Photo: By BLAST
The MIBR reunion was met with with polarized reactions: either unmitigated hype or torpid disappointment. Both reactions had some level of merit. Those with expectations remembered the period when the lineup of: Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo, Fernando “fer” Alvarenga, Marcelo “coldzera” David, Epitacio “TACO” de Melo, and Joao “felps” Vasconcellos took the world by storm when they won five out of six tournaments in mid 2017. With Wilton “zews” Prado returning to the team, perhaps his presence could bolster the inherent personality issues and augment their tactical prowess. Those who looked on with disappointment remembered how the lineup looked at the end. How their map pool and teamplay slowly disintegrated until they were Heroic eliminated them in a bo3 at ELeague Premier 2017. Both realities have come true to a certain extent. Those who believed in the potential can look to their inspired semifinals run at IEM Katowice 2019. Those who believe it was doomed to fail can look to their failures at WESG and BLAST. In actuality, this isn’t a either/or situation. The potential and the problems have come back in full force. For this MIBR lineup to succeed, they must face the past in order to conquer their present.
Since FalleN led the Brazilians to the top of the world 2016, we have seen three world championship Brazilian lineups. There was the lineup with Lincoln “fnx” Lau during the LG/SK period that lasted from late 2015-2016. There was the felps lineup that happened in 2017. Finally there was the Ricardo “boltz” Prass lineup of late 2017 to early 2018.
While each lineup played the FalleN style of CS, they each had a distinct style of play. The first played around FalleN as the aggressive AWPer and Coldzera as the superstar. The second with felps was more firepower heavy and emphasized the skill of Coldzera, fer, and felps. The third continued to emphasize Coldzera and fer, but relied more on the inherent chemistry, teamplay, and clutch factor of the team.
While each lineup was different, their decline in form was similar. The fnx lineup broke up because fnx no longer had the drive to practice and the team stopped evolving. The end of the felps lineup had three problems plague them at the end. They had role clashes between fer and felps, the slow disintegration of their teamplay, and their shrinking map pool. Where the fnx/felps lineups were a slow decline in form, the boltz lineup was a complete collapse. At the end of 2017, they looked ready to become the best team in the world. By the time 2018 rolled around, they had completely collapsed. There were too many problems to name with that particular lineup, but the primary ones I’d point out is falling individual skill across the entire team, a loss of team play, and an inability to evolve.
This is critical to understand as the current reunion is the first time that the Brazilian lineup will be forced to deal with these problems head-on. In the past, SK/MIBR could sidestep the issue as they were able to consistently identify which player needed to be removed and which player to get in turn. The ability to evaluate their roster and make the ruthless roster moves was what kept the Brazilians on top from 2016 to the end of 2017. That solution is no longer viable as MIBR already tried it for the current roster. After getting back zews and TACO at the end of 2018, the players MIBR first tried to recruit were Kaike “kscerato” Cerato and Vito “kNgV-” Giuseppe. Both moves fell through and they opted for felps as their third choice.
What is worth noting about the Brazilian reunion was that it was made after the disappointing MIBR/NA mix with Tarik “tarik” Celik and Jake “Stewie2K” Yip. While I didn’t include that particular lineup in my diagnosis (as it was an international mix), it is worth noting that it also suffered from a lack of team chemistry and an inability to fix problems. After the Brazilian lineup was formed, ex-coach Janko “YNk” Paunovic did an interview with HLTV saying that,
“It does not matter which players you get into the team, you need to make some changes to the way you approach the game, like practice and some aspects of professionalism”
It was a foreboding statement from their ex-coach and one that may have a certain ring of truth to it. Whatever systemic problems caused each of those past lineups to eventually decline was something that MIBR could no longer avoid. The past issues of the old MIBR squad would spring up again in the present.
Among the three LANs that MIBR have played so far, the two I’ll focus on are the Katowice Major and BLAST Sao Paulo. I ignored WESG as while it was a disappointing exit for MIBR, the nature of that tournament makes it a bad data point to analyze.
