Vision Strikers were the infallible beast of Korean Valorant. They were destined to qualify for VCT Iceland. They were the team everyone wanted to play against. However, they stumbled. It may seem like a shock, but the writing was on the wall.
To understand why the story of Vision Strikers is so important to Valorant esports as a whole, you have to understand their history.
They formed as an entirely new team right at the launch of Valorant as the core of the infamous MVP PK roster, widely regarded the best Counter-Strike team Korea ever saw.
They didn’t just win. They dominated. Vision Strikers won 20 tournaments in a row. They had an 107-game unbeaten streak. From Beta, to Ignition Series, to First Strike, Vision Strikers were unstoppable.
They were also the team on everyone’s lips. Every interview with a player from North America, Europe, or any region; if you asked who they wanted to play against internationally, it was always Vision Strikers.
Now, we’ve been robbed of that chance. They were eliminated from the VCT Stage 2 Challengers Finals in Korea by NUTURN — their new-found rivals in 2021 — in a convincing 2-0 sweep. Their record now stands at 106-4-2.
They will not be going to Iceland.
It’s a heartbreaking and disappointing result, but it’s not totally unexpected. See, from the outside looking in, it seems like a huge upset. However, the writing has been on the wall for some time. Let’s talk about why.
The first loss is more important than the second
Vision Strikers’ 107-game (including 103 wins) unbeaten streak was broken by F4Q on April 15, more than nine months after they picked up their first tournament win.
- Read More: VCT Stage 2 global hub
The explosive Korean squad, who brought the Bucky and Judge into the Valorant meta, edged out the immortal squad and showed that gods do bleed. They caught Vision Strikers flat-footed, and had just enough in the tank to round out the long three-game series.
Vision Strikers looked visibly dejected on stage as F4Q flung hands, headsets, and probably a few more cables around. This wasn’t in the script. Vision Strikers were meant to win everything.
At the time, F4Q’s Chase ‘Bunny’ Joon-hyuk put it simply: “I’m going to be honest, we owned today guys.”
His Raze was all over Vision Strikers, who hadn’t yet picked up Astra. Kim ‘glow’ Min-soo stuck himself on Omen — the 33-year-old’s old reliable — but it just didn’t pack the same punch as Kim ‘zunba’ Joon-hyuk’s Astra, which Bunny highlighted as F4Q’s key win condition.
“I think with zunba joining the team as the Astra main, he is the foundation of our team. With zunba, our retakes are more stable, our entries are better.”
Struggling to adapt to the new Valorant meta
That is the overarching theme behind Vision Strikers’ decline. They had a principle of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” according to caster Clinton ‘Paperthin’ Bader. It caught up to them.
“The meta shift is definitely part of it, they have been slow to adapt to new agents in particular. In one sense, I can understand it. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it. But, on the other hand, they still need to stay ahead of the game,” he told Dexerto.
“After we lost to F4Q, we definitely needed a change in our Agent picks. We changed it a bit with Skye and Raze, but nowadays Astra is a must-pick [over Omen],” Kim ‘stax’ Gu-taek added, after beating I Need Girlfriend on April 24.
It’s not just glow though. Goo ‘Rb’ Sang-min — Korea’s answer to Wardell — has still been on the Jett a fair bit, even as the meta shifts towards Raze (or no duelists at all).
Lee ‘k1Ng’ Seung-won’s role within the team is changing, becoming a secondary smoker with Viper in his arsenal. As shown against NUTURN though, it needs a bit more work in the utility department (although k1Ng was far from the reason they lost).
Stax did say Vision Strikers had “so many more cards up our sleeve,” but it obviously wasn’t enough to stop NUTURN running circles around them on Ascent (13-9) and Bind (13-7).
The role swaps likely tinkered with the team’s consistent formula. It just so happened they had to take their hardest fall at the worst possible time.
“I do think Vision Strikers was a bit sloppy during Stage 2. Outside of Stax, there wasn’t as much consistency on the team, and they seemed to be lacking some of the coordination that made them so dominant for the past year,” Paperthin said.
A new era of Korean Valorant
It’s also indicative of a wider trend in Korean Valorant: The rest of the scene is catching up.
It’s not just NUTURN, but it’s Rio Company, built out of the old Cloud9 and T1 Korea rosters. There’s TNL Esports, Vision Strikers’ former sister team, and DWG KIA, who await NUTURN in the grand final.
The competition at the top of Korean Valorant is too close for Vision Strikers to now be the definitive number one team. NUTURN is most definitely contending for that spot, rising up in 2021 after a slow start under the name Proparty in 2020.
“The region as a whole is leveling up fast. The top of Korean Valorant has definitely had a change. There are emerging superstars on other teams who are starting to look crisper and cleaner, and are finding their grooves on new Agents,” Paperthin said.
“Lakia on NUTURN is one example. He used to be a Sova main, but now can slot into a lot of different roles and really can be a difference maker.”
Kim ‘Lakia’ Jong-min was elated with the result of finally dethroning the kings in VCT Stage 2.
“We met Vision Strikers four times — one was a draw, and three we lost. Regardless of how many times we lost and struggled against them in the past, we never gave up and I’m very happy that we beat a team that Stax was on,” he said.
Bouncing back in VCT Stage 3
However, it’s unlikely to be like this for long. Paperthin — and the wider Korean Valorant scene — is expecting a hungry Vision Strikers to come out in VCT Stage 3.
“They have great strategic minds behind the team on their coaching staff, and the players themselves are capable of so much more,” Paperthin said.
“Stax seems to be consistently insane no matter the situation, now they just need to adjust to the new agents, work on rebuilding their synergy and set plays.”
For now though, all eyes will be on DWG KIA versus NUTURN for that one spot at VCT Iceland, joining nine other global hotshots for a shot at being called the first Valorant world champion. Paperthin’s pick? NUTURN.
“Not only have they historically handled DWG with relative ease, but Nuturn seems to have found a groove. Players like Lakia and Allow are showing explosive mechanical abilities, and Solo really seems to have found a groove with his shot calling,” he explained.
“Suggest is Suggest [too] and can bring it no matter what. He is a player that can now make a claim to be best in KR.”
- Read More: VCT Stage 2 Masters hub
For now though, Vision Strikers will have to sit on the sidelines and watch, something Lakia — who used to play on the team — rubbed in after their triumphant win.
“Hey Stax, after moving over to Valorant, you’ve been on a roll getting first place in all the tournaments, but now it’s going to be me. I hope you now sit at home, watch and enjoy.”