Fuslie Proves Being Yourself Is Never Out Of Character
Tens of thousands of people watch streamer Leslie Fu roleplay as someone else on Twitch. By immersing herself into another life, she’s come into her own IRL.
“I’m usually like a potato,” Leslie Fu tells me on the set of our GG shoot. “I just stay home wearing oversized hoodies.” And while we’re not at her Los Angeles home — we’re at a ranch overlooking the 101 freeway in Thousand Oaks, CA — the Twitch streamer known as Fuslie is indeed sporting a black Balenciaga hoodie. That is, before she trades in the luxury leisure look for a cerulean Adi Karni dress. The shoot is totally outside of her element, says an excited but nervous Fu, who describes her style as “casual,” but this wouldn’t be the first time she’s stepped outside of herself.
The 29-year-old is best known these days for her Grand Theft Auto V roleplay (GTA V RP) as April Fooze, an Amazonian-like redhead bombshell who is a recording artist for Wu-Chang Records (yes, a riff on hip-hop group Wu-Tang Clan) and a member of the Chang Gang. April robs banks, releases her own music, and gets all the boys as a professional sugarbaby. To sum up the essence of April, just check out her newest song on Spotify, “If You’re Broke I’m Busy.”
Even Beyoncé once had an alter ego, and April is Fu’s own version of Sasha Fierce: Bold. Magnetic. Self-assured.
“One hundred percent April is the more confident, cool version of myself,” Fu tells me later that week over Zoom. Fu isn’t wearing a hoodie today, but an equally comfortable oversized 100 Thieves T-shirt. “Sometimes I even find myself thinking, ‘What would April do in this situation? How would she act? Let me be more confident.’”
Fuslie wears a custom made Adi Karni dress; Balenciaga shoes.
On set, it’s ya girl April in living flesh. Wearing a neon green J’amemme tulle gown cinched with a black leather harness, her arms adorned in black latex sleeves, Fu has transformed from the effervescent girl-next-door brand she’s built over the last seven years into the commanding presence of April, her RP character, who takes no shit from no one. But behind the on-cam veneer of the cheery streamer who exclaims “Sheeeeesh!” to viewers’ delight is still Leslie — bubbly and sweet, a mirror image of who she is on stream, but also a self-reflective, introspective woman who sizes up her personal growth by evaluating decades-old diary entries and keeps herself in check despite the immense success she’s already achieved and the endless possibilities ahead. And it’s through embodying April that Fu has come into her own.
“Yes, April is cooler,” streamer Yvonne “Yvonnie” Ng, Fu’s best friend-turned-roommate, says. “But Leslie's pretty cool too.”
Originally from Los Altos in Northern California, Fu says she was a casual gamer since as long as she can remember (think Super Smash Bros., Pokémon, Neopets, and RollerCoaster Tycoon) and had dreams of becoming a doctor or veterinarian. It wasn’t until after she graduated from the University of California, Irvine, in 2014 that the plan changed.
During a gap year between undergrad and grad school, Fu moved in with three guy friends, who introduced her to Riot Games’ League of Legends. She was enthralled. She immersed herself more into the scene, watching pro orgs like TSM and CLG compete at the League Championship Series and starting her own Twitch stream in February 2015. By fall, three days before starting her master’s program in teaching at UCLA, she was partnered. It was a double life, waking up at 6 a.m. to drive to Los Angeles and back to Irvine to stream for two hours. She finished one quarter of the year before dropping out to pursue streaming full time. “I was making enough to pay rent so I told my mom, ‘This is it. I’m gonna pay rent, and you can cut me off.’”
From there began the grind. As a solo streamer, she jumped from League to Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO), H1Z1, and PlayerUnknown’s Battleground (PUBG). With each new game, she kept her OG viewers and picked up new ones. Then came the group streams. In 2018, she and her friends, which included Offline TV co-founders Pokimane and Scarra, started hosting IRL game nights that attracted thousands of viewers. By the time Among Us became the game to bond over during the early days of the pandemic, Fu’s viewership was topping 10,000. Today, she boasts 1.2 million followers on Twitch and commands an audience that can fill an NBA arena. “I feel like I invested in a penny stock that blew up,” she says.
2021 was a pivotal year, even though she doesn’t see it as one. Last May, Fu was signed by gaming organization 100 Thieves, and six months later, she was nominated for The Game Awards’ Content Creator of the Year, the only woman in a field of five. Fu didn’t win — Minecraft star Dream took the crown — but she didn't expect to. In fact, she still questions how she made it this far. “My success is always a fluke,” she tells me, mentioning that she often struggles with imposter syndrome. “It's always because of someone else or because these circumstances have lined up to make it so that I'm this way.” Her mind roams. “I don't know why I'm always in this state of feeling like I'm not actually funny enough or good enough or entertaining enough. But yeah…” Fu trails off. “What was the question?”
No matter what she thinks of her success, there is no question that Fu is successful. And these days, much of it is driven through her roleplay streams.
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Roleplaying has always been a staple in gaming, but it’s come a long way since LARP-ing as wizards in your neighborhood park. In GTA RP, gamers take on the identities and personalities of their in-game characters and play off of each other in Los Santos, a fictionalized version of Los Angeles, through what can most easily be described as completely off-the-cuff improv. The unscripted nature of the gameplay can result in hilarious sketches or emotional elaborate plotlines, and thanks to big-time streamers like Fu, who started to RP in 2021, the game mode has led to GTA V becoming one of the most watched games on Twitch. “It's kind of like life,” Fu explains. “You make your decisions and you live with the consequences of those decisions.”
