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Senna: "[Impact] has given us an opportunity to grow"

Senna believes ESL's initiatives to revitalize Women's Counter-Strike are great for the scene.

With the ongoing ESL Impact League Season 1 finals also going on at DreamHack Dallas, Dust2.us' Jeffery "Mnmzzz" Moore spoke to Charissa "Senna" Hoang after their opening match in Group B versus FURIA.

The conversation kicked-off discussing the loss they suffered to the Brazilian side and moved towards how Senna got into Counter-Strike. Also discussed was the creation of her team, Please Send Help, and their search for potential organizations, concluding on a discussion about ESL's #GGFORALL initiative.

Coming off your opening match versus FURIA, unfortunately it probably didn't go the way you expected but what can you take away from that map as your first big match on LAN?

I think just a little bit of nerves were involved. We're learning how to calm down, just relax, take our time, and just see what they are doing and then counter it. Right now, it's just a little bit of a learning experience because I think most of my team are new to LAN, so this is a big event and they've never seen anything like this before, especially for the female scene. So this is pretty new for most people.

When I was preparing for this interview, I saw that most of the players on your team are very new but you're relatively experienced in the sense, you've been going to LAN events since 2014 I believe. I think you played a LAN against missharvey and some guys at the very beginning of CS:GO in Vegas.

Oh yeah, I remember that one!

I think the team was GeT_RiGhT, [email protected], AZK, missharvey, and ezpk.

I'm surprised there's even stats for that!

There's barely any, basically just results. So with that, compared to a lot of the other female players we have at this event, you are very experienced, and you've been playing the game for such a long time. I believe your first season on ESEA was all the way back in Season 8, how did you get your start in CS:GO, or rather 1.6?

I started playing Counter-Strike in 2003 and it was actually still 1.5 back then. Before that I actually played competitive Team Fortress (Classic), so I did that for about three years, and then that scene was kind of dying out. So everyone kept saying "oh play Counter-Strike, come play that". So of course some of my friends from TF came over to CS, and it was like "alright, let's play together". And so it's pretty almost instantly from there, we joined CAL and we started playing in matches and having fun playing that. So that's where it originally started, at least competitive-wise for CS.

Editor's note: CAL (short for Cyberathlete Amateur League) was the lower division of Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL).

With that you've been playing for a very long time, but I think an interesting statistic is how much longevity you've had in the game. I was looking at your ESEA League history and with maybe the exception of maybe 4 seasons, you've played every single season sequentially for the past almost ten years now. Is that your testament to your love of CS:GO?

Oh yeah, I love this game. Every time I try to switch up to a different game, I could have gone competitive in Rogue Company. I was playing with a bunch of the top players there. The point is like "well, which game do I want to play more? Rogue Company or CS?". I keep going back to CS because it's more fun for me. I think the excitement, strategy-wise too, it's just a little more fun in my book plus it's always a competitive base. There're always people who play matches all the time. Sometimes in some games it's kinda hard to find competitive players to play with.

Looking at finding a team to keep competition in CS:GO for so long, how did this team come together? You have experienced players who have been playing since early CS and you also have some new players on your team who are 16-17 years old who are just getting started. So, can you explain the formation of this team and how it got together?

It was rough, at the beginning we had a roster but two players had to drop out. When those two players dropped out, it became rough because we kept asking a bunch of people and some would say yes and then they would end up backing out before a trial had even happened. It was just "who do you know, who can you message?" and then see who responds. Because a lot of the problems was the scheduling, because a lot of the players that we had on our team, all work at a restaurant or something, especially during COVID times everyone had long hours, people couldn't play because they had to work and so we had a lot of roster problems trialing people. With the league matches we know that they were weekdays, so they had to be available on weekdays, well then most of them are restaurant workers on the weekends, which is when there are Cash Cups. So finding people who could actually play both was very difficult.

I interviewed GooseBreeder at Fragadelphia 15, which I believe was last September, where she said with the downsizing of the North American CS:GO scene with people going to VALORANT and people retiring that it's very hard to find players, especially players with a skill caliber that can even compete at let's say the ESEA Intermediate level especially in the women's scene. Is that a struggle you've found to be particularly hard to find people who can stack up with your level of experience?

