How Have The Giants Of South Korea Stumbled Before VCT: Masters Berlin?
They say that no king rules forever, but even then, NUTURN Gaming’s reign feels short-lived. After being a staple in South Korea’s budding VALORANT landscape, after stepping up as rivals and ultimately beating the odds-on-favourite to qualify for VALORANT Champions Tour (VCT): Masters held in Reykjavík, Iceland, after capturing bronze at the aforementioned tournament and stamping their region's mark on the competitive ecosystem—NUTURN Gaming has tripped up. Dodging the podium, the South Korean giants fell earlier last week at the hands of DAMWON Gaming KIA (DWG KIA) in a nail-bitingly close 2-1 loss—in the quarterfinals. How has a team that once placed within the top three of a recent major tournament failed to even finish within the top half of their domestic qualifier?
One of the biggest culprits to this change in form happened just after the team’s meteoric performance.
Coming into VCT: Stage 3 Challengers, NUTURN Gaming was fresh off a surprising roster move. After performing admirably at Masters Reykjavík, longstanding NUTURN ace, Kim "Lakia" Jong-min and the team parted ways. To add context, Lakia was NUTURN Gaming’s top performer for the majority of VCT: Masters Reykjavík. For example, In NUTURN Gaming’s loss to Sentinels in the upper bracket finals, Lakia averaged a 256 average combat score (ACS) as well as scoring around 195.6 average damage per round (ADR). However grim that loss in star power might seem, things seemed to be stable initially. NUTURN Gaming advanced through Stage 3 Challengers with ease and secured the top seed from Group D with a +30 map differential. Outside of the odd map loss here and there, NUTURN seemed to be maintaining form but was situated on uneasy footing, and it was becoming obvious.
Last month, GGRecon spoke with South Korean VALORANT commentator and expert William "Chobra" Cho on NUTURN Gaming’s form coming into Stage 3 Challengers—and even then, hesitation permeated NUTURN’s narrative. Chobra worded it perfectly, explaining that “ [...] 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.”
Chobra would go on to clarify, stating that there was a chance for NUTURN to book their tickets to Berlin, but the guarantee was difficult to give. No one could deny that NUTURN Gaming still had the same, slow-paced, methodical potential they’ve showcased all year—but as the region shuffled and evolved in strength as a whole, NUTURN looked stagnant both in performance and in strategy. This omen manifested itself as the former regional leaders approached the Stage 3 Challengers playoffs.
Map one against DAMWON Gaming KIA started strong for NUTURN, however, nagging habits tripped them up as the match progressed. One thing we saw early on from NUTURN Gaming during their run through Masters Reykjavík was their aggression on defence specifically on Haven. During their first match at the event against Brazilian representatives Sharks Esports, NUTURN played select rounds with a blisteringly fast pace which seemed awkward for them. This aggressive mindset bled throughout this opening map against DAMWON Gaming KIA, losing NUTURN early control of the map.
NUTURN Gaming has always been known to be a very slow tempo team, attempting to obfuscate information and create ideal situations for their engagements, but one downside to this style of play is that early resistance can cause indecision and this can result in rounds slipping away from them. For example, during round 11 on Haven, NUTURN loses control of the middle of the map incredibly quickly. The threat of such an early duel burns nearly 40 seconds off the clock before NUTURN can begin to stage a push, let alone actually make a play onto a site. This seems to stall NUTURN’s engine and the match timer quickly escapes them.
And even with Park "allow" Sang-wook playing lights out on NUTURN’s offence on Haven, his Operator was absent from their second half on Haven. Investing multiple rounds into giving early sightlines netted little value other than their own resources being depleted and NUTURN suffering early deaths. Again, this air of uncertainty began to slowly creep in around NUTURN Gaming leading into the series’ second map.
Spilt would be the next battleground for NUTURN Gaming’s ongoing fight against DAMWON Gaming KIA, and while historically Split was a strong map for NUTURN, things began uncharacteristically.
Multiple early rounds for NUTURN had them losing clutch scenarios with clear advantages. For example, round four had the last remaining DAMWON KIA player trapped between allow and star flex player Seo "Suggest" Jae-young. NUTURN not only has the spike carrier surrounded, but the remaining attacking player has to juggle his attention in a near 180-degree range. Adding to that, round 5 not only has DAMWON KIA still need to plant the spike, but NUTURN has a numbers advantage. For a team that has such a history and experience not only within VALORANT but in esports in general, NUTURN Gaming looked flat-footed and asleep at the wheel.
And this wasn’t just a problem on their defence as well. Going into round 15, NUTURN attempted to fake a B site attack but ends up sending the bomb, along with an escort, towards A site. Even with a numbers advantage, the A site front loses each of their duels and the spike is left stranded deep in DAMWON Gaming KIA’s territory.
However, with a fast and brutish tempo, NUTURN Gaming powers through some difficult rounds and narrowly captures the win, driving the series into a third and final map.
Opening with a lovely 7-2 lead on Breeze, the former South Korean representatives looked to be exuding a sense of confidence and control approaching the half Majority of which was thanks to Jung "peri" Bum-gi’s expert control over the map, using Viper’s utility to shut down certain attack paths, thus corralling DAMWON KIA towards the opposite side of the map. However, that five-round cushion would soon deflate.
Echoing some of the same issues that plagued Split, NUTURN’s attack was very direct and leaned on their entry finding immediate value—which was not consistent. This change in pace removed the NUTURN that divided the map through leveraging information gained and replaced them with a team that felt like half their rounds were so fast-paced you would swear they were late to a business meeting. Either NUTURN would do your typical dash-and-flash giving allow the reins—or—they would send Suggest in as Yoru, equipped with a shotgun, to open the site with a well-placed Gatecrash. Sadly, no matter how the entry duo approached Breeze’s B site, nothing seemed to stick.
Past that, when they down-shifted and played slower, NUTURN fell into some old traps. Throughout the series, NUTURN Gaming relied on their signature 4-1 split far too often. Both veteran caller Kang "solo" Keun-chul, as well as peri, struggled to find significant impact during their consistent lurks across the series as a whole. For context’s sake, this was a massive issue during their loss to Vision Strikers during the VCT: Stage 1 Masters grand final.
A call made by esports legend and South Korean VALORANT commentator, Nicolas “Tasteless” Plott perfectly summarises the feeling of NUTURN Gaming’s attack late into the series.
“They are gonna go for it. They have to make this work.”
The NUTURN that wielded finesse and towered over teams with their dominant map control were now just “going for it.”
An initial push into the A site, followed by zero kills.
Their leader’s hands raised in disbelief.
NUTURN Gaming were slowly bleeding out of the series.
Form aside, if we reflect back on what Chobra had mentioned, this did look like a team attempting to adapt too late into the tournament because their default strategies just were no longer functional. Their slow tempo was becoming punishable, and their answer was taking more early and direct attacks on both sides of the competitive coin. As a result, NUTURN Gaming, at best, looked like a team who opened maps with a lead and failed to adapt to maintain control, and at worst, an uncomfortable former champion attempting to reinvent themselves.
While all seems lost for NUTURN Gaming, there are still paths open for them to return to international play come VALORANT Champions 2021, later this year. Until then, NUTURN Gaming is stuck within their own holding pattern, waiting for a new style to call their own.