Fu isn’t just the star when she’s RP-ing; she’s the producer, director, writer, camerawoman, sound and music operator, creating a production with narrative arcs that rival any Netflix show. In one epic storyline that spanned a week and wove in a dozen streamers’ characters’ points-of-view, Fu’s April breaks her brother March Fooze out of prison — only to later learn he is actually a serial killer named Joe, and Joe, played deftly by RP legend Burn, is now out to get half of Los Santos. In one M. Night Shyamalan-esque moment, April is sitting in her car in a garage when Joe unexpectedly saunters in. “Hey,” Joe says, standing in the way of the exit. The curtain between streamer and in-game character drops. April — and Fu — is shook. “He’s HERE?!?!” Fu squeals. Chat erupts. If there were an Emmy for best RP moment, this would be a sure win.
RP-ing isn’t easy though. Fu recalls RP purists criticizing her gameplay after April joined a gang and robbed a bank in her first week on the exclusive NoPixel server. She's going too fast. She doesn't know how to roleplay properly. Backseat gaming is always a challenge for streamers, but when you’re RP-ing for tens of thousands of people, the chorus of opinions can become overwhelming. You should have said this to that person. You should have gone left instead of right. You’re expected to fully embody another personality, all while delivering entertaining content, and if you do something out of character, or “OOC,” then suddenly the magical illusion is broken and you’ll be called out. Or if you cross another streamers’ character the wrong way, their viewers will suddenly spam your own chat with hateful messages. “I cry from RP like once a month because I’m just so stressed out by the viewers,” Fu says.
For someone as sensitive as Fu, who admittedly has public speaking anxiety and “a fear of looking stupid,” GTA RP is an interesting game of choice. But the thrill of becoming someone completely different allows for an immersive escape that rivals any box office hit. “In real life, I go up to someone. I’m like, ‘Hi. Nice to meet you. I’m Leslie,’ and I’m very cordial,” Fu says. “In RP, I walk up to someone, and my first interaction is hitting them with my car.” “Leslie’s able to be on her feet and think really quickly,” Ng says. “She's so good at socializing and taking a situation and making it look hilarious.”
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There are parallels between the choices you make in RP and the choices you make IRL — as well as their consequences. In another major moment of her 2021, Fu and streamer Edison Park announced last October the end of their two-year engagement (after nearly six years of dating and a live proposal on stream), much to fans’ shock. “That was a whole wrench out of nowhere,” Fu tells me. “You think your life is going one way, and then boom, it isn’t. The person that was your everything and you were gonna spend your entire life with is no longer.” The streaming lifestyle makes it difficult to maintain a relationship, Fu says. “You have to make these decisions constantly.” Do I continue streaming after a big raid or do I go eat dinner with my significant other? “You build a little resentment toward having a partner … and it’s unfair to them because you’re putting all these things on them.”
In the end, they just grew into different people, and they agreed the breakup was the right choice for both of them, Fu says. And in perhaps the healthiest move of all, she and Park have remained friends. They still chat over the phone, Fu says, sometimes sharing what they did during their respective days, sometimes reflecting on their relationship. But Fu isn’t nostalgic; she’s now on a different path. “If a relationship isn't gonna be what I need, and if that means no kids for a bit, that's okay for me. As long as I keep feeling I'm making positive change and I’m having a good time doing this, I’m gonna go in that direction.”
Her new directive is clear: Fu is a leading advocate for women in gaming, encouraging high school students to explore esports careers as well as using her large platform for charity streams to raise money for breast cancer research. And when there are controversies in the space, she’s quick to speak out — no matter the pushback. “[If I] speak out, I'm gonna be told to go to the kitchen and make a sandwich or get off the internet, that I don't belong here or I shouldn't game.”
Times are changing though. Last month, the gaming community called out former CSGO pro JasonR’s history of muting women in game and intentionally leaving matches if a woman was in his lobby. (JasonR later tweeted an apology, asking for “a touch of understanding.”) “This is in gaming,” Fu says. “A couple years ago, I swear a lot more guys would have come out in support of Jason or not even bat an eyelash. But now, everyone sees it. I mean he's being made an example of.”
Fu knows eyes are on her to be a leader, and she takes pride in her efforts to normalize women in gaming and feels energized by the response she receives from her community. “My favorite comment is from viewers who are like, ‘Hey, I was too afraid to use voice comms in my games, but now I see you and your friends, I see all you girls talking, that I started talking in my games.”
“To have played any type of part in that, it's so worth. It's so worth all of the negativity,” she adds. “I'll take a little bit of the heat or whatever to make it a more comfortable space for everyone.”
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And, in the meantime, she’ll keep growing along the way. In November, Fu will turn 30, and I ask if she has any anxiety about the milestone birthday, and there is none, she assures me — “Since I was 28, I’ve been like, ‘I’m pretty much 30’” — but as we close out our nearly two-hour conversation, taking inventory of her career and personal life, Fu is much more reflective.
“This is my own personal journey,” she says, “and you're gonna have all these bumps in the road and sometimes it's gonna feel like you failed everything because you don't have that husband or life or job you thought you were gonna have, and you're like, everything's gone wrong or you've made a big mistake. But then you realize that makes it your journey and it’s okay.”
“I thought I'd have two kids by now when I was a kid for sure. I thought I'd be married, living in Northern California as a doctor. In an alternate universe, that's happening. But my life right now is far from it, and I couldn't be happier,” Fu smiles.