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No team at Masters Copenhagen has played more matches than FunPlus Phoenix. The team from the Europe, Middle East and African region has been playing almost non-stop VALORANT since their first day almost two weeks ago. From barely scraping through the Masters group stage with their stand-in to narrowly avoiding elimination in the lower bracket, FPX have been through it all.

Even still, in the post-game press conference after besting OpTic Gaming and booking their ticket to the grand final, FPX reflected on their road with something like sarcastic resignation. As always, it was FPX head coach Erik “d00mbr0s” Sandgren, in-game leader Kyrylo “ANGE1” Karasov and their star player Ardis “ardiis” Svarenieks leading the discussion.

“Our road here has been—” d00mbr0s said.

“The longest one,” ardiis said, cutting in.

“Yeah. I think we played—”

“Maximum amount of matches.” ANGE1 said. “You can’t play more than us.”

“And we had some bad luck,” d00mbr0s added. “Some things going wrong. At the beginning we had to play with stand-ins. I think our journey to this point has been amazing — and stressful.”

FPX’s long and winding road

On account of the ongoing war in Ukraine, FPX have struggled with securing visas for their Russian and Ukrainian players. That meant missing Stage 2 Masters Reykjavík earlier in the year.

This time around in Copenhagen, the team was able to get visas for everyone expect their sentinel sensationnelle, Dmitry “SUYGETSU” Ilyushin, who was only able to join the team for playoffs. He swooped in after FPX had dropped to the lower bracket — adding even more games onto their already lengthy run through Masters Copenhagen — and saved them from certain death.

“We’ve played every single game we possibly can play,” ardiis said. “So that means we’ve only had three days off.”

d00mbr0s
Coach Erik “d00mbr0s” Sandgren of FunPlus Phoenix is seen at the VALORANT Champions Tour: Stage 2 Masters Lower Finals on July 23, 2022 in Copenhagen, Denmark. | Photo by Lance Skundrich. Provided by Riot Games.

Getting a lot of stage time isn’t necessarily a bad thing, even if it can be wearying. In the grand final, FPX meet Paper Rex who have only played the bare minimum three matches required to reach the finals.

“If we would go through this way with the whole roster, I would definitely say it can be an advantage,” ANGE1 said of the extra games. “Despite no sleep. Despite tight preparation time. But right now it’s 50/50.”

FPX are accustomed to hard work, and Copenhagen is no exception. With only one match between them and a trophy, the team is gritting their teeth and getting down to business.

“The last two years we were used to having a tough schedule,” d00mbr0s said. “Even while you’re used to it, it doesn’t mean it’s not tiring.”

With the tight schedule, FPX haven’t had the opportunity to stop and smell the roses. They barely had time to explore the host city of Copenhagen, Denmark and they haven’t joined in any of the on-stage shenanigans (à la walking out in a giant inflatable dinosaur costume.)

“We prefer to focus on the games, especially with all the problems around us,” ANGE1 said. “We’re here to win.”

FPX take on Paper Rex for a chance to win Masters

It would be difficult to find two teams more different in temperament than FPX and their grand final opponent, Paper Rex.

FPX are brash, rough around the edges and stone cold when it comes to their gameplay. In the server, they are methodical. Out of the server, their dry humor is the only indication that the team is anything but stoic and focused solely on VALORANT.

ardiis FPX
Ardis “ardiis” Svarenieks of FunPlus Phoenix competes at the VALORANT Champions Tour: Stage 2 Masters Lower Finals on July 23, 2022 in Copenhagen, Denmark. | Photo by Lance Skundrich. Provided by Riot Games.

In contrast, Paper Rex are squeaky clean. Their good-natured eccentricity is perfect for the all-ages broadcast; Paper Rex’s Benedict “Benkai” Tan was undoubtedly bred in the same Riot Games laboratory they created Jake “Boaster” Howlett in.

What’s more, Paper Rex’s intentionally casual approach to the game makes them a genuinely fun team to root for. And their relentless, no-holds-barred aggression in-game is enough to make any team fearful.

“Basically we need to prepare for any aggressive round at any point or moment,” ANGE1 said about Paper Rex. “And not being too surprised when someone will just run out on us on random timings.”

Even though FPX have looked flawed, this upcoming grand final between the two teams is still anyone’s match.

“For me I have a feeling that we kind of have to play perfectly as a team,” d00mbr0s said. “[Paper Rex are] a team where as long as you show some cracks, they’re going to run you over.”