Looking across the Top 16 teams heading into the Rise of Valour group stage for First Strike, there’s a lot of top-tier Oceanic Valorant talent from EXO and Order, to Kanga and more. However, Funcrew have slipped under the radar entirely to make it here, and for Christian “Fweshest” Bartolillo, his journey to the top has been anything but ordinary.
Valorant has coalesced a lot of communities together, not just in Oceania but across the world. You’ve got the honed skills of CS:GO players, the creativity of Overwatch players, a smattering of Rainbow Six, and even some battle royale players.
But you don’t have FIFA players. Well, unless you’re Funcrew.
Funcrew have taken the Oceanic Valorant scene by storm in the Rise of Valour First Strike qualifiers, making it through the Top 32 Swiss bracket in sixth to secure a spot in the final qualifier ahead of the main event.
The team is full of names you’ve likely never heard of. However, there is one name familiar to one community, and that’s former FIFA pro Christian “Fweshest” Bartolillo.
He is likely the only Valorant pro player across the world who’s primary accolades lay in the EA-developed football game. He played in the E-League for the Newcastle Jets, qualified for the major FUT Champions Cup Singapore 2019, and was widely considered one of Australia’s best players.
However, he gave it all up after three years of competing to dive into a completely new genre, on a completely new platform, and try his luck.
“Last year, I just decided I wanted to buy a PC to get into PC gaming. I’ve had some console FPS experience, but I’ve not had tactical FPS experience [before Valorant]. You look at the teams around us in the Top 16, and those players come from years of experience in tactical FPSes, and then you look at me and it’s FIFA — it’s really weird,” he told Snowball.
It’s not like the swap was some crazy thing that came to Fweshest in a dream. He has always had an interest in FPS titles, but never played a game like CS:GO in his life. It made the transition all the more difficult — he was jumping titles, platforms, and genres at once.
“I was playing a mixture of battle royale titles casually, and I always had an interest in Counter-Strike — from an outsider’s perspective, it was a very enjoyable esport to follow — and so I saw Valorant, though it looked like a fun game, and decided to give it a go.
“I had no idea about anything — I didn’t even know what a default was. Only like a couple of months in did I learn anything, but even then I’m still learning terminology and game sense. It was a wild change.”
Fweshest undertook a trial by fire. He spent weeks figuring out his way around a mouse and keyboard to start with, and then he finally started getting somewhere in matchmaking. Every bit of flame he received forged the armour he wears today with the Funcrew squad.
“Playing a lot of matchmaking and getting told off was a really big one. You know, the people that flame you and make you think ‘wow I really am sh*t’, that actually helped. It was a wakeup call,” he said.
“That’s exactly how I got scouted to Funcrew too — Eezy hit me up after a game and asked if I wanted to play in a team. It wasn’t a serious team, we were just going to play LPL Amateur and see how we went.”
Fweshest is the most well-known name on the Funcrew squad, despite being arguably the least experienced in a tactical FPS.
There is some other top-level experience — Steven “eezy” Tran was a Fortnite player, placing in the Top 15 of the Australian Open Summer Smash in 2019. However, the squad is made up of friendships and relationships — even by blood — in real life.
“tsR is an absolute fragging god, but he’s got the most ridiculous crosshair you’ll ever see. Thang map, Eezy’s brother, is cracked as well — one of the dirtiest Omens in Oceania. Funguy420 is thang map’s friend in real life too, so it’s a really close knit team. They all knew each other, and then they just grabbed me, and we’ve meshed together well.”
The squad, having come together after the Rise of Valour Ignition Series event, has gone on to top the LPL Amateur ladder with a 10-1 record, make the semifinals, and now qualify for the top 16 in the First Strike closed qualifier. Their rise is surreal to think about, and living it out has been even crazier.
“When we joined LPL Amateur, we didn’t even think we’d be first [there]. We just thought ‘let’s get Top 8 and have fun,’ but when we beat Pants Down in the Open Qualifiers a couple of weeks back, we started taking things seriously,” he said.
“There is an element [of surprise]. However, a lot of the teams around us — we have been scrimming them and they understand that we are decent at the game. We are five sharp individuals who play a good game.”
Pants Down were just one of the scalps Funcrew made on their way to Top 16. In the Swiss stage, they shocked MEX Invitational winners Order 15-13, as well as Mindfreak 13-7, to make it through. Their only loss was to second-seed Kanga, a 7-13 defeat on Haven.
“We just wanted the three wins, we didn’t expect to go 4-1. We got Mindfreak at 1-0 and we thought ‘there were a lot of other teams we would have rather played.’ After we beat them, we knew making three wins was possible, and then we also beat Order,” he said.
“We actually scrimmed Order a couple of weeks ago and they stomped us, and even when we played them they were so good, but we made it.”
Fweshest on the Cypher didn’t sit back on his laurels and let his more FPS-experienced counterparts do the fragging. He finished every game with a positive KDA, including nabbing 310 ACS against Kanga and 25 frags against PillowBangers. His average ACS of 251 is the highest on his team.
Despite professing he has a long way to go, it begs the question — if this is Fweshest at his most inexperienced, just how high is the skill ceiling? Well, for Funcrew, every win from here is a bonus from their initial expectations.
“We just take it as it goes. I didn’t think we’d get to the top 32 teams to begin with, and now we’re top 16. Who knows, we can definitely be a top 8 team — if we beat Order and Mindfreak, the sky’s the limit. We have a lot of strats we need to polish heading into the group stages, but we’re taking it as it goes. It’s been fun to get to this point already,” he said.
“We have the qualifiers for LPL Evolution as well, and it’d be great to make it there. We just want to keep winning though. We’re all really motivated and it’s good to see. We want to be a good solid team, and even the best. I have zero experience in a title like this, so it’s weird how it’s happened.”
He hasn’t totally left behind FIFA though. The friendships he forged competing at the top there were actually the biggest motivators behind him picking up Valorant. Now, their support — and Fweshest’s dedication — is paying dividends.
“My FIFA mates were the ones who were like ‘just go do it, go play [Valorant].’ They knew I could do well in any game I put my energy towards, so I dropped FIFA and started playing a game I truly enjoyed.
“They’re the biggest supporters of it. It’s crazy to see. There were times at the start of Valorant where I knew I was levels behind the top players, but they told me to keep grinding. I wasn’t the best at FIFA, but I worked hard and I made big events. They spurred me on to keep pursuing it, and seeing their response has been really crazy.”
Funcrew will face off against Avant, Gravitas, and Momentum Based in Group C of the Rise of Valour First Strike closed qualifier group stage, which starts on November 21.