At IEM Katowice 2019 MIBR got to the semifinals of the Major. They went 3-1 in the Legends Stage. Cloud9 trounced them in the first game, but after that they beat coL, G2, and NiP 2-0. They then bet Renegades in the quarterfinals 2-0 and lost to Astralis 0-2. Among all of the games played at that event, the Overpass game against Astralis showed the potential ceiling of MIBR.
The game was a 14-16 loss for MIBR, but it was one of those games where MIBR had pushed Astralis to the edge. On the T-side of the map, SK played their classic high pressure map control style, but with additional modern refinements. They varied the timing of their map control and often tried to pressure two different areas at the same time to cause chaos (most notably in the 12th round where TACO pressured monster while felps pressured the middle area from underpass). They did a classic anti-strat on the first rifle round when they used a triple HE stack on Nicolai “device” Reedtz to open the first full rifle round. They showed their ability to adapt to Astralis’ new approach to water control where they blow up the connector door early on and followed it up with different holds and variations.
Overall it was a tactically amazing map from the Brazilians and it was a callback game back to when this particular lineup was the best in the world. The flip side of that equation was BLAST Sao Paulo where the team went 0-5. Nothing clicked for the team here. Their T-sides looked disjointed and unorganised, teamplay was awful (losing the 4v1 against Aleksi “allu” Jalli was unforgivable), and none of their individual players showed up. If the Overpass game at the Major was a callback to what MIBR was at their best, then Sao Paulo was a callback of MIBR at their worst.
After the end of the event, FalleN did an interview with HLTV where he mirrored YNk’s previous sentiments,
“This tournament was kind of a wake-up call for us, we need to look how we approach the game, clearly it is not working the way we wanted.”
The Challenges for MIBR
Two months in is too early to write off a team. While MIBR have failed at WESG and BLAST Sao Paulo, those losses have similar symptoms to the breakdown of their old lineups where the cohesion, identity, and team play fell apart. When I consider the problems of MIBR in the context of the past and present, I’d say their big three problems are: pressure management, team identity, and roles.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that MIBR did worse than expected at Sao Paulo given that it was a home crowd. When a player can feel the expectations of the fans in full force, it can create an additional mental load that the player must perform under. This is especially true for MIBR player as Brazilian fans are passionate in all the right and wrong ways. One of the best allegories I’ve read describing this pressure was from TACO’s farewell post when he left the team back in 2018. He described playing for MIBR in a twitlonger as,
“The weight of shield is heavy, and it’s not for everyone to wear it for too long. With proud and no regrets, I’ve done this for 2 years and 4 months.
It was necessary will, hard work and dedication.
During all this time, every second in the team I felt the outside pressure on me was always HEAVY and maybe this is one of the reasons why I came to this closure.”
At that point in time, TACO was in bad individual form at the end of that 2018 lineup. What is interesting to note is that once he transferred over to Liquid, he had an almost immediate resurgence in individual form that lasted for the rest of the year. While a part of it is due to Liquid being a better functioning team at the time, a part of it could be related to how much less scrutiny he had deal with compared to playing on MIBR.
TACO wasn’t the only one who fell under the pressure. In 2017,
Right now, the pressure is higher than ever before for MIBR as they all have something to prove, especially TACO, zews, and felps. TACO and zews left Liquid to join this project because they believed they could elevate Brazilian CS back to the top. For felps, this is his shot to play at an international level. For the remaining MIBR members, they want to prove that the last year was an aberration and that they can still be the best in the world. How the team and zews manages this pressure could be critical in helping create a consistent base of performance for the team.
The next point to look at is team identity. Among the various Brazilian SK/MIBR lineups, team identity has only plagued one the felps lineup in 2017. At the time, SK recruited felps with the intention of crafting a loose aggressive style of play that relied on two aggressive star players in fer and felps. It worked wonders at Las Vegas, but then bombed out of IEM Katowice. Once that failed, they reverted to their old style of play and forced felps into becoming a role player.
