For the majority of ESL Impact events that have taken place in an in-person LAN capacity, the talent has worked remotely. That meant the casters and analysts and hosts largely did their coverage from a separate studio. While the move offered stability to the broadcast, it simultaneously prohibited those from in front of the camera from matching the energy and vibrancy of their work to that of the crowd, thus setting a rough bar to surpass.
Fortunately for Impact, there has been one person who serves as the middleman for the entire show–well, middlewoman to be exact. That person is Anastasija "Heccu" Tolmačeva. Throughout each of the Impact circuit's five events, Heccu has worked as a sideline reporter. She does her job by conducting post-match interviews with players and coaches in addition to creating content surrounding a given event.
While the task might seem like a hefty one to handle for the average person, for Heccu, who built herself a multi-year career by doing things precisely like this, it’s second nature.
Amidst the sights and sounds of the Impact Season 3 Finals, BLIX caught up with Heccu for an interview about what it’s like to return to Dallas after last being in the city for the Season 1 Finals, how her way of developing content has progressed throughout her career and more. This will be the first of two parts in BLIX’s interview with her.
Returning to Dallas
Pedro Romero, BLIX: This is your second time in Dallas as someone covering ESL Impact Finals as the sideline reporter. How are you taking in the scene compared to last year, in which the first Impact LAN took place in the same city?
Anastasija "Heccu" Tolmačeva: Right now, it's obviously way more comfortable because I got to know all the people that work behind the stage and I now know all the players and it's perfect because, that way, we can work way better. We know what we are capable of doing. We know our limits but also, once you know what to do, it's easy. You come over and you don't need to run from one person to another and ask what you are supposed to do. You arrive and you know right away.
And also with the players, right now, they don't stress out when they talk to me, but in the beginning, we didn't know each other so it was kind of hard to get any information from them. Also, they're not super experienced so they're excited or nervous, and now, it's almost like a "good friends," come over and have, like, a chit-chat vibe. So I think the fact that Impact has been running for a year and is on its fifth event is amazing.
BLIX: When it comes to looking at ESL impact Finals, we don't really have anyone from talent that are here in person except for you as the sideline reporter. Have you felt the sense of difficulty in as the lone talent in an event like this?
Heccu: I would say maybe I felt that at the first event specifically because, again, I didn't know anyone behind the stage. But now, through more events, I keep on working with the same people, you know? We have the same people responsible for audio, the same people responsible for the lights and production. That's why right now it's, like, not as lonely. I do wish we have more events like Valencia where all the talent would be on site like the desk hosts and the casters. But this is still a challenging format, so obviously the budget is not yet crazy, but considering the attention that this league has been gaining, I think we might eventually be able to go to every event altogether.
BLIX: In mentioning how the event challenged you with its format, does it restrict you in the same sense when it comes to doing content outside of post-match interviews?
Heccu: I don't think I have any restrictions that way because, I mean, I have the things that I usually do like pre-match interviews, post-match interviews or maybe opening the day. But yeah, I don't feel I have any restrictions because, sometimes, the production comes up with something like, "Hey Heccu, let's maybe do a giveaway and film it," and I'd be like, "Yeah, sure." Or maybe I come up with some kind of idea and they're like, "Yes." So it's always somebody's offering, and and it's up to the other side to accept it.
Interviewing and content creation favorites
BLIX: Throughout your time in Impact, I want to know, out of curiosity, what has been the wildest interview (for example, funniest) that you've done?
Heccu: I'm trying to think about any special interviews in Impact because a lot of them are really good. I think none of the ladies ever troll me and maybe that's what I'm missing. Don't get me wrong, they're absolutely amazing because they're always open to for an interview.
With guys, you have some that will always give you a good interview, but they've been doing it for many years. An example is Karrigan. He'll always give you a good interview. He'll never say no, but he's been doing it for years, so you can feel him saying, "[sigh] another one," right?
