With the removal of Lincoln “fnx” Lau from the SK Gaming lineup, it has long been presumed that João “felps“ Vasconcellos will take his place (which crescendoed last week when he was seen with SK at the Major). The addition of felps is exciting to say the least. He was the best player on Immortals and could take over entire games by himself. Although his inclusion in the lineup hasn’t been confirmed, it feels inevitable that if SK doesn’t get felps this time around, one day they will. That is the level of talent felps has shown.
The problem is that he has a similar play style and role to Fernando “fer“ Alvarenga. Both are super aggressive players with great aim. Both create incredible space and information for their teams. Both are great playmakers whenever the clarion call sounds for them. However heartening it sounds as a comparison, that is a major problem. You can’t have two players completely overlap in terms of role and position. It becomes even more problematic when you realize fer just had a career best performance at the ELEAGUE Major — in my eyes, he was the integral piece that got SK to the semifinals. How do you justify replacing him, both in terms of performance and his compatibility within SK’s structure, after such a showing?
Fer’s own history suggests that the transition will not go smoothly. In the Keyd Stars lineup, fer was the indisputable star of the team. Yet when the roster moved to Luminosity and added Marcelo “coldzera” David, he became lost for a time. Only when Epitacio “TACO” de Melo and fnx joined did he find his role as a second star and aggressive playmaker. With felps effectively taking that role, where will fer go next? How will he find his impact on the game now that he has to change roles again? I’m not sure, and there are no reliable answers from his career to shed any light on this problem.
Additionally, SK is a rather odd team when it comes to structure. They all have primary roles within the game, but once the round starts they play according to situation and means. While they have traditional carry roles in coldzera and in-game leader Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo, both know when to play support to facilitate other players, depending on the situation and weaponry. Coldzera can play support for TACO if Coldzera has the utility; Fallen can substitute as entry fragger for TACO if the latter has low HP to maximize their chances of breaking into a site. The roles are fluid within the game, and based on what positions they are in at any given time throughout the round, they adjust accordingly.
That approach lends certain advantages. Its very nature forces the roster to be incredibly disciplined and flexible. The players must know what to do in any situation to help their teammates succeed. It makes SK one of the best teams at playing power play positions when they are up one man. But learning that kind of style is a problem in and of itself. Not every team can adjust to it immediately, nor will every team see it as worthwhile to learn. We need only look to Immortals when Wilton “zews“ Prado was coach to know that an integration of that system may not have instant success. That iteration of Immortals rebelled under zews’ leadership and quickly reverted back to their original, loose play style once he departed. There’s no guarantee that felps will understand how to operate best within the system, even if he happily submits to whatever role the team requires from him.
Finally, there are positional conflicts on the CT side that would need to be ironed out. Compare the roles and positions of the SK roster to felps, and you realize this isn’t a simple plug and play scenario. Let’s focus exclusively on Train, Cobble, Mirage and Overpass (because SK almost never plays Cache, Dust2 seems easier to synchronize on, and felps almost never plays Nuke in officials). On Train, felps and fer hold an aggressive position on A site and both push up into main or the ladder room. On Cobble, felps is used to hold platform, a position often swapped between Coldzera and Taco. On Mirage, Felps holds Cat and often pushes from underpass to stairs, which is one of fer’s aggressive routes on CT side. On Overpass, he is responsible for holding the area around restrooms, which is a conflict with the position fer holds.
Despite all of these potential issues of integration and conflict, I’m more convinced than ever that SK will find a way to make this work. At the ELEAGUE Major, Ricardo “fox” Pacheco was used as a stand-in for the team. To be bluntly honest, Fox is an average player when talking about the top level of competition; additionally, he has anti-synergy with the team as his best weapon is the AWP, and FalleN needs the AWP to function at his highest ability. Much like felps, fox’s best positions were all in conflict with SK.
Even with all of those problems, even though fox isn’t nearly as strong a player as felps, SK didn’t let it become a problem. They looked like one of the stronger teams at the Major and played such a disciplined and teamwork-oriented style that fox didn’t seem like a temporary player. That performance, more than anything, convinced me that SK could not only integrate felps but wouldn’t forcefully shove a circle into a square hole. They will adapt to create a team identity that will make the most of their players.
The only question left is a possible personality conflict. But this has been resolved before it ever started. fer has shown time and time again that winning is all that matters to him. He will do whatever it takes to win and is willing to play whatever role and make whatever team shuffles it takes to win. No one knows how successful this lineup will be (or if/when it will even occur), but I’m confident the Brazilians will come out of it as championship contenders once again.
Cover photo courtesy of DreamHack/illustration by Slingshot