There are many who regard FunPlus Phoenix as the best Valorant team in the world. With one of the smartest minds in esports, some of the most talented fraggers in the game, and a rock-solid foundation, FPX is undoubtedly capable of beating any opponent and winning any competition.
The only thing is, FPX hasn’t won anything. It’s a roster which seems to be improving with every match, yet manages to lose in the end regardless. FunPlus has consistently faltered at the finish line, earning its title as Europe’s perennial second-place team.
The story of FunPlus Phoenix starts all the way back in the summer of 2020, after the breakups of the orgless, yet talented Party Parrots and FABRIKEN rosters. FunPlus Phoenix entered the Valorant scene on August 12, 2020, swooping up ex-members of both teams.
The roster consisted of the cerebral Counter-Strike veteran Kirill “ANGE1” Karasiow, along with his Party Parrot teammate Andrey “Shao” Kiprsky, young Sweedish superstar Pontus “Zyppan” Eek and his fellow Sweedish teammates, Tobias “ShadoW” Flodström and Johan “Meddo” Lundborg.
The roster was immediately hyped up as one of the potential best in Europe, and it entered its first tournament, the Allied Esports Odyssey, with whispers of whether they were capable of taking down the likes of Ninjas in Pyjamas, Team Liquid and G2 Esports.
Allied Esports Odyssey
After competing in the Allied Esports qualifiers under the team name ZyppanGoKill, the roster was officially signed just hours before the group stage began. The newly minted FunPlus Phoenix had a successful couple of days, finishing second and coming away with an upset win over G2 Esports, Europe’s far-and-away best Valorant team at the time.
However, that first series against G2 would be the only time FPX ever beat it, a long-running stain on the record of FunPlus Phoenix, which still grows to this day.
Round one of the Allied Esports playoff stage would be the second time FPX faced G2 Esports, just four days after their meeting in groups. Despite being able to upset G2 before, FPX narrowly lost in their second contest, dropping to the lower bracket. Despite the early loss, however, FPX would make an impressive run, first beating Ninjas in Pyjamas and then Team Liquid to run all the way to the grand finals, booking another rematch against G2.
It was an immensely impressive run for FunPlus Phoenix, beating what many thought to be two of the top three teams in Europe. But FPX hadn’t won the tournament yet, as G2 Esports still stood in its way. The finals would be G2 and FPX’s third matchup of the tournament. FPX had just beaten them just four days before, but G2 had already shown adaptations to FPX more recently, and there were questions of whether FPX could bring out anything new.
Map one Ascent was a quick 13-5 G2 victory, and although Bind was closer, G2 was just too formidable an opponent for the newly put together FPX team. G2 swept the series in two quick games, claiming the first-place title while FunPlus Phoenix was left behind in second.
The losses to G2 were painful, yes, but a second-place finish in its first-ever tournament was a fantastic start for FunPlus Phoenix. With the team immediately showing the potential to beat anyone in Europe, the future was looking bright for ANGE1, Zyppan and crew.
LVL Clash 2
With a couple more weeks of practice under its belt, FPX entered its second tournament, the LVL Clash 2, looking dominant. FunPlus went undefeated in the group stage and swept SKADE in the quarterfinals. Now in the top four, the FPX players were looking for their first tournament win under their new banner, but in their way, once again, stood G2 Esports.
Although toward the end of 2020 and now in 2021, G2 has fallen in comparison to newcomers like Team Heretics and Acend, G2’s domination over Europe throughout 2020 was relentless. From June to September, G2 won every single major European tournament, winning all seven Ignition Series events. They were simply the best players in Europe, and no one could beat them.
But FunPlus Phoenix was the new kid on the block, and no one really knew what it was capable of. While FPX was shut down by G2 earlier in August, that was FPX’s first attempt at a Valorant event. This version of FPX was more practiced and nuanced than it was a few weeks before.
Game one on Bind was incredibly close, but FPX looked to be coming out slightly ahead. The strategies employed by FPX were proving their formidability, and the players’ mechanical skills even matched G2’s Ardis “ardiis” Svarenieks and Óscar “mixwell” Cañellas Colocho.
With FPX up 12-9, it was looking like the newcomers were going to take map one, and be on their way to upsetting the mighty G2 Esports. The final rounds were again incredibly close, with all of them coming down to the final few seconds, but inevitably, each round fell to G2 Esports, which ultimately won the map, series and title.
Just like Allied Esport Odyssey, LVL Clash 2 ended in disappointment for FunPlus Phoenix. But still, this was a roster which was less than a month old, and it had already beaten every dominant team in the region, proving it was here to stay. The only squad which gave FPX trouble was G2 Esports.
BLAST Twitch Invitational
The final Ignition Series Event in Europe was the BLAST Twitch Invitational, running from the 11th of September to the 13th, exactly one month since the formation of FunPlus Phoenix. Up to this point, G2 had won every single tournament in the Ignition Series, and many more tournaments prior, making it the clear best team in Europe and quite possibly the world. This was especially true to FunPlus Phoenix, which just couldn’t seem to beat G2.
Only the four best teams in Europe were invited to the BLAST Twitch Invitational: Team Liquid, Ninjas in Pyjamas, G2 Esports and FunPlus Phoenix. In the small, four-team bracket, G2 and FPX each defeated NiP and Liquid, respectively, which meant that it would once again be G2 Esports and FunPlus Phoenix facing off as the two best teams in Europe.
