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FalleN on SK’s beginnings in Brazil, leadership and his competitive drive

Slingshot’s Vince Nairn caught up with Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo during the ELEAGUE Major to talk about his demeanor and SK Gaming’s steady rise to the top of professional Counter-Strike.

Vince Nairn: What has the last year or so been like as you guys have gone from a team that flew under the radar a lot to becoming the best team in the world and two-time Major champion? What’s different now?

Gabriel “Fallen” Toledo: I think the progress we showed last year, going from a team that was leaving in quarters to a team that was actually fighting for titles a lot of times and winning some of them has been very impressive. Not only for ourselves, but for all the community. And I think that happened because of the way we work. We work hard. We work with our hearts. We put a lot of passion in what we do, and we always want to be better. Even when we were considered the best in the world or one of those, we know there’s much more to learn, much more to improve, if we want to keep winning and get more titles. So for us, there’s always something to learn.

VN: When you guys first started out, what was the most difficult point, if there was one, about wanting to continue to do this? Because you did run into some obstacles, and it wasn’t necessarily a smooth transition all the time.

GT: I think the most difficult part is sometimes when you start winning, the approach the other teams have about your team and players is different. They start watching you much more. They start studying you. They start creating strategies they think will fit against you. They start trying to shape their map pool to beat you. So it starts to get harder and harder, and you have to do something else. You have to be creative. You have to work even harder if you want to stay better than they are. I think that’s what’s different for us from the beginning. It took some time to realize that. And that’s why we did a change recently as well because we want to perform better. We want to be the best team in the world for a long time, and in order to do that, we need to work harder.

VN: How did you first get started? What were you doing before CS?

GT: I think when I started playing was 2003. I’ve always been competitive. Some small tournaments in my city, maybe sometimes traveling to other cities to play or other regions in Brazil. In 2009 I had the first chance to go China and play an international tournament. That was when I wanted to keep doing this for a long time, even if it was my hobby for six years already at that time.

VN: Had you been out of Brazil before that for anything?

GT: No, I think our first travel was to China in January 2009 because of Counter-Strike.

VN: Was that kind of eye opening? Just to see a different part of the world for the first time?

GT: Yeah, I think it’s one of the best parts of being a Counter-Strike player. You get the chance to travel and get to know a lot of new people. New cultures. New countries. A lot of beautiful places that sometimes you can only (think about).

VN: By now your guys’ story of moving to America and becoming serious about the team is pretty well known, but were there any moments where you wondered if it was going to turn out well? Or if it was a mistake?

GT: I think just because the way we are as people, we are so driven on what we wanted, that we’d overcome any difficulty that we had. We had to sleep together. We had sometimes to play games in chairs or on tables that are not proper for computer games. We had to play tournaments on 45 degrees Celsius (113 degrees Fahrenheit) because we did not have air conditioner in the house. We had to overcome difficulties because we knew that it was necessary. Because of the way we think and the way we are driven, none of this was a problem for us. Maybe if it was different people with different personalities, this wouldn’t work. But for us, we want to chase the dream, chase what we wanted, and to get it, we knew we had to go over everything.

VN: You’re obviously the leader of the team, and you’re also one of the strongest voices in the game. Where does that kind of mentality come from for you?

GT: I don’t think it’s a desire. It’s just who I am. Being a leader and being a voice sometimes is not something you choose to be, it just happens. Because if you force it, you probably will do it wrong and people won’t hear you or you sound silly. It’s more about in certain circumstances doing the right things. I have been doing the right things for almost the entirety of my career since I was in Brazil. Of course, there are a couple of mistakes I did in the beginning of my career, but I can say 95 percent of the time i did what was right, not only for me but what’s right for the community. And most of the times what’s correct for other people as well.

VN: Where does that drive come from? Have you always been that way?

GT: The first thing is I love Counter-Strike. The second thing is I had to work so hard to become a good player. When I became one, I decided I wanted to help other players to have an easier path than I had. So that’s where it came from. I had to play for five or six years to really have a chance to play at a high level, and once I got there, I wanted to make this path easier for the newcomers and younger people. That’s one thing. And the second thing is I’ve always wanted to be the best in everything I do. And being the best not only means I need to be winning, but (do whatever it takes). If I have to cast a tournament, I’m gonna try to do the best cast ever. So it’s just who I am. I try to do the best I can do. Of course, with my possibilities, I know I’m not the best in everything I do, but when you do the best you can on everything you try, you’re probably gonna achieve something.

VN: What’s been the highlight of the last year and a half for you?

GT: The most fun part. For me, I think is winning the tournaments. There’s nothing that gives us more joy and happiness than getting the trophies. They’re very, very satisfying, and I think the most memories I have right now is us winning both Majors. And I think the recent games with fox have been quite amazing as well because it’s been a challenge for all of us.

Cover photo courtesy of Turner Sports/ELEAGUE, illustration by Slingshot