We sat down with Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo ahead of MIBR's announcement to know more about the team's decision to leave SK Gaming and embark on a new adventure with Immortals.
The Brazilian players have agreed to play under Immortals-owned brand Made in Brazil, leaving behind two successful years with SK, whom they had joined in July 2016 from Luminosity.
In the first of an exclusive two-part interview, conducted during SK's bootcamp in Lisbon ahead of Moche XL Esports, FalleN opens up about the team's tough decision to leave the German organisation, with whom they won several international titles, including the ESL One Cologne 2016 Major. He also reveals some of the key changes that will happen by joining MIBR, the most significant being that the players will be living separately in the future.
What is the feeling to be representing Made in Brazil, an iconic name you are familiar with, after facing them many times in the past?
In Brazil, MIBR has always been the name of the greatest Brazilian team, and, for many years, my path did not cross with theirs. I was one of the few [top] players from 1.6 who did not play for MIBR. The feeling to recreate MIBR and to be part of this new iteration, in 2018, is a very good one because, besides all the quality that we have in the team, it rekindles what happened 10, 15 years ago, when MIBR was a famous name. We want to bring that back, to make MIBR a strong name in Brazil once again because it has always been a strong name, one that Brazilian Counter-Strike people have always respected.
When did it all begin? How did this opportunity come about?
We had been following [Immortals CEO] Noah’s work with other Brazilian players in Immortals, even before, when the Games Academy team was transferred. We got to know Noah and some details about his project and what was going on in Immortals. Every time that a contract ends, you seek better options or options that match what you expect. Six months before our contracts were to expire we started thinking about these things, and we began to listen to offers from different organisations. It was not just because of Noah’s idea to recreate the MIBR brand, it could have been Immortals or any other name, we really like his project, and the fact that Immortals are headquartered in Los Angeles, very close to where we live, is very important because we get to be close to those with whom we work. The idea to recreate MIBR surfaced during a talk we had with Noah because they have [Overwatch team] Valiant, who, despite being part of Immortals’ group, is a different brand. So we thought: ‘if we can pick a different name, why not bring MIBR back?’ So that is how this idea came to life, after the essential things in negotiations had been pretty much agreed on and at a time when we were very satisfied with what we could do with Noah.
What made you switch organisations? Was it about money, conditions or a sentimental attachment to MIBR and what it represents in the Brazilian community?
I think the biggest factor was the opportunity to begin a new challenge from scratch, we were very well treated by SK during these two years, they gave us their full support, we never had any financial problems. SK is an organisation that pretty much delivers on everything they promise, so we had an amazing time with them. This was really our own choice, and a very important thing is that we now have an organisation closer to us. Sadly, SK are headquartered in Cologne, while we live in the United States, so there’s the time zone difference and there are also cultural differences, the German and the Brazilian cultures are quite different. We were already admirers of Noah’s work with the other Brazilians, we had been hearing how things were going with them, and Noah has some structural ideas that we did not have with SK, a stronger structural support behind the team, so we do not feel that it is just five players playing Counter-Strike but something more. All these opportunities convinced us to join this project, so I think it will be good for everyone.
Was leaving SK something that you wished? If this offer had not come along, would you still have left?
It is hard to talk about negotiations, but there is a universe in which we could have continued in SK, that is something that we even discussed amongst ourselves. And there are other universes in which we could have joined other organisations. Many people, even after we had pretty much agreed to recreate MIBR, presented good offers that made us think: ‘If we had not already decided what to do, this could have been interesting…’ We have always been a very emotional and straightforward team when it comes to making choices and deciding what we want, so if we like something and that is what we want at the time, we just say, ‘Let us go, let us make that happen and we will give our best’. That is what happened when we left Luminosity to join SK, the circumstances were different, but when we decided to join SK that was it, we did not care about anything else. It was the same here, when we made our choice we just went with it, and now we are ready for this challenge.
Practically speaking, what will change? With SK, you had the Cologne offices, where you could bootcamp. Now, you will be part of an organisation headquartered in Los Angeles, where you live. Will this affect your bootcamps in Europe, will you do fewer of them because of this?
Many things will change. For starters, we are heading into our fourth year abroad, and life goes on. I have a girlfriend who is about to finish her studies and who will probably move in with me, something that has not been decided yet, the other players have other things going on and some of them cherish their privacy more than others. We will change the way that we interact with each other. Perhaps in this new MIBR project, the players will stop living together to respond to those needs. For example, I will not bring my girlfriend to live with the other guys, it does not make any sense. The idea of us living together will not exist in MIBR because we will have access to a training centre in Los Angeles where all of Immortals’ teams play, so, in a way, we will have to go out to practice. There is no reason for us to have to live together anymore. But of course we will still be living together in the short run. We are pretty excited about practising at a place that is not our home, even though we do not know how that will go. When it comes to practising abroad, even though we will not have a training centre anymore, there are several places that can accommodate us, here in Portugal we were able to get a nice spot to practice, and we have received offers from several other places. This should not be a problem, and I am sure we will have Immortals’ support when it comes to finding ideal places for us whenever we need.
Do you think it will be a positive change, living in one place and practising in a different one?
It is hard to say right now because it changes a lot of things. I think everyone who has had a ‘normal’ job knows that, waking up, having breakfast, taking a shower and leaving your home to enter a work environment is different from waking up and starting to practice in your pyjamas. It is logical that it is different from one person to another, some people really enjoy this familiar environment of everyone living together, like we have been doing, but I think this new way of doing things can be positive, even from a mental point of a view, because you leave your house to go to work, and, once it is over, you can relax and do other things. But we need to be careful, because, if this transition is not done with care, with everyone on board, it can be harmful. We will have to see how we will approach this experience, we have talked a lot about this and I think it will be very good.
A lot has been said about your relationship with SK and about the fact that they are not letting you practise in Cologne anymore. What is your relationship with them like right now, and how will you bid farewell to them?
Sadly, our relationship with them towards the end has been a bit shaky, but I guess that is natural. There is no particular reason for this, but I think it is normal that SK are not 100% committed to spending more money with the team or making more investments in this team because they are moving on as well. These last two months have been all about finalising our work the best possible way and then moving on to the next adventure, both for the team and for the organisation. We want to focus on the good things that we did, we did many cool things, we won many things, we were SK’s best team in 2016 and 2017. So, as things are about to end, we want to focus on all that we have accomplished together and not on the fact that, in the last few months, we have had some disagreements because that is something normal. I can only thank SK, they have done a lot for us, and I am sure they will do a lot for their next team.
Why did some of the team’s players not wear their SK jerseys in Kiev? Was it an act of rebellion?
Players react to certain situations differently. The only clash that happened now between us was that SK did not allow us to bootcamp in Cologne, and some of the team’s players naturally did not like that. I did not like that either, but I do not think it is a reason to rebel or anything, but everyone is different and people have to respect the players who thought that this should not have happened. I guess everyone does what they think is best at the moment. Personally, I was not wearing my jersey on the first day of the event because I was having my laundry done, I wore it on the next days.
When you look back, how do you evaluate your time with SK?
I think it was a very successful period, we met each other’s needs, the organisation really worked hard to please us, they were very open when it came to things that we did not like and asked us if we wanted these things to continue or not, they gave us a lot of options on many things, I have no complaints in terms of financial matters, they delivered every time that promises were made. Working with them was very cool, they were very fair, sometimes they were a bit strict in some things, which is normal in any job, but I loved working with them. For us, representing this tag was legendary, we know the role that SK have in Counter-Strike since 1998, so it was amazing.