Masters Copenhagen takeaways: OpTic denied, Champions spots decided and more

by Brian Bencomo

History is written by the winners. When people look back on the VALORANT Champions Tour Masters: Copenhagen tournament, FunPlus Phoenix will stand out as the winner. Due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, FPX missed out on Masters: Reykjavík and just barely got all their players to Copenhagen in time for the latter part of the tournament. They had to improvise strategies on the fly while playing the first part of the tournament with a substitute and then made an epic lower bracket run in the playoffs. You can read more about Nerd Street’s coverage of the significance of FPX just being in Copenhagen after all their hardships and a recap of FPX’s victory in the final. This article is about all the other interesting subplots that developed throughout the tournament. Here’s a deep dive into a few of the more notable things that transpired at Masters: Copenhagen.

Paper Rex become first APAC team to reach international VCT Masters final

Photo credit: Riot Games

This might be lost in the aftermath of FunPlus Phoenix emerging triumphant in Copenhagen, but Paper Rex had a dominant run to the final. They became the first Asian team to reach the final of an international VCT event after beating Guild Esports, Fnatic and reigning Masters champs OpTic Gaming. With their aggressive play and unorthodox strategies, not to mention the lovable antics of Benedict "Benkai" Tan, Paper Rex became fan favorites in Copenhagen. They even pulled out one of the craziest compositions on the deciding Game 5 of the final where they pulled out a Yoru, the agent beloved by casual players but not often used at the highest levels of competition. Besides cheering for EMEA teams, the European audience seemed to adopt Paper Rex as one of their own.

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After finishing fourth in Reykjavík, this seemed like it was Paper Rex’s time to win, until they faced off against a team that seemed destined to win in FPX. Unfortunately, only one team can win, but Paper Rex’s fun playstyle and attitude throughout the tournament was refreshing to see. They showed you can win even with unusual strategies, and it might encourage other teams to experiment more with their agent compositions and strategies. Paper Rex will certainly be contenders come VCT Champions 2022 in September.

More Champions spots determined

Photo credit: Riot Games

Heading into Copenhagen, there were four spots at Champions that would be determined by how the tournament played out. First, with Northeption being eliminated in the group stage, ZETA DIVISION claimed Japan’s spot at Champions. Really, it was a long shot for Northeption to reach Champions. They would have had to basically replicate ZETA DIVISION’s third-place run at Masters: Reykjavík in order to overtake them. They fell well short of this but should be a strong contender in the East Asia Last Chance Qualifier.

The next two teams to secure Champions spots were FunPlus Phoenix and Fnatic. When FunPlus Phoenix beat Guild Esports in the first round of the lower bracket it locked in FPX as well as Fnatic since both teams had more circuit points than Guild. Following the match, Kyrylo "ANGE1" Karasov said the team’s primary goal was qualifying for Champions and anything else they accomplished at Masters: Copenhagen after that would be a bonus. Well, they absolutely made the most of their bonus. If Guild had beat FPX, they still would have had to win another game or two to overtake FPX and/or Fnatic in circuit points. Now, they’ll compete in a stacked EMEA LCQ to try to qualify for Champions.

The fourth Champions team who qualified in Copenhagen was Leviatán. After KRÜ Esports were eliminated in the group stage, they needed to win just one game in the playoffs to pass them in circuit points. They lost to DRX in the upper quarterfinals, but then they beat XSET to secure their spot in Istanbul. This means KRÜ will have to finish in the top two in the South America LCQ in order to keep their streak of appearing at every international VALORANT LAN alive. Given their history of dominating not only fellow LATAM teams but also Brazilian teams, we should see them at Champions too.

OpTic’s quest to go back-to-back stymied

Photo credit: Riot Games

When FPX beat OpTic Gaming in the lower final, it ensured that a new team would win Masters. No team has won consecutive or even multiple VCT international events. Gambit were denied a second title when Acend beat them in the Champions 2021 final, and OpTic Gaming fell one match short of reaching the Copenhagen final in order to defend their Masters: Reykjavík title.

OpTic’s run in Copenhagen was eerily similar to their run in Reykjavík. They entered both tournaments as the North American No. 2 seed after losing the NA playoffs grand final to a young up-and-coming team from the region. They started both tournaments in the group stage, where they lost their initial match and then won two straight to make the playoffs. In the playoffs they got revenge on their fellow NA team in the first round and then beat DRX in the second round. Next, they lost the upper final to a dominant team from a region outside NA and EMEA. The revenge narrative prevailed in Iceland where they won a rematch in the grand final, but in Denmark the “OpTic can’t beat an EMEA team” narrative prevailed as they lost the lower final to FunPlus Phoenix.

