Fnatic, one of the most hyped teams going into VALORANT Champions Tour 2022: Stage 2 Masters – Copenhagen, had quite the scare this week.
The current EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Asia) champions made themselves known after handily defeating all of the opponents in their region. This included dethroning the 2021 Masters Stage 3 Champions, M3C (known previously as Gambit Esports, but disallowed to compete under that name by tournament rulings due to Russia’s ongoing conflict with Ukraine).
Multiple victories of such caliber, combined with having only dropped one map throughout their championship run, have allowed Fnatic to radically alter the EMEA power rankings and rise to the top.
In traditional Masters fashion, Stage 2: Copenhagen permitted the top seeded teams from LATAM (Latin America); NA (North America); EMEA; and APAC (Asia-Pacific) to avoid the group stage. This meant that the best teams in their respective regions would not have to play until a third of the teams in the tournament had been eliminated through a preliminary group stage.
The Road to Paper Rex
With the group stage already concluded and the playoff seedings accounted for, Fnatic debuted their newest roster internationally against a familiar face: FPX. At this point, FPX—the EMEA runner-up—had already lost to Fnatic’s roster twice, including in the EMEA Grand Final. Notably, they were the team to have handed Fnatic their only map loss. However, that would not matter as Fnatic, continuing the historical trend, defeated their second place rival handily with a 2-0 finish on Icebox and Haven.
Netting themselves a win in the Upper-Quarter Finals against FPX, Fnatic would continue in the upper bracket to face off against one of the top-seeded teams in APAC’s Paper Rex. Touted as having one of the most unique playstyles, Paper Rex have been challenging the VALORANT meta with unmatched aggression since Masters Reykjavík. Although the APAC champs faltered after a spectacular lower bracket run in Reykjavík, their quirky playstyle has made them one of the most dangerous teams in the world.
Eager to redeem their performance in Iceland, Paper Rex set their sights on Fnatic in the Upper Bracket Semi-Finals. At this point in the tournament, neither team had dropped a single map. Although they had each only played one game, Paper Rex and Fnatic had gone 2-0 against Guild Esports and FPX, respectively. Despite the even record, Fnatic’s ability to emerge as the top team in what is arguably the most competitive region (EMEA) left most viewers with the expectation of a Fnatic victory.
While Paper Rex is also deserving of much respect for their ability to remain on the top of APAC, the expectation going into the tournament as a whole was that Fnatic would usurp the reigning champions, OpTic Gaming, and claim their first ever international tournament victory. It was not a matter of the inability of Paper Rex, but rather the ability of Fnatic.
Paper Rex FTW!
Despite their high praises and equally high expectations, the undefeated kings of EMEA were not prepared for Paper Rex’s one-of-a-kind, high-aggression playstyle. Although they had accrued countless victories against some of the most aggressive teams in the most competitive region, Fnatic had not yet encountered a team quite like Paper Rex.
Facing off first on Ascent, the APAC and EMEA champions ended their first half dead even at 6-6. While the matchup continued to swing back and forth, a Paper Rex timeout after the 17th round appeared to make all the difference. Pulling ahead from an 8-9 scoreline, Paper Rex emerged victorious, pushing the match to a 13-11 victory.
With a victory on Fnatic’s map pick, Paper Rex took the EMEA champions to their map of choice: Bind. Ending the first half up 7-5, Paper Rex were in the driver’s seat in what would become one of the greatest upset victories in Copenhagen thus far. Their double duelist composition, including both Raze and Yoru, allowed them to aggressively emerge onto site using Yoru’s teleport and Raze’s blast packs.
Taking another timeout, this time after round 19, Paper Rex were not quite as quick to victory as they had been on Ascent. Their slow post-timeout return was capitalized on by Fnatic, allowing their opponents to bring the scoreline to nearly even at 11-10. However, unwilling to allow a comeback, Paper Rex standouts mindfreak, f0rsakeN, and Jinggg closed out the series with two consecutive victories to bring the EMEA champions to their knees.
Relegating one of the top teams to the lower bracket, Paper Rex have defied expectations and added some obscurity to the presumed power rankings of the remaining teams in Copenhagen. Continuing their upper bracket run, Paper Rex will face off against OpTic Gaming, the reigning champions, in the Upper Bracket Final. Although a loss will not eliminate APAC’s best from the tournament, they would have to play—and win—another series in order to make it to the Grand Finals.
Fnatic, on the other hand, needs to win three consecutive series, including one against the loser of OpTic Gaming vs. Paper Rex, to make it to the Grand Finals. While both of these teams certainly have their work cut out for them, it is anyone’s guess now as to who will take home the Masters Copenhagen trophy.