Then there's broky who will give you the worst possible answer in order to never get interviewed again. It kind of backfired for him, but yeah. But with the girls, sometimes you come over to them, they're like, "Interview? Okay," so they make their hair and are both nervous and excited at the same time. So when it comes to Impact, during this event in Dallas, we were filming an interview and ANa was telling me how amazing potatoes are. So it was like her saying, "Potatoes are the best possible dish because you can eat it in so many ways," and it was so incredibly hard for me to keep a straight face because she talked about how you can boil them, you can fry them and so many things. Probably from the Impact stuff, that was the best thing ever.
BLIX: You don't just do interviews with players and staff. You also do content pieces. I've seen your line of work and how you focused on the lighthearted side of CS and not just focusing on the serious side? How has your mind for developing content developed?
Heccu: Probably without the content that I used to develop, I would not be here because, by doing that content on YouTube, I showed that I'm passionate, determined, ready to work and dedicated specifically to this one game. I found a way of putting myself on the radar for people to notice that I have a specific set of skills. So definitely without the content that I used to do, but it's just I have not been producing some content recently, which I need to fix. It's just, usually, it's something like IEM Katowice where it's two weeks of intense production.
You wake up super early and go to bed really late for a week. Then you have a few days break and then work for three days in a row, and then you come back home and you're so exhausted. You're like, "I want to wake up without an alarm clock, not put on makeup, just have breakfast and chill," and you need to have a week like that to recover, and then sometimes, you go right away into another event so you didn't really have that free time when you're eager to do something.
Whenever I get three weeks off, for one week and a half, it's me trying to restart and get my mind in the right space, and then I get to the state of doing something and start thinking about what kind of content [I want to do] and then there's the next event. And again, it keeps on going on over and over and over again, but hopefully, I'm gonna bring my content back again soon.
BLIX: So it's basically the same sort of grind as how players experience it with their competitive schedule, right?
Heccu: In a way, it's a little bit different for casters and players because players need to be top level all the time. Obviously, if you're not a good caster–or maybe you were a good caster but then something happened and all sudden, you forgot how to talk or things like that–then yeah, probably at some point you will stop getting invites to events. But I do feel, in a way, it is still different between being a player and being a talent because I feel, for the talent, the biggest grind is always in the beginning. It's insane when you're trying to produce as much content as possible but no one cares for it and you're trying to do something else. It's just chaos. And then eventually, when you maybe get yourself a name, a following and you get a CV that proves you did this, this and this to get more events. With players, it doesn't matter if you won a Major, like the Rio Major. You might not get to the next one, you know? It's things like that. It's similar and different at the same time.
BLIX: What's your personal favorite content piece that you have made throughout your career?
Heccu: It is the one that we filmed with ESL at EPL Season 15, It was when we were working in Dusseldorf and we did that skit where people were wearing black robes and having a ritual and I walk in and I'm ruining the ritual and say nonsense like things that are supposed to not happen and they end up happening. I think that's probably my favorite skit that I got to participate in.
BLIX: There's been plenty of people personalities that focus on developing content in other games. Who has been the biggest inspiration for you in developing content?
Heccu: If we're talking about online content, when I was producing it the first time in 2017 in a different game. I was not looking at someone like "let me do this." I did it just because no one else was doing any kind of interviews at all and I just wanted something to be made. And then when it came to CS, since I knew that this thing that I did in a different game worked, I [figured] I could try to replicate it in CS and that's exactly what I did. And then, through the years, you find out that other people also started in a similar way.
Freya would went to events and did interviews on her own and I think Sjokz used to do content for SK for League of Legends in the beginning before getting hired by Riot. Eventually, you find out that everyone kind of have a similar path when it comes to this sideline role. I don't think I'm trying to replicate anyone because I feel, in CS, all of the interviewers are really different.
For example, whenever Freya is doing an interview, she will be always really serious and really formal. She's so good at delivering that kind of official content and I know that is something that will be really hard for me to do. That's because you need to properly build a sentence and you need to present it in a specific way.
Then there's James Banks who also has a different style. He has more of this relationship with the players of "Hey, we're bros. Let's talk like bros." For me, it's a lot of giggling, a lot of smiles, a lot of funny little dances. We're all so different so I can't say that I replicate someone. I went down the path of "I feel comfortable doing this and being like this so hopefully it works out," and it is working.
Be sure to keep an eye out for part two on BLIX's CS:GO portal, as it will offer further insight into Heccu's career.