It’s hard to think about CS:GO without Gabriel ‘FalleN’ Toledo at the top, but that’s the future fans are having to think about. The 31-year-old is winding down with Imperial over the next 18 months, but thoughts of a home Major in Rio has added a pep in his step as he finalizes his legacy.
DreamHack Melbourne ended in an all-Brazilian final featuring Imperial and paiN Gaming. The two squads decimated the rest of the event and were the headline acts — especially after OG bombed out early to Chinese underdogs Wings Up Gaming.
While they fell short of actually lifting the title in Rod Laver Arena, it was a great experience for Imperial, especially debutant Marcelo ‘chelo’ Cespedes. The 24-year-old, formerly of MIBR, posted the second-best rating for the tournament at 1.22, just behind his 31-year-old captain in FalleN who was making magic with the AWP down under with a 1.25 rating.
This move did come at somewhat of a personal cost to FalleN, with long-time friend Lincoln ‘fnx’ Lau moving into a more supportive role behind the scenes. But it’s one that’ll prime Imperial better for the Rio Major — arguably the most important event in the Brazilian’s career.
From the early days at DreamHack Melbourne, it looks to have been a solid upgrade.
“I think he’s slotted in pretty well,” FalleN told Dexerto. “I think he’s one of the best Brazilian players recently. He was doing well on MIBR and we needed a change for the second half of the season.
“We moved fnx to a more supportive role — he’s going to be helping us as a coach in some tournaments, he’s also doing some other stuff for the org. We really appreciate what he has done for the team before. It was amazing to play with him again, it’s probably my fifth or sixth time playing with him because we have been through so many cycles. He’s a big friend of mine.”
There’s some things chelo adds to Imperial, lifting the whole team. Watching him from the crowd in Melbourne, he was energetic and kept the hype high. He was riling up the Brazilian fans sitting in the front row, and he was out of his chair every time one of his teammates was on fire. That exuberance is a big positive.
“I think he adds an extra spicy atmosphere because he’s always very loud, lifting the mood, always wanting to win and demonstrating that to the team all the time. That helps in a lot of moments. He’s also a great player. He knows what he’s doing, great aim, and he’s only going to get better.
“Even when he wasn’t playing that great — the Nuke game [against Grayhound] wasn’t one of his best games — but he still was there mentally, energy-wise, and that’s important because if you want to be the best player you have to be there at all times even when things are tough.”
In the server, he’s also got the experience of a new style of Counter-Strike fnx couldn’t quite replicate coming out of retirement.
“fnx knows a lot about the game. Very talented. But the game evolved a lot lately and he hadn’t played [seriously] for many many years. You’ve got to be thinking about a lot of things during the round these days, like so many things that you didn’t have to think about in the past.
“That change for fnx would take a lot of time if that ever happened because he’s just used to a different style of CS for so many years. He still has so many good qualities — the clutch ability, the communication on point, the teamplay, and the basics. He’s very very good. But those reads and those abilities to understand what’s going on because someone said something — all those small reads, Chelo can do that better because he’s been playing CS more and more recently.”
All this discussion about Imperial — and what could be — has to be framed in the legacy of FalleN. Now in his 30s, he’s kept it no secret his playing career is winding down; he puts his time left at around 18 months, to the end of 2023.
Any Counter-Strike fan would have at least some memory of him — no matter how young or old. Whether it was peak Luminosity-SK Gaming core, or some of his recent ventures and this last dance. DreamHack Melbourne proved age is still no factor for him, his reflexes with the AWP still on point.
What is changing though is priorities outside of Counter-Strike. More than a decade in the industry, pushing aside responsibilities, is catching up to him. Time on the road, especially during the last few years, has been draining. As that time winds down on his career, he wants to start appreciating the smaller things.
“There’s two things that’s very important for me as I stop and the first one is being able to stay more at home. Since 2015 when I moved from Brazil to the US to compete, I have been on the road for seven years. We had gaming houses and we were playing more in North America so it felt like a second home.
