Over the weekend, MIBR played against Astralis in the finals of BLAST Istanbul. Before this event started, Astralis looked to be the obvious pick to win the entire event. They had just come off a Major victory and during their run they had stomped the three other best teams in the world: FaZe, Na`Vi, and Liquid. When they met MIBR in the finals, it looked to be a similar story. Astralis stomped MIBR 16-3 on Train. In the second map, Astralis won their T-side 10-5. However MIBR were able to close the gap. They made a comeback on their own T-side Overpass to win the map 16-14 and barely lost on the third map 14-16. What impressed me the most was the the new T-side of MIBR. This is a team that has struggled with building a cohesive T-side both in the previous iteration and in the modern one. In this finals, we saw a new MIBR. One that had combined the strategies and styles of Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo’s old teams and used the specific characteristics and pace of their NA players Jacky “Stewie2K” Yip and Tarik “tarik” Celik to create a new beast. One with the core identity of what made FalleN Counter-Strike so great integrated with the specialities of their new players.
The current MIBR is an all-star team wrapped in a puzzle. The current roster has: FalleN, Stewie2K, Tarik, Fernando “fer” Alvarenga, and Marcelo “coldzera” David. On paper, this team man-for-man has some of the best talent across the board. Only a few teams in the entire world can boast such incredible depth of skill across all five players. However the puzzle was how to combine all five parts into a cohesive whole. FalleN, fer, and coldzera are the core that were winning titles across various lineups in both Luminosity Gaming and SK. They had two distinctive styles of play across the various iterations.
The first was with the Lincoln “fnx” Lau and Epitacio “TACO” de Melo lineup. That lineup was built around the strength of FalleN as an AWPer and Coldzera as a superstar player. During this five man lineup’s time together, FalleN was a top 3 AWPer in the world and was an absolute beast in three different aspects of his AWPing: getting picks, fighting in close range, and winning clutch rounds. So the essential idea was to take map control, have FalleN find picks and then close out the round Na`Vi style with a last minute execute. Should FalleN find a pick, the chances of winning went up incredibly as they were the best at closing power play situations when a man up. Should they get into an even postplant scenario, then they used their teamplay and incredible clutching ability to close out the round.
The other style they used is the heavy default style of the Joao “felps” Vasconcellos and Ricardo “Boltz” Prass lineups of 2017. This style had the same strategy, but had different focal players. In this lineup, they had fer be the aggressive playmaker rather than FalleN. He continually got picks or took space against his team. At the same time, the other players each had their own individual area in which they exerted map control and pressure. It was like watching someone play dominoes. The second that MIBR got a pick, they’d take that space and convert it into more map pressure which led to another pick, and eventually the round. What was even more impressive was their seeming ability to go superheroic in clutch rounds and high pressure situations. In the big series, the big moments, when the rounds were running high, every player on that team in both lineups started to make huge plays to win the game.
However the beginning of 2018 had the squad play fall apart. Soon after, TACO left the team to join Liquid and Stewie2k was brought on the team to replace him. This iteration isn’t worth talking about as they had too many other internal issues. Boltz had lost confidence as the team had tried to kick him. They were communicating in their second language to accommodate Stewie2K. Stewie2K was playing a new role on a new team. Finally, they were having team culture issues as they weren’t trying hard enough. This was confirmed in a HLTV interview with FalleN after Janko “YNk” Pankovic joined the team as coach,
“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.”
In addition to YNk coming on as coach, tarik replaced boltz as the fifth member on July 14th. At this point, communicating in English wasn’t as much of a problem. The question became how to integrate all five players into a cohesive whole. While three of the five players had played together for a long time, TACO leaving left a gap that couldn’t be replaced. They had to move in a different direction and with two Cloud9 members, the team now had three aggressive riflers: fer, Stewie2K and Tarik.
With that kind of mix, it seemed natural to play a bit more loose, a bit more free flowing. Instead, the team’s first priority was to get FalleN back online individually. While FalleN is one of the great tactical minds and AWPers, he had slowly lost his way as an individual player. In 2016, he was arguably the best AWPer in the world. In 2017, he was a good AWPer that was highly effective in certain situations and scenarios. In 2018, he had been in the worst slump of his career since hitting the international stage.
The plan made sense. He is the totemic figure of the squad and someone whose tactics and reads on the game correlated with his individual skill. More than that, the team spirit and strength of the squad comes from his confidence. Who else but FalleN could go to a Danish crowd in the middle of CopenHagen and tell them he was going to turn it into a library and make it come true? The better that FalleN is playing, the better the calling, the better the overall team is.
The plan worked and we saw that after the player break as MIBR won Zotac and reached a top four in the Major. Despite the team becoming better, I still had reservations. The team no longer had that superheroic element to them that they did in 2017. While that isn’t something that can not be emulated. There is a certain natural team chemistry that those players had that cannot be reproduced. So for this MIBR squad to succeed, they had to find a new path. Getting FalleN back was a good first step and the second was to integrate the NA players into the system.
