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IEM Rio Major May Be FalleN’s Last Dance

Nikhil Kalro

Imperial’s last dance dream is well and truly alive. For the longest time, it seemed as if that dream was to turn to dust. And then, like the phoenix rising from the ashes, a team that knows how to win from near impossible situations flicked a switch and weaved a web of magic. Four straight wins in do-or-die matches later, Imperial Esports have kept Brazil’s hopes flying to secure the final American Regional Major Rankings (RMR) slot for IEM Rio Major 2022. That they managed to do this despite a bit of churn, thanks to multiple roster changes, makes this a remarkable feat. All said, their run of recent results in Melbourne at the ESL Challenger, where they finished runners-up, set them up well. But as you expect, they were challenged and knocked hard. Team changes that you thought were impossible at one time became inevitable. It left them at the crossroads. The uncertainty showed when they lost two close matches to 9z and 00 Nation. They were in with a shout in both games, but lack of coordination and sync that stems from unfamiliarity among the playing group raised its head. The result of this was Imperial staring at an early exit, and they had the unenviable task of winning every single game from there on to make it to the Rio Major. And they did. For long, despite the churn, this has been a team of legends. It’s hard to imagine Imperial without Gabriel “FalleN” Toledo, Lincoln “fnx” Lau, Marcelo “coldzera” David, Fernando “fer” Alvarenga and Epitacio “TACO” De Melo. Invariably, every loss in recent times is followed by ‘end of the last dance hopes’ quips. Standards have been so high in their pomp that you’d never imagined them to transition. It’s a bit like the all-dominating All Blacks in Rugby or the West Indies cricket team, whose dominance has transcended decades.

imperial fallen

Image Credit: Imperial Esports Twitter

The question this time, though, was whether they’d not even make it to their own party after the first two losses. Then came games against Team oNe, Nouns Esports, paiN Gaming, and Complexity Gaming. Four herculean tasks managed with such efficiency that it was as pleasant as shocking, because the same team looked vulnerable and beaten coming into the must-win phase.

But Imperial had it in their minds all along this was also about their fans. Passionate fans who go lengths to support their teams, who can at times let emotions get to them but will celebrate their teams like no other in victory. It was quite thrilling to watch them beat Complexity on Overpass.

A game that swayed from one side to the other went into double overtime before Imperial finally crossed the line. When they did, it sure did feel like a Mount Everest moment. It’s all set up superbly now for FalleN to kiss goodbye to their teeming fans in front of a fanatical home crowd. The script couldn’t have been written better.

If not for the pandemic, Imperial may have perhaps never been in this position where they would’ve had to qualify for their own Major. But sport, and by extension life, is unpredictable, and it is this allure that hooks people to it – the thrill of the unknown.

But this ‘phoenix rising from the ashes’ performance isn’t a novelty. They’ve been there and done that in the past, which is why every time they’re pushed to a corner, there is this growing sense of flutter among opponents, in anticipation of something that can bring their house down in a blaze.

Remember the final of the previous American RMR in May, prior to the Antwerp Major? FalleN, fer and fnx were instrumental in sweeping Party Astronauts in the final of the RMR to advance. The pressure from over 10,000 fans notwithstanding, they rocked up and turned an impossible situation into their advantage.

Having been firmly grounded in Dust2 to mistakes they would never make most times, they were left with a window with the barest of margins. This small window was opportunity enough. An inch was turned into an acre as FalleN and Vini forced the game into a tiebreaker before they barged the door open. A proper arm wrestle for most parts then turned into a massive collapse for the Party Astronauts.

This surge of success is particularly satisfying coming at the time it has for Imperial. FalleN has made no bones about his wish to retire soon. The possibility of a last dance is well and truly on now, once again. The effort gone into the making is almost unreal. It speaks of the drive and desire to push for glory.

Even months before Antwerp, FalleN organised a bootcamp in his house. They bantered and bonded, poured in hours of practice. FalleN imprinted Antwerp in their minds with every training session oriented towards their end goal. A player of this magnitude can cast this kind of magic on you. And for this, Imperial owe it to their superstar to send him off with a blaze of glory. His intangible contributions to the team will perhaps be unrivaled in the years to come. Not for nothing is he the godfather of the CS:GO scene in Brazil.

It’s perhaps only fitting that fer and fnx are with FalleN in the last leg of his illustrious journey with the team, which is likely to come to an end in 2023. After all, they helped him achieve back to back major titles in 2016, all those years ago when the team was probably a spec of the giants they are today.

If there’s anyone who deserves the last dance, though, it’s FalleN, having dedicated the last 18 years of his professional journey to lift the CS:GO scene in Brazil. He’s coached, packaged and delivered YouTube content, created masterclasses, represented Brazil and the region at overseas competitions. Maybe the next part of his professional journey could come as a coach.

FalleN has often touched upon how he has had to reinvent the wheel along these 18 years at different times. He’s touched upon having felt a sense of saturation, the need to do different things, stuff that empowers him and brings out the best in him. It’s likely along the way over the next year or so, he could well set in stone his next journey, but for now, FalleN isn’t losing sight of his immediate goals.

For him and the entire team, it’s possible Rio is the biggest tournament in their history. An opportunity to do the last dance at home doesn’t come too often. But it brings with it some challenges, like living up to teeming expectations and pressure from the fans, sponsors and several stakeholders associated with the game in Brazil. Even if these may not seem evident on the surface, that the team is scouring through hours and hours at training in a bid to get things right tells you the seriousness with which they’re approaching this. Bootcamps at home? Unheard of, yeah? But this is something Imperial have mastered over time, even during the height of the pandemic. They’re known to go the extra mile.

It’s for all these reasons and more that they continue to draw in incredible viewership and social media presence. They have been one of the most watched teams, across all RMRs in 2022. Up until May, a total of 1.56 million hours were consumed by fans, the highest ever for a Brazilian sports team. It was also comfortably the highest across America. Overall, they were only a tad behind Natus Vincere and Astralis, who clocked 2.28 million and 2.27 million, respectively.

That their rise from the ashes is a celebration even among some of the biggest rival players tells you of their allure. Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev, for example, tweeted after their qualification: “That’s what I call hot heart – Brazilian heart. VAMOS! I knew that first major in Brazil without fallen, cold, taco, fer and fnx impossible.” In a direct sign of their presence uplifting the tournament, ESL, the organizers, too made prominent mention on social media.

Make no mistake, this isn’t just entirely about FalleN. Fer started all those years ago without any money, not sure where his future lay. All he knew was gaming was his cup of tea without knowing how far it could take him. Here he is, now a decade later, on the cusp of glory. If and when the moment comes, it’ll be an emotional one.

Playing in a Major is rare, getting a chance to cap off a historic occasion in front of your countrymen, even rarer. For that alone the spirit Imperial have shown in perfecting their skills, sharpening their base and pouring in dedication needed to just compete, forget succeed, deserves some tangible returns.

The last dance is a dream. The last dance could soon be reality. The last dance could yet usher in a big chapter for esports in Brazil. The last dance could be the start of a new revolution for Imperial. The last dance could yet be the start of another era of dominance.