“But since [the global health crisis] there is no home. You are literally from hotel to hotel, bootcamp to bootcamp, and it’s draining. I have a wife, we have a dog, a house that I want to use. I want to be in the place I want to be. It’s important for me to stay with my family a little bit more.”
Imperial themselves are making internal changes to try and stay in Brazil for the rest of the year — at least until the Major. This will allow the players proper rest and recovery time with family, but even for FalleN he has to compromise between his family and his wife. He calls it a “complicated triangle” of relationships between the two and Counter-Strike.
“Counter-Strike was always the number one priority. If you want to play as a professional and get as far as I did — I’ve been doing that since 2009 — you have to put the game as your first priority. But no one can do it that long. It’s complicated but at some point the waves will turn.”
What he does with his time after that is still up in the air, but it’ll still involve esports: “I want to do things for the community like I have done in the past. I have good knowledge of the game and I know how to explain things to get people to play better.
“One of my goals is to continue Brazilian people to develop themselves and have more major winners in the future. I want to create something to continue that legacy.”
FalleN has achieved almost everything one could ask of in Counter-Strike. That made pinpointing one thing about his legacy an impossible question, but the friendships he made along the way has made everything worth it — even above the results.
“I’m just proud of everything I achieved. I had so many people to help me, so many great teammates, so many great supporters.
“It’s 18 years playing this game. There’s no Gabriel, no FalleN, without Counter-Strike. This game is everything to me and I love it, possibly one of the things I love most in my life. It’s been a passion since I was 12 and I first played the game in a cyber cafe in Brazil.”
Getting a home Major in Rio
What FalleN hasn’t had the chance to do is play in front of a proper, big home crowd. That’s changing with November’s Rio Major. While initially penned for 2020, it was canceled due to the global health crisis.
For the star Brazilian, that’s a blessing in disguise.
“I think if the Major happened the first time there was a chance we wouldn’t be there. The team wasn’t great at that point. We were not playing that well and the challenge is on the same level right now, maybe harder, but we have the pieces to get there. I have to believe in that otherwise we have no chance fighting for it.”
He’s lifted Major titles before and been at the top echelon of Counter-Strike. All of that would pale in comparison to hearing tens of thousands of Brazilians chanting his name, at the top of his lungs, as he relives his heyday in front of those passionate fans.
FalleN knows what Brazilian crowds are like. He knows the world isn’t prepared and he wants to put on a show — especially if it could be one of his last.
“I’ve gone through a lot of things in Counter-Strike. There isn’t anything I haven’t achieved — maybe a Grand Slam, that’s the only thing I haven’t won in CS:GO. I have accomplished so many things in my career and I’m quite happy with that. But the fact a Major is going to happen in my country? I want to be there and not only be there but also play in front of the crowd.
“No one has experienced what it’s going to be like in Rio. I’m 100% sure of that. You can see that here [at DreamHack Melbourne] — you have 50 Brazilians in the crowd and you can hear the noise. Imagine a full stadium with 10,000 people. Those guys are insane. They love the show, they love to be there, they like to show they’re there. It’s going to be like nothing anyone has experienced, including myself.
“I’ve played in Brazil before — ESL, BLAST — those tournaments are unforgettable. There was even one tournament we did there where the crowd was so close to the PCs, literally 3 foot away. It was like playing football at La Bombonera in Argentina — you can feel that it’s different. You’re listening to the game and the people screaming in front of you, and if they’re not cheering for you it’s going to be even harder. It’s going to be great and I would really like to experience that.”
DreamHack Melbourne was a chance to warm up for the final sprint into Rio and get the blood flowing in front of a crowd again. The Brazilians always feed off that energy, and it was a goal for the team at the start of 2022. It’s rejuvenating them at the perfect time.
But good vibes won’t be enough to make that playoffs run FalleN is dreaming of. The squad still needs some time to level up with chelo, but their ceiling is higher than most expect.
“To reach [Rio], even though we don’t have much time left, we’ve got to be playing much better. It’s going to be hard so we have to use our time well and put in motion the things we know are good in the game. You have to know what you have to do, but you also have to do it, and I think this roster can do those things.”