SK Gaming: Fallen from grace

A year ago, there was a degree of certainty around Counter-Strike. The game has always retained a degree of unpredictability, but 2017 had a few truths you could rely on. They included FaZe being beaten by SK Gaming, coldzera never really failing to turn up in terms of his stats, and kNg consistently making the wrong choice, time after time after time.

Today though, things have changed, for the most part. Predicting the outcome of FaZe vs SK Gaming is much, much harder, partly for reasons of form, and partly because it is no longer possible to even know when they will play. Some things will never change of course, and kNg is still making poor decisions, but from here on out we’ll just stick to talking about one Brazilian team, the one that used to win.

Now though, everything is different. The expected FaZe era was over faster than Usain Bolt rushing to the toilet, and SK’s last two events saw them fail to make the playoffs, and then fall in last place at IEM Sydney. This year has already had its fair share of disappointments as it is, with failure at the Major and WESG putting extra pressure on the team, and in particular Gabriel ‘Fallen’ Toledo, their legendary leader.

Much of the legend of Fallen is built around the aforementioned coldzera, and his discovery of the man who went on to hold the title of world’s best for close to two years, as well as his ability to construct the team that won so many titles for SK. Compared to a sports team manager, it is hardly the most incredible act of longevity, but then in esports two years can be almost a career, and few others have ever unearthed such talent.

Changing a winning formula

The wisdom around his team was always that it was built on strong foundations, with good fundamental CS:GO meaning that form would not hurt them as much as other sides. The stats said they carried TACO, but those who watched understood that was only half the story, with coldzera almost always facilitated by the selfless work of the man who sounds like a Mexican snack, so when TACO departed after a poor run of form, the pressure was increased further.

Since the move, and addition of Cloud 9’s Stewie2k in his place, things have got worse, if anything. It can’t help that it was made public that the team would have happily also cut another member to accommodate two new additions if need be, but it’s also the way things have changed that has fans worried.

One of the worrisome things is the fact they abandoned what made them great, trawling the world of CS for any player that they thought could improve the team. Rumours swirled that they had tried for FaZe players, and then of course the s1mple saga came and went before Cloud 9’s Stewie2k was brought in. All of this took the doubt in their true anti-fragility to a new level for the fans. And, most likely, also the people who bought them.

A few months ago, news started bubbling under that SK would soon be losing their CS team, with the Brazilian five on their way to Immortals. This was great for IMT, who had recently purchased the Made In Brazil (MiBR) brand, and were going to get the best, all-Brazilian team, to play under it. However, things have obviously changed since then, both in terms of the value of the players and even their single nationality.

It might seem like there is still time for the team, but in reality the overarching sense is that, like FaZe, this is an experiment that has failed. Immortals don’t want to live forever in the top four, but signed this team to win, and if they arrive as losers it will be an awfully awkward stay, if not a short one. With FaZe also needing fresh bed sheets, the start of 2018 has been a brutal time for some who were formerly gods of the game, and it seems as though the Brazilian ‘core’ so used to being at the top level has no clear path back there, or long-term plan.