Vision Strikers’ founder and DRX COO talks about the Korean esports scene and why he believes Valorant has a bright future in Korea.
Vision Strikers is one of the most popular teams in Korea right now. The team notably made headlines on the global stage due to its 100-map win streak, a record that remains unbroken till date. More recently, Vision Strikers added Bae “Knee” Jae-min, Kang “Chanel” Seong-and Park “Infested” Byeong-ho to its Tekken squad. They also signed legendary Warcraft 3 player, Jang "Moon" Jae Ho. With such a diverse presence in esports, it is no surprise to see Vision Strikers' growing popularity in South Korea.
Vision Striker’s dominance in its region should not come as a huge surprise. In almost every esports title, there has been one team that has dominated the scene in its early days. CS: GO had Ninjas in Pyjamas, Dota 2 had Navi (then Natus Vincere) and League of Legends had SKT. Vision Strikers’ 100 game win-streak sits in the same league as some of those teams. And they are not done yet.
A veteran in esports, Lim 'Dopani' Hyun-seok has donned many hats over his long and illustrious career. He has been a founder, a head coach, a friend and now the Chief Operating Officer. Vision Strikers recently merged with DRX, a landmark deal that furthers the DRX goal of becoming a global esports brand. We spoke to the org’s COO, Dopani about the team’s aspirations, the esports ecosystem in Korea and more recently the Razer partnership.
Who is Dopani?
My hobby is my job. Most of the time, I'm working in esports. If I'm not working, I'm watching games, any esports.
It’s not often that the people behind the players get the limelight on them. But there are few, whose radiant energy and enthusiasm makes it difficult to not give them much attention.
A veteran in the esports scene, Dopani is one of the driving forces behind his teams. The (now) COO has been an inspiration and a motivator for his org’s players and support staff.
Dopani entered esports when he founded MVP several years ago. For many, esports has now become a business, but for Dopani, it’s a business that’s an extension of his hobby. That’s what keeps him so enthusiastic about his teams and their matches.
I loved the esports industry so much that I made a new team, called MVP. This was nearly ten years ago and basically I used to love this game called Starcraft 2. I managed this team until 2019. And then I built Vision Strikers.
One of the most notable moments in his career was when he was seen doing a stunt on stage. His team had just won and there were no bounds to his happiness. What happened next was extraordinary and was a display of pure happiness and emotion.
The dawn of Vision Strikers in Korean Valorant
Dopani formed Vision Strikers in 2020, entering Riot’s Valorant esports ecosystem right from the get go. Valorant has become extremely popular in South Korea, showing tremendous growth and adoption in the esports hub.
Vision Strikers has found immense success in Valorant. You already know about the team’s 100 map win-streak, but people might forget that Vision Strikers was one of the favorites to win VCT Champions Berlin as well. Unfortunately, the team did not perform as well in Berlin and only managed a 9-12 place. The team’s loss to Cloud9 and Fnatic in the group stage was, and we’re not mincing words here, an upset.
Despite that loss, there would be few teams that would not take Vision Strikers seriously. The calm demeanor of the players might fool you into a lull, but
Korea and FPS
Korea and esports are synonymous, some would say. Some of the most popular athletes in League of Legends and Overwatch are from the region. However, Korea’s attempt to produce world-renowned FPS players has seen slow progress.
"When I was made MVP.Pk CSGO team, I realized Korean players have a very high skill and can be successful in the FPS scene. But only Overwatch players found success on a global level and not only in Korea. I think we were very late to enter the CS: GO esports scene."
Riot Games released Valorant as its first foray in the FPS segment. The game has agents that can use abilities, but remains primarily focused on aim.
"Korean players love FPS games. Games like Sudden Attack, Overwatch and PUBG are very popular in Korea. I think Korean players have more potential in FPS so I'm even more convinced that we will be successful in the Valorant scene."
The lack of pro players doesn’t portray a grim picture for Dopani. FPS games are very popular in Korea, and the region’s early interest in Valorant will be a booster for the region’s success in the game.
