Could FURIA be dark horses at Antwerp?
Five months and three LANs into their new roster's lifespan, we take a look at FURIA's chances of doing the unthinkable at the Major
Brazil has not had a truly great team since SK in 2017. Succeeding that team as Brazil and South America's best team has left FURIA with a heavy crown. They have won just three tournaments, all of them North American online cups during the pandemic, during their reign as Brazil's best.
Yet, despite rarely converting it to championships, their potential to do so has always been there. After a solid transfer window at the beginning of 2022, adding the solid André "drop" Abreu permanently and securing the AWPer they had missed so much in 2021 in the form of Rafael "saffee" Costa, FURIA once more are on the rise.
Performances thus far in 2022 have been more impressive than their results might show. saffee is settling, Andrei "arT" Piovezan has been unleashed on the rifle, and they have had enough time together that they enter the Major without the asterisk of being a 'new' lineup.
The winner of the Major is anyone's guess, meaning that opportunity is knocking for FURIA and the clump of top ten teams who all know a fairytale run is possible. So, could PGL Antwerp be the moment FURIA break their glass ceiling, and put together a deep run against the very best competition?
FURIA's emergence as a real force came in 2019, where the core of arT, Kaike "KSCERATO" Cerato, and Yuri "yuurih" Santos managed to clinch a top four finish at DreamHack Masters Dallas and a second-placed finish at ECS Season 7 Finals, defeating Era Astralis twice in the group stage. In 2020, with a reliable AWPer in Henrique "HEN1" Teles, they were even more impressive: dominating the North America region during the pandemic, there were real hopes FURIA could keep it up once the two regions were re-united.
That, of course, did not come to pass. The sudden departure of HEN1 was a blow FURIA struggled to come back from; American sniper Paytyn "junior" Johnson struggled to adapt, and his removal meant arT's explosiveness was limited by his status as the team's primary AWPer. Despite a top 8 finish at PGL Stockholm, 2021 was an undeniable disappointment.
Put simply, the team had a firepower problem. Given the presence of two supportive players — Vinicius "VINI" Figueiredo and Lucas "honda" Cano (and then drop) — a trio of yuurih, KSCERATO, and arT was overly relied upon for the heavy lifting. The pressure of being a third star who needed to perform consistently did not suit arT, a player who values information higher than his own life; highs of 0.78 KPR at IEM Katowice 2021 led to the low of 0.57 KPR at PGL Stockholm.
As teams were leaning more and more towards passive AWPers, the relatively hybrid primary AWPer (with a sniper kill percentage of just 31%) arT was drowning: in 2021, he had a DPR of 0.71, while players like Dmitry "sh1ro" Sokolov and Helvijs "broky" Saukants were in the 0.50s. Worse, FURIA were one of the worst top 20 teams in 4v5 situations despite being in them so often, and their poor trading stats are another unavoidable symptom of arT's aggression.
This volatility meant arT and FURIA could never be anything more than an X-Factor team: They were sure to provide entertainment and the occasional upset, but they were a cut below the highest echelon of European Counter-Strike. Re-inforcements were needed, and they came in the form of saffee. A late bloomer — he was 24 when he started playing CS:GO properly in 2019 — the AWPer had starred for paiN in 2021, with an eye-catching showing in his four maps at PGL Stockholm enough to convince FURIA the potential they had seen online was real.
In an off-season where moves for Robin "ropz" Kool, Ilya "m0NESY" Osipov, Peter "dupreeh" Rasmussen and Emil "Magisk" Reif grabbed headlines the addition of saffee threatened to go under the radar. But it just made sense; a consistent AWP presence alongside the twin threat of yuurih and KSCERATO was a trio dripping with potential. And — arguably more importantly — arT would be released back to what he does best: information gathering on the rifle at whatever cost.
As the player fourth in line for FURIA, arT's inconsistency should have gone from an Achilles heel to a serious weapon; rather than as an off-meta aggressive and inconsistent AWPer, FURIA now wield arT as one of the most impactful IGLs in world Counter-Strike. Information has become the number one priority for in-game-leaders: gone are the days of Mathias "MSL" Lauridsen jumping through every chokepoint for Philip "aizy" Aistrup or Markus "Kjaerbye" Kjærbye to trade.
The new style of in-game-leading, pioneered by Lukas "gla1ve" Rossander, lets teams' captains gather information at source, preventing the game of Chinese whispers in-game-communications often becomes. On paper, it makes sense: go hunting for early information early on in defaults, and then — without having to even think about your own crosshair — use that information to call for your four remaining players. arT took this principle to a semi-logical extreme, consistently posting more than 35% opening kill attempts ever since he burst onto the tier one scene in 2019 — even while he AWPed in 2021.
In ESL Pro League Season 15, and PGL's Americas RMR, the full effect of having a player as good as arT as your fourth-best player was seen. Posting 1.13 and 1.15 Ratings respectively — ridiculous numbers for someone this aggressive — FURIA and arT were flawless at the RMR and impressive at Pro League, picking up wins against Outsiders, Vitality, ENCE, Astralis and only losing to the best team in the world FaZe. arT's openers and information were a huge part of this, though it might be unreasonable to expect him to maintain a success rate of more than 50% in opening duels considering he is attempting more than 35% of his teams.
What is so good about this FURIA team — on paper — is that they should not need him to open rounds as often as in the past. Other than against the likes of FaZe and Natus Vincere, the trio of yuurih, KSCERATO, and a comfortable saffee should be enough firepower to convert arT's information into round wins on their own.
