Slingshot’s Vince Nairn caught up with SK Gaming’s Epitacio “TACO” de Melo at IEM Oakland to discuss SK’s recent form and why it’s tough to stay on top.
Vince Nairn: Your guys’ form has been kind of uneven in the last few months or so. What have you been able to make of the way you guys have been playing?
Epitacio “TACO” de Melo: We had fer’s problem with his ear, so he had to do that surgery, and we lost some time of practice. After that, we were also the best team in the world, so teams were studying us a lot. We tried to change many things, and we need time to do that. Now I think with the nuke change, I think many teams now can play nuke. It was bad for us because inferno was a very good map for us, and now nuke is not that good. This nuke problem, fer’s problem and the fact that we were the best team in the world (all combined). We knew that teams were studying us a lot. We didn’t have enough time to practice. But now I think we are confident to start doing (well) again.
VN: When you miss a player for some time, does it take a while to get back into form after he returns?
EdM: Yeah because we stopped for one month for vacation, and it’s normal when you’re back you’re kind of bad (at first). We were back without fer, and we brought SHOOWTiME, and we had to change many roles in the game because SHOOWTiME has a different style. Fer is more aggressive and SHOOWTiME is kind of passive. So it’s really hard. It was hard for us. But like I said, now we are fine. I think we are ready again
VN: As you guys were kind of in your down period for a bit, a lot of teams kind of rose their game. Who do you kind of see as your main competition for the best in the world right now?
EdM: I think Na’Vi and Virtus.pro are always good teams, but now I can see Astralis’ improvement. FaZe is doing good as well with Karrigan. I think every team, top 10 in the world, can win a tournament. And that’s what happening. Dignitas won EPICENTER. Cloud9 won in Brazil. Many teams can compete to win right now.
VN: For you guys, the early part of the year was about the rise. You moved to America last year and not a lot of people knew who you were when you got on the scene. It was first about getting respect, and now you’re on top of the world. How do you keep the motivation after reaching the pinnacle so soon after getting on the scene?
EdM: Yeah, it’s kind of hard. But I think we have a good mindset, and that’s why we’ve proven that a lot this year. I think we captured the mindset, but we just had problems. Fer problems. New player problems. New map pool. I think we still have a good mindset, which is why I’m still confident we can win.
VN: There was a conversation that popped up on social media this week about caster criticism toward players, specifically Smithzz on G2. What did you take away from the conversation, one that was started by your teammate?
EdM: I think you just should respect everyone. I don’t care about criticism. I think that’s a normal thing. It’s their job. But when you lose the respect, it’s not good. And they did it with SmithZz, and I felt bad for him. He’s playing for G2, a top-tier team, and there’s a reason. He’s really good, a really good player. He’s won a lot, and I think you should just respect (him).
VN: Something else that has come up a lot is this idea of over-saturation. What do you think about how many tournaments there are?
EdM: It’s really hard for us because we have to travel a lot and we have a full schedule. Online tournaments every day, every week and sometimes we don’t want to schedule the matches and we have to travel to a tournament. Then we arrive Monday and have a match to play Monday, Wednesday. Every day we have a match to play. It’s really bad for the players. I hear, I think TaZ from Virtus.pro. He tweets about it, and he said players are not robots. We are not. We have familiy. We have many things in our lives we should care about, and sometimes we do not have time for them. So I think it’s too much. We are playing many tournaments in a row, and it’s not good for the players.
VN: There’s one thing I wanted to ask you about. I’ve noticed, whether it’s you guys or INTZ in League of Legends, that the Brazilian esports community, even though it’s small, seems to really get behind you guys. What’s that like to feel an entire country, more or less, get behind you?
EdM: It was amazing (playing in Brazil for the ESL Pro League Finals). It was actually my first time playing in front of a big crowd in Brazil. Of course, I played many tournaments in Brazil, but they were small. When I had the opportunity to go to the USA and start my pro gamer life, I never played a big tournament in Brazil. This opportunity was so good for us. I remember that back to my first tournament and I felt nervous. But with time, you learn how to deal with it. And I learned that, but the first match (at ESL Pro League Finals) against Dignitas, I felt the same way that I felt one year ago. I was nervous. But I have some experience now, so I knew how to deal with it.
VN: Yeah, what was different about playing in Brazil and coming back after all you had been through in the last year to get to this point?
EdM: We don’t have a pro scene in Brazil. So I was playing just because I love the game. I was studying and playing at the same time. So when I played at the tournament, the Games Academy tournament, that gave me the chance to go to the USA to play just one season. I think my life changed. We did well in the season, and LG bought me and fnx, and we started our history of LG and then SK.
VN: It seems obvious, but it feels like you have a lot of national pride. What’s that fan base like?
EdM: I think we have this heart. Brazilians just have that. I can’t explain. This passion is forever. Brazilian crowds is kind of weird. When you have a Brazilian team winning, it’s amazing. When you don’t have that, it’s kind of hard to deal with. In the beginning for me, it was everything new. Everything was happening so fast for me. So it was hard to deal with the community with everything. We have this passion, and it’s good when you are winning.
Cover photo by Helena Kristiansson/ESL, eslgaming.com