All of us have our own unique drive to live, to pursue the passion we have and bring some semblance of meaning to our lives. For Ramona “GFi” Azween, it was her late brother that compelled her to pursue esports as her career, a dream they both shared since before his passing.
“Growing up with two brothers, it was never Barbie dolls or masak-masak (cooking),” the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) professional player recalled. “Instead it was about games.” When she was younger, Ramona was introduced to gaming by her brother, who brought her to the Internet cafe when her mother didn’t allow him to go there alone. “He made a deal with me: if I accompany him to the cyber cafe, he would teach me how to play games.” Amusingly enough, she initially hated it because she wasn’t adept at it … yet.
Ramona eventually grew to love gaming and started playing competitively with her brother at the age of 16. “I wanted to challenge myself to see how far I could go, especially when it was still considered the ‘men’s league’ and I had to be on their level.” After a while, her brother succumbed to his heart condition, prompting her to stop gaming for a year, briefly losing her enthusiasm for their shared passion. “Then I realised, if he were still here, he would’ve wanted to continue pursuing esports. And now that I’m still here, why not continue doing what we both wanted?” Thus, she returned to the esports scene and has stayed ever since for the past 16 years.
Fast forward to the present, Ramona is the in-game leader of TYLOO Female (or TYLOO.fe for short), the all-female team under the Chinese esports organisation, TYLOO, a pioneer of the local CS:GO scene. Even though there’s an ongoing pandemic and there are zero offline tournaments, Ramona remains busy as a bee – on top of her airtight practice schedule, there are actually more online tournaments now to compensate for the lack of offline ones. At the time of her interview, she competed in four competitions in a single week. As captain of the number one female CS:GO team in Asia, she and her teammates have also been invited to plenty of invitational tournaments, even competing in the men’s league.
“There’s a lot of pressure being the best female CS:GO team in Asia,” Ramona admitted, saying that getting to the top is much easier than defending one’s top rank. “As a top team, the whole community will be gunning for us, trying to shake us down until we drop, which is why we have to constantly be firm and steady.” That responsibility falls upon the shoulders of both Ramona and her squadmates, and when it comes to working together, it can get complicated. “As the in-game leader, I have to make sure my team stays calm in the face of adversity, and to make sure that no matter what, we either win or go down trying,” said the self-proclaimed big sister, a role she doesn’t take lightly, evidenced by the cyberbullying she and her teammates faced a few months ago.
The incident happened when COVID-19 was beginning to spread across the world in March, with a number of online troublemakers insulting the TYLOO.fe players by associating them with their country for starting the pandemic. It’s not an uncommon occurrence for the girls, but “as much as we say we don’t care about haters, we are still human and have feelings.” Although Ramona is more accustomed to such hindrances after being in the industry for so long, her teammates are younger and still getting used to such treatment. “Despite this, I am really proud of my teammates for staying focused and working hard.”
Before moving to the Chinese team, Ramona was actually in a Malaysian all-girl team named Orange.Sphynx, where she was given the right support to develop as a player. Even though Frank Ng, CEO of Orange Esports, initially invited her to join the male CS:GO team, she opted to join the Sphynx girls after meeting them, wanting to play in the female league instead and work hard for the world champions title. “I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Frank and my former team members,” while also expressing her gratitude to HighSense Gaming (HSG), TYLOO.fe’s sponsor, for giving her the best experience and opportunities to be the best e-athlete she can be.
In spite of the above, aside from her mother who’s her biggest supporter, Ramona isn’t forgetting those who have been with her the second-longest in this journey: the fans. She assured that even though she’s part of an overseas team, she never stopped carrying the Jalur Gemilang, the Malaysian flag. Plus, if anyone needs help with understanding esports-related matters or even gaming equipment, she offers up her social media accounts on Instagram and Facebook for her followers to message her. “I want to give back to the community because without them, there is no me.”
And lastly, for the girls who wish to be esports athletes, here’s what Ramona had with her advice: “If you believe in your dreams, work hard towards it, and do not be afraid of trial and error. It doesn’t matter what people think or say about you, what matters is that you accept criticisms, grow and never doubt your beliefs.”
Don’t forget to catch Ramona’s appearance next week on Sembang Game, which will be broadcast Tuesday (6 October), 10PM on Astro Arena (CH801 and 802); and Thursday (8 October), 9PM on eGG Network (CH800).