With events welcoming live audiences back with open arms, the esports collective turns its attention towards VALORANT as the VALORANT Champions Tour (VCT) reignites globally. And with NUTURN Gaming’s bronze medal finish at VALORANT Champions Tour (VCT): Masters 2, South Korea as a region cannot be ignored. Commentator Clinton "Paperthin" Bader spoke with Esports Heaven regarding many of the recent roster shuffles, his favourites to qualify for Challengers, and his expectations for the region as we inch closer towards Masters 3 in Berlin, Germany.With BuZz, MaKo, and Lakia all joining Vision Strikers, it seems your mind is already made up when it comes to selecting favourites for the event. Could you expand a bit on what excites you about this new-look Vision Strikers (VS)? I think beyond the obvious firepower upgrade that Lakia and BuZz provide, it also provides some flexibility and depth. BuZz used to be an Omen player and has Raze in his back pocket as well. We all know that Lakia is nuts no matter what agent he is on. Rb is flexing into the Sova/Skye role, and we have seen how important good Skye's are and Rb is an incredible player at working off his own abilities, but we know that he can handle himself on duelists if called upon as well. Mako allows them to slot in an Astra/Viper player, giving much-needed utility depth to the Vision Strikers. And there's k1ng and stax, who are just two of the best players in their roles in Korea. k1ng has such smart sentinel play and is extremely consistent. Stax is the best Breach in the world in my opinion and constantly shows us plays that are lightyears ahead of others with his utility usage (plus the buffs to Breach's utility just give him even more strength here), and on top of that is one of the best head-shotters in the world. With glow remaining as a coach, they keep that veteran [tactical] FPS presence, and stax seems to fill in nicely as the shotcaller, particularly since he was already known as a vocal player. Looking at VS for Stage 3, they have the right combination of firepower and smarts to take Korea and punch their ticket to BerlinAssumedly, the other end of that ballot has to include NUTURN Gaming (NU), right? Where do you sit with them after their performance at Masters 2 and their recent roster moves with Lakia obviously departing for Vision Strikers and the entrance of 10X?NUTURN is definitely my #2 team in Korea still, but whether or not they can make it to Berlin depends on their seeding in the bracket I'd say, more so than VS. If they end up on the same side as VS, I still favor the Strikers over NU, and it's only the two teams that make it to the finals in KR that go to Berlin. 10X is a solid player, but they looked a bit shaky with him at times during the open quals, and he just isn't the same level of fragger as Lakia. Lakia can straight up take over multiple rounds on a map and win them for you basically by himself, and so far we haven't seen as much ability from 10X to make those kinds of plays. On top of that, Haven is still a REAL issue for NU, who struggled against a much weaker ofBy team on it, narrowly [beating] them in [overtime]. I need to see NU be able to play off their utility more and find consistent defaults that they can win off as well. With the two most notable teams out of the way, do you have a darkhorse pick that could sneak in against the odds? Any lower seated teams that you feel can upset the balance?If TNL can stay mentally strong and keep upping their level of play, they definitely have a shot. Exy is one of the best fraggers in Korea when he is on, but lacks consistency so far, as does the team as a whole. They have been bested by VS every time they have faced each other. If they can overcome that hurdle, there is definitely a solid foundation under this team's feet to make a deep run. I will throw [World Game Star] (WGS) into the ring as well here, they impress me a lot with their individual skill but don't have a great tactical sense at times when matching up against some of the top tier teams.Since their silver finish during First Strike: Korea, TNL Esports has been attempting a return to form. Reviewing their recent victory over Team NoX, did you feel like the aura around this team changed at all? Does it feel like this team can finally make a dent looking at Challengers Playoffs?They impressed me so much against NoX, and this is why they are my darkhorse for Stage 3. They were in control the whole time on both maps, and the aura was overwhelming coming from them for sure. It was a treat to watch top to bottom. Hate has shown he hasn't missed a step after moving to Japan's Detonation Gaming for a bit during Stage 2 after leaving Damwon Kia and provides a much-needed spark behind exy's insane plays. And their Breeze was SO dominant, that I didn't know what to make of it. Was it NoX just not being prepared, or has TNL put in a lot of time making this a must-ban map against them?To call TNL Esports’ victory over Team NoX convincing is almost an