Coming from countries at war, ‘every match is a gift’ for FPX ANGE1 and his teammates

by Aron Garst

Kyrylo "ANGE1" Karasov stood confident in the press area after narrowly beating XERXIA in a close series at the VALORANT Champions Tour’s Stage 2 Masters tournament in Copenhagen. He was clearly happy after the win, despite the rough journey he's had to take in order to get to it.

"I'm happy to be here," he said to a Zoom chat full of reporters. ANGE1's life has been heavily impacted by Russia's invasion of Ukraine. His life has been in constant disarray since the first rockets flew into Ukraine in late February.

Even though he had finally gotten his first chance to compete on the big stage in VALORANT, his mind was never far from home.

"I'm still reading the news," he said after his team eliminated Northeption. "It's always in my head."

Russia's invasion of Ukraine is still ongoing. A missile attack in the town of Vinnystia, located in the western central section of the country, killed at least 23 people on Thursday. This attack is similar to many of those missile barrages ANGE1 has been forced to live through.

"Nice feeling waking up [at] 6am to rockets flying into Kyiv, some of those hitting regular houses where people slept," ANGE1 tweeted in June. "Spending time during breakfast to calculate chances of it hitting my house while I'm gonna play [a] final today."

That was the morning of the final between FPX and Fnatic to determine the VCT Stage 2 champions of Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

Photo credit: Riot Games

Most of the questions ANGE1 has been asked during his appearances in Copenhagen are about VALORANT and how much trouble his team has had to go through just to play in-person in Denmark. ANGE1 and FPX have never been able to compete in a VALORANT LAN tournament before, making this trip special.

Travel has been severely restricted for people living in Ukraine and Russia. Two of ANGE1's teammates -- Russians Andrey "Shao" Kiprsky and Dmitry "SUYGETSU" Ilyushin -- had visas issues that prevented them from going to Reykjavík for the last Masters tournament and made travel to Copenhagen challenging.

Read more: VCT Masters: Copenhagen schedule, format and teams

ANGE1, Pontus "Zyppan" Eek, Ardis "ardiis" Svarenieks and coach Erik "d00mbr0s" Sandgren arrived in Copenhagen on July 5. They practiced with two substitutes until two days before the tournament, when Shao's visa issues were resolved. He arrived in Copenhagen in time to fit in a little bit of practice before their first match.

"It's very tough I would say, we had one practice day with this roster," ANGE1 said after their first match of the tournament, adding that luck needs to be on their side in order for them to get as far as they believe they could. "It's very important for things to go for us well during the tournament."

Photo credit: Riot Games

SUYGETSU touched down in Denmark on Thursday, just in time to help his team stay alive for their upcoming lower bracket match. ANGE1 and his teammates have repeatedly said that they've been hyperfocused on showing their deep arsenal of strategies during the tournament, which is an especially powerful showing of unity considering Shao, SUYGETSU and ANGE1's home countries are currently at war.

"We're just regular people enjoying the game and our company. No matter what," said FPX coach Erik "d00mbr0s" Sandgren. "We're all good people and we know each other. We love each other."

The feeling is mutual for fans of the team and game who finally get to see FPX compete in a major international tournament,

"Everyone is very happy that FPX have finally encountered fortunate enough circumstances to attend a major that they have really been yearning for this year, there's an air of mutual support and excitement for the whole team within the talent/coach and fan circles," said EMEA Valorant caster Matt "Twiggy" Twigg. "The whole team were a little distraught when it didn't work out at Reykjavík, and no matter how well they perform we're all behind not only ANGE1 but the whole team in Copenhagen."

Photo credit: Riot Games

The level of competition at a Masters tournament is unlike anything else in the VALORANT Champions Tour. Teams from all over the world -- including Turkey, Japan, the United States and Brazil -- fight for the chance to just make it to a tournament like the one in Copenhagen.

"FPX have been succeeding on a regional level all year round, and I think despite circumstances they can't control they're an amazing team that have already achieved brilliant results," Twiggy said. "Whenever you see the mixing pot of global tournaments you start to change your context for success, and honestly with the quality we're seeing internationally, I'd consider every contender successful regardless of their depth into the competition."

"Of course, for them the context is different," Twiggy added. "All of them are hungry for real quantifiable global results so a good run is an understandable goal."

ANGE1 hasn't put too much stock in their wins over XERXIA and Northeption just yet. FPX most recently fell to Fnatic, a team they have played many times, in the early part of the playoff bracket.

Read more: Northeption out of Masters, but ready to use experience for VCT Last Chance Qualifier

"Who knows what they'd be like with their [full] roster," said Fnatic's Jake "Boaster" Howlett after the match. "We know what it's like with subs and it’s not a fun time"

Fnatic played with two subs at Masters: Reykjavík and lost both games they played.

"They're clearly one of the best teams in the world," said Fnatic's head coach Jacob "mini" Harris, "They would finish top three if they had their full roster."

FPX’s next chance to prove themselves will be Saturday against another opponent they’re very familiar with, Guild Esports. A win would actually allow the team to lock in their spot at the season-ending championship event later this year: VCT Champions.

They’ll have the advantage of fielding their full five-man squad for the first time this tournament. FPX's strategies, according to d00mbr0s, "requires a full team." That means this squad has been improvising and working without much preparation so far. Despite the disadvantage, ANGE1 has lofty expectations for the team.

Photo credit: Riot Games

"[Keeping] in mind our preparation, all the switches we've been doing," ANGE1 said. "I would be happy with a top four [finish]. We are capable of winning it all, though ... It's not do or die, we're just here to get experience. Every match is a gift."

There is still plenty of VALORANT left to be played in Copenhagen. FPX still has the opportunity to cement themselves as one of the best teams in the world by beating out the competition, and they’ve had to deal with more obstacles than any other team in VALORANT.

"Right now our worst enemy is time," ANGE1 said.

The intense level of competition, even if unintentional, is a break from the terrible scene at home for him and the constant barrage of news for both him and teammates like Shao. They have no say in what their governments do, but still have to deal with the fallout from whatever does happen.

"War sucks," Shao said.

Lead photo credit: Riot Games

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