5 Korean VALORANT Teams You Need To Keep An Eye On
While Sentinels reign supreme at the VALORANT Champions Tour, the subtle show-stealer was the affable story of NUTURN Gaming’s bronze medal finish. With little press or adulation, the sole South Korean representatives approached the event with strict suspicion and few touting their banners. However, after their upset victory over Version1, NUTURN Gaming was firmly pinned into the map as a team to take seriously—and in that same vein, South Korea was a region to take notice of.
As NURUTN returns home with bronze in their pockets, both new challengers and familiar faces await their return. If their accomplishment, style, or story caught your attention, then take this as a friendly recommendation, a survival guide to what is to come; because these are the teams and players you are going to want to pay very close attention to.
1. Vision Strikers
If you don’t know, it’s time you learn about the rightful kings of South Korean VALORANT. The obvious choice here is Vision Strikers. With 102 straight series wins, Vision Strikers still remains the region’s gigantic threat—even with their dominant reign put to rest.
With stars at nearly every position, the person who truly steals the show is support ace, Kim "stax" Gu-taek. Not only is he right where he needs to be to flash his team in on picks like Skye and Breach, but his lethality nearly rivals some of the best in the world. Stax is the backbone of Vision Strikers offence and is a cornerstone of their defensive holds. However, what stands out narratively is their new dynamic coming into VALORANT Champions Tour (VCT): Challengers 3.
Recently Vision Strikers announced the departure of veteran South Korea FPS star, Kim "glow" Min-soo. In his stead, the team tapped former Cloud9 Korea and BearClaw Gaming duelist, Yu "BuZz" Byung-chu, as well as former TUBEPLE Gaming player, Kim "MaKo" Myeong-kwan. This will be the first major shift for the team since their dominant run came to an end during Challengers 2. Expectations run high for the team that was the odds on favourite to represent South Korea at Reykjavik, Iceland - perhaps Berlin will play host to them soon enough.
Looking for something a bit more fast and loose? Looking for a team with flair, and who isn’t afraid to blitz in headfirst, disregarding the safety of the round? While hyperbolic, F4Q are a shinning stylistic foil to the regions' tendency to play very cautious and methodical. Led by former Overwatch League stars Chae "Bunny" Joon-hyuk and Kim "zunba" Joon-hyuk, the team wields an aggressive style that specialises in quick and direct site takes and Bunny’s proficiency with a Judge. However, this wasn’t a success story overnight.
From grovelling in group stages during the VCT: Challengers 2 qualifiers, to being the first team to best Vision Strikers in a full series—the growth of this team cannot be understated. F4Q has made consistent improvements and refined down their berserker-esque rushes to become a bit more controlled and throughout. Now, not only do they have some of the most mechanical gifted players, but they have a thoughtfulness to their play. Take, for example, zunba’s exemplary Astra performance in F4Q’s victory over Vision Strikers. The way he was able to not only smoke key positions on the map but also set his team up for combos with his Gravity Well was impressive on its own merits—but it was the consistency, and how they did so, that gives them the proverbial gold star.
While that review is glowing, for good reason, F4Q have some ground to make up and will likely remain a team that can easily punch above their weight. They could easily see a semifinals berth if their cards fall right with their explosive style, but the consistency of the remaining teams makes a trip to Germany unlikely.
3. DAMWON Gaming
Narrowly avoiding a trip to Reykjavik, Iceland, DAMWON Gaming cannot be ignored when it comes to the discussion of the best in South Korea. With silver stuck firmly in their pockets after a competitive, yet one-sided lose to NUTURN Gaming in the Challengers 2 grand finals, DAMWON has finally found their footing.
While they started with a solid competitive stance, DAMWON lacked something that differentiated them from the crowd. To say they did away with their jack-of-all-trades moniker would be disingenuous, but looking at the more modern DAMWON Gaming, it is clear they are preparing some very creative looks for their opponents. They were one of the only teams to actually mirror some of the more western meta picks like Astra—but they also found some success with Yoru, specifically on Bind. That, combined with their form as of late, has gifted them a seat at the table with South Korea’s best.
However, what might push them over the edge is the acquisition of one of the best Omen’s in South Korea, former BearClaw Gaming support, Kang "iNTRO" Seung-gyun. He, alongside Kim "Secret" Ha-jin, create a powerful supporting cast for DAMWON’s weapons to find purchase on those who stand across the aisle. If you weren’t familiar with Kim "t3xture" Na-ra’s Jett before, with these two flanking him, South Korea easily has another competitive team added to their ranks as well as a contender for international play.
4. TNL Esports
If NUTURN Gaming was the epitome of South Korean VALORANT, TNL Esports quietly stand as another representative of this slow and passive style. After their impressive performance during First Strike, TNL Esports has waiver at the top as they seem to slightly struggle to maintain a top spot. Through iteration after iteration, team captain Yu "TS" Tae-seok seems to run a fairly tight ship with how strategy is handled within TNL. Not that it is a bad thing, but you always know what you’re going to get. And you have to give your hat to Park "exy" Geun-cheol as the team’s signature duelist ace.
Distinguishing them from the pack, TNL Esports rarely will contest aggression when a team attack an objective. Instead, they often wait for their rotations to arrive, then proceed to break in and execute a set plan. This consistent reliance on playing for retakes on defence can be seen as one dimensional, but with how early we are in VALORANT, it seems to be working. However, once again, TNL Esports faces an impasse.
Circling back to the idea of iteration, TNL consistently have had late-stage roster swaps that throws a spanner into the works of the team. Regardless of finger-pointing towards who or what is to blame for the roster shuffling, TNL faces this again after longstanding pieces Jung "RyZzi" Gi-jin and Kim "Harry" Han-kyu parted ways with the team on May 27th. With Challengers 3 quickly approaching, can TNL Esports bounce back after facing another roster dilemma?
5. GOnGO Prince
As an honourable mention, GOnGO Prince does have some distinct attributes that could see them progress in the coming months. Stylistically, they don’t differ from the regional norms; they are an incredibly patient and even a passive team.
Laying bear traps and catching lurking opponents off-guard sits comfortably in their wheelhouse. However, they specifically can fall prey to what looks like analysis paralysis. In less flowery term; they can lack strong and divisive engagements. Even in their most recent matches against NUTURN Gaming during the Challengers 2 quarterfinals, GOnGO Prince has a handful of rounds where they simply wait for the action to be thrust onto them and refuse to take space.
That said, GOnGo Prince is more than capable of competing, mechanically speaking, with the top teams in South Korea. Leaning on Ha "kobra" Su-hyun and Kim "Halbae" Jun-young, GOnGO Prince is a team that lives and dies by its supports—which only further indicates their preferred tempo. Tasked with increasing their strategic depth and showing more proactivity, GOnGO Prince the outside darkhorse pick for Challengers 3.
Images via Riot Games