Down 0-8, what went into ZF Gaming’s comeback against Vision Strikers?
South Korea’s most dominant VALORANT team, Vision Strikers, suffered an uncharacteristic map loss to ZFGaming despite having a staggering round lead. Down 0-8 at one point in the match, ZFGaming managed to not only take Vision Strikers to overtime but did so with a newer member on their roster. At second glance, it’s nothing to be all that concerned about, however, there are trends in this match that could plague Vision Strikers in the coming VALORANT Champions Tour (VCT): Masters.
Heading into the open qualifiers for Challengers 2, player-coach, Kim "9room" Won-jong, would take a backseat while former T1 Korea player, Kim "ROK3T" Ju-yeong, joined the team as their fifth player. The pairing proved incredibly successful as they advanced through the open qualifiers undeterred. However, they’d receive the misfortune of drawing Vision Strikers in their group as their first-round opponent.
A young team that has just made roster moves against the best team in South Korea with a pristine track record of success; we’ll let you place your bets on how this match should go.
A fairly normal map draft saw Vision Strikers take Icebox first while ZFGaming surprisingly chose Haven, one of their opponent’s most comfortable maps. According to vlr.gg, if you start from their victory at the WESL x Toonation event in the spring of 2020, Vision Strikers walked into their match against ZFGaming with approximately an 89% (32-4) win rate on Haven.
To go into a match against the titans of South Korea, picking one of their best maps just after a few weeks of playing with your new roster is as confident as it gets. This element of apathy for their opponents narrative did shine through. Icebox was extremely competitive, and they did have a Viper pick prepared to anchor B Site on defence, but it wasn’t enough. That said, Haven was where ZFGaming not only faced a frankly demanding crucible but came out the other side with a win.
Starting on offence, for the first eight rounds, ZFGaming stared down the horn of a massive cornucopia of errors. Either their aggression would be empty, their key duels would fall flat, or they’d just lose three-on-ones due to a mix of unlucky timing and positional faux pas. No matter the setup, their buy rounds were none existent. Down 0-8 is a death sentence not only for that half of the match, but your confidence has to be making friends with the pigeons that live in your gutter. However, nearly halfway through the match is when the quintessential rounds begin to seep through.
Round nine is where ZFGaming starts to find its footing. Vision Strikers attempts to push together to establish control over A Short. This, along with their Cypher’s Trip Wires, limits most of the aggressive routes that ZFGaming could retake with. Vision Strikers then has Jett and Breach work in tandem up C Long as their Omen uses his ultimate to teleport and bring the bomb to C Site. The major issue here is that Vision Strikers is playing with little to no information. Their initial Recon Dart doesn’t give them anything, their Owl Drone didn’t catch anything, and the only thing they have to work with is that the trajectory of the smoke placed on C Long. This indicates that at least their Omen is on or near C Site. However, which so much more fog of war to cover, this effectively has painted them in a corner.
Ideally, Vision Strikers scouts the weak side of the map and then makes this instant rotation with their Omen. However, they run headlong into Kim "Sunday" Min-soo and ROK3T and the play is stuffed almost immediately. This adds some much-needed confidence back into ZFGaming’s step, breaking the eight-round loss streak and finally winning a buy round.
This reassurance is put to the test during round ten as ZFGaming goes for an aggressive push up the middle of the map and again, fail to make the risk worth the reward. This mimics the same issue ZFGaming had when attempting a nearly identical play on round seven.
This is a constant theme even outside this game in particular, especially with ROK3T. On defence, he is known to take some aggressive lurks which can be especially dangerous for unsuspecting teams. However, if he is shut down, ZFGaming doesn’t seem to have a great retake game established. Round 11 is a great example of ROK3T’s double-edged playstyle. Winning himself a vandal on a save round, he lurks through the attacker’s spawn and finds two kills that seal the round. It’s at this point ZFGaming stops the bleeding and exits the half down 3-9.
ZFGaming’s opening pistol round is an immediate return to quick and decisive calling from Sunday. ROK3T pushes into the garage alone and scouts two players. Knowing this, ZFGaming up the speed on the C Site push to fight the rotation and claim the site. This not only continues to foreshadow how they plan to pick Vision Strikers apart but sets them up economically to start the half.
ROK3T was a heaven send for ZFGaming’s offence. His disjointed entry style broke down Vision Strikers defence on Haven. Take for instance round 18, not only does ROK3T continue to find uncontested space to probe into, he begins to find and win incredibly clutch duels. This both cracks open Vision Strikers defence, but also makes it difficult for them to make any economic saves. Maybe you’re starting to see a theme.
Round 21 is no different. ROK3T probes through A Short, uncontested, make a ton of space for his team to safely approach the site, then loops all the way back around the middle of the map. He does this to fight for control of B Site and the direct route it gives towards A, but ultimately he flanks Vision Strikers as they approach from A Tunnel wins ZFGaming another pivotal round.
Again, their strategies are inherently risky, but when you have a team as skilled and as confident as ZFGaming, those dice rolls feel much more calculated.
At the end of the day, Vision Strikers failed to make the read on how far forward ROK3T continuously played, which led to their overtime defeat. On rounds where they shut him down, it looks much cleaner from their perspective. They continuously played a very passive defence predicated on the fact that their own lurk threat would be enough to stop a push in its tracks or break open a retake opportunity but ZFGaming thrived with that map control.
That said, you can’t help but give massive credit to him for truly taking over the game. With 324 average combat score (ACS), 208.8 average damage done per round (ADR) and six first kills, ROK3T easily won himself both the MVP award and the respect as an up and coming star player. Acting as their ace, their lurk threat, as their entry fragger—you name it, ROK3T did it in this upset win over Vision Strikers. He was large in part the reason this seemingly insurmountable comeback was even possible.
While ZFGaming managed to take a map off of Vision Strikers, the VALORANT titans of South Korea still retain their undefeated streak. Perhaps they can find solace in knowing they took the best team in their region to the brink as they head into Challengers 3 to secure one of the last remaining seeds to VCT: Masters.
This victory for ZFGaming wasn’t just a flash in the pan, this match as a whole was a statement victory. Our thoughts and prayers go out to whoever is unfortunate enough to draw them in their group for Challengers 3. With the confidence and level of performance they showed against Vision Strikers of all teams, it is likely they find their way to Masters.
ZFGaming came to compete, they swing hard, and if they land, they can make giants wince.
Images via Riot Games