By most accounts, when one thinks of Asian women’s Counter-Strike, they think of one person: Ramona “GFi” Azween. Since starting her professional gaming career in 2009, GFi has distinguished herself as one of the best women’s CS players the Asian continent has ever seen. She has played for teams like Orange Esports, TYLOO Female and, since 2021, HSG as its captain.
Even so, as far as her career is concerned, and given all the countries she visited throughout her life, she had yet to visit the United States. Fortunately, with HSG’s qualification for the ESL Impact Season 3 Finals, she managed to do exactly that as the representative for Asia in the three-day-long event.
With a lineup featuring relative newcomers and renowned veterans, GFi looked to lead HSG to the top of women’s CS in the state of Texas. While the team’s run ultimately ended short via their last-place finish in the group stage, GFi didn’t exhibit disappointment. As a matter of fact, she’s grateful to have added yet another chapter to her already illustrious career while also further developing the team both in and out of the game.
In the first of this two-part interview between GFi and BLIX, she touches on her experience being in Dallas for the Season 3 Finals, what it’s like playing with her new teammate Olga “olga” Rodrigues, and the team’s potential over reaching the same level of performance from the Season 2 Finals, where they reached the semis in Jönköping, Sweden.
Experience in Texas for the Season 3 Finals
Pedro Romero, BLIX: I want to start off by saying it's the first time you're in Dallas for these Impact Finals with HSG. How are you taking in the experience of being in Dallas, what with DreamHack and the Texas summer heat going on?
Ramona "GFi" Azween: It's really amazing. The journey was a bit long for us because from where we come from, we're from the other side of the globe, so it's about 27 hours of travel time. We had seven hours of flight, three hours of transit, and then 17 hours of the plane to Dallas. All of us are jet lagged very badly, but that's not the thing that is stopping us from doing what we love to do. I've never seen a city this way. It's really nice. It's really amazing. The United States is really amazing. I love the weather because, where I come [from], the weather is almost the same—just a bit hotter—as where I come from. I'm very, very grateful that we've been given this opportunity as an Asian team to fly down here and play for ESL Impact Season 3.
BLIX: Talking about the physical condition of the team, do you feel you're still not at 100% at this time, even with the finals already underway?
GFi: So technically, as I said, we had 27 hours of travel time. That is like a day, and the last flight to Dallas was 17 hours, and that is almost one day in the sky. So when you come down, you're gonna have jetlag, you're gonna have this and that… while we didn't sleep much, we'd wake up at around 4 am and random times because you're trying to adjust to the time zones, but that shouldn't be the case. For me, I feel that these are the opportunities that are being given, and as a sports athlete, if you're supposed to go about 30 hours of flight, seven hours of flight, or even five hours of flight, you can feel sick in it, you know?
Some flights will be just for one hour, but you can still catch the flu, and it's a problem. Everything shouldn't be a problem. When you're here, you're supposed to play, and you're supposed to do what you do, and you just gotta give it 100%. I will say there are excuses, but those reasonings will come into the gaps of you not performing well, you not deciding it, and you not having enough rest, but looking at it on the bright side, I don't always come to the United States of America and the reason I'm here for the first time ever in my life, and my team is to compete, so that should be the only focus on. It is to compete and nothing else, you know? For me, when I look at it that way, yes, we're not really intact because of the travel time and distance, but that shouldn't be an excuse, and that is not an excuse. We're here to compete.
Playing with Olga
BLIX: When it comes to looking at the trajectory of HSG in Impact, you're the big name, of course, and a few months ago, you guys made a major move by bringing in olga from South America. Seeing her perform as one of the best players in the world with FURIA, I want to know what's it like having her aboard this team in preparation for the event and being with her in person competing right now.
GFi: Personally, having olga is like my boss bought a really huge birthday gift. It's insane for the team. Having olga is like, a boost like rockets. When we go up, we know that before we reach orbit, olga is like the last boost. When every single piece breaks from the rocket, she's like the last boost for us. But yes, in order to do that, sometimes you're going to launch and fail. Why? It's because it's a trial. It's a test. We're not talking about just players here. We're talking about human beings. We're talking about people. She needs to adjust to our culture. That's one. She needs to adjust to our weather. There are two. Now she needs to adjust to the people doing CS with the way she plays. That's a lot on her head, and on top of that, she's not like a Tier-5 or Tier-6 player.
She's one of the best, and you would have expectations to [sic.] yourself, so when I look at all that, I know that it's not, like, a plug-and-play. It's not USB. It's not something that you can copy and paste. She is a human being, so at the end of the day, acquiring her was the best thing that ever happened for HSG, and I hope that she's happy being here too, but I know she needs time to adjust. Everybody needs time to adjust, you know? Me, beforehand, even with so much experience going into any team, I would need that time and space to adjust.
Somehow, today, when we played the game, I was so busy trying to help everyone that I forgot for one second. You know, when you're in a plane, and they say during the security check, "If the mask comes down, you have to put it on yourself first and then help the people around you." I literally was helping them, and I didn't even put the mask on myself. I was trying to [help] olga, I was trying to [help] Hazel, I was trying to help my whole team. For one of my girls, this is her first LAN, and I was so busy trying to help put the mask on her that I didn't even put the oxygen mask on myself. I was basically drowning myself. You can't help another if you can't even help yourself, so that was the first rule I broke today, and that's why the team couldn't surpass that. Nothing to do with anything else.
