Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo is one of the greatest leaders of any esports game I’ve watched. His story of how he led the Brazilians from obscurity to the heights of the CS:GO will go down as one of the great legends of Esports. I’ve looked at different aspects of his career during that time and one of the most notable aspects of his leadership was how incredible he was at the general management of his rosters, arguably one of the best we’ve seen in esports. This was someone who consistently made the right moves for his lineups and because of that was able to rise up to the top of the scene and return their again and again from 2015 all the way to the end of 2017.
Before we go into the history of FalleN’s general management of his team’s roster, there are some key points of context to point out. First is that, FalleN has an advantage compared to other GMs in his pure game knowledge and how player’s interact inside and outside the game. Additionally, we don’t know how much credit can be given to FalleN as it’s likely that the rest of the team had some level of input, but as FalleN was the leader, the ultimately responsibility and thus credit lays with him. With that out of the way, I will give a brief overview of the Brazilian’s history from KaBuM.TD/Keyd Stars to Luminosity and finally to SK.
FalleN and the Brazilians first enter the international scene at the beginning of 2015. MLG Aspen X Games decided to run a Brazilian qualifier in which FalleN’s team won. They impressed the world and used that singular chance to push themselves up to the heights of CS:GO. For now though, we will focus not on the event, but the lineups. The initial lineup included FalleN, Fernando “fer” Alvarenga, Ricardo “boltz” Prass, Calo “zqk” Fonseca, and Lucas “steel” Lopes. This particular lineup played together for another seven months at which point the team made a roster change.
At the end of that seven month period, the Brazilians had hit a ceiling. They were a good team in NA, but they weren’t the best team in NA. They yearned for more and they were no longer improving. Because of that they decided to kick zqk for Marcelo “Coldzera” David. This will be the first of many great roster moves that FalleN ends up making for the Brazilians.
The team is then able to get to the next level. They are now able to consistently be in the top rung of NA teams and consistently get to the playoffs of the top international tournaments. They were a good group stages team, but couldn’t advance any further and once again they hit their ceiling. Three days before FACEIT Stage 3 Finals happens, the team decide to remove Boltz and Steel for Lincoln “fnx” Lau and Epitacio “TACO” de Melo.
It was a radical change at the time, but one that characterized FalleN and the Brazilians in terms of team ethic. They’d try to work with the players for as long as they could within the team, but once they decided that something needed to change, they never hesitated. When most teams make a team that quickly before a tournament, they can usually expect to be knocked out early. In the case of LG, they made it to the finals of that tournament and shocked the world. They continued to build on that form as they moved in 2016 where they became a top three team in the world. They finally became the best team in the world at the MLG Major Columbus where they won the Major. This then went on to win multiple era and then capped off their era with a second Major victory at ESL One Cologne 2016.
While the era was amazing, the team started to decline in results by the end of the year. They often got into the top four or the finals of events, but could no longer win. However the Major was coming up in early 2017. This was was another period of time where the team could have kept the roster together to try to get a good result at the tournament. Instead, they decided to make a move right away. They benched fnx and recruited Joao “felps” Vasconcellos in his place. As the rules did not allow felps to play with them at the Major, the team decided to play with Ricardo “fox” Pacheco instead.
After the Major, felps entered the lineup. After struggling with their team identity after their first few events, the team was able to rally together and became the best team in the world once again mid 2016. They then lost to Astralis at the PGL Krakow Major in the round of eight and soon started to decline in results in the ensuing months. At which point they benched felps and brought Boltz back into the lineup. They closed out 2017 with multiple tournament victories including EPICENTER, BLAST, and ESL Proleague Finals Season 6.
That is a brief summary of the history and roster changes of the team. Now let’s break down the overall patterns of each kick and removal throughout this time. The first kick they did was right before the ESL One Cologne 2015 Major when they moved from KaBuM.TD to Keyd Stars. In an interview with Alexandre “gAuLeS” Borba, the MIBR manager Ricardo “dead” Singigaglia recalls that they removed zqk because he lacked focus.
This particular move exemplified a few things. First was the importance of the cultural fit. This was a team that had ambitions to be the best, so whenever a player stopped practicing or stopped improving, they were removed from the squad. Zqk was to be the first to be removed because of it, but he was not to be the last. Both boltz and fnx were removed for the exact same reasons in subsequent roster changes.
The other aspect to this kick was the addition of Coldzera. While Coldzera is a generational talent, he also fits into the general pattern of the FalleN pickups. There are three patterns throughout all of FalleN’s pickups during this time. All of the players he got were had at least two of the three following: potential to grow, cultural fit in terms of work ethic, and role fit. In Coldzera’s case he fit all three.
The next roster move has the team remove both boltz and steel from the lineup for fnx and TACO. Boltz was removed for the exact same reasons as zqk was. As FalleN stated in an interview with cybersport, “Back in the days boltz wasn’t very worried about it, and even with some of us telling him ‘Hey boltz, you gotta fix this thing’, he wasn’t really focused on fixing issues, and he became someone who didn’t evolve.”
