Fnatic have another trophy in their sights at VALORANT Champions

by Brian Bencomo

LOS ANGELES -- Jake “Boaster” Howlett was in tears after winning VCT LOCK//IN earlier this year. After leading one of the best VALORANT teams in the world for the past two years and having lost in the final of the very first international VALORANT tournament, Masters Reykjavík 2021, Boaster finally had his trophy. Seeing the typically jovial Brit in tears was indicative of how much that first trophy meant to him.

“The emotions were from just kind of remembering all my previous losses and all of them kind of built up to today,” Boaster said in the postmatch press conference after the LOCK//IN final. “The idea that just people that I love are watching, and then I thought they might be proud.”

After years of being among the favorites at international VALORANT tournaments, Fnatic had finally broken through.

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When being interviewed onstage following the victory, head coach Jacob “mini” Harris spoke confidently about the year ahead.

“This is the first one, and we’re going for the second one and the third one,” he said.

Fnatic celebrate after winning VCT LOCK//IN. Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

Yet nobody would have been surprised if Fnatic had a letdown at the next international event of 2023, Masters Tokyo. After all, the competition at the highest levels of VALORANT has been so tough that no team had managed to win multiple international events. Plus, between LOCK//IN and Masters Tokyo, Fnatic lost the final of the VCT EMEA league. Yes, Fnatic did bleed.

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But Boaster and Fnatic defied the odds and won Masters Tokyo -- relatively easily too, as they didn’t lose any matches and only one map. They became the first team since the VALORANT Champions Tour kicked off in 2021, to win multiple international tournaments.

Trophies and more trophies

A couple months after Masters Tokyo, Fnatic are in Los Angeles for VALORANT Champions, and after winning their two group games, they’re ready for the start of the playoffs this week.

For a crownless team entering the year, a historic third trophy is in Fnatic’s sights. Timofey "Chronicle" Khromov is poised to potentially lift his fourth trophy, the most of any player.

“I don’t care about trophies. I’m just playing the game. That’s it,” Chronicle told reporters after Fnatic’s victory over ZETA Division in the group stage of VALORANT Champions. It’s not something you’d expect to hear from the VALORANT player with the most international trophies, but then again, maybe that’s the reason he’s found so much success.

Chronicle lifted his first trophy with Gambit Esports. Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

“Of course it's a cool achievement to have, but I don't think it gives some other like additional loyalty or respect for me,” Chronicle told Nerd Street in an interview following that press conference. “It just doesn't affect me in-game in real life. I'm just doing the same job, like over and over again.”

Just another day at the office.

Chronicle’s businesslike attitude has led him to win Masters Berlin with Gambit Esports in 2021 and VCT LOCK//IN and Masters Tokyo this year with Fnatic. Not only are the three international VALORANT trophies more than any other player has, it’s more than any team has.

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Among the three trophies he’s won, Chronicle said LOCK//IN was the hardest to win.

“Honestly, I think LOCK//IN was the hardest one because it was the new year. You can't expect something from many teams because they were playing their first matches or you don't know how good they are in terms of teamplay or individually because, at that moment, everyone just built their rosters … it was the first tournament for everyone in franchise,” he said. “And also, even though we went almost unbeatable until Map 3 [of the final] against LOUD, it was still kind of hard. Many games were kind of close.”

Chronicle became the first player to win two international trophies. Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

Not only were multiple new rosters and players debuting at LOCK//IN, but it has been the largest international VALORANT tournament to date with 32 teams competing. Also, unlike other VCT events, the entire tournament was single elimination, so Fnatic had to win all five of their matches to be champions. Plus, the final itself was contested against the reigning world champs in their home country of Brazil with the crowd going wild, and Fnatic had to come back from down 11-3 on the fifth and deciding map.

Fnatic the superteam

In winning Masters Tokyo earlier this summer, Chronicle’s teammates joined him in the multi-trophy club, and Fnatic became the first team to win multiple international events.

