Opinion

Richard Lewis: MiBR’s legacy will be one of petulance not excellence (Part 1)

by Richard Lewis

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Sporting legacies will never simply be determined by trophies and the medals. Players have to do more than just break records and make the unthinkable seem routine to be held up as all-time greats.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and are not necessarily shared by Dexerto.

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It might not be rational but we want our sporting heroes to be heroic in all aspects of their lives. We expect them to be better than us because, in a competitive sense at least, they are.

Don’t think that off-field activities don’t matter. Take MMA fighter Jon Jones, for example - he’s obviously the greatest of all time but it makes most grimace to give him that honor. Why? Well, there’s the three times he failed drugs tests for performance-enhancing drugs and the one failed test for a metabolite associated with cocaine use, there’s crashing your car and fleeing the scene of the accident that left a pregnant woman with a broken arm. Five years later, there’s getting arrested for drink driving and negligent use of a firearm. Jon Jones is the greatest MMA fighter of all time but he’s also a piece of shit so you’ll do as many mental gymnastics as you have to in order to give that accolade to someone else. That’s just how we are.

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In CS:GO we too are learning about the fallibility of our legends. The core roster of Made In Brazil (MiBR) set a standard of excellence that helped propel the way Counter-Strike is played to a whole new level. Representing Luminosity and SK Gaming across 2016 and 2017 they achieved things that were unthinkable for a team from a region that had always hungered for success but had always lacked the talent, infrastructure and opportunity to fulfill that desire.

MiBR team with Zotac cup
MiBR
MiBR's previous lineup with Tarik and Stewie2K lifted the ZOTAC Cup in 2018.

Even in 2018, although it was clear that some of that lustre had faded, they still achieved some noteworthy results, with the victory at ZOTAC Cup being a highlight. While the move to MiBR has been cursed since the start and they now look like a shadow of their former selves, what they have achieved can never be stricken from the record and that core will always be part of the discussion when it comes to the greats in the game.

Unfortunately at this rate, it will only be the Brazilian fans that will care to have that discussion because, and this is the brutal truth of it, that core also happens to be the most petulant, whining and delusional group of competitors the game has ever seen.

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Their continued commitment to embarrassing themselves is now starting to eclipse what their legacy could have been and turning their legend into meme-fodder for the social media generation. Clearly it is too late for an intervention. The players are too juiced on their own hubris to see the sad reality of what they are doing to their reputations. Let this piece serve as a record as to why that is, so when people don’t give their achievements the due reverence at least we know the reasons.

How Chaos exposed their delusional levels of arrogance

The aftermath of the match against up and coming North American team Chaos produced some of the most disgraceful conduct from professional players and broadcast partners to ever stain our scene. I have written about it extensively elsewhere and I won’t regurgitate that article for the sake of brevity. In summary, MiBR lost a match and the team captain Gabriel ‘FalleN’ Toledo called one of the players a cheater in public.

Former MiBR player and coach Alexandre ‘gAuLeS’ Borba, who is now the official Portuguese language broadcaster for tournaments, dedicated his stream to going over the ‘evidence’ of this cheating, resulting in a witch hunt aimed at a 16-year-old new pro from one of the most vociferous fanbases in sports. Borba even went so far as to interview MiBR player Vito ‘kNgV-’ Giuseppe on stream, who made it clear that if the players had been cheating they were essentially ruining his life as he was spending time away from his child in a foreign country to pursue his dream.

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Since this disgraceful incident, Borba has been showered with official contracts from every major tournament organiser, while Chaos and the player at the centre of the accusations, Nathan ‘leaf’ Orf, have received death threats daily. His reputation is ruined and his only crime was having a good series against a group of washed-up players who have forgotten how to win. There have been a few insincere apologies but all involved remain utterly convinced that, against all logic and reason, Orf cheated in this one series out of some secret internal spite aimed towards Brazil.

Since then the management at Chaos have handled the situation in the best way possible. They have turned a situation that has put a teenager’s life in danger (it has already been stated had they qualified for the CS:GO Major in Rio, Orf would not attend for safety concerns) into a comedy of sorts, defusing most of the tension around it. They have made jokes about MiBR’s current level of form and have acquired a lot of fans on social media in the process. This is what they call ‘punching up’ because the MiBR parent organisation is a super-wealthy venture capital group and the seasoned pros that they employ are mostly future hall of famers who have made fortunes alongside their glory. How could they ever be upset at a smaller team poking fun at them?