understatement, however, Hate and Meteor did see their debut. Do you feel like these players could be the catalysts for TNL to return to the top of the standings?So far, they seem to be fantastic additions to the team and give them more depth than they had before. Hate is a phenomenal KillJoy/Astra player who can get it done with guns and utility (he seemed to gel well with TS for some combo plays as well). Speaking of TS, he has now moved into the Astra/Breach role, which makes him a solid backline support player to come in clutch when you need him, kind of similar to stax on VS, and we have seen crazy clutch play from him before. And the cherry on top here is exy is now allowed to roll with his duelists of choice, and Skye who is seemingly a duelist for all intents and purposes this patch. Meteor as the dedicated Jett seems solid, but I wasn't blown away with him yet. That being said, it's hard to shine when you are on a team with exy. Being solid and creating space with good entries on executes and retakes is really what Meteor needs to be bringing to TNL it feels like, but we'll see how this team evolves throughout this stage.You mentioned on Twitter that you were hoping to see TNL Esports and DWG KIA meet on Breeze. From what you’ve seen so far, what would you say the three hallmarks are when it comes to Korea’s approach to VALORANT’s newest map?The three biggest hallmarks I've seen from the successful Breeze teams in Korea so far are A.) Long-range shooting. Whether that be Ghosts, Marshalls, Vandals, those really seem to be key to locking down sites to defend retakes if you aren't playing lineups post-plant. Also creating space on entries and zone control over mid.B.) Viper utility is really powerful on both sides of the coin here (like most maps) and Korea has finally bought into this agent. The Toxic Screens give you a lot of control over the large plant sites (Viper's Pit can be used here as well), and her Poison Cloud can make going through the choke points to the sites difficult as well. Same with the Toxic Screen, we saw one lineup with it on B site for attackers side that blocks off most of the right side of the site. That makes it really challenging for the defenders to retake without them making long flanks to arches or B main.C.) Sova's utility as well seems to be a key factor in getting information on the sites and playing off that. We saw time and again, particularly on B site, that the Recon Bolts are hard to shoot down fast enough because of the amount of angles they can come from/land on due to the wide-open nature of the site, and it having some walls and pillars that block a fair amount of vision as well, making it difficult for defenders to react in time. On top of that, because the sites are wide open in some sense, the Owl Drone is key to getting information, particularly through Viper's utility.Speaking of DWG KIA, this is the same team that battle NURUTN Gaming in the finals of Challengers 2--but fell just shy of booking their tickets to Reykjavik, Iceland. With the power shift that has happened after Masters 2, where are your expectations for DWG KIA?DWG is my #3 team coming into this Stage and actually got a bit better with the addition of iNTRO from the remnants of Rio Company. A well-balanced player, solid fragger, and can bounce between Viper/KillJoy as needed, and has played Skye/Pheonix effectively as well in the past. The emergence of t3xture as a talented fragger is going to be the big key to their continued success. Can he maintain that form we saw in Stage 2? If so, depending on how the bracket shakes out, they could very well find themselves in Masters this time around.Last but certainly not least, I think it’s safe to say that Korea, as a region, turned some heads with NUTURN Gaming’s performance at Masters 2. Do you expect the same level of results from Masters 3?I expect more from Korea this time around. Korea has historically learned from their early faults in other esports to, seemingly inevitably, push the envelope and perfect their gameplay. I still don't think at their absolute best, that any team from Korea can beat the Sentinels when they are even at 90%, but NU has shown they can compete with the best from North America and Europe already, and I am already seeing them learning from what they saw at Reykjavik, especially with their adoption of Viper and post-plant play. NU was one consistently bad map away from making the finals, so in my mind, there is no doubt they or another team from Korea will take the next step at Berlin and be making deep runs.Joseph “Volamel” Franco has followed esports since the MLGs of 2006. He started out primarily following Starcraft 2, Halo 3, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. He has transitioned from viewer to journalist and writes freelance primarily about Overwatch and League of Legends. If you would like to know more or follow his thoughts on esports you can follow him at@Volamel.Images courtesy of Riot Games.
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