As for the pickups of fnx and TACO, it happened to be the right timing. Fnx is a player who has peaks of motivation and this happened to be one of them. Fnx happened to be playing for Games Academy at the time and as that is FalleN’s org, he had insight in knowing that fnx was motivated to improve and play. In addition to that, he could perfectly play the roles that FalleN wanted. As for TACO, he checked all of the boxes. He had room to grow, he played a specific role they needed, and he fit the culture of the LG squad at the time. FalleN talked about that pickup in an interview with Tomi “Lurppis” Kovanen, “We needed someone to be our entry-killer and TACO had the right mindset for that position. Also, he is very dedicated and seemed the correct guy to pick up. He is very friendly and was coldzera’s old teammate for a long time, which helps. In a team, having friendship in and outside the game counts.”
One of the particular things to note is the timing of this roster move. It was done days before the team had a huge tournament at FACEIT Stage 3 Finals. This was a surprising move as other teams would likely have just played the event with the pre-existing squad and then started anew after the tournament. However the Brazilians never prolonged roster changes if they could. Once they decided a change was necessary, they made the change immediately.
We see this again in the next roster move that FalleN makes at the end of 2016. The team had declined in results in the months following their ESL One Cologne 2016 victory and they decided to bench fnx, pick up felps, and play with fox as a stand-in. This roster change followed the pattern of the previous ones. Fnx had lost motivation, felps had shown a lot of potential for growth and so the team picked him up.
What is different about this particular lineup is between the past changes and the future change with Boltz is the intended plan behind it. TACO and fnx were picked up to fill in specific roles in the team’s strategy as they had built around Coldzera and FalleN. In this specific case, the original plan was to create a completely new style of play that revolved around felps and fer. This had success initially as they got second at DreamHack Vegas, but then bombed out of IEM Katowice. They then reverted back to their previous style of play (though with fer being the primary aggressive star instead of FalleN) and then forced felps to fit into the role they needed of him. So among all of the moves, this was the least perfect in terms of role fit in retrospect, but their plan at the time was completely sound.
The final roster move I’ll cover is the felps-boltz move of 2017. The role swap for felps worked for a time, but it was clear that felps and the team was starting to drop off. At that point, the Brazilians were still playing around fer and Coldzera, so when they made their next move, they looked for the right role and cultural fit. That was why the team decided to replace felps with boltz as he had fixed his mentality as a player and could fit the roles that the team needed of him.
When you look at each of these moves, there is a clear pattern that emerges. First is that FalleN often tried to pick up players from the Brazilian region so that they could keep the culture of the team homogenous. This also had the side effect of making sure that all of the best talent in the Brazilian scene funnel towards their team as there were no other alternatives to become the best if you were a Brazilian. Secondly, FalleN consistently recognized when the team had either hit a plateau or were declining and made a move around that time. Third, during these times of plateau, they were able to correctly identify which player on the team either wasn’t improving or no longer fit their role. Fourth, when they made a change, they made it decisively. Fifth, when a roster move was made, FalleN always tried to find the right player for the right role they wanted. The only exception to this was the felps pickup, but even that particular pickup was because the team wanted to try a completely different style of game that required two explosive players in both felps and fer. Finally, every pickup they made was someone rising in form. Coldzera was an unknown when he joined. Fnx had a resurgence in form. TACO was another unknown. Felps had shown great form on Immortals before he joined. Boltz revitalized his career under Immortals after being removed from Luminosity and was one of the best players for his role in the world before he rejoined SK.
While this was a brilliant system, it broke apart for multiple reasons. In terms of the team itself, the initial problem was that teams were adapting to what SK were doing in 2017 and so when 2018 came along, the Brazilian squad hadn’t kept up. On top of that, there were internal issues which saw TACO either leave or be removed from the team. The team then took a radical shift in how they GM’d as they started to look for options outside of Brazil. First they tried to get Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev and Egor “flamie” Vasilyev. This didn’t work out and they settled on Jacky “Stewie2K” Yip.
This was likely caused in part due to the rise of the Brazilian scene in CS:GO. The scene had started to thrive as more and more Brazilian players were picked up and signed onto teams, which in turn exponentially increased the buyouts. It seemed that FalleN’s system was no longer viable as the costs were exorbitant as they couldn’t justify the ROI on an unknown player.
A third issue that came up was leadership as for the first time in FalleN’s rise to the top, he had lost the in-game leadership role as Coldzera took over for a time. This had disastrous results as well and spoke to a potentially strained relationship between the team and their confidence in FalleN’s leadership. Finally, there was a potential loss in work ethic. FalleN talked about this after Janko “YNk” Paunovic joined MIBR in an HLTV interview,
“I think the things Janko is helping us with the most is basically being the guy who is in charge of making sure everyone is on the line, making sure everyone is working hard, making sure we are making good use of our practice.”
2018 essentially saw the entire team radically shift course away from what had made FalleN team’s so successful in the past in terms of the GMing. However with reports abound that TACO is potentially rejoining the team and that the team is looking to fill out their roster with other Brazilian players like Vito “kNgV-” Guiseppe or Kaike “kscerato” Certao, it’s possible that the entire FalleN system could make a return in 2019. If that is so, then that will be one of the key systems that could propel MIBR back to the heights of the CS:GO scene.