Can The Underdogs From South Korea Splash Out In VCT: Masters Berlin?
While all eyes are on Vision Strikers, South Korea’s second seed headed to VALORANT Champions Tour (VCT): Masters Berlin is most certainly a team to set alarms for.
Packing veteran experience and the power to pin some of the best domestically against the ropes, F4Q approach their first international appearance with an eagerness to prove themselves. Hiding behind the guise of their regional leaders, can the underdogs in F4Q manage to make a dent in Berlin, Germany?
Debuting as a self-proclaimed “bunch of streamers who wanted to get the clips”, F4Q’s first major showcase was during First Strike Korea. After confidently marching through the closed qualifiers, F4Q would ultimately be sent home in the quarterfinals by none other than the giants of South Korea, Vision Strikers. However raw and rugged their play seemed, it was undeniable that many of its stars had a massive amount of potential.
While their performance during VCT: Stage 1 Masters left a lot to be desired, F4Q’s next point of note comes from their rise to domestic prominence during Stage 2 Challengers. Placed within Group A, F4Q was assumed to battle other mid-table teams like World Game Star and I need Girlfriend for the second seed. However, F4Q had their own agenda and after dishing out Vision Strikers their first loss in over 100 games, F4Q would be the ones who would advance as the top seed.
Since then, the team has seen a steady and successful domestic climb, resulting in their grand finals appearance during the Stage 3 Challengers Playoffs against none other than their domestic rivals, Vision Strikers. While this will be both team’s first international appearances, F4Q flys into Berlin, Germany with very few expectations, leaving room for massive upset potential.
The team itself is led by former Overwatch League alumni, Chae "Bunny" Joon-hyuk and Kim "zunba" Joon-hyuk. As competitive Overwatch began to bud in South Korea, Bunny was a dominant force on Tracer during OGN’s Overwatch APEX League on BK Stars before transitioning to the Seoul Dynasty and then the Los Angeles Valiant for the inaugural season of the Overwatch League.
Standing as an undoubted first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee, zunba was an overlooked but incredible supporting actor for Lunatic-Hai, one of the most successful teams prior to the start of the Overwatch League. And similarly to Bunny, zunba also joined the Seoul Dynasty for his Overwatch League tenure.
Ironically enough, both now perform similar roles to the Overwatch counterparts in VALORANT. Bunny on his signature Raze, and zunba more on smoke oriented heroes, starting with Omen and finding impressive success with Astra. And while these two might be initial fan favourites from their past successes, the remainder of the team stands as equals when it comes to VALORANT mechanics.
After assisting T1’s initial foray into VALORANT in South Korea, Jeong "Esperanza" Jin-cheol is one of the team’s most recent acquisitions and pilots more of the supportive picks like Sova and Sage. However, don’t let the role of support fool you, Esperanza’s stellar performance during VCT: Stage 3 Challengers Playoffs earned him MVP.
While Yoo "fiveK" Sung-min can often be found putting on surgical rifle performances lurking about the map on Reyna, F4Q has recently dabbled with moving him more towards a supportive role on maps like Bind.
And rounding out F4Q is the team’s resident sentinel player, Kim "Efina" Nak-yeon. When it comes to defence, be it guarding flanks or solo holding a site, look no further than Efina’s expert Killjoy play.
With that said, is a strong narrative, some tangential experience in other esports titles, and mechanically strong players enough to push this plucky underdog squad over the edge in their first international event?
F4Q’s keys to victory sit firmly in their loose and aggressive playstyle. Since their inception, F4Q has adopted the philosophy of “the best strategy is no strategy.” Nevertheless, since the start of the year, the team has been much more coordinated but have not lost the attribute that brought them this far and still maintains some of the best direct executes arguably in the world. With that in mind, it should be no surprise that F4Q tends to lean heavily on double-duelist compositions centred around Bunny’s Raze and often featuring fiveK on Reyna. However, the stopping power that F4Q possess comes directly from how their individual pieces work together.
One of their strongest duo’s comes by way of Bunny and Zunba. Bunny’s mechanics on Raze are unmatched, specifically his movement and control with Raze’s Blast Packs. Coupled that alongside Zunba’s world-class Astra mechanics and mid-round IQ you have an entry threat that sees the young team look explosive on attacking rounds.
A fantastic example comes by way of F4Q’s upset victory over Vision Strikers during the Stage 2 Challengers group stages. With Bunny’s propensity to play an aggressive entry, often flying into close positions with a quick Judge hit—see the round 14—the duo sets up to pinch anyone standing in U Hall. Zunba lays a well-placed Gravity Well towards the exit as Bunny spearheads with his patented shotgun. This leaves the defender stuck between a rock and a hard place; either face Bunny’s advance head-on or retreat into oncoming crowd control. While the former Overwatch pair is a significant factor in the majority of F4Q’s games, the remaining players are no slouches.
As we mentioned earlier, F4Q has recently shown trends to attempt to move away from their traditional double-duelist setups. And while fiveK’s Skye didn’t land with the most value during their grand finals performance against Vision Strikers, the teams headed to Berlin will want to, at the very least, consider this as a potential look that could be thrown at them. However, outside of any remaining growing pains slowing them down, F4Q is going to be dictating the tempo of each of their matches.
What stands as F4Q’s biggest obstacle is who they’ve drawn in their group stage bracket. Landing with North America’s top seed and the odds-on-favourite to win it all, Sentinels are a tough task for any team. Next on the docket are Southeast Asian top representatives, Bren Esports. And rounding out the group is Europe’s G2 Esports. With power like that standing on the horizon, this will not only be a strong litmus test for F4Q but for the South Korean region as a whole.
When it comes to predicted results, unfortunately, Sentinels are an easy pass to the playoffs, but if F4Q can maintain control of the pace of their matches and find purchase with Bunny’s aggressive entry style, they have a solid chance of advancing from Group D as the second seed.
However, there is an outside—and we mean far outside—chance that perhaps F4Q become giant slayers in the wake of Berlin. Hypothetically, if Sentinels come underprepared and perhaps look past South Korea’s second seed, we have seen what F4Q can do against seemingly insurmountable odds.
To reiterate, Vision Strikers’ massive win streak was put to a confident end by F4Q.
Perhaps they can muster that same kind of strength against Sentinels.
More realistically speaking, F4Q is a strong pick for Group D—but specifically advancing as the group’s second seed. Sadly, when it comes to playoffs, it all depends on how the remaining groups play out. Whale F4Q’s style is potent, it does act as a double-edged sword. Teams considered for playoffs are, by in large, much more versatile when it comes to macro strategy, and we simply have not seen F4Q wield as deep of a playbook. The best-case scenario would see F4Q echo NUTURN Gaming’s performance from Masters: Reykjavík, finishing somewhere around third to fourth place.
Regardless of expectation and F4Q’s position at the end of VCT: Masters Berlin, rest assured, this is the most entertaining team coming into Masters Berlin.