MIBR now are facing a different kind of team identity problem. There is no experimentation with the lineup this time around as all of them understand that they should play the classic FalleN style of CS and play around their core strengths of: consistency in power play scenarios, team chemistry, and ability to perform under high pressure. While this showed up at the Major, it was nonexistent at Sao Paulo. Beyond whatever external factors the pressure could have caused, I’d say the biggest reason it happened was because MIBR overextended.
The MIBR lineup has barely had time to practice. They formed during the break and only had a few weeks of practice before playing at the Major. The Major finished on March 3rd. They then got on a plane and went to China to play at WESG, which went from March 11th-17th. Once that tournament ended, they took a plane back to BLAST Sao Paulo which happened from March 22nd.
If you look at raw travel and game time, there was little time to do it during the events. The only time they could have done it was before the Major. In an interview with HTLV, fer confirms that they had a 20 day bootcamp before the Major. Realistically speaking, I’d say a team needs a solid one to two months of dedicated practice before they reach their potential.
Even with the lack of time, it’s clear that MIBR are trying to learn and innovate as much as they can. In that time they have played six maps: Inferno, Train, Mirage, Dust2, Overpass, and Nuke. In the LANs we’ve seen MIBR play at, they’ve focused on building up their inferno, train, overpass, dust2, and nuke. This is surprising as the best maps for the felps lineup in 2017 were mirage and cache. While the MIBR have never loved playing cache, their mirage used to be their home map. At BLAST they even vetoed mirage out when playing against ENCE and FaZe.
The decision to play nuke is a clear indicator that MIBR understand that the current lineup isn’t a nostalgia trip, that they need to evolve and catch up with the times. Nuke was a map that the MIBR players have refused to play with any iteration for the last three years. The choice to not only play nuke, but to try to implement a strange triple entry pack-double lurk strategy shows that MIBR are trying out new styles of play. While the intent is good, it seems like an overextension right now.
While MIBR know what kind of style they want to play, they haven’t yet figured out what maps they want to play it on and have opted to try all of them. This was a problem that FaZe had to deal with when they got the all-star lineup with Ladislav “GuardiaN” Kovacs and Olof “olofmeister” Kajbjer. At DreamHack Masters Malmo, Finn “karrigan” Andersen overextended their map pool which caused the team to try all seven maps instead of figuring out their core four or five. This looks to be the same problem that MIBR are facing and the solution should be similar. Figure out the core maps they like to play, build a solid foundation on those, and then move forward.
The last thing to consider is roles. Back in 2017, the lineup broke apart because of the role clash between fer and felps. Both players had the same style of play, but there was only enough space to enable one of them. Fer won out the position and for a time everything worked out for a time. Felps eventually became dissatisfied with his role on the team and internal issues start to pop up. This spread throughout the entire team as their team play and cohesion broke down. SK never solved the problem as felps was either left the team or was removed.
In the reunion in 2019, MIBR have decided to rerun the same roles as they did back then. If player form was the same now as it was back in 2017, I’d agree. Fer was an unstoppable beast in 2017 and easily the best entry player in the world. However times have changed. Fer had a bad year in 2018, so it was possible that this time around felps could get the role as the aggressive playmaker.
Instead, MIBR decided to keep all of the roles the same as before. In order for the roles to work out though, fer must reach the same peaks he did back in 2017. So far, it’s been a mixed bag. Fer did a great job at IEM Katowice 2019 and he’s been a key factor in helping MIBR control the Astralis T-side when they play on Overpass. He wasn’t nearly as effective at BLAST, but the entire team played below expectation at the event. While it’s early to say, this is another problem from the past that may have to be confronted once again.
The Past and the Present
While I’ve been critical of the MIBR’s problems throughout, it must be said that in terms of raw potential, this is the team with the highest probability of challenging Astralis. Liquid are a brilliant team, but are still outclassed, FaZe are a shell of what they were, Na`Vi is too erratic to make it happen. For MIBR to reach that potential though, MIBR will have to face the problems of their past. They need to address the root causes of their problems and find an approach that will give them a level of consistency. If they can do that, then we could see the Brazilians challenge for the top of CS:GO once again.