A less celebrated part of this team is drop, but even in the hardest spots the academy graduate has posted a genuinely respectable 1.01 Rating, 73% KAST, and 0.59 DPR in 2022. These impressive stats match with the eye test: Alex "Mauisnake" Ellenberg has praised drop for "making good decisions" consistently, and the academy graduate many fairly assumed was a temporary 5th has made the support role VINI held for so long his own.
The real fuel in the FURIA machine, though, is the duo of yuurih and KSCERATO. Thanks to arT's aggression, they are allowed to be purely mid and late round players, something they are incredibly efficient at doing.
Both parts of the duo are consistently above the 1.10 mark in terms of rating, 80 ADR, and below 0.6 DPR, form that is probably still underappreciated. KSCERATO's consistency is especially impressive, having posted a 1.00+ rating in 70.2% of his maps in 2022 — higher than the likes of ropz (67.3%) and Valeriy "b1t" Vakhovskiy (65.9%).
Though they are probably not quite as dangerous as the ruthless combinations of Denis "electroNic" Sharipov and b1t or ropz and Russel "Twistzz" Van Dulken, there are not many other rifling duos that can hold a candle to yuurih and KSCERATO. Where arT's explosiveness always leaves question marks, FURIA know they can rely on their 'yurato' duo, who are undoubtedly the two best Brazilian players of the last few years.
With the addition of saffee, who had previously shown remarkable consistency with paiN, FURIA have another question mark. To date. saffee has not quite shown the same floor he had in 2021, despite attracting praise from yuurih who told Jaxon that he "thought [FURIA] would need more time to get where we are now […] saffee is a very calm guy, good to have as a teammate"
That saffee is still adapting to FURIA's style could be a negative, but it also offers upside in the form of untapped improvement. FURIA are already a dangerous side with their 2021 trio; add the saffee of 2021 to that proposition and FURIA's potential can be unlocked. If he can add a consistent AWP to the side like HEN1 did to such great effect in 2020, we are talking about a top five team in Counter-Strike.
And, after a tricky start — 1.00 ratings in EPL and Katowice are nothing to write home about for an AWPer — his confidence seems to be picking up with him posting a 1.33 Rating and 1.57 K/D ratio at the RMR, though he did return to Earth with a 1.05 rating in the BLAST Spring Showdown.
FURIA's loss in the final of that Showdown to paiN brought an end to a 10-map winning streak. This defeat, where both saffee and arT dropped below a 0.81 Rating was a stark reminder that, despite the reasons for optimism I have already detailed in this piece, a FURIA victory at PGL Antwerp would represent a fairytale run even greater than that of Gambit at PGL Krakow or Cloud9 at ELEAGUE Boston 2018. That the defeat included a 20-22 loss on Vertigo, a map FURIA have not lost on against top 30 opposition in 2022, was especially concerning.
However,FaZe and Natus Vincere are two of many teams that ban Vertigo permanently, meaning it is one of the worst maps to have as your pocket pick anyway. In the Major, to complete that fairytale run, FURIA would be extremely fortunate to not have to defeat at least one of those two superteams.
FURIA have historically struggled against Natus Vincere, with Oleksandr "s1mple" Kostyliev posting a 1.33 Rating in 15 maps against the Brazilians, consistently deploying his AWP perfectly to counter FURIA's fast-paced style. They did run FaZe close in ESL Pro League, losing 16:13 and 19:16 in the semi-finals and 2:1 in the group stage, but the point remains that FURIA, despite building a well-balanced side on paper, are outmatched.
Their map pool is also a myriad of question marks: Their only win in 2022 on Inferno, the most played map in the game, against top 30 opposition was a 16-6 win against FaZe, something that seems to be an anomaly given 16-8 losses to paiN and Wisla Krakow this year. Mirage and Nuke are the two next most played maps, and FURIA have five wins and five losses apiece on them in 2022 versus top 30 teams.
It is obviously unreasonable to expect a victory at this Major for FURIA. Yet, after three years as Brazil's premier team, there is justification for cautious optimism that now is the time they can truly announce themselves on the international stage. Antwerp might come too soon for them, with saffee — who has never played in front of a crowd — still in his adaptation period, but this Major represents an opportunity that might not come around again for a while.
We are entering a period of parity — similar to before PGL Krakow 2017 — with external factors undeniably (and reasonably) weakening Natus Vincere, Cloud9, and Outsiders and creating a vacuum at the top of the scene. The ambitious projects at G2 and Vitality have spluttered. Heroic and ENCE are yet to truly prove themselves as championship contenders in front of a crowd. FaZe are number one, and clear favourites, but they do not have the fear factor of a Natus Vincere in Stockholm or prime Astralis just yet.
For teams like FURIA — and everyone else, to be fair — there is no reason to not have the confidence they can cause a stir at this Major. A loss to paiN online does not counter the promise they have shown in 2022, despite denying them valuable momentum and a chance to play in front of a pseudo-home crowd in Lisbon. arT's style has mellowed; they no longer need to go outrageously off-meta to stand a chance against the best teams in the world, though they are more than capable of returning to their old tricks when necessary.
Yes, they are not a flawless team — and they have not quite shown the same potential against European opposition. Having a deep run at the Major would require a deeper map pool, overperformances from arT and saffee, and a heavy dose of fortune. But, FURIA are a team that thrives in chaos. There are not many teams you'd want to avoid more than FURIA if you were under the kind of pressure FaZe will be under in this tournament; their style can be suffocating in a way few others can emulate.
This Major only needs a few upsets to be blown wide open. And who better than FURIA to waltz through those open doors? With the stable base of drop, the terrifying presence of arT and the ridiculously consistent "yurato" rifle duo alongside the undeniable upgrade of saffee, FURIA can put Brazil back on the map at this Major. Discount them at your peril.