“This discussion, we have had since the beginning of the community in Brazil. How can we get the casual guys to start enjoying competitive? I really don’t know.”
When Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo’s KABUM.TD dropped out of the MLG X Games Invitational in 2015, the team took a risk. Rather than returning to Brazil, the players set up a donation page and streamed for money to attend the IEM Katowice offline qualifier. Having reached the top of the Brazilian Counter-Strike landscape, KABUM — now SK Gaming, by way of Luminosity — chose to stay and attempt to compete at the highest ranks in the world. The series of risks that FalleN and company took helped make them into one of the world’s best CS:GO teams.
When KaBuM! e-Sports’ all-Brazilian League of Legends roster upset Keyd Stars in 2014, it later went on to shock the world at the 2014 League of Legends World Championship by defeating European first seed Alliance in a best-of-one match. The following year, Brazil received a fully-offline, in-studio LAN environment for the Campeonato Brasileiro de League of Legends (CBLoL), similar to the leagues organized by Riot Games for North America or Europe. Since then, the popularity of League of Legends in Brazil has only grown.
“The problem in Brazil is that it’s just League of Legends,” Team Brazil Overwatch captain and DPS player Eduardo “dudu” Macedo said in a news conference during last week’s Overwatch World Cup group stage. It took place following the only series that Team Brazil (Brasil Gaming House) managed to win, 3-1 against Team New Zealand. “CS:GO, we have SK and Immortals, but they’re here.” Dudu gestured to the room, an indicator that “here” was not simply a white event tent set up behind Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica Airport, but the United States.
As the premiere Overwatch roster in Brazil, Brasil Gaming House has a multitude of esports successes to follow, forged by countrymen in other games. Like KABUM’s former CS:GO roster, or LoL’s INTZ e-Sports Club, which rose to prominence thanks to CBLoL in 2015-16, BGH has quickly reached the top of the region. Unlike Brazil’s best and brightest in other esports, though, BGH has few opportunities to compete, domestically or internationally.
The team’s overwhelming domestic success has led to stagnation in the region. The current lack of domestic tournaments and competition made the Overwatch World Cup group stage invaluable practice for the team, whose entire person roster was chosen to represent Team Brazil.
“I think the last map we dropped was a month ago,” Felipe “liko” Lebrao said. “Before that we went six or seven months without dropping a single map. That’s something that kind of kills the scene. It will be really important for us to go play on an international scale. We can kind of do what FalleN did.”
On May 24, 2016, Overwatch was released worldwide, and the player base ballooned immediately. Multiple competitions bubbled up across different regions in the wake of the game’s instant success.
In South Korea, Overwatch became the first game to overtake League of Legends in PC bangs since August 2012. League of Legends reclaimed its crown in late 2016 following the World Championship, but the fact that Overwatch’s meteoric rise allowed Blizzard to topple Riot Games’ reigning king in Korean internet cafés was a remarkable feat. In the United States, Overwatch had the seventh highest game revenue of any game in 2016. Organizations in major esports regions of China, South Korea, Europe, and the United States picked up competitive teams quickly.
Brazil, though not considered a major esports region by most, was no exception. Dudu reiterated this multiple times throughout an interview following the press conference. Overwatch still has a massive casual player base in Brazil. The problem with the current Overwatch landscape is that few of those players are willing to transition into professionals.
It wasn’t always that way. When the game was first released, Brazil was filled with numerous teams just like based, the team that later became Black Dragons e-Sports and BGH.
“There were a lot of teams, a lot of interest in Overwatch and we actually had an amateur tournament that was about 50 teams. In the beginning, the scene was really healthy,” Dudu said. “We had a lot of small tournaments like, a weekend tournament, $300, whoever wants to join. It was free of charge and you could join and play the game, so a lot of other people were really interested in the game.”
Former Team Fortress 2 players, Dudu and three of his current BGH teammates formed one of those upstart teams in late 2015, anticipating the game’s official worldwide release. Aware of Overwatch since its initial trailer at Blizzcon, Dudu was one of many former TF2 players eager to get his hands on Blizzard’s latest game.
“I talked to the guys when the game launched and said, ‘Hey, let’s all buy the game and make a team,'” he said. “I didn’t know if it was going to be competitive or not, just said ‘Let’s build a team.'”
Initially, Dudu said their prior TF2 experience helped transition them with ease into Overwatch, but other players quickly caught up. Although there is no other team in Brazil that can beat BGH at this time, Dudu thinks their past experiences matter very little in regards to individual mechanics, both within their own region and especially on the larger stage.
BGH’s dominion over its home region led to the roster’s selection to represent Brazil last weekend in Santa Monica. The honor came with the cost that Overwatch is only weakening in Brazil, partially in light of BGH’s overwhelming success.
