Paper Rex become first APAC team to reach VCT Masters final

by Brian Bencomo

Paper Rex are the first team from the Asia-Pacific region to reach the grand final of an international VALORANT Masters or Champions event. It was all North American and European teams reaching finals in 2021, and a North American and Brazilian team at Masters: Reykjavík earlier this year.

Paper Rex reached the Masters: Copenhagen grand final by beating North America’s OpTic Gaming in the upper final. After bypassing the group stage, Paper Rex won their third straight playoff match, but they did drop a map for the first time at the event.

After a convincing 13-3 Map 1 win on Haven, it was a shocking Map 2 loss on Bind, which is Paper Rex’s strongest map.

“We were very prepared on Bind regardless of the outcome on the first map,” OpTic in-game leader Pujan “FNS” Mehta said.

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The teams took turns pulling out to dominant leads on the first two maps: Paper Rex were up 9-3 on the first map, and OpTic pulled ahead 9-3 on the second map. After Paper Rex mounted a small comeback on Bind, OpTic called a timeout and closed out the map 13-9.

The third map was Fracture. Of course, the deciding map also was 9-3 at halftime, this time in Paper Rex’s favor. There would be no miracle comebacks from the cursed 9-3 scoreline in any of the maps as Paper Rex closed out Fracture 13-5.

The OpTic narrative

Photo credit: Riot Games

The loss dropped OpTic to the lower bracket where they will face off against FunPlus Phoenix on Saturday. Thus far, Masters: Copenhagen has played out almost identically as Masters: Reykjavík for OpTic. They lost their opening group stage match and won the next two to advance to the playoffs. They beat a fellow NA team in the first round of the playoffs and DRX 2-1 in the next round. Then they lost to a regional powerhouse in the upper final to give that team and region their first berth in an international grand final.

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If the script at this tournament plays out the same way as the last, then OpTic would beat their opponent in the lower final and win a rematch in the grand final. However, OpTic have never beaten an EMEA team. It’s a small sample size, but OpTic lost to Gambit and Acend last year and Guild at the start of this tournament. Plus, FPX are coming in with a lot of momentum, and their run is shaping up to be the best story of the tournament after everything they’ve been through to get to Copenhagen.

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

In going up against FPX next, head coach Chet “Chet” Singh pointed out what the team’s biggest challenge would be in order to secure a victory on Saturday.

“I think FPX have a more explosive playstyle than Fnatic, so for them it’s gonna be a lot about getting entries on them when they’re walking at us,” Chet said.

As for FPX, in-game leader Kyrylo "ANGE1" Karasov admitted after beating Fnatic that he hasn’t studied up much on OpTic, whom FPX have never faced before. They have less than a day to prepare for OpTic, though the same holds true for OpTic in facing FPX for the first time.

“All the games I watched for OpTic I watched as a viewer,” ANGE1 said. “I’m not a fan of their playstyle so we’re not copying too much. Maybe Ardiis is a fan of yay, but that’s it.”

Photo credit: Riot Games

Ardis "ardiis" Svarenieks’ face lit up when ANGE1 mentioned this, and he called Jaccob “yay” Whiteaker by his nickname of El Diablo as he expressed his admiration for the Chamber player.

If FunPlus Phoenix win, it would set up a first-ever meeting between FPX and Paper Rex, who have already beaten the other two EMEA teams at the tournament: Guild and Fnatic.

But if OpTic can finally overcome their EMEA foe, then all eyes would be on Paper Rex to see if they can prevent OpTic from repeating history and winning their second straight Masters. For their part, Paper Rex aren’t worried about the OpTic revenge narrative.

“We all know that OpTic is famous for their revenge arc storyline kind of thing,” Benkai said. “But I feel like our playstyle is something that’s pretty hard to counter. You can do all the prep work that you want, but we’ll always do something different and it’s not always going to be the same, so maybe we’ll just try to change up things a bit here and bit there for our matchup if we play OpTic again, so I wouldn’t be too worried.”

Lead photo credit: Riot Games

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