Yeah, I messaged everyone I knew that could compete at a good level and fwoof. They either switched to VALORANT or they don't play anymore, and it was a little rough. Again, we had to see who was even playing and we had to do a few tryouts; just to see, can they compete, can they communicate and is their aim there? So that's why I looked for at least Intermediate (IM) experience because anybody can play ESEA Open. At least at the IM level you have your basics down, you know some nades at least hopefully, you know the trading aspect, you know a little bit about the game so it's not a too fresh start because there are some teams that are definitely really really new, so we are trying skip just that little bit. That's why I think why we got here, the experience on the team may not be in-depth for a lot of our players, but they have the experience. They have played and they have friends that help them get better, which I think is a big stepping stone because those friends are making them a whole lot better and skipping the years of experience by quite a bit.

With this being a relatively new roster without an organization backing it or anything like that, what are your expectations for this event?

We are just here to try our best because we have prepared; we have tried to come as a team faster than most of the others because I think they've been around longer which is why I think they have all the orgs ready to go. We've fully came together as these five in, I think, February so it's been a little bit of a learning curve, but we hope to do pretty well, obviously FURIA didn't go well but against whoever we are playing next, probably ATK, we are hoping to practice all night long today and try to prepare and see what we can do after that.

I believe your next match will be against ATK tomorrow, what are you planning to do preparation-wise for them?

As I said, we are going to practice all night; have a look at their demos and see what they've done. It's kind of like what every team does, every team does that too, it's pretty much strategize, see what we can do, and see which of our strats would work.

Is it difficult to prepare for teams at this level just because of the lack of demos and stats, or does the ESEA platform provide a relatively good place to study in advance the teams that you will be playing? Maybe say more for like the group stage, before you got here even.

For the NA teams, yeah it helps to look on ESEA, but teams like FURIA don't play ESEA; they play something else that we don't know. But we can see some of the HLTV stuff, so we had an idea what they played, it's not too bad for us to try to figure out what people are playing. It's just more of we haven't got to play them yet, so we don't know how we stack up against them.

Last question here; I feel like Please Send Help are the perfect example the kind of demographic that ESL's #GGFORALL initiative is trying to target, in terms that it's people who have been playing for a long time and maybe haven't able to breakthrough into semi-professional or new women players who haven't even got their start yet in esports. From that perspective, as a team sort of in that demographic, how has everything been going so far, and what are some things you would like to see improved in the near future?

I mean, so far, I think it's been great for the scene because there are people that actually were like "oh yeah, I haven't played too much, but oh, there's this scene to get involved with". To be fair money really does help; back in the day people never really put money into the female scene which kind of discouraged people and that's why tons of players left for VALORANT. They say, "oh hey, you can actually make money here? Well, we'll go that way." So now, at least CS there's actually a way to make money now. There're organizations interested, or at least from the other side [of the Atlantic]. We don't know about NA orgs yet, but at least there's opportunity to grow and it's given us an opportunity to grow too.

Obviously without this initiative, we would probably would never go to a LAN; the last one I had an opportunity to attend was with Violent Roses. That was DreamHack Showdown Winter, and because of COVID it was just online instead at that point. And the problem with that, after we had lost at that point, people left and went to VALORANT. So, if there's no reason to stay, then people are going to leave, which is why I think ESL Impact is great. We need to keep going for seasons and if they can keep going, they will do wonders for the CS:GO scene.

Improvement wise... I mean, so far everything's been pretty good, especially the casting for the matches — we love that, it's so much fun to actually watch and hear real casters casting. I think it makes it pretty special even if you don't win those games, I think it still makes it pretty special. So I love what they did with that. I can't really think of any negatives off the top of my head right now.

One last thing, I just thought about on the fly. Please Send Help is still looking for an organization, what would sort of be your sales pitch to NA orgs or even orgs abroad about why they need to support ESL Impact, and more specifically your team, if they're looking to enter into women's Counter-Strike?

Well, as you can see, we made it here. So, if orgs would like to show their name off, brand a little bit, we can obviously brand. Female scenes usually offer pretty good branding for that. I think it's pretty good exposure because we're at this big event. Organizations can show us off, and there's always photo opportunities, always different events to go to. Especially with the ESL Impact going to Valencia too and even this LAN right now, it's been pretty good for the scene. So, orgs should be interested hopefully in that, and so it would be nice to get an org that would be also interested like we are interested.

It would be nice to find some sort of org that's willing to take a gamble on us, because we are a new team, we can actually grow and get better. There's been a giant learning curve, and I think we did pretty well, we're a brand-new team since February and we made it here.

Since the recording of this interview, Senna and Please Send Help managed to defeat ATK 2‍-‍0 on Inferno and Overpass, although it did get close to going to a third map with a 16-19 overtime to close out the series. They are now facing FURIA in a rematch for the remaining semifinal slot from Group B, however, the match will be a BO3 series. It is currently live on the #GGFORALL Twitch channel.

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