When VALORANT was just beginning, a significant amount of talk centered around Japan. The region was taking to VALORANT like they’d taken to few PC games before, and teams like Absolute JUPITER seemed to have something to them. As games went on, though, it became clear that Japanese teams simply couldn’t stand up, and Korean ones became the dominant force in Asia.
But that hasn’t stopped Japan’s love for the game. It’s pointed out less now, but there’s still a massive audience interested in seeing their teams do well. And they have a new contender. Crazy Raccoon have been steadily dethroning JUPITER over the last few months, and will be making the trip to Reykjavík with the fans of a very promising region behind them all the way.
Crazy Raccoon’s VALORANT team. Screengrab from valorant_jpn on Twitch.
Hiroto “rion” Tateno
Yusuke “neth” Matsuda
An “Medusa” Min-cheol
Byeon “Munchkin” Sang-beom
Lim “Twinkl” Young-bin (Coach)
Yusuke “mun” Ota (Coach)
Crazy Raccoon’s players come from a variety of backgrounds. Only one player, Yusuke “neth” Matsuda, comes from Counter-Strike. zepher and An “Medusa” Min-cheol were both Fortnite players, while Hiroto “rion” Tateno and Byeon “Munchkin” Sang-beom come from Overwatch. The latter was actually very successful, spending some time in the Overwatch League with the Seoul Dynasty, while Medusa had some Fortnite achievements as a part of T1.
One of the most interesting things about this lineup is their VALORANT past. Crazy Raccoon’s lineup has been mostly unchanged since they entered the scene, but haven’t found success until the VCT began. They played First Strike with Kang “iNTRO” Seung-gyun in their lineup, someone who’s found success in Korea with Team MUYAHO and Rio Company, but fell out in the quarterfinals. Upon adding former Cloud9 Korea player Munchkin, however, their results immediately improved.
Munchkin isn’t the flashiest player in the world. But he’s flexible, playing duelist, sentinel, controller, whatever the team needs. And he’s obviously fit in very well. While not the star – not usually anyway, he posted 265 ACS in Challengers Finals, highest in the event – he enables those stars to make their plays.
And that star would have to be zepher. zepher is very skilled and has to be the player to watch on this team. His 1.02 Rating and 217 ACS, perhaps low for a duelist player, belies tremendous consistency and clutch ability. Another big reason for this is that he serves as the team’s entry player, a role he excels at. He finished Challengers Finals tied for second in First Bloods.
Besides zepher, though, there isn’t really another player that stands out. This isn’t a team like Sentinels, where nearly every member is a high-profile fragger. The whole is much more than the sum of its parts in Crazy Raccoon’s place. You’ll likely see rion playing controllers, Medusa playing as the team’s Sova, and neth – another great aimer to watch out for – on sentinels.
The Korean influx
Korean and Japanese VALORANT are opposites in several crucial ways. While Japan almost certainly has the largest VALORANT fanbase in Asia, their teams struggle to perform against others from the region. In Korea, these things are reversed.
Korean VALORANT has struggled to grow for one huge reason – Vanguard. PC gaming culture there is centered completely around gaming cafes, otherwise known as PC bangs. Many PC bang owners are hesitant to allow VALORANT on their computers for fear Vanguard will interfere with other programs. This issue has stunted the growth of VALORANT in South Korea, a place it might have done well. However, Korean teams have been the best in Asia since the region began play.
All this has created a market where Japan has the orgs that are willing to shell out money, and Korea has the talented players. In Stage 2 Challengers Finals, only two teams fielded fully-Japanese rosters, and 5 featured two Korean players, the maximum allowed by Riot’s VALORANT Esports rules and policies. Some absolute stars, such as Seoldam, Park “Bazzi” Jun-ki, Lee “HATE” Ye-hun, and Munchkin, have ended up plying their trade in Japan.
This creates another dynamic, too. It’s been a while since Korean and Japanese teams played against each other. There’s been the odd tournament featuring lower-tier teams squeezed into the tight VCT schedule, but we haven’t been able to see the best of the best, a Vision Strikers vs Absolute JUPITER-type clash, since the Ignition Series. So much talent has flowed over to Japan since then that the region has almost certainly significantly improved. Past judgements of the relative strength of Asian regions are more irrelevant than people think. All this is to say – take into account how Japan has performed against Korea. But not too much. There’s so many factors that have gone into things since then, it’s very hard to judge.
Let’s be honest, few would consider Crazy Raccoon favourites at Masters. Few would even consider them contenders. However, this team can do some damage. Expect them to fight back and forth with LATAM or SEA teams, and challenge or take maps off of some of the best. The more interesting thing for the Japanese fans to watch out for will be individuals. Look for zepher to break out as a star, and for how well the rest of the team plays off of Munchkin. And goodness knows, if Crazy Raccoon do punch above their weight, their fans will be with them all the way.