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Everyone across the VALORANT scene was quick to count Fnatic out when the groups for Champions were drawn. The European squad have the steep task of taking on Cloud9, Vision Strikers or FULL SENSE on their way to playoffs.

Some called it the group of death.

“The reason why it’s the group of death is because we’re in it,” in-game leader Jake “Boaster” Howlett said. “People are saying, ‘Oh, Fnatic are in with Vision Strikers, FULL SENSE and Cloud9.’ No, Cloud9, FULL SENSE and Vision Strikers are in with Fnatic.”

Top dogs vs. underdogs

If you’d ask anyone in the VALORANT community about Fnatic — the finalist in Master 2: Reykjavík — they might say that the English team is an underdog heading into Champions. The team hasn’t gotten results since taking the stage in Iceland, but none of the noise matters to them. They don’t agree with any of it.

Boaster playing with his faces inches from the screen in Iceland | Provided by Riot Games

“There is no better combination of sentiments that you can have with a team coming in with the motivation, the confidence and the drive to win at all,”  Fnatic’s strategic coach Martin “Anderzz” Schelasin said. “Nobody is taking [us] seriously enough to expect that that’s coming their way.”

After Fnatic’s silver medal at Masters 2: Reykjavík, the team started struggling to stay on top. EMEA teams gave them a run for their money. First, it was Giants who knocked them down to the lower bracket of Stage 3: Challengers 2. Then, after dealing with Team BDS and Tenstar quite handily, Team Liquid put them out of contention entirely. What followed were quiet months for Fnatic, with only smaller tournaments (and a large host of fans) to keep them company until either the Last Chance Qualifier or Champions.

“If you look at the trajectory, and actually contextualize everything we’ve played in since, it’s really not that bad,” Anderzz said. “The reason we missed out on Berlin is because in the qualifier, we took Team Liquid to five, and we see how strong Team Liquid is now.”

Team Liquid ended up in the playoffs for Masters 3: Berlin, while Fnatic had to sit out the event and hope for EMEA to do well. When Gambit eventually won Masters 3, Fnatic was assured a spot at Champions without having to play in the LCQ. A relief, to be sure, but a situation they did not want to find themselves in in the first place.

Qualifying for Champions meant preparations could continue. But when one thinks of new strategies, how do you even know they’ll pan out the way you want them to? Do you take the risk of exposing them in smaller tournaments such as LVP and Red Bull Home Ground, or do you keep them secret? Fnatic focused on the latter at the expense of results.

“In more recent events we were in a situation where I’m not going to say that we save strats,” Anderzz said. “But if anyone in the community knows me from an analytical standpoint, and the strong opinions I have about the game, and they look at the way we played, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out how seriously we took that.”

Anderzz joined Fnatic in August after the team failed to qualify for Masters 3 Berlin, when the team were looking for a bit of extra gas. He gives the team a strategical and quantitative approach ahead of Champions. His type of game planning lifts some pressure off Boaster’s shoulders.

Anderzz, who has a background as a quantitative analyst, slowly started building up a reputation in the early VALORANT days by manually collecting data and doing statistical reviews. That effort landed him a spot on VIRTUOSO, which he coached from being unranked to a top 15 team at their peak in North America. Shortly after, Fnatic picked him up, and he took over various responsibilities from Boaster, such as the development of the playbook and working out map details.

Fnatic is firing up for Champions

When Anderzz joined Fnatic in preparation for Champions, the team came up with some new ideas. Those ideas are all, of course, still under wraps, but Boaster is confident about their plans. According to him, the difference from Masters 2 to now is their depth and their playbook.

“We’re really gagging to show what we’ve got,” Boaster said. We’re really hungry. We were hungry in Masters 2. And then Masters 3 obviously didn’t go too well for us. So now that hunger is back again. And we really want to make sure that, the people doubting us, we’re gonna shut them up.”

Now that Anderzz assists him, Boaster has a lot more time to focus on personal growth as a player. As the map pool grows, Boaster loses more time to strategies and line-ups.

Boaster is confident in Fnatic's chances at Champions
Boaster at Masters 2: Reykjavík | Provided by Riot Games

Many teams going into Champions have improved since Fnatic’s impressive Masters 2 run. Fnatic themselves have had to work hard to keep up, and they did this by combining the minds of Boaster and Anderzz. One is creative and thinks outside the box, the other is statistical and quantitative. Together, according to Anderzz, that makes for a perfect Yin and Yang situation.

“When you put those two together, you basically get that awesome creativity, that out-of-the-box thinking. But then you have a hurdle that it has to pass before you bring it to the stage. Because a lot of this creativity, there’s no way to really litmus test it. This could be spectacular, but it could also flame out just as spectacularly.”

With all the hard prep work done, Anderzz and Boaster are both dripping with confidence going into Champions. When asked for their hot takes, their answers were simple:

“Based off what the public thinks, my hot take is that we’re gonna win it all,” Anderzz said. “And cruise through it at that.”

Fnatic cruising through Champions, the biggest event in VALORANT history, after being unable to qualify to the previous event is a bold claim, but it’s one Boaster supports. Sage Ult My Nan Football Club, Boaster’s team name before being signed by Fnatic, placed second at First Strike. Fnatic placed second in Iceland.

“The reason why we’ve been second place is because we’re saving the first place Mojo for this event,” Boaster said. “So, Fnatic to win.”

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