Talking to Katsumi of XSET on her new team, playing as duelist, & how she looks back at NA Series 1

The North American VCT Game Changers scene experienced a major shakeup this past off-season. Not only did the dissolving... Pedro | 16. May 2023

The North American VCT Game Changers scene experienced a major shakeup this past off-season. Not only did the dissolving of Cloud9 White signal the end of an era of dominance over the region, it also ushered in the dawn of a new one with new teams striving to take the mantle its famed predecessor left off, some of which are doing so with the same players who represented C9W.

Notable examples include Version1, which enlisted the help of Melanie “meL” Capone and Alexis “alexis” Guarrasi to complete an already stacked cast of players, Complexity GX3, which signed Jasmine “Jazzyk1ns” Manankil as their duelist, and XSET, who brought in Bob “Bob” Tran as their IGL and Katja “katsumi” Pfahnl as their newest duelist following her transition to the role from controller.

Focusing on XSET, it was this team that finished third in the 2023 NA VCT GC Series 1 Main Event. Despite an early upper bracket loss to Shopify Rebellion GC, XSET rebounded in the lower bracket by nearly running the table and beating the likes of Misfits Black, GX3, and Moist Moguls RED along the way. Although XSET would ultimately lose their revenge match against SR in the lower bracket finals, it’s difficult to dispute their standing within NA as one of its best teams. One can’t help but wonder how this team will continue to make as much noise in Series 2 just as they did in Series 1.

More than a month since the end of the VCT GC NA Series 1 Main Event, Fragster.com caught up with katsumi for an interview on her current stint with XSET, how she’s dealing with the transition from being controller to duelist, what it’s like working with her new teammates, the differences she views with this team and Cloud9 White, and more.

Looking back at Series 1

Pedro Romero, Fragster.com: I’d like to start by asking, since it’s been roughly a month from the end of Series 1, what you think about your team’s overall performance in the tournament?

Katja “katsumi” Pfahnl: Our performance in Series 1 was pretty rough. We struggled through the qualifier and lost a lot of maps, but I am really proud of the fact we were able to keep improving our performances and our mental as the event went on. By the end of the event, it didn’t feel like any of the teams we played were a real challenge—until SR of course.

Fragster: The team started off on the wrong foot by losing to Shopify Rebellion before running through the lower bracket and ultimately finishing in 3rd place. How did the team rebound from that opening loss and what enabled you guys to play well in the lower bracket?

katsumi: Every single time we lost a map in the event we had really long team discussions about what we needed to fix for the next day. I think this really helped us step up our game and make playing the other teams feel easy.

Fragster: The team eventually set up a rematch with SR in the lower bracket finals and had an extremely close match in Pearl which went to quadruple overtime. What do you think led to the loss in that particular map?

katsumi: Honestly, it’s been so long I’m not sure I can recall the exact reasons since it was such a close game. I do remember feeling like we were going to win until we lost. I was really shocked when it happened.

Fragster: When it comes to XSET playing in Pearl this year, you usually select Astra as your agent. What led to the idea behind you using that particular agent?

katsumi: Astra is my comfort agent, during the Astra meta, I played her on almost every map for basically a year. She’s a pretty meta agent on Pearl and I’m always going to be open to and be enthusiastic about playing her when that’s the case.

Fragster: How difficult was it for this team to stay focused when it came to playing in Fracture against SR, which marked the first time you guys played that map under the XSET banner?

katsumi: I’m not sure if our focus was an issue. I just I think our map pool was extremely lacking going into the event. We had too many uncomfortable maps and going to Fracture showed how detrimental that was to us.

Fragster: What is the one thing you wished XSET should’ve done differently in Series 1 and why?

katsumi: We should have had more prep for our weaker maps. It felt like we came in with both really good maps and really bad maps when I would have rather just had all of them somewhere closer to the middle. Having weak maps is a really difficult thing to overcome, especially when your opponent also knows what they are

Fitting in with XSET and a new role

Fragster: One of the biggest storyline surrounding this team concerned your transition to the duelist role after being the controller for Cloud9 White for the past two years. How have you seen your transition to this new role so far?

katsumi: Transitioning to duelist was a decision that happened suddenly but I’m really happy with it so far. Before the swap, while the team was still figuring out roles, I felt like we were really lacking a solid awping Jett player to the point that it felt like we were picking comps around with no one wanting to play Jett. While I’ve always had thoughts about moving away from controller, I knew it would be a really difficult transition that would take a lot of work. I had a lot of other goals and priorities for my improvement that I knew would have to be set aside temporarily if I were to dedicate myself to learning a new role. I wasn’t willing to make such a big decision and half-ass it.

I wanted to fully commit myself and become the best duelist player my team could possibly have. Ultimately, I decided that there is never going to be a perfect time to make a change, and I really wanted to give it a shot. Once I got the go-ahead from my coach and the team, I told myself I would commit to playing and learning Jett for a week before making my final decision about the future. I think within a couple of days I knew I wanted to keep playing it long-term.

