SYDNEY -- While Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo led many teams in the earlier days of competitive Counter-Strike to upset victories over top European teams, at IEM Sydney, his team, SK Gaming was the victim of an upset.
Grayhound, the top Australian team at the event, achieved a huge underdog victory in a best-of-three win over SK to knock the favored squad out of the tournament. This will be the second massively disappointing tournament results SK has had since Jake "Stewie2k" Yip joined the roster.
To find out a bit more about how SK is integrating Stewie2k, the problems facing this new roster and where the underperformances are coming from, ESPN Esports talked to FalleN in Sydney.
ESPN: Do you see any merit to the idea of lower-tiered sides looking to specialize in off-picks for advantages in map vetoes? Or do top teams perma-banning maps like Nuke make that not worthwhile?
FalleN: I think it's hard for the underdog teams to concentrate on the less popular maps in the pool sometimes. Teams just ban it a lot, and it's hard to play officials on them. It's hard to get strong and get better when it's tough to even play the maps first. But yeah, in theory, it's an interesting idea if someone can bring it to the table. But normally in [single-game formats] you can't do that; you can't get to those maps. So really, [the underdogs] need to be strong on the middle of the map pool if they want to do really well and do some damage.
And nowadays, I think that even the Tier 2 and Tier 3 teams are bringing an excellent level of CS. They're bringing a lot of tactical elements of Counter-Strike and executing well. They're trading and doing some strats that aren't very complicated, but it fits well together for the players. So we saw a lot of underdogs beating a lot of teams this tournament, even beating us.
ESPN: Given that you became infamous in CS:GO for operating at the Tier 2 and 3 level, being very efficient with what you had and pushing the bar of what lower level teams could do -- now being more removed from that, how do you see the developments in the Tier 2 and 3 today?
FalleN: I think the scene is a little bit different from the scene when we were the underdogs and really trying to do some damage because back in those days we really had one or two teams who were the best teams, and it would be so difficult to play against them. But nowadays, it's so open that anyone can do damage against anyone. You have seen more than eight teams winning tournaments this year so far, which means the top tier and the trophies are there for everyone. So being an underdog is different now than back in the days.
The main difference is that we'd have some good maps and strategies that we could surprise and catch people a little off-guard with. Now though, I think people aren't surprising each other with strategies and winning because of that. I think that just the general level of everyone is much higher. The default level of CS is just higher, and it's hard to be a top team and win every time against [Tier 2 and 3 teams] because they have what it takes to win some maps.
ESPN: The big narratives in-game for SK with Stewie2k have been, in part, shotcalling in English, but more so the changes to your Counter Terrorist-side structure. Specifically, we saw Marcelo "coldzera" David move in-site at A a lot to accommodate Stew. What has been the impact of these changes on the team from your perspective as the caller?
FalleN: So in order to adjust to Stewie, we made some changes. All of our players had some new stuff to do, some new challenge to face. And I think coldzera is doing great so-far; his Mirage CT-side is becoming better and better with each game. We've seen his development with that. The other players have changed their positions a little bit as well.
For this tournament, specifically, what we failed at the most was the T-side on Mirage, and there's a lot of reasons as to why this side went so bad for us and the disqualification from the tournament. And we're working on that already. I can't go too much deeper on it, but of course some stuff just went wrong sometimes.
To be honest, a lot of people are bringing the communication issue to the table, but I don't think it was the communication issue this time. Of course, as we are speaking in English right now, communication is an issue, but it's not the main reason. If we were speaking Portuguese we don't win either -- I don't think so. The only part I think communication might play a piece is that our confidence might be a little bit lower right now. But that's something we're definitely going to acquire as we start playing more matches.
ESPN: How did you feel about your own performance at these last events?
FalleN: I didn't like my performance much. One of my weakest tournaments, to be honest. I try to do exactly the same things as I was doing in practice, but for some reason it didn't go well this time.
I'm not too worried about that. I don't like stay thinking too much about what went wrong. Of course I'm trying to see what I can improve for the next tournament and the next match, but for the next tournament I want to change the way I put myself in situations. The way I put myself into the game might be a little different for the next match. I want to choose more what I want to do and become a more efficient AWPer. For this tournament I was a little bit more passive, like playing more around the team, but for the next tournament maybe I want to play a little bit more around me.