“When just we win, it’s not fun. It’s not fun for us even,” he said. “What’s the point of scrimming and playing hard when everything you do goes your way? So today, it’s really slow. We don’t have a lot of tournaments. We don’t have a lot of teams. It was way better in the beginning.”
Like Brazilian teams in CS:GO or League of Legends before them, BGH’s Overwatch team has little left to accomplish in its own region. Having reached the top, Dudu and his teammates are now in the awkward position of being indubitably the best in Brazil, but unable to cut their teeth against international opponents because of the infrequency of available domestic tournaments. This trip to Santa Monica ended up being more of an international bootcamp than a proving ground for Brazil’s best Overwatch team.
“The Brazilian people thought we were going to win and we ourselves thought we were going to win,” dudu said. “We came in here pretty confident. As the days went by, we saw it wasn’t going to be like we thought.”
He shrugged, crossing his arms across his chest.
“I don’t know, it was great. For me personally, it was great. I just didn’t want to lose, you know?”
Although BGH should have had an advantage when it came to team synergy and coordination, the players were often out of synchronization when using their ultimates and found themselves outwitted by many different strategies and compositions that they rarely saw back in Brazil, a damaging side effect of scrimming only two other teams in Brazil that were close to BGH’s level. Liko smiled sheepishly while mentioning that Brazil has few strong Genji players, though his eyes lit up when describing how Team United Kingdom’s Harrison “Kruise” Pond (eUnited) attacked their Soldier 76 with his Genji.
“He always likes to take the flanking route,” liko said. “And just go behind our Soldier and dive him straight. That’s not something we were prepared for because we were not used to seeing it.”
Liko’s smile was one of acceptance. In that moment, he gave Kruise’s Genji the utmost respect as something that had completely overwhelmed his team in scrims.
For dudu, the problem wasn’t that Brazil lacked compositional knowledge, but that, despite being a full roster, the players hadn’t had the practice in person that BGH desperately needed, leading to stage nerves despite strong scrim results. BGH’s players should have had the advantage of synergy onstage, but they did not, with the experience of only three total LANs together in the past year.
“The only pressure we had was the one that we put on ourselves. We always said that if we could get here as a full team, we needed to show the world that our scene was strong, and show people, ‘Hey, we have the skill and the talent to compete with everyone else.'” dudu said. He sighed, shaking his head. “Also to be able to talk to each other face to face, not behind a computer. People can talk, they get mad, stuff like that. To me, that’s so healthy for a team to do that and we don’t have the opportunity to do that a lot.” He then paused and laughed.
“Overall, the experience was really good, but the part where we needed to be good, we weren’t. The gaming part.”
Throughout the weekend, multiple players on BGH echoed the sentiment that if they had a better infrastructure, or if Brazil’s top teams were able to attend more international events, it would help rescue the competitive Overwatch scene in Brazil from continuing to be mired in the big fish, little pond doldrums.
Two days later, as if they heard every word from every player on BGH, Promo Arena announced the creation of the Overwatch Brazilian Championship with eight of Brazil’s top Overwatch teams. Promo Arena is no stranger to esports — the organization recently wrapped up the latest split of the Brazilian Challenger Circuit in League of Legends — and the league begins Thursday, mere days after the World Cup stop. BGH is already favored to win.
With one of the team’s major concerns addressed for the immediate future, the next task of BGH is to try to solve the mystery of why the region’s player base has continued to shy away from professional play.
“We have had this discussion since the beginning of the community in Brazil. How can we get the casual guys to start enjoying competitive?” Dudu said. “I really don’t know.”
That is a sticking point for Overwatch in Brazil. The game already has a wealth of casual players, but few are willing to take the risk of becoming a professional. According to dudu, that is caused by many factors, including the social stigma of being a professional gamer, the shortage of current professional teams (which is also adversely affected by the lack of domestic tournaments), and a scarcity of high-profile Overwatch content creators. Dudu cited the popular Felipe “YoDa” Noronha of League of Legends fame but admitted Brazil is already a different content landscape because of the preference of YouTube over Twitch.
“I mean, it’s really hard to get to the top of League of Legends, but at the very least, if you get to the top, you have stuff,” he said. “We got really lucky to have Brazil Gaming House because we get a lot of support from them, but not enough to make a living out of it. Not yet at least.”
BGH can’t be the Overwatch version of KABUM.TD. It can’t be the Overwatch version of KaBuM! e-Sports or INTZ e-Sports. But BGH still can be at the vanguard of Brazilian Overwatch as it continues to grow. With dedicated and passionate individuals like dudu, liko, and the entirety of the BGH roster, it’s more likely they will blaze their own esports path, taking every available opportunity and risk to do so.
Photos by Robert Paul/Blizzard