Now we must consider Stewie2K and tarik as players. Their most successful event of their careers was the ELeague Boston Major where they won it. I’d characterize that run as a fast paced explosive style that made use of Stewie2K and tarik’s explosive ability to use pace and take map control to catch other teams off guard. While that iteration of Cloud9 had shown an ability to play a slower style of game, the fast paced, high octane style was what they were the best at.
In the BLAST finals, I got a hint of how that new MIBR could go. In the final two maps of that series, it was an amalgamation of strategies from the MIBR side. It combined aspects from the LG/SK squad in 2016, the SK squad of 2017, and the explosive space creating abilities of their NA players.
The best examples was on Overpass. Overpass was one of the maps that defined the first era of the Brazilians. For me, it was the map that defined the greatest aspects of FalleN as a superstar AWPer on the CT-side and his brilliance as a tactician on the T-side. In this finals, the tactics and the AWPer were to be reborn as the ideas of the past worked with the new players of the present to create a picture of a better tomorrow.
On the 20th round against Astralis on Overpass, MIBR used a Cloud9 style opener. In that round they had three players rush monster with tarik running through the smoke that one of the Astralis players had thrown in front. While this was never a tactic that Cloud9 used, in terms of pace and speed, it was something you could imagine them doing. It was also something that utilized tarik’s lack of fear. Though he dies here to Andreas “Xyp9x” Hojsleth, the MIBR guys are able to trade him leaving the team in a 4v4 scenario. From that point on, MIBR played in typical FalleN style.
Astralis had been on low economy because of how the previous round had played out, so they knew that with them likely low on utility that someone on their side had to make an aggressive play to get information. They went back to mid and cleared out long where they cleared out Peter “Dupreeh” Rothmann. They then closed out the round using their man advantage to make sure they couldn’t get picked.
The 20th round was a combination of using Cloud9 pace to create an opening and then to use the fundamentals of FalleN Counter-Strike to close out the round. They used this again in the 25th round of the match. In that round they had Stewie2k and Tarik rush middle to take map control. Stewie2K died taking it, but they were able to force Astralis back. This gave room for both fer and FalleN to look for aggressive duels. While it didn’t work, it shows how even when MIBR lose players on these types of rounds, how they can still use the space created by the sacrifices of their players.
In the 21st round, the MIBR guys used something akin to the 1-1-1-1-1 style that defined them in 2017. They had fer play at long, Coldzera around middle, Stewie2K in connector, and FalleN with tarik around monster. This was a classic SK default where they tried to exert pressure across the entire map. They then slowly took map control before hitting the A site.
They then used a classic change of pace in the 22nd round right after as they exploded onto the B-site. While change of paces aren’t unique to either SK or Cloud9, the inclusion of Stewie2K as the frontman of the assault changed the style of it. After he got onto the site, he immediately threw down a smoke and molly to bisect the site, then the team flashed him over so he could jump through his own smoke and surprise Astralis.
The final example I’ll bring up is round 26. In that round, MIBR ran a 3-1-1. The three Brazilian players at long, Stewie2K in connector and Tarik around B. In this round, Stewie2k and tarik were role players. They held their sides of the map passively while fer, coldzera, and FalleN cleared long. They then setup FalleN to try to get a pick around the area. After that didn’t work, they then took map control and did a last moment execute on the A-site. This was a round that could have come straight out of the 2016 playbook.
Overall, the T-side of Overpass was a masterclass by the MIBR side. They were able to make a stunning comeback as they won the half 11-4 against Astralis. More than that though, it showed the combination of strategies and ideas that they have built over the years with the Brazilian Squad. It showed their ability to integrate and use the NA players and use them in their system. Finally, it showed the potential of what this squad can accomplish. The Brazilian players are still the stars of the show. FalleN, Coldzera, and fer benefit the most under this system, but it still left enough room for both Stewie2K and tarik to contribute.
In the end though, this was only one series against one tournament. Some have already called for the glorious resurrection of the team back to the heights of CS:GO. However I have a more tempered approach. Since YNk has joined, this MIBR team has faced only a few teams I’d consider A-Class. Outside of this best-of-three, none of the series could be termed as close. Even in this one, Astralis were able to close out in the end and this tournament didn’t have Astralis specifically prepare like they usually do as they had just come off the Major. MIBR need to prove that they can play consistently at this level and elevate themselves to the point where they can win these hard best-of-threes against top teams to be considered a top team. The big difference for me is that before BLAST, I did not see a vision of how this was going to happen. After BLAST, MIBR have showed me a potential path that they can walk down. One that synthesizes of the core strategies and players that took Brazil to the top of the world as well as the electrifying explosive plays that made these NA players special. We will have to see how far that vision can go.