Kayane: Born to Win

Words: Alex Nassar
Photos: Olivier Metzger

“They don’t call me the pit bull for nothing.”

The thing that strikes you most when you meet Kayane for the first time is how gentle and kind she is. Who would have thought that this pretty 23-year-old would be a merciless killer with thousands of victims to her name?

Kayane is an international video game star. Her real name is Marie-Laure Norindr, and she commands fame and has a reputation that goes well beyond the borders of her home nation of France. “It’s still weird arriving in Las Vegas to compete in a tournament and having to sign autographs,” she says. “The internet means I have a very large audience.”

It’s now a long time since a young girl from Argenteuil, a western suburb of Paris, first took an interest in fighting games such as Street Fighter, Soulcalibur and Dead Or Alive. She was eight years old when her two brothers, seven and 11 years older than her, noticed that she had a gift for the joystick and virtual combat. They soon signed her up for a tournament.

“Everyone in the room went quiet and looked at me as if I was some kind of weird animal. Who’s this little girl daring to challenge us?”

“The organisers didn’t want me to take part,” says Kayane. “They thought I was the little sister of a friend who was with me that day, and when my name was called for my first fight, everyone in the room went quiet and looked at me as if I was some kind of weird animal. ‘Who’s this little girl daring to challenge us?’ The first guy I was up against was three times my age. He was killing himself laughing when he saw me. I knocked him out without the loss of a single round.” A year later Kayane made it to the final, meaning she was the French No 2 in Dead Or Alive 2.

In 2010, she became women’s world Champion of Super Street Fighter IV. In 2012, she got her name in the Guinness Book Of World Records as the woman with the most podium finishes in fighting game competitions, with a total of 42. “When I play, I’m overcome by this hatred of losing, which gets the most out of me and helps me get the better of my opponents,” she says. “Your technique is important, but so is the mental side of things. They don’t call me The Pit Bull for nothing.” An exceptionally nice pit bull, be it said, and one who is always working to progress onward and upward. 

“I spent a month in Japan recently,” she says. “They have the world’s best players, and the Japanese mindset really inspires me to do better. They have this ability to keep pushing their limits. It’s part of their culture, part of their education, and it’s probably why they’re so good.” As in all sports, there’s no mystery when it comes to winning video game competitions. Talent alone isn’t enough. Future victories are forged in practice. 

“When I play, I’m overcome by this hatred of losing, which gets the most out of me and helps me get the better.”

“I practise for at least one to two hours a day,” she says. “And if there’s a tournament coming up, I study my potential opponents’ fighting techniques. I try to get into their heads to anticipate their next move. It’s a bit like poker sometimes. There’s a lot of bluffing in video game tournaments.”

“The video game world is a very macho place, but I know that people fear and respect me now.”
Kayane

Kayane has also been increasing her areas of expertise. As well as taking part in gaming competitions, she boxes, and hosts a weekly TV programme on MTV-owned French channel Game One. But her ambition is now pushing her toward other goals. “It’d be a dream to create my own fighting game,” she says. “I’ve got plenty of ideas, and I think that one day I’ll go through the looking glass.”

But the tenacious champion still has a few more fights to win and a few more mouths to silence in a world that still isn’t entirely at ease with women, especially if they’re young and talented. “The video game world is a very macho place, but I know that people fear and respect me now,” she says.

“In my 13-year career, I’ve achieved that at least, and that’s saying something.” Whatever did happen to that poor gamer Kayane beat up on in her first tournament way back in 2001? “I think he changed his name and moved abroad,” she says. “Best decision he ever made.” 

Kayane: The Facts

Name: Marie-Laure “Kayane” Norindr

Born: Paris, June 17, 1991

Activities: The 2010 world champion and Red Bull–sponsored gamer hosts the weekly Game One e-Sports TV program. Piano is her other passion.

Going down in history

Kayane is in the 2012 edition of the Guinness Book of Records as the woman with the most top 3 finishes in fighting game competitions anywhere in the world.

Read more on Kayane at Red Bull Battlegrounds

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10 2014 The Red Bulletin

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