THEY'RE YOUNG AND pretty, perform in front of large crowds, travel with a hair-and-makeup team and have fans lining up for autographs. Les Seules may sound like the girl group of the month, but they spend their days bathed in the sterile glow of computer screens - they're a Scandinavian all-female outfit of professional online gamers. Les Seules, who compete in circuits dedicated to Counter-Strike, the popular first-person shooter game, were in town last week as part of a promotional tour that has already taken them across the US to Tokyo. Their adventures on the road are being filmed for a 12-part reality television series, Play Us, which is expected to be shown in 20 countries next year. All in their 20s, the five members - Sofi Bystrom (Sophie), Line Marie Haug (Miss Hyper), Nathalie Ek (Nat0), Anette Skarderud (Cazzidy) and Louise Thomsen (AurorA) - are better known to fans by their player names or handles. With their glamorous looks, Les Seules seem to be antitheses of the bespectacled hard-core gamer. 'It's a myth that gamers look a certain way,' says Skarderud. 'When you go to any of the big conventions you can see there are all kinds of shapes, sizes and cultures represented. There are beautiful people and plain people. But they all have something in common - they all love Counter-Strike.' Developed in 1999 by Minh Le and Jesse Cliffe, the game has since been expanded into a series; it's now estimated to be played by 70 million people worldwide. A team-based contest featuring blazing Uzis and grenade blasts, it pits a special forces squad against a terrorist unit in rounds that are won by completing a mission or eliminating the opposition. Les Seules play up that violent image in their publicity material: they're photographed wielding various deadly weapons; and the brief CVs credit the women with memorable quotes such as 'a single blow to the head always does the trick', and 'shopping's fun, but so is mowing down five opponents with a machine gun'. While they sound like a vicious, blood-thirsty crew, the women insist that's not the case. 'We're not in it for the violence - it's not actually a violent game,' says Thomsen. 'People have to understand that Counter-Strike, more than anything else, is a game of strategy. We have to be tactical; our main desire is to win - not to kill as many opponents as possible.' Although they aren't the first all-women gaming group, Les Seules are keen to market themselves as a brand - a sexy one - typically appearing in matching, figure-hugging outfits. 'It's normal for teams to wear a uniform,' says Bystrom. 'But we just choose to look a little sexier.' Touting a feisty, sexed-up image in fields usually associated with geeky or stuffy types can be an effective marketing ploy. Besides enabling the group to stand out, it may help them sell themselves to a wider audience, as the female string quartet Bond has done in classical music. While Play Us is primarily aimed at gamers who are already aware of Les Seules, its producer Martin Gisselman hopes the women's good looks will attract an audience of non-gamers. 'The transformation of their overall look has to do with the show,' he says. 'They want to make a living out of what they do, and they stand to make a good living from future endorsements.' The strategy is starting to pay off. The group is already being offered sponsorship deals by make-up, lifestyle, fashion and gaming brands, says Gisselman, whose company, Bringiton, is behind the reality show. While he's contributing to their glossier image, Gisselman says the women were celebrities in gaming circles before he came up with the idea for the reality series. 'They were up on stage, signing autographs, being interviewed and having their pictures taken with fans,' he says. 'We already had a template for the show - we knew that pro-gaming was huge and hadn't been done on TV before, and so we wanted to base the show around that concept. When we came across the girls at a convention we knew they would be perfect.' Gaming is a US$21.3 billion industry and so-called e-sports - computer games that involve racing or violence - have drawn huge crowds since the first tournament nine years ago. Top professional players gain big followings and can earn up to US$200,000 a year in cash and other prizes. The pro-gaming circuit remains divided by gender, but Les Seules hope that will change. 'There's still segregation. Every time we play an event, it's against females,' Thomsen says. 'It's the one thing we'd really love to overcome. We're not afraid of challenging guys.' Just as top athletes train religiously, Les Seules hone their skills everyday in their bid to become the world's top all-women gaming group. They spend at least 10 hours every day practising on Counter-Strike or working on team strategy. That competitive streak may derive in part from the women's sporting backgrounds. Ek was a figure skater before taking up gaming, and Thomsen played a lot of volleyball and netball. But as tales emerge of players collapsing after marathon bouts online and communities around the world struggling to deal with teenagers hooked on gaming, the professionals urge moderation. 'We take short breaks from a game all the time - you need to, to keep healthy,' says Thomsen. 'We urge people to listen to us when we say this: the game will still be there when you come back.' Les Seules' members hail from Sweden, Denmark and Norway. Of the current line-up, only Bystrom and Thomsen remain of the original five who got together in 2001 to take part in a tournament in France (hence the French name). 'We want to go into merchandising; designing our own keyboards, for instance,' says Thomsen. 'I think the ultimate dream would be for us to have the chance to design and manufacture our own game.' After a stop in Shenzhen to play an all-male Chinese team - 'There seems to be a better acceptance of e-sports [on the mainland],' says Skarderub - the Play Us tour will take them to Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Berlin, Paris and London. Spending so much time in each other's company has its down sides, but Haug says the group gets on well. 'We rarely fight,' she says. 'If there's a problem we talk it out. We support each other.' Yet, despite their international following as pro-gamers, the women in Les Seules still get starry-eyed about other celebrities. 'We'd really love to meet the makers of Counter-Strike,' says Thomsen.