It can be crazy to see an organization dominate a scene as large as the Korean VALORANT one. The First Strike Korea Regional Final was one of only three First Strike finals to be held on LAN, and featured a prize pool tied with North America and Europe for the highest in the world. But not only did one team run through the event with relative ease, they faced their old sister team in the finals. Korean VALORANT is very much Vision Strikers‘ show, and even the recent foreign investment into the scene hasn’t changed that.
Certainly the biggest match of the quarterfinals was aNg DarkHorse against T1 Korea. T1 had picked up a strong, if inconsistent, roster, and their opponent aNg DarkHorse had come up through the ranks as a team to watch with their podium performance in the Clan Battles #2. And it was aNg DarkHorse who showed up on the day. RyZzi was too much for T1 to deal with, but everyone contributed. While the match was very close, it was the favourites to take that whole side of the bracket that went home early.
The theme throughout the quarterfinals was that, in general, they were closer than expected. In fact, the entire event was, only two matches would end without a team winning a map. Perhaps predictably, they were both Vision Strikers’ matches, including their quarterfinal with F4Q. That match would also include one of the best VALORANT clips I’ve ever seen, a nasty 3k with Jett blades from Goo “Rb” Sang-Min ending with the opposition Jett dying from fall damage.
Vision Strikers and F4Q players after their semifinal, © Vision Strikers (Twitter)
Cloud9 Korea’s opening match against Crazy Hamster began with a 13-0 for the Western-backed favourites, something that is usually an indicator of a lopsided series. But Crazy Hamster came right back on Bind, winning the map in overtime 15-13. Eventually, Cloud9 would close it out, but it was an interesting thing to witness. It wouldn’t be the only time a 13-0 would happen in a 3-game series throughout the tournament.
The other quarterfinal was the newly-acquired TNL Esports, formerly Quantum Strikers, against PROPARTY. Both teams had been strong in the region for some time, but neither had been able to put together anything like a big tournament win. It was TNL Esports who came out victorious in a very close affair; 13-11, 10-13, and 13-10.
The first semifinal could take the place of the final, as Cloud9 Korea pushed Vision Strikers harder than any team would. It certainly didn’t look that way at the start – Korea’s most dominant team kicked off the match with a 13-0 on Bind against their closest competition. But like Crazy Hamster, Cloud9 pulled back. Vision Strikers looked incredibly uncomfortable on Icebox, and Cloud9 took advantage to pull out a 13-6 victory. It would be the only map Vision Strikers would lose all event, and they’d storm back on the third map, again Bind due to the region’s map selection process, 13-7. But it was ultimately still a good matchup.
Vision Strikers vs. Cloud9 Korea, © FOMOS/Kenzi
Facing elimination against aNg DarkHorse on Haven, TNL Esports looked done for. They’d dropped the first map in convincing fashion, 13-6, and with the score at 11-6, they looked down and out. But they managed to do the impossible and pull off the comeback. Yeom “eKo” Wang-ryong was absolutely popping, there was hardly a round where he didn’t get at least a double kill. He led TNL in taking 7 straight rounds to win the map 13-11, and he and Park “exy” Geun-cheol would again lead the way on Split as TNL took it 14-12 in overtime. Finals were set: the dominant force vs. the comeback kid, the old sister teams.
Heading into the finals, it was expected that Vision Strikers would win handily. They’d always been the better of the two Strikers, and it was unlikely things would change on LAN in the biggest tournament yet. And it did live up to those expectations, let’s just say the finals weren’t exactly of the highest quality. The first map was good, as TNL pushed Vision Strikers on Split, with a solid defensive half, but it wasn’t enough, and they lost 13-10. Come Icebox, though, TNL looked out of it. They looked like they didn’t have any fight left. They were beginning to get rolled over, and they knew it. Things ended 13-7. TNL managed to make something out of Bind, with a decent defense, but it wasn’t enough to overcome Vision Strikers’ 9-3 first half, and the final map went by a score line of 13-8. The tournament was theirs. MVP of the finals went to Lee “k1Ng” Seung-won, after a stellar overall match but especially on Split, where he’d top fragged with 305 ACS and 26 kills on Killjoy.
Vision Strikers are victorious, © Vision Strikers (Twitter)
Vision Strikers have everything together. They have the superstar young fragger in Rb, who manages to make Jett work like no one else in the world. They have Kim “stax” Gu-taek, who has cemented himself as possibly the best player in Korea, with excellent utility usage and fragging power that can at times rival Rb. They have Kim “glow” Min-soo, the Omen who brings it out when it’s needed, k1Ng, a Cypher to match the best, and Kim “Zest” Gi-seok, the constant, consistent Sova presence. They have excellent teamwork and coordination, and some of the best set plays in the world. They also have no more competition in Korea. They’ve proven themselves time and time again as the best team in this section of the world, and only at international competitions will we be able to see just how much that means.
First Strike Korea Regional Final
Final Standings for First Strike Korea Regional Finals:
1. Vision Strikers – $40,000
2. TNL Esports – $20,000
3-4. Cloud9 Korea – $10,000
3-4. aNg DarkHorse – $10,000
5-8. F4Q – $5,000
5-8. Crazy Hamster – $5,000
5-8. PROPARTY – $5,000
5-8. T1 Korea – $5,000