On August 19 Chaos tweeted an Animal Crossing-themed joke that utilized the image of MiBR’s trophy cabinet that they had been spammed with by MiBR fans for months. It is the type of harmless banter that teams and brands engage in on social media as a matter, of course, these days. Not in the eyes of the MiBR players though. By now you should all know they are above reproach.

Epitácio ‘TACO’ de Melo reacted in typically childish fashion, implying that Chaos as a team weren’t even the same species as his own and that they were irrelevant and insignificant.

He then followed it up with some self-pitying nonsense about how much hate he was getting. He should try being a 16-year-old player having his life threatened every day. The outburst came on the evening before a must-win match in ESL One Cologne, which they would go on to lose and crash out in last place. TACO’s stats were the worst on the server.

This reaction fits a typical pattern of behavior for the players. If subject to ridicule they will overreact, say things that are far worse than the original perceived transgression, then reframe the incident making them sound like victims. Their messaging is very clear - a wound to their pride is unforgivable and the rules absolutely never apply to them. Don’t you know who they are? Don’t you know what they’ve achieved? Don’t you know how hard they worked for that? Well, don’t worry. They’ll tell you at every opportunity.

One of Taco’s last tweets on the matter was to say that “It’s not a joke when you are being disrespectful to me, to my teammates, to my org and to our history.” These are the things that he thinks are off limits. A fair stance because I am absolutely positive that he would never publicly disrespect a fellow competitor.

Taco publicly disrespects fellow competitors

In early 2016, a group of some of the best players in the world came together for a pick-up game in FACEIT Pro League. In it, the player Oleksandr ‘s1mple’ Kostyliev would score a knife kill on de Melo. Several of the players in the match were streaming on Twitch.tv and the game was watched by thousands. For whatever reason the knife kill was perceived by the Brazilian player as a heinous insult, prompting a typical overreaction that spiraled into threats of violence.

“Are u mad?” he typed. “CUZ IM NOT. cuz i dont have mental problems like u.” He repeated the claim that Kostyliev had mental problems on Twitter. The resulting argument prompted TACO’s teammates to wade in. Fernando ‘fer’ Alvarenga said that the issue would be resolved “face to face” at LAN, although it isn’t clear what the issue is. The team manager Ricardo ‘dead’ Sinigagliya said that if he had acted like that in Brazil he would have had to “eat the bullet.” The tweets were deleted after a round of apologies from all involved.

It is also worth considering his on/off feud with Swedish legend Jesper ‘JW’ Wecksell. In 2018 Wecksell’s Fnatic team took on the Brazilian at the ECS Season 5 Finals. There had been the standard pre-match trash talk to hype up the fixture, which prompted Wecksell to suggest that maybe Taco should learn some humility. After SK Gaming won the match de Melo tweeted:

“It’s hard to stay humble when you are the bad wolf, right? You don’t see the bad wolf afraid of the little pig. So I’m never humble, I think, I hope that JW comes back stronger because I’m getting tired of sending him home. I think it’s the fourth in a row?” It is worth noting that the term “pig” had been used as a specific insult towards Wecksell’s appearance for a number of years at this point.

Just last year he implied that Wecksell was using a radar exploit in the game to gain an advantage over other teams. Taco petitioned ESL to ban the bind in question that enabled it but also made some backhanded remarks that professed his belief Wecksell had been using the exploit for a month. When the Swede defended himself the Brazilian responded by saying “You’re a fucking liar, you have 0 ethic. I don’t give a shit for what you have done in the past and this topic is dead for me.”

To the layperson this might look like he was disrespecting a competitor, impugning their reputation and work ethic publicly as well as attempting to invalidate their history in the game. The added kicker? De Melo himself admitted to using the exploit but only because he believed everyone else was. This staggeringly blinkered approach to rules would also become a hallmark of the Brazilian team.

Rules are not for everyone

Staying with TACO for a moment, he might be the first competitor I have seen in esports that had let their own vanity inform their view of tournament rules. As I am sure some of you have noticed, De Melo is balding in his twenties. This is nothing abnormal. 25% of men with male pattern baldness begin shedding before they reach the age of 21. Regardless, if you’ve ever wondered why the player is always wearing hats when he plays, now you know why.

