Chobra Reviews Korea’s Roster Moves, Top Teams, And More
As a longstanding legend of the wider esports community, it’s no surprise that William "Chobra" Cho has landed flush within the budding VALORANT ecosystem as a commentator and expert for the South Korea branch of the VALORANT Champions Tour (VCT). Chobra spoke with GGRecon about the recent roster changes in the South Korean VALORANT space, the longstanding narratives of the region, and what identifiable styles and features South Korean VALORANT currently has.
Author’s Note: This interview was conducted on July 13th.
Shuffling The Deck
The post-Masters 2 roster shuffle impacted the South Korean VALORANT landscape with even the most successful teams looking to make changes. However, one staple team in the region was notably absent. Those with a keen eye and a particular familiarity with the Korean VALORANT landscape will have noticed that even after wading into deep waters at VCT: Stage 2 Challengers, Rio Company was dissolved and their players scattered to the wind.
“All [the] former Rio Company players were so talented and also worked quite well as a team, so on one hand I was sad to see them disperse,” Chobra said. “On the other hand, the ones that are currently on an active roster in Stage 3 have each found teams that utilize their skill sets well.”
Of the five names, Chobra highlighted two in particular; Yu "BuZz" Byung-chul and Jeong "Esperanza" Jin-cheol.
“I think the obvious call here is BuZz’s future on Vision Strikers,” Chobra explained. “Not only does he get to continue playing the Jett-centric entry role, but he has a roster full of people with incredible aim to back him up. The new Vision Strikers roster is also one that is fully invested in potential. Stax as the new IGL is the cherry on top as someone I can see utilizing all the mechanical skills to perfection.”
“After watching F4Q’s first matches and hearing Bunny talk about their team, I think Esperanza has also found a solid landing as well. Seems like F4Q is really coming together as a team that takes advantage of the stability that some players bring from other rosters, and I’m looking forward to seeing Esperanza fill that role in F4Q.”
However, Rio Company wasn’t the only shocking move made in the pseudo-post season chaos. Even after their impressive performance at VCT: Stage 2 Masters, NUTURN Gaming shed star, Kim "Lakia" Jong-min. Even with such a large departure, Chobra gifted the team the benefit of the doubt.
“I think the roster change isn’t too big of a factor,” he explained. “Yes, Lakia proved to be one of the best players in Korea by the end of Masters 2 and wowed fans all around the world—but NUTURN’s play didn’t really revolve around him that much going into Reykjavik. Make no mistake, NUTURN’s deep run was hugely thanks to Lakia but he was more of the new variable than the original formula.”
Even with that, it seemed as though there was hesitation regarding NUTURN’s inevitable return to international play. No one doubted their strength, but after such a large roster move, there were questions that orbited them.
“Coming into Stage 3, I haven’t seen anything yet that has really reaffirmed to me that NUTURN has upgraded since Reykjavik,” Chobra said. “It’s early in the stage so the jury’s still out, but it seems like they’re back to learning the meta rather than leading the meta in Korea. They’re absolutely a solid favourite as a top two to three team still, but I think there are other small factors you have to start considering that might hold them back from truly establishing themselves as the best in Korea.”
“There’s a good chance they can make it back to Berlin and have a good showing, but it’s not at all guaranteed for them either as some of these other top teams’ roster changes are coming out swinging.”
A lot of praise has been showered over South Korea’s fallen giants, Vision Strikers, for the new iteration of their roster they look to wield heading into VCT: Stage 3 Challengers. After adding Kim "MaKo" Myeong-kwan, BuZz, and Lakia, Chobra was confident that lofty expectations for the tenured team were acceptable.
“There are additional factors involving teamwork that will really be the make or break factor, but when you have a roster full of individual talent and sense like this, it’s such a massive starting advantage,” Chobra explained.
“I don’t think they’re comparable just yet, but to me, it’s similar to Sentinels in North America.”
“The Sentinels roster is full of incredibly gifted individuals who can carry more than their own weight in any given situation. Add to this their ability to incorporate such skills into their playbook, teamwork, and shot-calling and you get the incredible team we see today. Nobody should doubt that the Vision Strikers currently have the foundation for that. It’s not just good aim, all of these players have shown great individual decision making in their careers so far. The only question that now remains is ‘Can they piece it together?’”
“Personally, I think there’s high potential.”
As for which team came out with a lead over their peers through this proverbial shuffling of the deck, Chobra pointed towards Vision Strikers as the team with the spotlight.
“They not only expanded their roster but now have a trainee with incredible mechanics under their banner as well,” Chobra said. Earlier this spring, Vision Strikers signed trainee, Kang “BeYN” Ha-bin.
While they had the attention of the masses, Chobra was clear; he didn’t want to make this ‘the Vision Strikers’ show’. There was another team who he felt deserved credit as well.
“I’m personally very curious about the new TNL Esports roster,” Chobra explained.
“TNL has been in a weird spot all year, having to live not only in Vision Striker’s shadow but their own as well from the days they were known as the Quantum Strikers. Their changes going into Stage 2 seemed promising with the addition of [Kim "Harry" Han-kyu] and having [Park "exy" Geun-cheol] fill more of a second entry/flex role.”
“Harry has since left the roster along with [Jung "RyZzi" Gi-jin], and [Lee "Hate" Ye-hun] joins the team with [Kim “Meteor” Tae-O]. It’s reassuring to see exy retain his role from Stage 2 because I think it really allowed him to find more stability. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Hate and Meteor and their chemistry with the rest of the team. Their first match in the main stage was dominant but they haven’t been truly tested yet. I hope we can see them make a deep run to know if this roster can keep growing and finally find their own groove.”