Counter-Strike is over two decades old and found its early roots in North America and Europe.
I think since we started at the same time in Valorant, I'm convinced we can be successful in Valorant esports on a global scale.
On Valorant in Korea: "Riot Games has invested a lot in Valorant esports in Korea. I think Valorant esports will rise significantly in Korea"
Despite Vision Strikers not winning the first-ever Champs, they are still a formidable team. As we head into the new season of Valorant esports, very few teams would disregard Stax and co.
Talking about Riot Games and their handling of Valorant in the region, Dopani feels Riot’s effort will see the game rise in popularity very fast, echoing a similar sentiment by Vision Strikers’ BuZz.
"Riot Games has invested a lot in Valorant esports in Korea. I think Valorant esports will rise significantly in Korea. Last year, PCBang score was almost 10.5%, up from 2% previously. I think it will grow thrice as much in Korea. I think it will be more popular soon."
DRX topped the VCT Korea 2022 group stage and has already reached the Grand finals. A victory here will confirm their presence in the Stage 1 Masters.
When asked if there was one thing he would like to change in the way Valorant esports is run, it would be the addition of more third-party tournaments. Dopani refers to the CS: GO esports circuit which has several third-party events scattered throughout the year.
I think we need more third-party tournaments to be in the Valorant esports circuit. Because everything is the same in the new season. I think it would be better if it was like CSGO where there are many kinds of tournaments, including open tournaments.
He also hopes for special tournaments for specific regions such as China, Korea and Japan. These tournaments would help develop the game’s popularity in these regions, he says.
"It would be great to have special tournaments in other regions such as China, Korea and Japan as well."
But it's not only Valorant and League of Legends for DRX. With their merger with Vision Strikers, DRX now has a presence in Tekken and Warcraft. With the presence of Tekken star Jaemin “KNEE” Bae and Warcraft 3 player Jaeho “Moon” Jang DRX is now one of the most popular esports organizations in Korea.
Monetization and Olympics
Joining the DRX family with its additional resources is a way for the players to realize their full potential. It is a win-win situation, as DRX now has players in many more games and more visibility.
"We are very happy with the DRX. They have a lot more resources and can invest in the esports scene. Previously, they only had one team in League of Legends. But Vision Strikers has players in three games, Valorant, Warcraft 3 and Tekken 7. For an esports company to be a leader in the global scene, they need to have more teams in the esports scene. So the merger helps DRX establish themselves on the world scene."
In February 2022, DRX brought the Vision Strikers legacy to Team Razer.
"Back when I was managing Team MVP, in Starcraft 2 days, we received a Team Razer sponsor. So I'm happy to have received the same sponsor after ten years and can still be working with Razer and get that sponsorship. I've used Razer products and still continue to do so cause they are just so good."
Despite being one of the fastest growing industries, organizations in esports often find trouble with their monetization efforts.
"Esports teams usually do not know how to communicate with fans. That needs to be fixed. Even the content on YouTube and other social platforms should be improved. Basically it comes down to managing the fanbase better and building a better relationship with fans."
Despite having just one team (League of Legends) DRX posts regularly to their YouTube channel. They have nearly 120,000 subscribers on YouTube while the DRX Valorant socials has nearly 35,000 followers on Twitter.
For several years, esports has sought recognition, recognition from the mainstream media, recognition from the wider audience, recognition from the Olympics. But as the industry grew, many realized that this recognition is not that important.
Esports has carved a new industry with millions of players, millions of dollars in prize money and packed stadiums. It’s entertainAnd people are taking notice.
Recently it was announced that the Commonwealth Games would feature Dota 2, eFootball and Rocket League. The Asian Games 2022 will Hearthstone as a medal event.
"At first I didn't think that we need the Olympics as much because it is just a tournament. Now I have changed his thinking as interacting with more people and focusing on peace and harmony, the Olympic values, can bring about a positive impact for esports."
Dopani concludes with a message for his fans, a promise to keep delivering results.
The value of esports teams should be shown as the result, which is winning. So I will always do our best to get good results and hope fans will cheer for us more.