Counter-Strike fans, rejoice! Many though that we’d have to wait until February, or at least late January before we saw the return of high tier matches in Global Offensive, but this isn’t the case as Funspark ULTI 2021 Finals starts this week.
The 8-team tournament is starting shortly, so in order to get you caught up with everything needed to know, as well as they key storylines present here, we have prepared this quick guide to get you in the first event of 2022 with first tier squads. Let’s take a look!
Funspark ULTI 2021 Finals will be starting this Tuesday (18th) at 11:00 AM UTC. You can check which time it will start in your time zone through here, by the way. The tournament will be featuring eight teams, four which received direct invites, two which qualified through previous Funspark events and two which qualified through circuit points. These eight teams will be competing online for the lion’s share of the tournament’s $250.000 prize pool.
As for the tournament’s format, Funspark ULTI 2021 Finals will be a single-stage event running a double-elimination bracket. All matches before the grand-finals are best-of-three series, and the grand-final is a best-of-five game. The team coming from the upper-bracket will have a one map advantage heading into the grand-finals. You’ll be able to follow all the action through the Champion of Champions official Twitch channel.
Now that we have the tournament details in stone, it’s time for the most interesting storylines heading into this event. Here are the teams you’ll want to follow in this event!
Astralis left 2021 with one major question: who will take the AWP? As a quick refresher, at the end of last year it was Astralis’ captain Lukas “gla1ve” Rossander who took the AWPer role, while Philip “Lucky” Ewald became a rifler for the team.
The change looked good initially, but it didn’t last long before most teams figured how to completely overwhelm this formation. After all, not having a dedicated AWPer in Counter-Strike is the same as being prohibited from facing the other high tier teams on the same level. Astralis in-game leader, gla1ve, isn’t doing a bad job with the AWP, but his skills with the big green gun just aren’t enough for the kind of competition Astralis usually faces.
So, coming to Funspark ULTI Finals, Astralis will be finally giving their answer. The squad didn’t do any changes during the player break, so they have two options. First, keep gla1ve on the AWP, hope that Andreas “Xyp9x” Højsleth recover his form and hope that gla1ve can do well with the sniper. Or Astralis gives the AWP back to Lucky, and hope that the young Dane can become the AWPer they need him to be. And also hope that Xyp9x recover his form.
Any of these answers are shrouded in uncertainty and counting in one of Astralis players returning to the level they’re expected to reach. While far from great, it’s what Astralis can do right now. As the organization just signed deals with the three aforementioned players, it’s hard to see them sending one of the two underperformers to the bench right now. It’s fair game to actually expect the Astralis that gets in the server this Tuesday be the same we’ll see until after March at least. Some questions are better left unanswered, but not this one.
When BIG unveiled Nicklas “gade” Gade as the replacement for İsmailсan “XANTARES” Dörtkardeş last year, the move was met with mild reception. Gade is a versatile player, sure, but he didn’t look like the ideal man to fill XANTARES’ shoes.
Unfortunately, gade ended simply not working for BIG as many expected, and the German squad failed to keep any relevance in the high tier scene by the end of 2021. It didn’t take long for changes to be announced, though, and now BIG is bringing up the big guns.
Announced back in late December, BIG acquired Josef “faveN” Baumann from Sprout in the “biggest transference in German CS history”. For those unaware, faveN has been Sprout’s star for a long while, and finished last year with an impressive 1.18 HLTV rating. While this rating was from playing mostly against the lower tiers of the European scene, faveN posted positive ratings even in the few high tier events Sprout took part in 2021.
However, the big question here is how BIG’s captain Johannes “tabseN” Wodarz will use his new player. faveN brings BIG the firepower they so desperately need, sure. Yet, it’s very important that tabseN precisely uses him in his game plan. XANTARES, after all, wasn’t just someone that brought frags to the squad. And it’s important to remember that BIG still have two players that don’t frag in the high numbers, meaning that there’s little space to work.
Still, if there’s one man to make this squad work, it’s tabseN. And if there’s one man to bring some firepower to this team, it’s faveN. The names for a German powerhouse are here, now it’s time to make it work. It took some time, but it’s finally here.
While coming to Funspark ULTI 2021 Finals as Extra Salt, the only North American team in the competition is all but confirmed to be Complexity’s next roster. This squad is composed by the core which played under Extra Salt last year and upgraded with ex-Liquid player Michael “Grim” Wince and Paytyn “junior” Johnson.
While the future is bright for this team, as they will have plenty of resources to use in their development, what can they do right now? It’s fair to say that there’s a lot of promise in this young roster, as the ES core present here have been quite dominant in their home territory, and even managed to break through some teams from Europe such as DBL Poney and MAD Lions last year.
Now, with an even better roster, this team is coming to Funspark ULTI with fairly high expectations. However, they will be facing an almost impossible challenge in their opening game as they face Gambit then. Afterwards they will most certainly face either Entropiq or ECSTATIC in the lower-bracket. Both games will be uphill battles, with the former being almost impossible. Yet, this roster will have to break through teams like those if they want to become more than NA’s third best squad. Put up a fight.
FNATIC left 2021 with their heads up. While they couldn’t reach IEM Winter’s playoffs, the English squad still put up a fight against Gambit, one of the best teams there. Now, it’s time to return to the grind from where they left off, and their starting point in 2022 is the Funspark ULTI Finals.
Here, FNATIC expectations are simple: reach at the very least top four. However, it wouldn’t be surprising to know that the squad is willing to go a bit further. With uncertainty surrounding Astralis right now, they could be very well the team that reach the grand-finals for a possible rematch against the tournament favorites, Gambit.
It won’t be easy, as right from the bat FNATIC will be facing the new BIG, but at this point, this FNATIC line-up has to show that they can confidently beat teams like BIG and Entropiq. They have played in two online events and one LAN since Owen “smooya” Butterfield joined, and now they had some extra time to put some preparation in this roster. It’s time to show that they can step up to the next level.
So, Funspark ULTI will end up being a tournament where we’ll be able to see whether or not this roster is worth being one of being considered one of the fifteen best teams in the world. Furthermore, it’ll also serve to see whether FNATIC is ready to go further or not, too. Step up ahead.
Gambit is heading to the Funspark ULTI Finals the same way they did at the V4 Sports Festival. As the favorites by a mile. While Gambit will certainly face a bit more of competition now, they still are the best team here. In fact, when considering how Gambit played at BLAST World Final, they seem even more dangerous.
Still, nothing is impossible, and there are enough teams with question marks that could upset the Russian powerhouse. Maybe Astralis has figured the AWP issue and gla1ve ends up overwhelming Vladislav “nafany” Gorshkov. Maybe BIG’s newest player is what the Germans needed to become a high tier contender. Or maybe FNATIC will have learnt enough from their last encounter and have their revenge. Any of these situations are highly improbable, but they are still there.
In any case, though, there’s no reason to be dwelling on what may happen with Gambit. Instead, what we know for sure is that this is by far the best team here. At least until any other squads proves otherwise. And whichever team faces Gambit, they’ll be in for one hell of a fight to even take one map. Gambit is just in another level right now compared to the other contenders in this event. Yours for the taking.
If you have been waiting long for the return of premier Counter-Strike, make sure you tune up this Tuesday. Funspark ULTI will kick off then with a match between Entropiq and ECSTATIC. Afterwards, BIG vs FNATIC will follow up. Both games will certainly be great matches to watch.
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