Perhaps a surprise inclusion to the teams competing at ESL Impact Katowice, Saints capped off their rapid ascension in NA Impact by qualifying for the event by defeating EG Gold. Unfortunately, their time in Poland ended in disappointment, and since then, their roster has undergone multiple changes.
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With Impact Season 3 already underway and their opening match against CLG Red just around the corner, we sat down with IGL Anna “buhnny” Cheung to discuss the team's changes and future.
Sam “AN1MO” McKenzie, BLIX.GG: The last time we spoke was after your elimination at ESL Impact Katowice, and you spoke about being excited to learn from your defeats; tell me about that process and what you learned from them.
Anna “buhnny” Cheung: Katowice was a great experience. We learned more about the way other teams play, and more importantly, we learned not to be scared of playing at LAN. Honestly, it’s been hard to actually go deep into the demos of the games in Katowice because of some of the roster instability we’ve had. However, we still have the same core, and we’ve retained the knowledge of the mistakes we made in Poland and learned from them. Also, I learned you can’t win them all, which is important for managing expectations and growing as a team.
BLIX: Your team has undergone multiple changes since then, with one player leaving and another kicked; how did that all happen?
buhnny: There’s no bad blood with Paula, but she chose to leave because of some of the drama surrounding the team after Katowice and not wanting to be around that. We’re all still good friends, and we support her decision to do so. Hopefully, she will find herself on another team soon. With Jess [JKranny], we had already discussed removing her before we went to Poland. The main reason we didn’t, though, was that we made the LAN with that roster, so we wanted to play there with that roster too. The decision was largely performance-based and realizing we needed to make a change to progress further as a roster.
BLIX: There has been some pretty high-profile drama surrounding the kicked player, did that factor into the decision-making process at all?
buhnny: As I said, we were already discussing removing her for performance-related reasons. That being said, the drama definitely didn’t help. It really impacted our team at LAN, and it became something that overshadowed our time there. I don’t want to say too much about it, but I will say that I’ll always look out for what’s best for my team.
BLIX: How did you find your new players?
buhnny: We’ve known about Daria [bezdaria] for a while. She’s been on a few teams, and we’ve seen her around in both Impact Cash Cups and in pugs. We actually wanted to trial her when she first moved to Canada in August, and we were building our team, but with Impact Season 2, we were in a time crunch and just needed to start practicing with a five. It just made sense to try again with her this time. We found Sofia [eychesdot] through a mutual friend, but we already knew her because she’s also played Impact before. She has experience, and she’s a smart player. Her team wasn’t competing this season and they said they could look for other opportunities, so we asked her to come trial for us and it went well so we picked her up as our fifth.
BLIX: How are they gelling with the roster so far?
buhnny: We had to switch some roles around, but I think it’ll work out. It’s good because we pug together, and that’s really helpful for building up chemistry and friendship, something I think is really important for building a successful team.
BLIX: One of the departing players was your AWPer; who will be taking the role, and how are they adjusting?
buhnny: Olya is our AWPer now. She's always wanted to AWP, so she’s fine taking over the role. She’s having good impact so far, which is important. Her stats are crazy so far.
Olya has taken over AWPing, and so far, it’s going really well. She also wanted to AWP, so it wasn’t a case of having to force someone who wasn’t comfortable with the added pressure into the role. So far, she’s having good impact. In fact, her stats are better than our previous AWPers were. It’s looking positive.
BLIX: Your Impact campaign begins on Thursday with a match versus CLG Red. Do you feel ready for the season to begin despite the roster being finalized so recently? What are your expectations for the season?
buhnny: As you say, the roster has only recently been completed, so we’d be lying if we said we’re as prepared as we would want to be. We haven’t properly finalized our map pool, but we’ve been practicing every day, so that’s not to say we aren’t confident already. Our expectations are to at least make Dallas; that’s really important for us. Of course, we also hope to get an org this year; that’s the next step if we really want to push on as a team.
BLIX: CLG Red have been the best team in NA for a while; why is there such a big gap between them and the other teams?
buhnny: CLG has been around for years. They have players who have been playing for years and competing for years. They have a lot of experience and know what it takes to compete at a high level. It’s a lot to catch up on. They also benefit from being backed by an org, which is obviously huge compared to teams that aren’t.
BLIX: Do you think you can be the team to overtake them? How much harder will it be to do so without an organization backing you?
buhnny: I think we can with time. If we stick together this year and work hard, we can definitely overtake them. They’re obviously very strong, but they aren’t undefeatable. Our new team has what it takes to compete at a high level, but guidance would help us get there quicker. It’s hard to find a coach willing to put in the hours to help us get there while we’re still unsigned.
BLIX: Despite CLG’s successes within your region, they struggled in Poland. Why do you think NA is struggling so much against international opposition?
buhnny: When we play in NA, we’re playing the same people repeatedly. It’s harder to grow when you’re playing the same players over and over again and not learning from teams that come from other regions. It’s also the case that with those European players, many of them started playing far earlier than we do in America. I also think there are generally fewer PC players in NA than in EU, which limits the strength of the player base.
BLIX: Do you think your team is the one that can break through and find success internationally?
buhnny: It’s going to take a lot of work. Everyone we played on LAN at Katowice was insane. To be honest, it’s not something we can do without getting signed. Even then, it will take a lot more than your typical 40-hour work week. We’ll have to grind consistently to reach their level. Still, I do believe we can find that success if we do find an organization and can commit all of our time to the game.
Cover image credit: Freddie “GrimyRannarr” Pritchard