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How Did Gambit Esports Upset South Korea’s Best?

After looking dominant in the group stage, South Korean giants, Vision Strikers, are out of the VALORANT Champions Tour: (VCT) Masters 3 Berlin Playoffs. Their opponent? EMEA’s top seed, Gambit Esports. While Vision Strikers dominated Group A, without dropping a map, Gambit Esports had a much more tenuous road to the playoffs. After dropping a series to North American representatives, 100 Thieves, and being pushed to their limit by Japan’s Crazy Raccoon, this matchup for Gambit would be their biggest test. And with the form they showed, it is safe to say they aced it. What were the keys to crafting such a big upset? Who should we be celebrating? And where do we go from here?

Taking a look at Vision Strikers’ opening draft for Bind and we immediately see something shift in their style. With bringing in Kim “Lakia” Jong-min for his first map of Masters 3, the patient South Korean team forges an agent composition that ideally wants to react to their opponent’s aggression on defence while setting and control the tempo on their offence. 

Placing Lakia on Raze–something he’s known to play since his days with NUTURN Gaming–they also continue to flex Goo “Rb” Sang-Min around on support, this time placing him on Skye. And with Yu “BuZz” Byung-chul and Kim “stax” Gu-taek on their comfort picks of Jett and Breach respectively, Vision Strikers wield a myriad of mobility options–which are also supplemented by Bind’s teleporter network–and a ton of utility to help their duelists take space. However, there is one small problem; Gambit Esports doesn’t want it.

Take this snapshot of Round 7 as an example. For 6 rounds straight, Gambit Esports have played an incredibly slow tempo offence. From the opening pistol volleys down to the few gun rounds Vision Strikers were able to cobble together, the pride of EMEA did not attempt to match the aggression from Vision Strikers–instead, Gambit allowed Vision Strikers to burn their utility and push into the sightlines they already controlled. This supplemented Gambit’s Skye, Bogdan “Sheydos” Naumov, with 4 separate first kills. 

Also, take note of where Igor “Redgar” Vlasov’s Astra Stars are placed. If there is any coordinated efforts to push through the B-Long teleporter to A, he has access to control and disrupt that attack. If Vision Strikers wants a quick rotation from A-Site to B-Mid, he also has that locked down with an Astra Star. No matter what look the South Korean giants throw at them–they’ve got a strong rebuttal. 

This culminated in 8 straight rounds for Gambit Esports ending the half up 10-2. Past that point, Vision Strikers were at such a deficit that a comeback was near impossible. And with Ayaz “nAts” Akhmetshin’s ability to read the game and find ways to carve up the map with Viper’s utility–can you blame Vision Strikers for only scraping up 2 round wins? Ending the map with a 460 average combat score (ACS) 24 kills, and 282.9 average damage done per round (ADR), nAts was an absolute demon to start the series against a team that purposely hid a curveball.

That hidden curveball, hiding Lakia all tournament long, netted the opposing team a grand slam. 

Taking small positions and catalyzing them into massive advantages was Gambit Esports’ goal. From their narrow loss on Split to their eventual victory over the odds on Icebox, you cannot discount how consistent and through Gambit were with their Viper utility. To speak on Icebox for a moment; coming into that map, Vision Strikers were historically 15-1 on that map. And when we break out the Rolodex, we can see that Vision Strikers haven’t lost on Icebox since December of 2020 during First Strike. Those odds do not bode well for Gambit but at the end of the day; they are just numbers. 

This is where all of our points meet. 

The strategy, the skill, the patience–it all points to one thing.

Preparation.

Standing in a crossroads of strong mechanical prowess, a tailored macro game, and the presence of mind to not be concerned with historical map records, the key to this massive upset victory is Gambit Esports’ head coach, Andrey “Engh” Sholokhov. Again, you don’t craft a team with this kind of skill without some experience, and Engh has that in spades, competing in both Point Blank in 2013 and Overwatch from 2016 to as recent as representing Russia at the 2019 Overwatch World Cup. 

Then you look at how surgical Bind was and how much fog was artificially placed around that map from the camp of Vision Strikers. All week long the narrative was “What does Vision Strikers do with Lakia?” and “When do we see Lakia?”. Neutralizing him before he got off the ground was Gambit’s macro approach to denying their aggressive offence on Bind. Begging both agile and creative on Icebox to give his team the reigns to push through the middle of the map and execute set plays that deny space. Engh and Gambit have it all, but make no mistake; this is just as much a win for Engh and his coaching staff as it is for the players. 

Advancing forward, Gambit Esports is paired with the familiar stylings of G2 Esports, a team they had to defeat domestically to advance as EMEA’s top seed coming into Berlin. Now consider the following; what would you think more difficult–a team you’ve already beaten and have a familiarity with or a team you’ve never played before in the biggest tournament of the year? The hard part is over.

And on that, we’ll let you decide if Gambit Esports are grand finals bound. 

Images via Riot Games and Blizzard Entertainment

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