From Aug. 31 to Sept. 18, VALORANT teams from every corner of the globe will be looking to make their name at Champions Istanbul. This series will introduce fans to all the teams competing at Champions. Three teams at Champions fall into the loosely defined East Asia region that encompasses China, Korea and Japan; EDward Gaming, DRX and ZETA DIVISION.
Out of all the East Asian teams at Champions, EDG is the biggest question mark.
Thanks to licensing issues, VALORANT is still getting its start in China. The VALORANT Champions Tour East Asia Last Chance Qualifier was our first introduction to Chinese teams —that is, at least one team: EDG.
“EDG is not just the best team in China, but one of the best teams in all of Asia,” Clinton “Paperthin” Bader, a VCT Korea commentator, said in an interview.
Prior to the LCQ, EDG competed in the FGC VALORANT Invitational events in China. Their VCT debut exposed the world to this team as they beat out much more established rosters to claim the final East Asia spot at Champions Istanbul.
“No one, at any point, truly knew what they were gonna bring,” Paperthin said. “Of course, the scrim bucks were high on this team — in fact, very very high — but that doesn’t always translate into success.”
EDG employ an in-your-face style of play, reminiscent of (if not exactly the same as) Paper Rex. Their Attack side is characterized by methodical aggression with a strong emphasis on playing together as a unit.
“Their method on the attacker side is to often punch you in the mouth,” Paperthin said. “And that’s where they’re at their best.”
At Champions, EDG is being touted as a dark horse contender to go deep in the playoffs. Paperthin believes the Chinese team has a strong chance to upset more experienced opponents.
“Because they’re so talented, I think a lot of teams are going to struggle the first time they face them,” he said. “It’s hard to really know what you’re getting into with EDG until you’ve taken a few of their punches.”
If there’s one player to watch on EDG’s admittedly well-rounded squad, it may be Yongkang “ZmjjKK” Zheng. Not only is ZmjjKK an exceptional talent, easily capable of winning opening duels and prying open the map, he’s also the heart of the team in many ways.
“ZmjjKK seems to be really good at keeping his team’s spirits up no matter what,” Paperthin said. “Even when things are sliding a bit, when they’re going sideways, he seems to be positive and encouraging.”
Even though VALORANT is still finding its footing in China, there will be a lot of pressure on EDG to perform at Champions. They represent a massive region and their success is a barometer for Chinese VALORANT as a whole.
“Any esports that China gets really involved in, that they really sink their teeth into, they become a force to be reckoned with, especially if EDG can start to get the ball rolling now,” Paperthin said.
In the Korean VCT, there’s DRX — and then there’s everyone else. Even though Korea boasts a number of exception VALORANT players, many of them have gone international to play in Japan or North America. The remainder of the top players are all clumped together on DRX.
“DRX is the powerhouse of the Asia region, especially East Asia,” Paperthin said. “They’re widely considered to be one of the best teams outside of NA and EU.”
Although DRX dominate regionally, often going on long undefeated streaks, they struggle to perform internationally. For a team that has the potential to win tournaments, DRX often ends up with disappointing fifth or sixth place finishes.
“When it comes to internationals, they’re a good team, but not a great team,” Paperthin said. “The first biggest hurdle they run into is their own mentality. Once they hit a point where they lose and things start to go a little bit sideways, they have a tough time recovering.”
Paperthin pointed to a few other flaws in DRX’s game — occasional poor meta reads, over reliance on the Phantom, etc. — but said the biggest issue is undoubtedly in their own heads.
“Everybody knows how good their utility coordination is, how good their timings are … but then they kind of run out of steam,” Paperthin said.
DRX have never won an elimination match in the playoffs of an international event; when their backs are against the wall, DRX tends to struggle.
Ultimately, DRX still have tempered expectations for their run at Champions. Paperthin said that even a poor performance probably won’t lead to the Korean powerhouses rebuilding their roster from the ground up.
“I think fifth or sixth would be good,” Paperthin said. “That would be another solid performance for them. I know from talking to them from behind the scenes, they want to get at least fourth place or better.”
ZETA DIVISION are the most popular team in East Asia, and one of the most popular teams at Champions. VALORANT has blown up in Japan and ZETA are Japan’s favorite team. Although they missed Masters Copenhagen after suffering a narrow loss to Northeption, ZETA DIVISION are back for Champions.
“This team is a historic turning point for Japanese esports,” Paperthin said. “So much pressure is on ZETA but this is a team that can get it done. They’ve proven that they can beat just about anyone in the world when they’re at their best.”
Paperthin referenced ZETA’s run at Masters Reykjavík, where the Japanese squad notched a third place finish behind OpTic Gaming and LOUD. It was a monumental feat for Japan and one of the best finishes for any East Asian team.
“Once they started to get that momentum at Iceland, it almost never broke,” Paperthin said. “They were just completely focused. They were playing great.”
Unfortunately for ZETA, there are a few factors working against them at Champions. One of their star players, Tenta “TENNN” Asai, is still recovering from an issue that affected his eye. There is still some uncertainty over how he will slot into the team. Luckily, Yuto “Xdll” Mizomori — one of Japan’s young, talented prospects — is on standby if needed.
ZETA DIVISION also drew into a very difficult group where OpTic and LOUD will be favorites to make playoffs.
Paperthin said ZETA are a team that thrive when they find their confidence early in the event. They’re capable of building on that momentum and doing serious damage against some of the best teams in the world.
“If they look lacklustre against LOUD, I don’t think it’s the end of the world, but they need that one big win,” Paperthin said.