Heading into Challengers 3 in Korea, I said Group A would be an entertaining showdown between TNL Esports, TUBEPLE Gaming, and World Game Star. I also said ZFGaming were the massive favourites to advance from Group B, with DWG KIA having to stave off a few hungry unsigned squads if they wanted to earn their place. And over the course of the event, all that got proven wrong. Upsets were had, new teams rose up, and the field for Masters got set.
While I had singled out the three aforementioned organizations, it was APEX PEOPLE who made their mark this week. Fans who have been following teams deeper in the Korean scene will know APEX PEOPLE have shown big potential for quite a while, specifically their Jett, former Heroes of the Storm professional Lee “Jeong Hi” Jung-ha. But no one would have predicted them to break out like this. They only lost a single map all week against some of Korea’s strongest teams, and will be a big team to watch for upset potential in Masters, though they’ve drawn a brutal group – more on that lower down.
It was Jung “RyZzi” Ki-jin’s debut for TNL Esports this week, and he made an immediate impact. Playing multiple roles, including Jett at times, RyZzi brought a dynamic side to TNL that completely changed the look of the previously very static, slow team. Their 0-2 loss to APEX PEOPLE was an upset, but one they can stomach as they’ve snagged a Masters spot. They have been placed in that group that APEX PEOPLE have also drawn, but they’re one of the teams that makes that group hard. Top teams should be worried.
For TUBEPLE Gaming, an organization that came into this with incredibly high hopes, this week was a disappointment. Even after bringing in former T1 Korea Jett Ye “Anaks” Sang-jun just prior to the event, they couldn’t make it work, not winning a match and only two games. For a while, it looked like they’d get a Masters spot, but then APEX PEOPLE took their big upset over TNL, and it was all over. I hope TUBEPLE stays in the VALORANT scene, they’ve been awesome to have so far, but it is an unfortunate result for the high-profile roster.
Lastly, World Game Star came into this event slipping and left heading off a cliff. We saw the debut of their sixth, Jung “SeolHwa” Jae-sung, this event, and while he was a capable duelist, he didn’t really bring anything new to the team, simply being a less aggressive version of Kim “HANN” Dong-ho. The three duelists of SeolHwa, HANN, and Lim “Has1ra14” Hyuk would all swap around repeatedly over the course of the event, but nothing seemed to work. Their last-place exit is a disappointing finish for a team that came onto the scene with so much promise, but they will have time to work out some of their issues before Stage 2.
Over in Group B, the action was very intense, with DWG KIA impressing in a first-place finish. The roster moves, dropping Jung “RyZzi” Ki-jin and Lee “HATE” Ye-hun for Kim “Chibab” Young-hyun and Lee “Kelly” Tae-hyung, that they’d received much criticism for finally began to bear fruit. Chibab, who I also singled out last week as being one of the team’s lone bright spots, was a monster and even played some maps on duelists, while Kelly looked much more integrated with the team than previously.
Heading into Masters, DWG KIA are dangerous, and possibly even a favourite to advance from their group.
F4Q provided some of the most entertaining moments of Challengers 3. With their hilarious facecams – shaving, wearing shades, and drinking water from a bowl were just some of their post-round antics – and calculated aggression, they provided a big surprise for the teams in this group.
Kim “GodDead” Sung-sin, as always, was a beast for the team. They pulled off some upsets to secure a Masters spot, and while they might not progress too far, as long as we get more facecams, I’m happy.
ZFGaming came into this with huge hopes, having impressed in Challengers 2 against the likes of Vision Strikers and NUTURN, but unfortunately struggled this week. They looked a little lost against the aggressive teams they faced, and couldn’t make things work quite like they had before. Shortly after their failure to qualify, ZFGaming would also announce the release of the team. All this is of course very unfortunate, but at least we’ve got this gorgeous ace from Kim “ROK3T” Ju-yeong to show for it.
Lastly, Hamtories came into this without many expectations and performed to par. Though they bore the name of the old Hamtori ZunDeJinx team, they only fielded one player from that lineup, Kim “zunba” Joon-hyuk, with several players having gone to F4Q and one, RCTIC, to Japanese org FENNEL. Ultimately, it’s probably on to a new mix for these players.
Final Standings for KR Challengers 3:
1. APEX PEOPLE – ₩4,000,000 + Masters spot
2. TNL Esports – ₩3,000,000 + Masters spot
3. TUBEPLE Gaming – ₩2,000,000
4. World Game Star – ₩1,000,000
1. DWG KIA – ₩4,000,000 + Masters spot
2. F4Q – ₩3,000,000 + Masters spot
3. ZFGaming – ₩2,000,000
4. Hamtories – ₩1,000,000
The groups for Masters, revealed shortly after the conclusion of Challengers 3, are as follows:
Masters promises to be incredibly exciting, though it must be said that that Group A looks STACKED. Vision Strikers and NUTURN are probably the tournament’s favourites – will this be the event that NUTURN finally dethrone Korea’s #1? – while Team MUYAHO come in shortly behind that. TNL are incredibly good as well, while APE Prince, DWG KIA, and F4Q should provide an entertaining battle for second in Group B. The action kicks off on March 12th, follow along everything with THESPIKE.GG!