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A new opportunity awaits ZETA DIVISION at Masters Berlin
Germany was a whole new experience for ZETA DIVISION, but they had almost no time to enjoy the sights of Berlin as they landed for VALORANT Stage 3 Masters. To adhere to quarantine protocols, they were whisked from their plane to a series of busses headed to their hotel. Most of the team has been abroad before, some to London and one Sweden, but certainly not under the same conditions.
“When we first got here, we were basically put on a bus straight from the airport to the hotel, so we didn’t really get to see that much,” ZETA DIVISION’s coach Sawada “JUNiOR” Yuya said through a translator. “So our first impression of Germany was that bus trip.”
The team’s coaches JUNiOR and Hibiki “XQQ” Motoyama were on separate busses, but passed the time by people watching. They imagined the jobs and titles of those on the street, from barbeque chef to movie star, and remarked on how different the people and city looked to their native Tokyo.
The two coaches said it is almost impossible to tell what the stout stone buildings were as they flashed by during the drive. The pair were used to Tokyo’s easily identifiable iconography, where bars and convenience stores are recognizable from blocks away.
They also were initially shocked by the lack of people wearing masks outdoors, a stark contrast to Japan’s city streets. But, at the least, new is nothing strange for ZETA DIVISION.
A big rebranding to reach Berlin
For JUNiOR, his team’s journey to Berlin started after their loss to Crazy Raccoon in the Japanese Stage 2 Challengers Finals. ZETA DIVISION, then called Absolute JUPITER, was considered the top team in Japan up to that point. They had only lost to Crazy Raccoon, South Korea’s Vision Strikers and the Japanese team SCARZ before.
After the loss, which saw their hopes for an international tournament berth wither away, the team went back to practicing, added a sixth player in Miyamoto “makiba” Akastuki and went through a rebrand.
They set to work on crafting their compositions, implementing what they could from other regions and seeing what roles worked best for their players. By the end of it all, they were almost a brand new team.
“Coming up to Masters Berlin, we tried all sorts of playstyles from other teams and other regions,” XQQ said through a translator. “We kind of experimented a lot, and what we ended up doing was kind of picking what worked for us and what we liked.”
What has worked well for them thus far are many of the same agents that the European teams use. The squad plays most maps with a single Duelist and isn’t afraid to abandon Astra as their Controller of choice. But, the coaches also said they take tactical inspiration from North America and are not afraid to free-style a round or two.
“We play more like NA, but we use skills like EU, and in a lot of ways we’re very adlib focused,” JUNiOR said.
The team has practiced against the Turkish representatives, SuperMassive Blaze, a few times since coming over to Europe. Eren “Brave” Kasırga, SBM’s Controller player, gave ZETA DIVISION props for their use of utility.
“I think they are good at using their utility and they can surprise at this tournament, but we will see,” he said in a pre-event press conference.
Fish out of water but still in a tank
At their hotel, ZETA DIVISION — and other quarantining teams — are confined to their rooms and given red wristbands to identify them as under isolation. If anyone with the wrist band is caught outside their room, they will be deported from the country. The team had few options to pass the time during their isolated experience.
Akatsuki “makiba” Miyamoto, ZETA DIVISION’s newest member, grinded solo queue from sunrise to sunset. While the Japan servers can get toxic at times, both coaches agreed that their players experienced a different level of nastiness on the European ones.
They also sent pictures of the food they were trying through the hotel room service to each other, dining on German bread and indulging in sausages they’ve never tried.
Innovating to advance
ZETA DIVISION’s in-game leader, Ryu “Reita” Oshiro is a veteran of the Japanese first person shooter scene. He competed in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Source before VALORANT. While he does most of the main calling of the team, he also plays Duelist — mostly Jett — and is the entry fragger.
While the rest of the world has shied away from Duelist shot callers (sans Sentinels Shahzeb “ShahZaM” Khan, who plays a more defensive Jett) ZETA DIVISION wants their in game leader to be the first person shooting in gun fights.
“They’ll be able to see a lot of the fighting that’s going around, so they’ll be able to give orders based on the larger summary of combat info that they’ll have based on their role,” JUNiOR said. “And then lastly, the duelist — by being first into the fray — has a tendency to be one of the first people who gets killed during the battle. But you can still talk after you’re dead.”
Another quirk of ZETA DIVISION is their use of their substitute, Ryo “barce” Takebayashi. While the rest of the team has one or two roles they can confidently play, barce normally steps in as a different Controller on Brimstone and Omen.
He also only comes in for specific maps and compositions. His inclusion in the lineup spells a change in playstyle for the team, usually with a quicker pace. With makiba on Astra, and thanks to her ability to recall smokes, stuns and sucks, ZETA DIVISION can play reactive and more defensive. With barce, they can take the fight to the enemy and get aggressive.
While considered the top Japanese team at the tournament, JUNiOR and XQQ said they consider themselves representatives of Asia as a whole. When asked about how they thought Crazy Raccoon represented their country at Masters Reykjavík, they pointed toward NUTURN as a point of pride for how well Asia could do in the game.
“We’re hoping that we can learn from their [NUTURN’s] matches and improve as we go on and then be able to compete and do better with Europe and America and the whole world,” XQQ said.
The team regularly practices with NUTURN, Visions Strikers, F4Q and other Korean, Japanese and Chinese teams. The two coaches even said that they think of Vision Strikers as their rivals.
According to Kim “Lakia” Jong-min, formerly of NUTURN and now a member of the top Korean team, that feeling only goes one way — but he does recognize their skills.
“I feel indifferent that they mentioned us as their rival,” Lakia said in a pre-tournament press conference. “As for their tier within Asia, I would say they are high to medium-high.”
That high rating may be a primer for what fans can expect from the team in their group. They dodged many of the higher seeds from the larger regions and have high expectations of leaving groups.
While not yet acknowledged by their rivals, ZETA DIVISION have a chance to leave a mark in the history of VALORANT. And depending on whether their flexible style leads them to success, they may leave teams like Vision Strikes with something new to remember them by.
Declan is an esports journalist and part-time editor for Upcomer. He is an avid gamer and League of Legends player. You can find him at the bottom of the leaderboard in most games or on Twitter.