boltz: "I want to again compete at the top and challenge for titles"
Remember back to those final months of 2017, when boltz helped SK to win EPICENTER, BLAST Pro Series Copenhagen and the ESL Pro League Season 6 Finals, ending the year as the 18th best player in the world and in the strongest team out there, one that looked set to enter the Olympus of Counter-Strike at the expense of FaZe before a certain Astralis set a new bar in the game.
As we all know, that Brazilian dynasty would not last. Epitacio "TACO" de Melo was the first one out, and before long, boltz, once regarded as the missing piece of the puzzle, found himself out of favour as the team began the second phase of their North American experiment.
By this time last year, boltz had already attended five LAN events, and it could have been six had he not missed ELEAGUE Major Boston due to the tournament’s roster regulation rules. Almost five months into 2019, the Brazilian, now a member of Luminosity, is about to play his first LAN tournament of the year - a harsh new reality with which he has had to come to terms.
"It has been eight months, I think," he tells HLTV.org. "I have not played on LAN since July, when I left MIBR. So I am really anxious. I really enjoy playing on LAN, it is a very different Counter-Strike from the one you play online. So I am really looking forward to it."
Luminosity boast four of the players who were part of the Immortals roster that stunned the world by finishing in second place at PGL Major Krakow, but the team have struggled to maintain a good level of performance. They have spent the last two months outside the top 30 of the world rankings and will only compete at ESL Pro League Americas because of Rogue’s withdrawal, having been relegated to ESEA MDL in Season 8.
"What really hurt us was that some of us did not play for a long period of time," boltz explains. "Lucas and Henrique did not play for any team for like a year, and everyone knows that when you are playing at a high level you evolve very quickly. If you are not playing, you miss things, you start to fall behind.
"It is painful because we were used to being a good team and to playing big tournaments, and now we are losing to certain teams [we should not be losing to] and we are not being successful. It takes times and hard work to get back to where we want to be, but I believe that things will get better."
It is not the first time boltz has had to pick himself up after a forced break. While with SK, he sat out nearly two months as the team had to field João "felps" Vasconcellos at ELEAGUE Boston. According to him, that was the beginning of the downfall, where things started to go wrong for a team that had been brimming with confidence.
"The Major is a tournament for which everyone prepares really hard," he says. "I did not play for almost two months, while every team out there was preparing really hard.
"We lost a lot of time because of that rule [he was ineligible to compete for SK after taking part in the closed qualifiers for the Americas Minor with Immortals], which in my opinion was a really terrible rule.
"When we got back, at cs_summit, our confidence was no longer the same. I am not talking just about myself, but the entire team. We no longer entered a tournament pretty much knowing that we were going to win it. We started testing a lot of stuff and things we were not working out, and it created that snowball effect."
The cracks began to show after the WESG Finals, an event that Marcelo "coldzera" David had labeled as a priority for the team. After the group stage exit, which left Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo "embarrassed", rumours began to surface that the team were plotting an ambitious move for Na`Vi duo Aleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev and Egor "flamie" Vasilyev to replace TACO and boltz.
In the end, the CIS incursion was not to be; instead, the team looked northward for some fresh blood, bringing in Jake "Stewie2K" Yip to replace the under-fire support man, TACO. But that does not mean that boltz was in the clear. He was a man living on borrowed time and knew deep down that the axe would eventually fall on him.
"We are professional, but I would be lying if I said that it did not affect me," he says. "I did not feel very comfortable after those stories came out. In order to play well, I need to feel comfortable and to have the trust of my teammates.
"I knew that, if results did not improve, something had to change and I would probably be the first one to go. That was already in my mind. I tried to help the team and I was giving my best, but I was kind of prepared."
boltz believes that his situation only became more fragile with Stewie2K’s arrival, admitting that he struggled with the language barrier after the team began to communicate in English. "I was not a fan of the team going international and switching languages, but I was just one person in all that. I had the worst English in the team, so I really did not adapt well."
During his final months in the team, boltz lost his way and "kind of dropped CS" before being eventually replaced by Tarik "tarik" Celik, coldzera said in his top 20 player of 2018 article. boltz agrees in part with such criticism. "Perhaps towards the end that was the case. I had really dedicated myself to improving my game, but I could never please them. There were times when I felt discouraged and lost my focus, when I no longer felt the motivation that I had had at the beginning and that I really needed."
His benching was finally announced in July, after just one event under the MIBR brand, and with that came the realisation that his time among the elite was over. His well-known struggles with the English language severely limited his opportunities, so he had to choose a Brazilian project, even if that meant a move backwards in his career.
"Since people knew that my English is not very good, I only got offers from Brazilian teams," he says. "I chose Luminosity because I knew the guys and what they needed.
"I left a team that played every big event and was always top five, top eight, and joined one that was struggling and had just been relegated to MDL. You absolutely need to take a step back sometimes, and in my case it was a necessary move, but I am happy with my choice."
boltz endured a difficult first few months with Luminosity as visa issues forced him to sit out the iBUYPOWER Masters, where Fillipe "pancc" Martins acted as a stand-in, only linking up with the rest of the squad several weeks after his unveiling - a less than ideal situation for the new skipper, who has been trying to implement his vision of how the team should play.
"It was very hard, especially because I am the captain, to be away from the team, to not be able to talk to them in person and develop our tactics together," he says. "That had a negative impact during the first two to three months." He has spent the last weeks trying to bury some old habits and bring order to a team that became known for their unpredictable and disorderly style during the Major run in Krakow. "We realised that our approach no longer worked. We are trying to be more organised and less chaotic."
Pressure has been mounting on the Brazilian team to return to the top and break a title drought on LAN for the organisation that goes back almost three years. After all, Luminosity were once a household name in the scene and have a Major crown in their cabinet. "The organisation needs results, we are aware of that, it is a business for them, and the fans do not like to watch the team lose" boltz says. "But more importantly, we do not like to be in this situation and we are working hard to overcome it. There is pressure from the organisation and from the fans, but the greatest pressure comes from within."
boltz hopes that the ESL Pro League will mark the beginning of a new chapter for the team. And as fate would have it, he will play his first LAN match for Luminosity precisely against MIBR. "It is normal for Brazilian teams to face each other. We end up rooting for them and we watch all of their games, so we know how they play. But it is just like when we are facing any other team, and we will give our best to beat them."
After reaching new heights in his career with SK, in which he was just a cog in the machine, boltz has found himself steering a team that, just like him, is determined to get back to the top. For any Brazilian player, representing MIBR, the best team in the country, is the ultimate goal. That door seems to be closed to boltz - at least for now, as the returns of TACO and felps proved that the team are not too stubborn to admit their mistakes - yet he still allows himself to dream of international glory.
"When I am comfortable and confident, I know that I am very good," he insists. "And as a captain, I can really help the team. I want to win again, to compete at the highest level again and challenge for titles. And the biggest dream would be to win the Major. I won three big titles with SK, and with Immortals I came very close to winning a Major. There is still the Major to win."