Unfortunately, there’s a problem with wearing hats in LAN tournament environments. Any headgear prevents a tight seal between the ears and the noise-canceling headsets essential to maintain competitive integrity with a live audience. Tournament organisers were pretty lax with it but then thanks to another Brazilian player, Henrique ‘HEN1’ Teles, the debate about whether or not hats should be banned was brought to the forefront. During the 2016 Northern Arena final Teles took off his headset entirely for the first two rounds, then continually fiddled and adjusted it to accommodate his hat, prompting allegations he was doing it to gain information from the commentators. Teles and his Immortals team won that final against Cloud9 but the upshot was that tournaments were now going to insist against hats to ensure it didn’t happen again.

This should have been seen as the sensible measure that it clearly is. There’s no reason for players to wear a hat during a competition. But because de Melo is going bald and doesn’t want to receive any potential mockery for that, he viewed the rule as a personal slight and railed against it on Twitter. He said the rule “made so sense” and that it sucked that “Lez Noobs” (meaning casual players and fans) could influence tournament decisions. When people pointed out that obviously a hat could create space between the ear and noise-canceling headsets, he simply said that opinion was invalid and only a professional player who had worn them could make that statement.

Of course, he would ignore the many professionals, probably all bastards with fine heads of hair, that agreed with the ruling, especially in the aftermath of Northern Arena. Sean Gares, one of the most well respected in-game leaders that America has produced, was a proponent of the rule. I wonder how he feels about being alongside Lez Noobs.

Honestly, you can kind of laugh that off because it is utterly pathetic but it is part of a consistent approach that these players have had for years. If a rule works against them it is unfair and shouldn’t exist. If an opponent is given any leniency under those same rules, it is a conspiracy against them. And on those rarest of occasions when they acknowledge that rules are rules and apply to them too, they are always happy to point out that exceptions should be made for greatness such as theirs.

In 2015 when Luminosity played against Team Liquid at the RGN Championship a photographer caused a power outage on a Brazilian computer. An outrageously amateurish occurrence that rightly would have infuriated anyone. The rule in Counter-Strike is simple though. If damage has been exchanged in a round and there’s a disconnection, it doesn’t matter, the round will stand. That rule was in effect here, even if the admins fucked up royally by allowing someone on stage during a competitive match.

The Brazilian team’s protests, spearheaded by Gabriel ‘Fallen’ Toledo, were so vitriolic that the admin folded like a deckchair and said if Team Liquid wanted to replay the round, they’d allow it. No admin should ever be this weak and no team should ever be put on the spot to say they will renege on a rule in the interests of “sportsmanship.” Team Liquid, then captained by Spencer “Hiko” Martin, refused to act against their own interests and said the rules applied. The confrontation was captured in a famous photograph.

Fallen and Hiko arguing
Twitter
FalleN's confrontation with HiKo.

When Team Liquid won the match the Brazilians refused to engage in the traditional post-match handshakes and made it very clear on social media that not only could Team Liquid have chosen to replay the round but that it was Martin in particular who made the decision. One of Toledo’s teammates labelled Martin “garbage and toxic” as well as “stupid.” The lack of class in handling the situation meant Hiko’s reputation in Brazil was shot to pieces. When he attended a tournament in the country he had to have two bodyguards with him at all times. His family was targeted with online threats as well. To Toledo’s credit, he at least acknowledged his role in that happening.

What makes this especially interesting is his response to the aforementioned ‘hatgate’ incident between Immortals and Cloud9 at Northern Arena. In that instance, Cloud9 acted against their own self-interests by agreeing to replay rather than pushing for a penalty. Toledo said this was the correct response and “only pussies try to win no matter what” seemingly forgetting his own descent into pussification just the previous year.

Keep all this in mind when I share an interesting piece of trivia with you. Do you know which team is the only team to have been docked prize money for cheating at ESL One Cologne? Yeah, that’d be Toledo’s SK Gaming team in 2017, which also featured Taco and Fer on the roster. In the final against Cloud9, with a match tied at 10-10, they illegally used a technical timeout in order to go over strategies. During a technical timeout players are not supposed to communicate. Caught dead to rights cheating on camera you would think they would never throw around allegations given their own history but that would require at least some self-awareness on their part.

