It's Mother's Day at DreamHack Austin, and the crowd has only grown in size. While many around the world are home celebrating with their moms, one Counter-Strike: Global Offensive player just wants to make his, who is a continent away, proud. Originally from a small town called Itapetininga in Brazil, one of esports' oldest stars, Gabriel "FalleN" Toledo, has just now won a title in Austin, Texas, just under 5,000 miles from home.
He's an international esports superstar in the growing space of esports' second-biggest game, but he's not letting the fame get to his head.
"I think it's how I've been raised by my mom, mainly," he says. "And how I've experienced some things in life and how I've lived through that."
A month ago, his team, Luminosity Gaming, won the biggest title to date at the Major League Gaming Columbus major, beating one of the best teams in the world, and taking home a $500,000 check in the process. Now in Austin, it has won another championship and $50,000.
"It feels awesome," FalleN tells me with a sigh of relief, but happiness in his tone. "Another title, it's the second big one for us. We have been pretty close to winning others in the past, so it feels good to be winning. Feels even better because we had a chance to play against our Brazilian brothers, Tempo Storm, who live very close to us. It was an awesome experience."
Coming to Austin to compete in DreamHack, the biggest esports festival series in the world, FalleN acknowledges that most fans and experts favored his team to win it. Luminosity has become one of the best teams in the world, with popular Counter-Strike site HLTV tanking it at number one at the time of this writing.
While many players would become complacent and overlook the lesser opponents at an event like DreamHack Austin, FalleN said his team took each match seriously.
"For us, we needed to prove we're good, so every single match here, no matter who we were facing or how quality the other team is, we were doing our best," he says. "We wanted to win, we thought we could win this one, but it isn't that easy as people say. Even if it was only American teams this time, and Tempo Storm, it was a pretty difficult task, so I'm glad we did it."
But winning titles, especially internationally, seemed like a pipe dream for the Brazilian squad this time last year. Then known as Keyd Stars, and previously KaBuM.TD, the team showed it could compete after taking fifth-sixth at Major League Gaming's X Games Aspen Invitational last year in January. That allowed it to become noticed, ultimately receiving an invite to the ESL ESEA Pro League on May of 2015. It then made plans to move to North America to compete.
"I think [our success] demonstrates how much opportunities mean for people," FalleN says. "It's important to remember that other teams, small teams, need to appear and have chances. This is something we've been fighting and trying to spread the word about, because Counter-Strike and esports are growing but opportunities are still relatively small for lesser, smaller teams."
Once it moved to North America, Keyd Stars had brilliant success. It took second in the North American leg of the ESL ESEA Pro League season one and then fifth-sixth at the finals, after losing to Fnatic, who was, and potentially can be on any given Sunday, the best team in the world. But the real climb came after joining Luminosity Gaming and making roster moves in late November last year.
Pulling from the team that FalleN sponsored, Games Academy, the team brought in experienced player Lincoln "fnx" Lau and rising star Tacio "TACO" Filho, as well as coach Wilton "zews" Prado. Three days later, the new lineup competed at DreamHack Winter in the FACEIT finale. Here, it bested the likes of top teams Ninjas in Pyjamas, Team EnVyUs, and Team SoloMid (now Astralis).
Only falling to Fnatic, the team had an objective for three months down the road: win the first $1 million major. After a miraculous undefeated run in its group, the team took down top teams Virtus.Pro, Team Liquid, and finally Na`Vi. Unexpectedly, the team had won MLG Columbus. It was on top of the world.
"We're a big example of why people need these opportunities," FalleN tells me as an overjoyed fan interrupts our interview for a signature. He stops, signing a Luminosity shirt, then continues on. "This anniversary of being [in North America] for one year and achieving so much, it's like a dream for us. It's everything we dreamed of, it's everything we've been working for. Being honest, it's quite a fairytale because it's very difficult to achieve what we've been doing."
Throughout the scene, FalleN is known as one of the most generous esports professional players. The opportunities he speaks of don't come often, but recently, he footed the bill to move some of his former Brazilian teammates and friends, known collectively as Games Academy, to North America.
"We knew that they were in the same situation as we were before Aspen, so I had a project [Games Academy] where it could fit perfectly, bringing them, and that's what I tried to do," FalleN claims. "I used my own money and I used the project's money to bring them. I didn't know how it would go, but those guys are warriors like us, so if they get a good opportunity, they're gonna use it. We believe in them, and they're working hard, so it means a lot."
That team was signed by American organization Tempo Storm based off FalleN's recommendation to its owner Andrey "Reynad" Yanyuk, Yanyuk told me during the weekend, and since, like Luminosity did upon arriving, has fought valiantly against some of the best.
Prior to DreamHack Austin, that team took down Virtus.Pro and SK Gaming to earn its first international title in the CEVO Gfinity Season 9 finals. For months since making the move, the Brazilian Tempo Storm has become stronger.
Following his win at DreamHack, FalleN pulls Tempo Storm's members in and gives them a hug. And while Luminosity examines its new trophy, FalleN motions to Tempo Storm to come hold the trophy with them.
That trophy in Austin two nights ago wasn't won for Luminosity, it was won for Brazil.
According to FalleN, Luminosity and Tempo Storm's victories, as well as things like his site Games Academy that teaches Brazilian players in-depth, in-game techniques and tricks, have sparked a revival of Counter-Strike in the country.
"With the Games Academy project and [us and Tempo Storm] winning tournaments, we've made a rebirth in Counter-Strike in Brazil," he says. "Everyone is now interested in watching the games. Everyone is interested in playing again... It's a lot of people that are really interested in pushing it forward and having fun because Counter-Strike is not only fun with high stakes and playing the best teams, it's fun when you play at home or with your friends, and you have some challenges. It's pretty cool; that's how it started. It's awesome to see people engaged in playing Counter-Strike."
For the future of the game, FalleN hopes that international leagues take note of Brazilian interest. Recently, both Twitch and FACEIT's Esports Championship Series, and Turner Broadcasting and WME|IMG's ELEAGUE did not invite Tempo Storm, only Luminosity. This sparked outrage among the community, with FalleN himself being fairly outspoken on Twitter.
- Gabriel FalleN T. (@LG_FalleN) April 9, 2016
Now, he tells me that he hopes other Brazilian and South American teams see more opportunities in Counter-Strike. In his ideal world, smaller teams from less-known countries would get a shot, too.
"Right now, I think the best thing that could happen to Brazil is if the bigger leagues, the biggest leagues, decide to give some spots for them," he says. "That is something that in the future might take us back to our country. It's very hard to live away from our families and girlfriends and have to be outside of our country. One thing that would be super cool was by this year, maybe in the end of the year, we can see spots given to other teams, not only Brazil but maybe Argentina, Chile and other countries that are waiting for this opportunity as well. We need to focus on spreading the word and make this go more global."