After having been a pillar in games like League of Legends and Starcraft 2, after granting his skills to games like Heroes of the Storm and DOTA 2, after working in the greater esports industry for a better part of eight years, it is a safe assumption to say that Chobra has seen a litany of stories throughout the years. Even with that Rolodex of information, Vision Strikers historic 104-1 streak seemed to still give him pause—but lacked a certain staying power.
“It’s still crazy to think about,” Chobra said.
“You can throw whatever arguments you want about the factors surrounding it but a 100+ number is not an easy number to reach in anything. Nobody can take that away from them. I can understand why it may not be as hype for some people though. Unfortunately, it didn’t have a good ending landmark, a moment to pin as the back cover; the exclamation point if you will.”
“Looking at other moments that stuck with me, they all had an ending’. SKT T1 at Worlds 2015 for LoL was undefeated in matches and won the World Championship, OG had one of the biggest upset stories in 2018 winning The International. I wasn’t a part of it but Cloud9 was the first NA team to win a CS:GO Major, and on home soil to boot.”
“The Vision Strikers streak didn’t have something to mark that.”
“They did win Masters 1 in Korea but it almost felt too obvious and we had still yet to see any major tournaments in VALORANT to hold as a standard. So we all just kept counting, and F4Q promptly shut that dream down. If VS had made it to Berlin and gotten top 3 like NUTURN I think we’d all be talking about the record a lot more. Not because of the extra matches but because there was more to end the chapter on.”
“I will say this: I think we’ll grow to revisit this record down the road and highlight once again just how incredible it was. As VALORANT grows, other records pop up, and we have more results to hold as a standard, a time will come where you look back and say: ‘Sure, VALORANT was young but that number is simply insane.’”
While Vision Strikers dominated the early narrative of Korean VALORANT, one plucky team headed by a former Overwatch League professional player made the proverbial Goliaths bleed. F4Q were the first team to best Vision Strikers during VCT: Stage 2 Challengers, toppling them in the group stage to advance as Group A’s top seed. While their future seemed bright, Chobra was confident there was more magic to be made.
“Chae "Bunny" Joon-hyuk said it in his most recent MVP interview, but in Stage 2 they literally trained to take down Vision Strikers,” Chobra explained. “You could see this from the match they won against Vision Strikers—their plays were specifically designed for [them]—and it finally worked."
“The play was still messy in a lot of parts though. So far in Stage 3, they claim to be giving it their all as a pro team and the addition of Esperanza has only bolstered their lineup.
The team’s also got so much personality which is a huge plus. If you’re looking for a team to watch in Korea, F4Q is a darn worthy choice.”
With this kind of praise—and the results to boot—F4Q seemed to be evolving into a pillar of the early Korean VALORANT community. However, Chobra gave context to what was holding them back from reaching the peaks they’ve found now.
“One of the biggest reasons F4Q didn’t quite have that seat before is because they still seemed to be split on their goals; making waves and flexing on other pros versus going pro and winning it all,” Chobra said. “I didn’t have a problem with that—[I] loved to see it actually—but it [was] hard to really put them as a reliable team to carry the [Korean] meta and ecosystem if that’s not their goal to begin with.”
“This stage they’re saying outright that they want to give it their all and go to Berlin. The skill’s always been there, Esperanza seems to be a great addition [to] the team, and I would love to see them seize an opportunity to make it to the top.”
As for who sat at the top domestically, Chobra gifted seats to the top five teams in South Korea.
“I think the top four is automatically Vision Strikers, NUTURN, DAMWON Kia, and F4Q,” Chobra said. “No particular order although I would weigh Vision Strikers and NUTURN ever so slightly above DAMWON and F4Q. Any of those four teams can easily replace the other though and I can’t wait to see how that shakes up in the new meta.”
“As for a fifth, I think TNL Esports has a really good shot to keep their name as a top team in Korea. For me, this Stage 3 is where TNL proves they deserve to get back up as a Tier 1 team in Korea or we start seeing them clearly as one step below. Meanwhile, GOnGO Prince and WGS still need to prove they have the stability to contend as a top team.”
Colours Of The Win
When looking at esports as a whole, any semblance of international title has pockets of unique ways to play the game, and usually, it comes with a regional stamp of ownership as well. Describing a colour or style or identifiable trait of a region is never easy, however, Chobra gave priceless insight into what made Korean VALORANT stick out amongst its regional peers.
“South Korea is always seen as the ‘perfection’ lab in most esports,” Chobra said. “That fits the culture quite literally as well. Most things in Korea used to take the philosophy of perfection by rote learning.”
“I pursued classical music as a profession when I was younger, and it was so apparent in that field as well. Koreans would constantly take second place, top three, top five at prestigious music competitions around the world but they would often lack the colour and expression to really stand out.”
“The technical perfection would carry them so far though. You used to see this in education all the time. This was one of the reasons Korea stayed at the top for so long in League of Legends, and perhaps also the reason it faltered for a bit recently.”
“This defined the beginning of VALORANT as well,” Chobra explained. “Teams like Vision Strikers and then NUTURN would just shut down their competition by having these meticulous set plays and clearly researched counter [strategies], but their adaptation, in the moment, their play-by-play tactics, would show the cracks.”
“I actually think this is changing now in Korea. With a younger generation of players in VALORANT there seems to be a healthy drive to innovate and play ‘in the moment’. Korea is also going through a phase of changes culturally as well so it makes sense. I’m curious to see how teams, coaches, and players start to mix these styles together because a healthy balance could truly be the boost Korea needs to rise to the top of VALORANT.”