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Meet the new Frag Dolls

Ubisoft's female gamer team grows after no-holds-barred tryout. Just don't call them booth babes. Photos: The new Frag Dolls

SAN RAFAEL, Calif.--It was early afternoon on Sunday, April 2, and eight women were competing fiercely for what could only be described as a female gamer's dream: a spot on Ubisoft's all-women professional video game team, the Frag Dolls.

It was the final stage of the competition. For a day and a half, the women pitted their skills as hard-core gamers against one another in a no-holds-barred tournament and interview process.

The intensely focused yet collegial competitors looked like they could have been stars in the cast of the teen television hit "The OC." For skeptics, it raised the question: Are they top-flight gamers or charismatic faces recruited by Ubisoft's marketing team?

In the final stages of the competition, the Frag Doll wannabes confronted that question in an interview with the judges who were to name a new team member. Gus Sorola, of Rooster Teeth Productions, asked how they felt about people who say the Frag Dolls are little more than glorified "booth babes," or sexy models promoting games.

"I'm definitely not built like a booth babe," said Marcella Fernandez, 21, from Dallas. "I don't play like a booth babe. I play like a pro."

Added Alyson Craghead, 21, from Mesa, Ariz, "Frag Dolls are not booth babes. They're hard-core gamers. They're definitely sexy--confident, intelligent and skillful, but not booth babes."

For their part, Ubisoft execs said people who believe the company is using the Frag Dolls for their sex appeal are missing the point.

"We know some judge the Frag Dolls on how they look," said Melanie Desliens, a Ubisoft spokeswoman, "but the fact is that they are dedicated hard-core gamers. The Frag Dolls are actually helping dispel the myth that video games are for 'guys only' and they encourage both men and women to pick up a controller and join in."

"The Frag Dolls are actually helping dispel the myth that video games are for 'guys only,' and they encourage both men and women to pick up a controller and join in."
--Melanie Desliens, Ubisoft spokeswoman

It was perhaps the toughest question the finalists had to deal with. As the hours dwindled to the conclusion of the all-weekend audition process and the final selection of a winner, the people who seemed to lose their composure weren't the competitors, they were the current Frag Dolls.

"I'm very excited but very upset because a lot of people's feelings are going to be hurt," Valkyrie, a longtime Frag Doll who has played the dual roles of taskmaster and den mother during the weekend, told me a little later. "It's hard because we want the best for the team, but we have personal relationships with all these girls. Because we're all women too. Many of our friends are going to be hurt."

Valkyrie said this with eyes bloodshot from several minutes of crying.

After the tournament, in which each woman faced off with all the others over several hours of playing "Halo 2" and "Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighting," the candidates were calm and unwilling to say just how much they wanted to beat out the other Frag Doll hopefuls.

"We were all a bit competitive," said Renelly Morel, at 19 the youngest candidate. "But we weren't rude about it, because at the end of the day, we're all still friends. We felt so comfortable around each other."

Indeed, the eight women were almost cheering one another on.

"I'd be ecstatic (if I got chosen)," said Jennifer King, 27, from Seattle, "and I know that in this group, everyone is going to be supportive of whoever gets it. We've kind of talked it over, and we're all excited for each other."

Ubisoft received dozens of Frag Doll applications and over the course of several months had whittled the list down to the eight finalists. They ranged in age from Morel's 19 to King's 27, and came from seven states. They were known to each other, and in gamer circles, by names like PerfectDark, The Don Wan, Ang3L and Nin9tyNin9.

Because Ubisoft had granted , I was granted access to the event only after agreeing not to publish this story, and two that preceded it, until after the corresponding GameTrailers episodes had run.

After the morning's tournament, each candidate went before the jury to answer a series of questions. Each woman received the same queries.

Michael Beadle, Ubisoft's public-relations manager, asked each woman how she would feel about representing the video game publisher and the Frag Dolls. Morgan Romine, the sole Frag Doll on the jury, asked each woman how she felt she had performed in the tournament, and later asked the candidates to talk about the most important thing they'd learned from playing video games.

The jury's questions were also meant to uncover each candidate's knowledge about the game industry. Geoff Keighley, the television journalist, wanted to know which next-generation console would end up on top in the end: the Xbox 360, the PlayStation 3 or the Nintendo Revolution (now known as the Wii).

Keighley also asked who each woman thought the top candidates for the new Frag Doll job were. The answers revealed a pecking order that had already emerged.

After the tournament, the leaders appeared to be King, who had seemingly played the best over the two games, Craghead, who held her own at "Ghost Recon" and blew everyone away in "Halo 2" and Morel, who seemed a natural leader, at ease communicating with her teammates in four-on-four play.

After the jury finished with the candidates, the six Frag Dolls retreated for their own deliberations. They didn't have final say, but their voices carried a lot of weight.

The group narrowed its choices down to Morel, whose energy and communication skills they loved, and Craghead, whose game skills they admired and who they believed could grow into the role of communicator.

Alyson "can be taught (communication skills)," said Valkyrie. "You can't be taught game play. She was the best player. How can we take out the best player?"

In the hall, some of the candidates wore their anxiety.

"The anticipation is killing me," Morel said. "I know I look calm. I try to hide my crazy emotions because I think I'd be running back and forth if I showed them."

Finally, everyone returned to the main THX conference room. The candidates lined up on one side of the room, the current Frag Dolls on the opposite side. Valkyrie was still crying, and some of the other Frag Dolls were tearing up, as well.

Romine started to talk about the candidates, praising each for their efforts and their best attributes. But, tearing up, she had to stop. She turned around and jumped in the air.

"Dang it," she yelled. "I was almost done. I am so girly."

She turned back to the candidates.

"As far as the deliberations, it was a really, really tough choice," she began. "We have decided to take two candidates...The two new Frag Dolls are," Romine said, pausing for effect, "Nelly (Morel) and Alyson (Craghead)."

Hugs broke out. Even Beadle was crying.

Suddenly, Morel and Craghead were wearing brand new Frag Dolls shirts. The team now had eight members.

"It's so incredible because there's so many girls that had great qualities," Morel said. "It was a shock to me that they picked me. I just can't wait to see all the things I can do as a Frag Doll. It's going to be like having a family of big sisters, and I'm excited to learn from them."