By that point, Toledo had perfected the technique of making it seem like his teams were picked on when they didn’t abide by the rules. In the first season of ELEAGUE, the project that brought CS:GO to American network television via TBS, his team negotiated a move away from Luminosity to SK Gaming. It took place during the season and the rules were clear. Any team in the tournament had to abide by the rosters they submitted on May 18, which generously also included two substitute slots, and any changes beyond that would not be recognized. If an organization couldn’t field a valid team of five registered players, they would be disqualified. Despite this being very clear and despite the deal having been underway for months prior, the players seemed to expect that this rule simply wouldn’t be applied to them because they were arguably the biggest team in the tournament.

Disclosure: I worked at ELEAGUE during this time and let me tell you that the gnashing and wailing behind the scenes was as bad as it was on social media. There’s an argument to be made about how having the agreement made with the organisations fucks over players and it’s one I am always going to be sympathetic to. But that wasn’t the agreement we had in place and they weren’t the rules everyone agreed to. Toledo’s tweets very quickly painted the picture that ELEAGUE were the villains. “We never signed a contract,” he said publicly, making it sound like we were holding them to some imagined standard. Their management did sign an agreement. This is now the norm for every major league in CS:GO.

Toledo then publicly stated that the American teams had “voted” for them not to play in the league. I still have no idea where he got this theory from. In reality, the only vote I ever heard about was when FalleN pressured other competing teams to sign a petition in support of them staying in the league, which of course had no bearing on any decision being made. Our internal discussions went something like this: “The Brazilians have broken our tournament rules and not having them in the playoffs fucks our first season up and will get us criticism… But we can’t just make exceptions to rules because they are a big name as it sets an awful precedent for the league moving forward.”

So, we ate the decision and didn’t get embroiled in the arguments, which is why if you ask people how they remember that incident it was the big bad American company fucking over the hard-working players because they didn’t understand esports. What’s crazy is that all parties couldn’t just wait a few weeks until the tournament was over. That never seems to be part of the narrative.

“Getting away with it” was an expectation for this team and they often did. When we had them back at ELEAGUE, I and the other broadcast talent saw Toledo talking during technical timeouts in contravention of the rules but either the admins didn’t catch it (we do have the benefit of multiple cameras and close ups) or there was some fear around holding them accountable. After all, the staff that had to deal with the threats after the season one decision had never encountered that level of vitriol before, especially crazy when you consider some of them came from a traditional sports background. Similarly, at ESL Pro League Season 3 Finals he used an illegal boost to gain an advantage in-game and wasn’t penalized.

Despite all of this history of whining about the rules and rulebreaking themselves, it seems no lessons have been learned. During The Blast Premier Spring Finals in June this year the MiBR players were facing off against Brazilian rivals FURIA. At 12-12 Toledo experienced a connection issue and disconnected from the server but only after players had taken damage. Remember that rule from earlier? Well, it came into play again. MiBR demanded that the round be restarted and the admins again left it up to FURIA to make the decision. Giuseppe called the FURIA players “assholes” for not agreeing to a restart straight away:

After 40 minutes they got their way, despite it being directly against the rules of the tournament, and FURIA restarted the round. They would end up losing the map 16-14 and eventually the series.

Then, this being the MiBR core, that wasn’t even good enough. They went on Twitter. Giuseppe said that FURIA only restarted the round under pressure and that they were posing as good guys. He didn’t seem to recognize that there should have been no pressure at all because the rules are very clear. Fer expressed his distaste in much simpler terms. “FURIA you are shit,” he tweeted to his almost 580,000 followers. The resulting backlash from their fans led to the FURIA offices being subject to DDOS attacks.

Hard to believe that all of this controversy can emanate from one group of players and yet here we are. This probably isn’t even an exhaustive list of the instances where they have demanded rules not apply to them, or out and out just broke them. Even with this history fans have been incredibly forgiving when it comes to this group of players because there was always something admirable about their will to win and defy expectations. These days, in the absence of any tangible results, the hypocrisy leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Without the success fans don’t feel inclined to make excuses for these players any more. Fortunately, the players themselves have excuses by the bucketload.

Next up we shall take a look at the history of excuses after underperformance at tournaments, skirting the rules around conflict of interest and instances of aggression that have never been dealt with professionally by the tournament organisers in our scene.