Written By Germanicus - 2021-02-22
The Korean scene had its next step towards Masters this week with VCT Stage 1: Korea - Challengers 2. There were some new teams this time around - GOnGO Prince and NUTURN - while DWG KIA, TNL Esports, and ZFGaming all made roster changes heading into the event. Some of these teams showed up big, while some struggled. And ultimately, four teams qualified for the next big VALORANT event - Masters. Here’s a look at all the action.
Group A was certainly the stronger of the two groups this time around. Likely 3 of the top 4 teams in the event ended up here. This all gave Vision Strikers perhaps their toughest run yet. They only won a single one of the three Bo2’s they played here, against World Game Star, as they drew with both NUTURN and ZFGaming. This is still Vision Strikers, they’re still incredibly skilled. But the gap is clearly closing.
Speaking of NUTURN, this is the team that’s been pushing Vision Strikers harder and harder lately. Playing under the PROPARTY banner in 2020, they weren’t particularly impressive, just managing a top 8 finish at First Strike. But they’ve been on a tear to start 2021 under their new organization. After they won the DouYu Bie Zhuang Cup Winter and nearly beat VS in the VCT Stage 1: Korea - Challengers 1 - Open Qualifier, it was a shock to see them upset by World Game Star and not take part in VCT Stage 1: Korea - Challengers 1. But they were out for vengeance here. Park "allow" Sang-wook has become known as another one of those great Korean Jetts, while old-school Counter-Strike veterans Jung "peri" Bum-gi and Kang "solo" Keun-chul provide the backbone for the team. They drew both VS and ZFG, making it through to Masters on round differential. If any team is going to beat Vision Strikers there, it should be NUTURN.
ZFGaming looked… fine last Challengers, but clearly needed some help in the fragging department. So that’s exactly what they went out and got. Former T1 Korea duelist Kim "ROK3T" Ju-yeong stepped into this team and made a crazily massive difference. ZFG went from a mediocre, barely top 8 team to drawing with the two best teams in the region. They barely missed out on Masters qualification on round differential, but, barring something massive, there’s no way they fail in Challengers 3 given what they showed this week.
Finally, World Game Star. They struggled to follow up on some of their previous success this week, but given the calibre of competition they were up against, that can be expected. What is for sure is that some things that were working for them in the past didn’t here. Kim "HANN" Dong-ho had a very disappointing week, failing to find the openings that had made him the team’s star previously. WGS should still be a favourite to secure a Masters place, but if they want to truly contest for the championship, we might have to see some adjustments.
If three of the region’s top four were in Group A, that leaves one for Group B, and Rio Company, formerly BearClaw Gaming, were clearly the class of this group. They comfortably 2-0’d Challengers 1 group winner DWG KIA, while drawing with TNL Esports and GOnGO Prince, the latter after their Masters spot had already been secured. They 13-0d TNL on Ascent to top all that off. The duelist duo of Yu "BuZz" Byung-chul and Kang "iNTRO" Seung-gyun continues to be the class of the region. MUYAHO earned themselves a well-deserved Masters spot, and will be one of the favourites once there. Perhaps a new organization could be on the way too.
APE Prince came into this event as newcomers. Similarly to GOMA in Challengers 1, not too much was expected of them. However, they shocked, drawing every single one of their matches and edging through to a Masters spot on round differential. Throughout all this, one player absolutely stood out. Jett player Yoon "Lawrence" Hyun (yes, another Korean Jett) was a star, leading the entire event in ACS and placing fourth in Rating. It's shocking to see APE nab a Masters spot, but with talent stacked in the other group and unfortunate circumstances lining up for TNL Esports and DWG KIA, they've pulled off the upset. Now they'll have to prove that they actually belong there.
Speaking of TNL, this event can be considered something of a write-off for them, as new signing RyZzi, nabbed from DK, couldn’t play as he hadn’t been with them for the VCT Stage 1: Korea - Challengers 2 - Open Qualifier. Coach bail played in his place, and TNL still managed some good results, drawing all three of their matches. With RyZzi coming in, they should definitely be favourites to qualify through Challengers 3.
As previously mentioned, DWG KIA made roster changes coming into this event. Specifically, Jung "RyZzi" Ki-jin and Lee "HATE" Ye-hun, so integral to the team’s success in Challengers 1, were removed to make way for Kim "Chibab" Young-hyun and Lee "Kelly" Tae-hyung in a puzzling decision.
The good thing for DWG KIA fans is that Chibab looks great. HATE did too, which means this so far seems to be something of a step to the side. But it’s not a bad thing. What is though is the team's results. DWG KIA were nowhere near what they were just a few weeks ago. By drawing with TNL and APE, while losing to MUYAHO, DWG KIA placed last in the group. While they're still a favourite to make Masters through Challengers 3, things are nowhere near as comfortable as they could have been.
The dates for this round of Challengers play were a bit all over the place due to the New Year holiday, so things will be more standard for Challengers 3. The open qualifier will take place from February 27th-28th, and Challengers 3 proper will kick off on March 4th. Watch out for TUBEPLE Gaming, likely a top 8 team but who've unfortunately run into stronger opponents each open qualifier, and Spear Gaming.
Final standings for Korean Challengers 2:
1. Vision Strikers - ₩4,000,000 + Masters spot 2. NUTURN - ₩3,000,000 + Masters spot 3. ZFGaming - ₩2,000,000 + bye to KR Challengers 3 4. World Game Star - ₩1,000,000 + bye to KR Challengers 3
1. Team MUYAHO - ₩4,000,000 + Masters spot 2. APE Prince - ₩3,000,000 + Masters spot 3. TNL Esports - ₩2,000,000 + bye to KR Challengers 3 4. DWG KIA - ₩1,000,000 + bye to KR Challengers 3
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