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For nearly a year, Vision Strikers were the most dominant team in South Korean VALORANT. From their very first competition in June of 2020, the team never skipped a beat, racking up an unprecedented 102-match win streak and taking first place in twenty straight competitions. They became known worldwide for their methodical plays and the way they were always able to control the flow of the game.

“When Vision Strikers really started to make a name for themselves, they became the team to watch globally for strategy in particular,” Seth “Achilios” King, a VALORANT caster, said. “Especially early days, they were one of the first teams that really started running these crazy set execution plays on various map types. They’re constantly on the same page. The moments where they look lost are few and far between.”

For a long time, Vision Strikers seemed untouchable. That is until, of course, their self-professed streamer team F4Q cut short their win streak during VALORANT Champions Tour Stage 2 Challengers. During that same tournament, Vision Strikers were knocked out in semifinals by NUTURN Gaming, who went on to qualify for Masters Reykjavík. It was the one blemish on Vision Strikers’ perfect record, and the team’s communications manager, John “Miryu” Ryu remembered mixed emotions when it was all over.

“Termi, our head coach, accepted the loss quickly, as he knew we were having a less-than-average performance heading into Stage 2,” Miryu said. “On the other hand, the players obviously took the loss more personally. If anything, I think the taste of defeat for the first time in their VALORANT careers motivated them to practice even harder as they prepared for Stage 3.”

It was a tough blow made worse by their failure to qualify for the first international VALORANT competition, but the team rallied back and defeated old rival F4Q in the Stage 3 Challengers final. Both teams have now qualified for VCT Stage 3 Masters and will represent Korea in Berlin — though this doesn’t mean you should expect the same thing from them. They are, according to Achilios, “polar opposites.” Where F4Q plays fast and loose, Vision Strikers are much more calculated.

Vision Strikers captain stax (left) and F4Q captain FiveK (right) talk before their match. | Provided by Riot Korea

“Vision Strikers will run the clock down to the very last second before they execute on a site, before there’s even been a bullet fired,” Achilios said. “They’ll play extremely slow if they feel like that’s what they need to do.”

Though Vision Strikers have only been around for just more than a year, the players have been around much longer. The initial team was composed of four former Counter Strike: Global Offensive pros all coming from the same team, MVP PK. Their captain at the time, Kim “glow” Min-soo, was a veteran who’d been playing professionally since 2008. Glow has since transitioned into a coaching role, leaving fellow ex-CS:GO pro Kim “stax” Gu-taek to take on the captain role.

“I look up to glow and how he led the team before,” stax said of becoming the team captain. “If anything, I approach the role as he did.”

Stax rose to international prominence along with Vision Strikers as one of the core executors of the team’s set strategies. He became known for his Breach play and his ability to coordinate abilities with teammates to control sites and get crucial kills. His measured play and raw mechanical skill makes him a key part of Vision Strikers’ success.

“He’s the in-game leader, but he also just has the best aim out there,” said Achilios. “If you look at global statistics, stax is always going to be near the top when it comes to headshot percentage. You get a Vandal in this kid’s hands and he just knows how to click heads — while also utilizing his kit extremely well.”

Stax (center) with the Stage 2 Challengers trophy. | Provided by Riot Korea

Vision Strikers have a young roster. Stax is the oldest member at just 21. But despite their youth, the players have a mature approach to the game. According to Miryu, the team’s strength comes from the players’ open communication and willingness to hear criticism, something young players have been known to struggle with.

“Not only is anyone able to voice what’s on their mind freely, but also, no one takes what anyone says personally,” Miryu said. “Working together towards championships means constructive criticism is essential. At the end of the day, everyone on the team recognizes that transparency with one another, whether it’s feedback or personal issues, is essential to the growth of the team.”

Going into Stage 3 Masters, Vision Strikers will need to draw upon their past experience to go toe-to-toe with the favorites. And it’s not just the players who have had extensive experience with competition; their coaching staff is arguably even more star-studded. Along with the aforementioned glow, head coach Pyeon “termi” Seon-ho is a former CS:GO pro whose career stems back to 2005.

Something else that sets Vision Strikers apart is their utilization of a six-man roster, with Kim “Lakia” Jong-min and Lee “k1Ng” Seung-won rotating in and out between maps. Lakia was part of the NUTURN Gaming roster that qualified to Stage 2 Masters, where he quickly became the team’s breakout star. He has since joined Vision Strikers and now specializes in playing Skye.

Vision Strikers won Stage 3 Challengers to qualify for Masters. | Provided by Riot Korea

“I think I had a pretty good performance in Reykjavík that created the perception that I was the ‘breakout star’,” said Lakia. “I’m ever so thankful for such a compliment. But I want to show everyone an even better performance and make a solid statement in Berlin.”

As Stage 3 Masters draws closer, all eyes are on Vision Strikers to see if their performance in Korea will translate to an international stage. That prospect doesn’t seem to faze the Vision Strikers players, though. After dominating their own scene, all the players are raring for a bigger challenge.

“I believe that any international stage is just another tournament, similar to a domestic stage,” said Kim “MaKo” Myeong-kwan, who joined the team following their Stage 2 defeat. “If we perform like we’ve been doing without any mistakes, I believe we’ll get the results we want.”

With the shift from domestic to international competition, Vision Strikers have gone from clear favorites to relative underdogs. It’s not unthinkable that they would make a championship run, but they’ll have to make it through formidable teams like Sentinels and Gambit Esports to do so.

At the same time, they’re not shying away from it. Both Lakia and MaKo stated that they’re most looking forward to facing off against Sentinels, and stax is confident that Vision Strikers are prepared to take on anyone — especially those who underestimate them.

“If they view us as too much of an underdog then they might suffer their defeat, just like us when we lost to F4Q,” said stax with a laugh. “I want to prove to everyone that we aren’t a team to look down upon.”