Photo credit: Into The Breach and Freddie Pritchard (@grimyrannarr)
The 2023 Blast Paris Major may have been won by Vitality in their home country, but there was also an underdog story that made this final major so special to the UK CS community. Finn MacCarthy recounts Into the Breach’s (ITB) incredible run that saw them become the first UK organisation to reach a CSGO Major, even managing to break into the top eight.
Going into the qualifying period, ITB were in their infancy compared to titans like Faze, Fnatic and Navi. The UK organisation’s first CS team initially formed in 2021.
The squad that made it to the major were younger still, having only been playing together for a month prior to the RMRs (qualifying stages). They were written off by many, viewed only as fodder for the big EU teams like Navi to run through on their way to the major. The reality was very different.
Less than two weeks after the current roster came together, they entered the open qualifier for the Paris 2023 Major.
They swiftly put together an undefeated record without dropping a single map. This was more than enough to qualify for the next round, in which they went 3-2, losing only to Eternal Fire and 9INE, both much larger and more experienced organisations. Despite this, their results were enough to pull and make it to the final round of qualifying.
This is where the story begins to deviate from what pundits and experts predicted. Their first opponents in this stage were the aforementioned Navi, one of the favourites to win the whole major, and home to one of the greatest players to ever touch the game: s1mple. However, the path to victory for the Ukrainian team was anything but.
ITB managed to take one of the strongest teams on paper to a 19-22 overtime, narrowly losing in the final few rounds. This was, to say the least, a surprise to the community, but little did we know that this was only the first in a long line of improbable results that ITB would be a part of in this tournament.
The Navi result turned out to be far from a fluke. Immediately after it, they dispatched Sprout 16-7, and then even more impressively beat Virtus Pro 16-13, before Into the Breach finally qualified for the Paris Major legends bracket in unlikely fashion by beating B8 2-1 in a best-of-three series.
This all happened so fast, so let’s take a second to ask the burning question on everyone’s minds: how?
There are several running theories that try to explain ITB’s success at this major. One is that because they were a smaller and relatively unknown org compared to the bigger teams, and that other teams didn’t have great knowledge of their gameplay style.
They weren’t viewed as a serious threat at the Paris Major, and therefore energy wasn’t wasted on them; all the big teams tried to prepare for each other, perhaps without giving teams like ITB a second thought.
This allowed ITB’s second advantage to come into play with even stronger effect: their very unorthodox and aggressive playstyle. Thanks in equal parts to Thomas’ in-game leadership and CYPHER’s quite frankly insane entry fragging style, they were able to blindside some teams with unexpected rushes and flashes of individual brilliance. This playstyle unsettled the very experienced Virtus Pro roster so much, that they ended up dropping the map after a 10-5 half in favour of ITB’s Terrorist side.
Of course, this playstyle wouldn’t have been possible without an obscene amount of confidence on the part of the fraggers. CYPHER especially won a lot of fans over the course of the tournament, putting up insane numbers almost every map, never seeming to find himself in a gunfight he didn’t think he could win, even when outnumbered. Whether it was AK-47, M4 or even Deagle in hand, he was pulling the trigger on sight, and getting an alarming amount of kills.
They weren’t just one-trick ponies, though. It takes more than just a brave entry frag and “running it down mid” to get top eight at a major. ITB also showed an ability to play textbook Counter-Strike with the best of them, and it was this flexibility that sparked one of the most insane upsets of the tournament.
After dropping a map to Apeks at the start of the Legends stage, they met Faze Clan, another favourite to go all the way in CSGO’s final major, and one of the most individually stacked rosters in the game.
Naturally, the UK underdogs killed any momentum that Faze had by beating them 16-12 after a 10-5 CT side. Both CRUCIAL and CYPHER delivered standout performances, shutting down Faze’s offense and picking their defense apart.
After this inspiring performance that literally shifted CSGO’s sticker economy, they went on to defeat Fnatic in a best-of-three to qualify for the top eight of the major and play in front of a live crowd for the first time.
However, all good things must sadly come to an end, and ITB met their match on the stage in Paris on the night of May.
The odds were truly stacked against them: the pressure of performing on one of the largest stages in esports for the first time, the pressure of being the first team to represent the UK at a major, and most importantly, their opponents.
Vitality were on a hot streak, undefeated in this major, and of course having the home field advantage, being a French team in France’s first ever CSGO major. The atmosphere in the arena was palpable; the French fans were audibly relishing every kill, round and map that went Vitality’s way, and resenting every one that didn’t.
Despite making it close, and still having those flashes of brilliance that had been present throughout this tournament, the French titans were the better team on that night. ZywOo, France’s crown prince of CSGO, rose to the occasion and made his country proud by delivering two amazing performances when it mattered most.
Vitality’s fairytale ending was realised, then, with them eventually going on to win the whole tournament. ZywOo’s first major, Vitality’s first major, and France’s first major, all in front of the home crowd. And let’s not forget – the first time a UK team qualified for a Major. It was a beautiful way to wave goodbye to CSGO.
But this major was not only a wave goodbye. The entire community waved a warm hello to the charming personality, thrilling gameplay style and inspiring underdog story of the tea-drinking, Tesco-bag-toting, meal-deal-munching ITB boys.
UK CS has landed. God save the kings. Roll on CS2.
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