There are, of course, many elements to Fnatic’s success. One of them is the fact they have perhaps the greatest collection of talent in VALORANT history.

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Chronicle was a champion before coming to Fnatic, but in his mind, there’s no doubt 2023 Fnatic is better than Gambit ever was.

“Everyone is, if not the best, but just one of the best players in the world in terms of not even in terms of roles, just maybe the best players in the world,” he said about his current teammates.

Alfajer has been Fnatic's star player. Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

Emir "Alfajer" Beder might be the best player overall as he has been consistently topping the leaderboards in rating, ACS and K/D. Igor "Redgar" Vlasov, the in-game leader for Team Liquid -- the only team that has beaten Fnatic this year -- said in a pretournament press conference that the key to beating Fnatic is consistently winning 1v1s vs. Alfajer.

Leo "Leo" Jannesson, the team’s initiator, and Nikita "Derke" Sirmitev, Fnatic’s duelist, are deadly too and can be consistently found in the top five in these categories. Chronicle, himself, is no slouch as he consistently has one of the best ratings. He also is the most flexible player on the team. Lately, he’s been playing either Viper, a controller agent, or Breach, an initiator. At the LOCK//IN final, he played a different agent on each of the five maps, and the agents spanned all four categories: controller, initiator, sentinel and duelist.

Then there’s Fnatic’s in-game leader Boaster, who’s also very flexible and is considered one of the best in-game leaders. Alongside head coach mini, Fnatic have consistently stayed ahead of the competition strategically.

Mini, left, and Boaster, right, have been the brains behind Fnatic's success. Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

“There’s always stuff to fix, and there’s always mistakes that will happen, and you can’t stop them, but you can try to do less,” Boaster said in a recent press conference. “That’s what we’re striving for and that’s why we’re good I guess.”

Staying hungry

Another trophy -- the fourth for Chronicle and the third for Fnatic -- is on the horizon. With the Champions group stage now over, the playoffs get underway at The Shrine Expo Hall in Los Angeles this week before the scene shifts to The KIA Forum next week.

Despite winning two trophies already this year, Fnatic and Chronicle are still hungry. Neither have won Champions before. Chronicle lost the Champions 2021 final with Gambit to Acend, and Fnatic haven’t reached a Champions final.

Read more: VALORANT Champions 2023: Teams, schedule, format and groups breakdown

Having lost Champions before doesn’t give Chronicle any more incentive. He’s motivated enough already.

“It's hard to say if it gives me additional motivation to play because I always have a lot of motivation just to play the game because it drives me competitively,” he said.

Masters Tokyo was Fnatic's second trophy of the year. Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

Boaster did admit in a postgame press conference during the group stage that the team has adopted the mentality of forgetting the previous two trophies in order to focus on the task at hand. Plus, the fact this tournament is Champions is keeping the team hungry.

“Champions is like the equivalent of Worlds in League of Legends, and everyone wants to win a Worlds, so we’re just aiming for that,” he said.

Fnatic’s first playoff opponent will be a familiar foe, LOUD, in the quarterfinals. The rest of the field is pretty familiar too. Fnatic have faced (and beat) five of the playoff teams this year. They haven’t faced DRX or EDward Gaming yet this year, but that probably won’t be an issue for the best VALORANT team in the world right now.

Just because they’ve won all but one match this year doesn’t mean they’re taking another trophy for granted. Time and time again, we’ve seen in sports and esports that the dominant team throughout the year fails to win the final championship trophy of the year.

Boaster has been keeping the team focused for Champions. Photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

“Competition is always close, and it’s when you’re looking up at the trophy, it’s when you’ll get the rug swept from under your feet,” Boaster said in a conversation with VALORANT caster Josh “Sideshow” Wilkins just ahead of Champions.

We’ll see how this Fnatic team is remembered 10 years from how, but there’s a good chance they’ll be remembered as one of the greatest VALORANT teams of all time if they win that third trophy.

Lead photo credit: Colin Young-Wolff / Riot Games

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