locally, everywhere, there are so many girl gamers. I’ve got a whole international clan and the day that it started it got over 34 members, all girls.
El33tonline: Then do you still think it’s important to spread awareness of female gamers, and you as a spokesperson for Gioteck – how do you balance that between saying ‘We’re all the same… but we need to bring out the girl gamers’?
Fouche: I think we need to bring them out so people are more aware that there are girl gamers because everyone is so focussed on, ‘Oh my goodness, it’s a girl gamer!’ – they’re not used to it. We need to get used to the fact that there are girl gamers out there and we need to be seen as equals. We’re just gamers. Women play games and most men don’t know it, and as soon as they start accepting and knowing that, we can be classified just as gamers.
Thanks to Stephanie Fouche for her time during the extraordinarily busy rAge 2013 – El33tonline wishes her all the best in her future competitive gaming endeavours!
Keep up with her at her Twitter account over here.