Fragster: Has it been a difficult transition to make?

katsumi: I think learning a new role has been pretty difficult for me both in the actual gameplay and mentally, but it’s also been a really great challenge that I’m happy I took on. At times, it was frustrating because I had to put in so much effort just to play at an ‘ok’ level to my own standards. It’s really painful to suck at something and I definitely sucked for a little while. I just reminded myself it was temporary and I had to keep pushing through it.

The most difficult thing for me in the role swap has been implementing everything I’ve learned into my gameplay. The month or so I was playing Jett before going into GC1 was mostly spent studying, VOD reviewing, and drilling the movement in a custom. However, understanding my role outside of the server is one thing, but it’s difficult to make all of the split-second decisions and execute them effectively in the moment. It’s something that comes with time and experience, which I don’t have enough of right now, but I’m confident in my ability to catch up.

Fragster: With one NA GC Main Event as a duelist under your belt, where do you think you rank among the region’s best in that position?

katsumi: I’m not sure I feel comfortable ranking myself at the moment, but I have very high aspirations. I think where other players might currently have more experience on the agents and the mechanics, I bring the experience of a well-rounded, team-oriented player to the duelist role. What I bring to my team goes beyond the scoreboard.

Fragster: On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you grade your performance on the new role so far and why?

katsumi: On a scale of 1-10 purely grading to my own standards and how I perceive my potential, I’d say I’m at like a 4 or 5. [laughs] I know I have a lot more to learn and improve on, but I’m ready to do the work to get to a 10.

Katsumi on the rest of her XSET teammates and coach

Fragster: Another thing to consider about XSET is how the IGL is Bob Tran, who you were teammates with in C9W last year. How have you seen her IGLing and how does it compare to meL, who was formerly your IGL in C9W?

katsumi: Bob and meL are very different as IGLs but they both have really great traits for the role. Something I really appreciate about Bob is that she has a really great mind for the game and it shows in her calling. She will always come up with a plan based on strong logic and reasoning no matter how chaotic the situation. There’s never a single second where I doubt she’s making the right call. She’s probably the smartest person I know.

Fragster: Within XSET, you are playing alongside bunnybee, rise, and panday. What has been your biggest takeaway from each of your new teammates so far this year?

katsumi: Rise, Panday, and Bunnybee have all surprised me a ton. They’re all super driven and motivated, and I’m constantly reminded how much a player can improve given the right mindset and environment.

Fragster: Before XSET, the majority of this stack was known as riribunobsumi, which competed in NA Challengers qualifying in January. How was this team formed?

katsumi: Riribunobsumi was just XSET before we had found five members. We were still working with the org but just without the official announcement.

Fragster: How has it been having Danimal as your coach? How would you describe his coaching style compared to the rest of NA in GC?

katsumi: Dan is a great coach and I think his biggest strength is communication. He is always willing to have the difficult conversations but doesn’t make them seem so difficult. I don’t think I’ve had another coach who has created such a safe environment to have healthy and productive conflict. It’s a strength and a skill I think most coaches need to have for a truly successful team environment.

Fragster: What are the team comms like in a match? Does the team follow one voice throughout a match or does the calling branch out to other players?

katsumi: Our team has a really heavy focus on comms and thus everyone is held to a really high standard. If you have new information you are always expected to communicate it, and a lot of the time when that happens correctly the plans just fall into place. Bob as the igl does most of our preround and midround calling, but it’s also the expectation that everyone can and should contribute as well.

Looking ahead to Series 2

Katsumi XSET pose

Credit: Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games

Fragster: Version1 has consolidated their place as the best team in NA so far this year. What is it going to take, in your eyes, for XSET to defeat V1 in future events?

katsumi: I think our team is pretty new and we spent a lot of our time together so far in an “experimenting” phase. Players tried many new agents, roles, and ways of playing the game. I think in order for us to beat V1 we’ll have to start focusing on really building our identity both as a team and as individuals. Now that we’ve sort of “settled in”, it’s time to start really dialing in and become the experts at our own game.

Fragster: Although this season is still new, what has been the biggest difference between playing with XSET compared to when you played with C9W?

katsumi: XSET and C9W are honestly incomparable to me, but I think the biggest difference would be our focus on teamplay and coordination. Our biggest focus has been to always be able to make a plan and act as a team, rather than individuals, in any given situation. We played without any sort of set strats or defaults for a really long time just to focus on our ability to coordinate and play together on the fly. I think it’s been successful so far, but we still have a lot to work on.

Fragster: XSET is also competing in co-ed events just like what C9W did and what other teams like V1 are doing now. What is current level like, in your eyes, for GC teams in relation to men’s teams?

katsumi: I think GC teams aren’t as far off as some people might think. I think there have never been more hungry individuals in the scene and you should be expecting some big things from GC players in the coming year.

Fragster: What are your expectations for the team for this year?

katsumi: Well let’s just say you’ll be seeing us in Brazil 😉

Feature Credit Image: Wojciech Wandzel/Riot Games