Why has no team won multiple VCT international events? One reason might be the VCT schedule itself. Throughout their postmatch press conferences in Copenhagen, OpTic in-game leader Pujan “FNS” Mehta mentioned several times the fact that the team has had very little time to rest and innovate in between regional tournaments and international events.

Plus, their long and successful tournament runs give other teams a lot to study when playing them. When you consider the fact that the VALORANT metagame is constantly changing with new maps and agents (and agents being buffed and nerfed) every few months, it makes it very hard for any team to stay on top for long. It’s remarkable that OpTic have achieved three top-three finishes at Masters events dating back to Masters: Berlin 2021.

LOUD eliminated by OpTic in group stage

Photo credit: Riot Games

When Riot Games revealed Masters: Reykjavík finalists OpTic Gaming and LOUD were in the same group together, you knew they would end up facing each other. Of course, everybody thought they would win their opening matchups and face off to determine the first team to move on to the playoffs out of Group A. Instead, they both lost, putting them in an elimination match in which one of these two titans would go 0-2 and be out in the group stage. It was a shocking development and a disappointing way for LOUD to exit the tournament, especially when many rankings, including Nerd Street’s, had these two teams among the top two or three at the tournament. The consolation for LOUD is they’ll be back for Champions.

It also continues a string of disappointing encores for teams that have finished second at international VCT events. Fnatic finished second at Masters: Reykjavík 2021 and failed to qualify for Masters: Berlin. Envy (now OpTic) were the runners-up in Berlin and got eliminated during the group stage of Champions 2021. Gambit (now M3C) were second at Champions and didn’t qualify for Masters: Reykjavík 2022. While multiple teams that have won Masters and Champions have come close to winning another, teams that finish second just seem to fall off. That’s good news for FPX but bad news for Paper Rex at Champions.

Leviatán pull off crazy clutches against XSET

Photo credit: Riot Games

Entering Masters: Copenhagen, KRÜ were the LATAM team that everybody knew and whom some thought would actually perform better at the tournament considering their extensive international experience. Each won only one match, however, it was Leviatán who impressed with some unbelievable plays and clutch moments in their match against XSET. They beat XSET 2-1 in a thrilling match that saw Maps 2 and 3 go to overtime.

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In that match against XSET, Marco "Melser" Amaro won four 1v2s and one 1v4, and Francisco "kiNgg" Aravena pulled off the play of the tournament after it appeared Mesler had cost Leviatán the game. With Leviatán facing match point on Map 3, Melser was killed with the spike in heaven overlooking one of the bomb sites. It appeared to be a colossal blunder until kiNgg, who was playing Raze, blasted his way up to heaven, killed XSET’s Rory “dephh” Jackson who was guarding the spike, picked up the spike and brought it back down as he fell to his death. His sacrificial play ensured Leviatán would be able to get to the spike, plant it, win the round and send the match to overtime. It’s a play that will be talked about for years to come as one of the most unbelievable plays in VALORANT history.

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Crowd fills arena, but online viewership down

Photo credit: Riot Games

For the first time in VALORANT history, there was a crowd on hand to watch an international VCT event. Watching from home, it was great to hear a crowd in the background cheering during the player intros and whenever somebody pulled off a crazy play. The players themselves noticed the energy, and FNS thought the crowd was even louder than expected. Benkai said the team fed off the crowd, and it was very noticeable that Paper Rex and Fnatic were the most popular teams at the event.

However, this tournament was the least watched among all the international Masters and Champions events held so far. According to Esports Charts, Masters: Copenhagen reached a peak of just over 780,000 viewers. That’s below the 811,000 peak for Masters: Berlin last summer. Masters: Reykjavík 2021 and 2022 both had a peak of over 1 million viewers, and so did Champions 2021.

The Copenhagen peak was, of course, during the final. It’s a little concerning that an exciting five-map final with a live audience didn’t reach a higher peak, especially when the peak for other matches at the tournament were all below 600,000. At the same time, viewership for all esports tends to peak at the beginning and end of a game’s respective season. Copenhagen’s low peak is comparable to Berlin with both tournaments happening in the middle of the VCT season. Another factor could be that neither team has a huge fan base. Fans rooting for Sentinels as well as large audiences cheering for Brazilian and Japanese teams have certainly boosted numbers at previous tournaments. If viewership at Champions is back up, then there’s nothing to worry about. But if viewership is down for the second straight event, then it would be a reason for concern as the structure of the VALORANT esports scene is set to change dramatically in 2023.

Lead photo credit: Riot Games

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