And for olga, I think everyone needs time to adjust, to adapt, to accept all these things I just said. It takes time and time is something money can't buy. Time is something that we can't afford. The time given right now—that we had one month to apply for our visas before we came to this event—was the time we were given, and we had to make the best out of it, which ESL assisted us all the way for our visa problems. And then with olga needing to go back to Brazil and then her coming back because she needed to renew her visa and thus not be with the team, we had to make the best out of time.
Time is only given to you to make the best out of it and not for you to have. You cannot have time. You can only lend the time and make the best out of it for everyone. So I guess everyone is trying to make the best of everything, including [olga] herself. I'm very proud of her no matter what it is. We're very happy because we get to have Olga, like the South American style being in Asian style CS. Rome was not built in a day, but this is not going to take 99 years. It takes a little bit of time… maybe nine weeks, maybe nine months, or maybe nine years. We don't know. I don't know that, but whatever time has for us, we're going to make the best out of it because time is the best gift anyone can have.
Reaching the same level as Season 2 Finals HSG
BLIX: Before olga joined this team, HSG already reached considerable success by reaching semi-finals in one of the prior Impact events. With all of the difficulties you described, how far or close are you with this current iteration of the team from reaching the same level as reaching semi-finals and possibly surpassing that?
GFi: With all due respect, we only had about ten days of practice because olga needed to go back and do her visa and come back. For one of our players, Naomit, it is her first-ever LAN. Any boss or any organization would expect very good results, but we're here to stay. So for me, when I look at all this, yes, it will be very sweet to eventually pass the group stage, go to playoffs and maybe even win the whole thing, but that is something all eight teams that are participating here is dreaming of, you know? If you work hard, there's someone out there working harder than you, so if I feel in my heart, there's a slight tingle saying that we're going to pass the group stage, the people in my group are going to say the same thing.
At the end of the day, when the opportunity comes to you, and you're supposed to sit down and play and portray the best CS you ever can, you just have to go 300%, and if your 300% is not good enough, then you have to decide if you want to try more next time or would it be done? Looking at all this that is happening right now, we didn't have a good start, but it's not the end yet. I would say we're very fortunate we still have another chance. Sometimes you need to lose to learn, but for me, there's no learning here. It's more towards losing and realizing how you do better and what the problem was today. There's no learning here until it's done for you until you've lost all your games, and then you're done. But right now, there's no learning. It's all about realization, so I hope, like I just said about the mask thing, I hope that I will come to [a] realization on what needs to be done next, so we could do it well for all of us.
BLIX: So the main thing for you is not really success but rather growing that synergy. Is that the main goal for you in these finals?
GFi: Success is something that, when someone does anything, is the key and the first thing that they want. If you want to be successful at Pokemon trading cards, a caster or anything, that is the key, and the reasoning that we want that [is] because that is the path any human would choose. For me, yes, that is one of my keys but is not the only priority. I understand that, in order to have success, it's not a one-man show. If it's a solo game, then yes, I will say that is my main focus, and I'm gonna go 1,000% instead of 300%.
With certain people here like Naomit who's here for the first time, in order to be successful here in HSG to win matches and to portray good CS, I have to push her, I have to tell her about her mistakes. She has very little time. I've given 18 years to CS to come this far, and I've not even won a single world championship title, and I'm not embarrassed to say that. I'm fine with that because, to me, even if I don't win my championship title, maybe she would win it. She's 19 years old, and maybe when she's 26, she's gonna win it, and I'm still going to be part of that. I'm still going to be happy about that.`
I have gotten to that level where I don't want to make changes. I want to evolve. Not everything is aligned for you. Sometimes, in order to be here, you're here because it's for the best of others. It is not for yourself, so maybe my success is not a one-man success. My success is for everyone else that has played with me, and they could be the carrier of success in the future. I accept that. I'm happy about that, you know? That's because at least I know in my heart, in this one life—maybe I'll be 40 to 50, I don't know—in the future, I would watch her play Impact Season 17 (maybe), and she would win it, and I'll be happy for her because she's my teammate.
The same goes for Argent, the same goes to Hazel, and the same goes to HSG. I'm here to make sure that whatever is being decided is for the best of everyone, not for myself. If it would have been the best for me from the start, HSG wouldn't be here. It wouldn't exist. I would have taken a different path, so the path that I chose is this, and I'm always going to move forward. It doesn't matter when people look at me and they say, 'You've been here for 18 years, and you have not won a single thing on your belt internationally.' I'm okay with that.
I don't need to prove anything to anyone other than myself. As long as my family is supporting me, as long as the girls that I play with and the community is very welcoming, when I sleep at night, I feel happy. Yes, if I could win the title of ESL Impact, I don't know how I would feel, but when I do go to that moment in my life, I'll be sitting right here again with you and speaking to you, and we would have a new chat about that. So I guess that's how I look at life.
This is part one of of a two part interview. Read part two here.