Can this Overwatch legend thrive in VALORANT?

20:30, 23 Feb 2021

Not too often do legends of one esport transition into a different title entirely, however, former Overwatch professional Kim "zunba" Joon-hyuk has taken up the challenge. Tenured alongside both the Seoul Dynasty and Lunatic-Hai, zunba brings a different kind of experience to his peers in the budding stages of the South Korean VALORANT scene.

With that in mind, two questions begin to emerge. How is zunba doing in VALORANT and can he establish himself as a valuable prospect similarly to his early days in Overwatch or will the success of his past loom over his push into VALORANT?

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For those unfamiliar, zunba began his Overwatch career on CONBOX T6, a ragtag South Korean team that performed admirably during OGN’s Overwatch APEX, one of Overwatch’s earliest and most prestigious tournament series. During the inaugural season, zunba looked like a fantastic prospect on a team that was lacking, resulting in CONBOX T6 failing to make a dent. He was among their two most notable players by the end of the season, the other being former League of Legends professional player Noh "Gamsu" Young-jin. However, it would take him representing his country in an international competition to push him into the limelight.

The 2016 Overwatch World Cup would be where zunba’s career would turn its proverbial corner. After winning gold alongside members of Lunatic-Hai, they would not only recruit him to their cause but would then go on to win the next two seasons of OGN’s Overwatch APEX. To contextualise that, repeat victories—especially in major Overwatch events—nearly never happen. Zunba’s Lunatic-Hai were one of the first team to do so winning both APEX Season 2 and 3 in 2017. It wasn’t until the San Francisco Shock’s 2019-2020 title wins that a team surpassed what zunba and Lunatic-Hai did all those years ago.

Jumpcut to 2020 and zunba has hung up his Overwatch jersey after a disappointing showing alongside the Seoul Dynasty in the Overwatch League. VALORANT seemed like an odd choice for someone who was known for his excellent tracking aim and space control, however, zunba has been performing extremely well for himself. His first major outing was at First Striker: Korea with an early iteration of F4Q alongside fellow former Overwatch professional player, Chae "Bunny" Joon-hyuk. 

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Zunba and F4Q convincingly qualified but would end up facing the eventual winners of the event, Vision Strikers, in the first round. With that in mind, zunba still performed admirably, showcasing that he not only has potential but can compete. 

This trend has continued well past F4Q. Even within his new team, Hamtori ZunDeJinx, zunba continues to excel. 

According to vlr.gg, zunba has been a massive threat for his team in their pursuit of the VALORANT Champions Tour. Throughout South Korea’s Challengers 2 open qualifiers, zunba consistently sits among the top performers on his team, most notably in their most recent wins. Against Saviors in the Round of 16, zunba managed a 247 average combat score (ACS) and dealt an average of 143.1 damage per round (ADR). In their 2-1 win over Gehenna Sweepers, zunba continue to lead his team statistically, managing 280 ACS with 178.2 ADR, but more importantly, he did so on two picks that he isn’t known for.

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Heading into the Challengers 3 open qualifiers, zunba has around 270 rounds played on Raze. However, during their victory over Gehenna Sweepers, zunba traded in the explosive duelist for Killjoy and Omen, two agents with vastly different playstyles and still put up a 280 ACS and 178.2 ADR for the match as a whole. This hints at a flexibility untapped. Sure, his best agent might be Raze, but this—among other matches—shows that there is much more than meets the eye when it comes to zunba. Even in Hamtori ZunDeJinx’s most recent loss against NUTURN Gaming, zunba still led the team statistically.

Now, ACS and ADR are not the sole indicators of strong performers. However, they can be used as supporting evidence and when you consistently see strong statistical finishes, alongside a wide agent pool, across a long enough period of time—which zunba has shown—it is safe to say that he is a diamond in the rough. 

It seems as though you can take the tank out of Overwatch, but that flexible mentality has transitioned nicely to VALORANT. That said, it is clear that zunba has a knack for VALORANT and has shown enough for us to confidently say he has what it takes to compete, but the familiar feeling of his early Overwatch career brandishes itself almost immediately.

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Echoes of the past skirt along the edges of zunba’s debut in VALORANT, especially when mirrored against his rookie outing in Overwatch on CONBOX T6. If zunba were to follow a similar path, namely being a star stowed away on a mediocre team that finds success once he joins an established core, then the sky is the limit. We’ve seen what kind of performances can be expected from him, especially against competitive talent, but an element is missing from the team as a whole. For example, if zunba were to join a team like ZF Gaming over Kim "ROK3T" Ju-yeong, the team would be better for it. 

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That isn’t to discredit ROK3T at all, he has been a fantastic ace player for ZF Gaming but his lurk heavy playstyle on defence only continues to paint the team into a corner. That said, his disjointed entry plays have been incredibly impactful against some of the top South Korean talents, but the rigidity in terms of strategy is only going to work for so long. Zunba compares statistically on Raze while also brining a Pheonix to the table which the team can use to either support or play entry the same way. Zunba is still able to carry the torch of being ZF Gaming’s second threat next to Kim "t3xture" Na-ra, while also adding strategic depth and an experienced voice in the locker room.

All in all Overwatch fans will be glad to hear that zunba is doing well, if anything they might reminisce the same way, creating hypotheticals to find his successful landing spot. However, hypotheticals aside, if zunba continues to perform at this level, and VALORANT continues to grow in South Korea—that daydream dies. At that point, it is more likely than not zunba finds a forever home later this year, perhaps ahead of a VCT Masters event. In that same way, zunba is on track to carve himself out a nice slice of the VALORANT pie, but the jury is out on whether or not he can live up to his Overwatch roots. 

 

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Images via Blizzard Entertainment | Riot Games

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