Written by Kate Fane
Tuesday, September 12th, 2017
As a world-renowned professional gamer, Stephanie Harvey has lead her team "Ubinited" — one of the only all-female Counter-Strike teams in competition — to five world championship titles. When she's not killing pixelated bad guys, Stephanie, or "missharvey" as she's known in the community, also works as a designer at Ubisoft Montreal, talks gaming culture as a Quebec television personality, and advocates against gender discrimination in professional gaming.
Succeeding in a male-dominated industry is tough. It's even harder when you're first starting out, you're flat broke, and you're forced to share a single hotel room with your entire gaming squad. Stephanie won the third season of Canada's Smartest Person, so we figured she'd have some great advice to share on how to become a world champion when you're scraping by.
So how do you describe what you do for a living to your parents?
I used my dad's favourite hockey player as an example. I told him, "Dad, this is just what I do. I have a coach, I practice every day, I travel the world, and I compete." And he got it.
Has competitive gaming always been enough to pay the bills?
I've been pro since 2005, but it was only five years ago that I started making actual money out of it. I was still working as a game developer while competing around the world. I was on contract, so every two weeks they'd tell me, "Hey, we're keeping you for another two weeks." This went on for two years. At any time they could say “Okay, we don't need you anymore." What if I lost my job in two weeks, and I had to find a new one? So I always tried to give myself a 6-month cushion, in case I lost my job and had no income. That's how I've always tried to budget my life. I live the same way I lived before. Except now I'll eat good food. Plus, I travel a little more, and I colour my hair in a really expensive way sometimes.
What sacrifices did it take to become a 5-time world champion?
I imagine pursuing a goal that unique could be challenging. It came with a lot of sacrifices. I didn't often go out with my friends. I missed out because I had to stay home and practice. I'd invest 40-50 hours a week of unpaid work just to get better at a game. I was doing an entry-level job at a game desk, plus working my butt off outside the job. But the sacrifices were always worth it. Today I still make these kinds of sacrifices, and it's not because I need to. It's because I want to be the best player I can be, and this is what I need to do it.
Were there any moments you got really resourceful in order to stretch out very little money for a long time?
I was studying architecture and training for the World Cup at the same time. Often I'd have to stay after school to work on a project, but I still had to practice for the tournament. I didn't have time to work on my project at school and then go back home to practice, because the buses would stop, and I'd be stranded either at school or at home. So I brought my sleeping bag and a gaming computer to school. The other students were building houses and stuff, and I was practicing video games next to them. Like, I'm yelling over the headset during classes. Then I'd work on my school project, sleep an hour under my desk, and go back to class the next day.
What about budgeting while you're on the road?
I've only started taking cabs in the last five years. I would carry my luggage in Paris, walking kilometres in the heat to save $50. When staying in hotels, we'd stock up at the grocery store instead of buying any food at the hotel. Everyone else would go to the hotel restaurant, while we're creating our own mini-fridge in the room with, like, $15 of food. Honestly, we didn't have a choice. I had $200 to spend over seven days in Paris.
How would you describe your financial philosophy?
Time is more valuable to me than money, and experiences are more valuable to me than materials. When I have a Friday off, I'd rather do something with my friends than buy something. But I always want to have more than what I need to save and invest. You never know what's going to happen. I'm always scared that I'll go back to zero, because I've done it once, and I don't want to do it again. I think money is not important, but at the same time you need a cushion. Because you never know when you're going to need it.