Their matchup in the semifinals was nothing short of demolition, with G2 winning 13-3 in both maps, sweeping FPX for the fourth straight time and winning its seventh map in a row against the challenger. After sending home Team Liquid in the lower bracket, FPX had earned a rematch with G2 in the Grand Finals.
The final series of BLAST Twitch was a back-and-forth affair between the two juggernaut squads, but despite the fact, the same theme which had rung true for the past month rang once again; FPX faltered at the end and failed to walk away with a title.
The climb through the First Strike qualifiers were swift and easy for FunPlus Phoenix. Although the previous tournaments had all ended in disappointment, the Ignition Series was over, and First Strike had begun. With ANGE1 at the helm, Zyppan coming into his own and the whole team gelling, FunPlus was getting stronger and stronger with every win.
The orgless “nolpenki” team, led by Turkish superstar Mehmet Yağız “cNed” İpek, did not match up to FunPlus Phoenix, which won 2-0 in the quarterfinals to advance to the semifinals to face another orgless opponent, SUMN FC.
SUMN FC, which was later signed by Fnatic, was an orgless team very similar to FunPlus Phoenix. Led by a methodical IGL in Jake “Boaster” Howlett, SUMN FC played a tactical style similar to FPX’s. Boaster, a former Counter-Strike veteran, has long looked up to and modeled his play after ANGE1, a player who’s been praised for his game knowledge since his days in Counter-Strike 1.6.
The day of the semifinals saw Team Heretics defeat G2 Esports on the other side of the bracket to advance to the Grand Final. With G2 Esports eliminated from First Strike, this was the opportunity FunPlus had been waiting for, but the pressure was now on against Boaster’s SUMN FC.
Map one Split was a quick 13-4 rollover win for FunPlus Phoenix, but it quickly began to feel like déjà vu for FPX fans.
On Haven, the infamous cracks began to show. Faltering in the chaos of the nitty-gritty post plants, FPX began losing round after round, which eventually turned into the map for SUMN FC. Map three Bind was a disaster for FPX, and SUMN FC easily took the win, advancing to the grand finals, leaving FunPlus Phoenix in the dust with the all-too-familiar sting of disappointment.
The First Strike loss marked the end of 2020 for FunPlus Phoenix, a year which saw hype, potential and heartbreak. The Allied Esports Odyssey, LVL Clash 2, BLAST Twitch Invitational and now First Strike had all ended in disaster for FunPlus Phoenix. Two days after Team Heretics defeated SUMN FC and was crowned champions of First Strike, FPX announced the departure of its Cypher main, Meddo, looking for a fresh change of pace in 2021.
A much-needed two-month break followed the conclusion of First Strike, and the Valorant Champions Tour began in Europe in early February. Previously, about halfway through the offseason, FunPlus Phoenix announced the signing of Kazakhstan native Dmitriy “dimasick” Matvienko, who would be filling in the Cypher vacancy left by Meddo’s departure.
Three different Challengers events took place before March, each one representing opportunities to qualify for the ultimate Masters tournament. FunPlus Phoenix steamrolled through each of them, taking down cNed’s Raise Your Edge, Alliance and Team Liquid before getting revenge on Boaster’s Fnatic to officially qualify for Valorant Masters in dominant fashion.
Now, as we’ve seen, FunPlus Phoenix has gone on dominant runs in the past, but the team truly looked better than ever coming into Masters, and this time, perpetual enemy G2 Esports, had been shockingly eliminated by DFuseTeam in Challengers 3. G2 Esports had long been the kryptonite to FPX, and the team which blocked FPX from claiming titles. But with them out of the picture and FunPlus looking unstoppable, all the stars seemed to be aligning.
The thing which makes FunPlus Phoenix such a hard team to root for is that the hype around it is always legitimate. The team’s performance hypes up iself; it enters events looking lights-out dominant, and fans rightfully rally behind it. They play a very methodical style which is so incredibly punishing when teams aren’t ready for it. But in the final seconds, when push came to shove and the chaos ensued, the cracks in the foundation of FPX emerged, and the whole operation faltered.
Then the next tournament comes around and things look positive again. Because the team made changes here and an improvement there, it looks much stronger than it was before. But in the end, it never matters, because despite how many improvements they make to the foundation, the team loses all strength once the pressure reaches a maximum.
FunPlus Phoenix looked dominant in the Masters group stage, defeating Guild and DFuseTeam before falling to the relentless reign of cNed in the semifinals and being eliminated by Acend. cNed’s takeover of Masters is a story in itself, but it can’t be another excuse for FunPlus Phoenix.
This is a team which always looks dominant, but how can we call a team dominant when it consistently fails at the finish line? How can we say FunPlus Phoenix is one of the best teams in the world after faltering again and again?
It’s such a challenging issue to diagnose, because FPX dominates so often. It’s only in the chaotic, high-pressure moments deep into playoffs do they falter. As fans and outsiders, it’s impossible to know exactly what happens internally, and how communication goes in-game. It’s a difficult issue to fix, but a necessary one for FunPlus Phoenix.
Despite its turbulent history, FunPlus Phoenix somehow still looks like one of the most dominant teams in its region and is a favorite to be one of the two European squads to qualify for the international Masters 2 in Reykjavik, Iceland. With all the talent in the world, FPX’s fate remains in its hands as Europe’s second-place team continues its chase for a title.