CJ Entus & the Future
There are few dynasties in League of Legends. The fleeting nature of eSports talent and the ever-changing game meta ensures this: Those who do not adapt fade into the background, to be replaced by newer, hungrier talent. There is no better example of this trend than CJ Entus and the two teams it stables, Blaze and Frost. It is commonly thought that only the teams that win the most are popular in Korea, but the CJ teams defy this trend. They continue to be extremely popular among Korean LoL fans, whether it be for dominant play and good looks on the part of Blaze’s Flame, or ingenuity and a religious following behind the innovations of Frost’s Madlife.
However popular they continue to be among the public, it’s undeniable that the CJ teams are in an epic slump. In the last year and a half, Blaze has been the better side than Frost, but that is not saying very much at all. Blaze exited in the Ro8 in Champions Winter during SKT T1 K’s reign of terror, and then finished 4th in the Spring playoffs against their kryptonite, Samsung Ozone, failing to make the final of a Champions Spring for the very first time in the team’s history. The faltering squad then spectacularly failed to make it out of groups in Champions Summer by splitting their matches with the Jin Air Greenwings Stealths. It’s fitting that the Stealths were the team to deny Blaze a playoffs berth, in retrospect: Blaze’s vengeful former AD Carry, Cpt Jack, the man with the perfect Cleanses of legend, led the way for the Stealths in their matchup.
In some ways, Blaze’s recent past has been paralleled by Frost. Frost’s placing in the depths of Champions Winter saw them also leaving the tournament in the Ro8. Spring saw them losing to the eventual winner of the season, Samsung Blue, again in the Ro8. And then, like Blaze, Frost were disgraced in the group stages of Summer, and failed to make the playoffs. As a whole, the CJ organization has been on a downward trend, as is reflected in the performance and placing of both teams.
Following arguably the most lackluster season of these two teams’ storied careers, more questions than answers remain for the future. The posited rule change to OGN’s two-team policy looks, at this moment, to restrict organizations to sponsoring only one team. For an organization like CJ, with popular players on both teams, this change represents a unique challenge. How is it possible to maintain a roster that keeps their hugely popular players with the organization, but is also capable of winning a Bo5? The rule change might come as a way to accomplish both things, as I will detail in the following writing.
The current assets that CJ possesses are its two top laners, Flame and Shy, then Madlife, Emperor, and CoCo. I am not including Ambition, Gunza, Daydream, or Space in this equation. Ambition has not been relevant in any respect (outside of solo queue) since Spring 2013, and consistently loses or goes even against subpar midlaners. He simply is not the type of player the organization requires from a mid laner at this point in time. Gunza has great potential, but is undeveloped and lacking depth. His performance has been one-dimensional thus far, though he is younger and hungrier than Madlife, but it is almost impossible to argue against keeping Madlife on the roster, for the dual purpose of his amazing playmaking as well as the popularity that his stardom commands. Shy has a huge fanbase and has arguably always been a consistent performer for Frost, but with the meta shifting to carry tops, it is impossible to understate how well Flame performs on these sorts of champions, and therefore also hard to justify keeping Shy over Flame on the final roster.
And now we come to Space. Oh, Space. A perennial presence with the CJ organization since the days of the legendary Longpanda, Space became a sub as soon as Frost and Blaze were picked up. He has been with the organization ever since, and has been a starter on Frost since Champions Summer 2013, against the opinion of nearly every critic in the LoL community. He has shown flashes of brilliance, leading him to be called Space 2.0 on multiple occasions. It kind of feels like we’re on Space 15.0, to be honest, with the number of chances this player has had to consistently perform. Keeping him on the roster would be idiotic, especially given the proven in-house talent that Emperor represents, in addition to numerous free agents like Piglet and perhaps Zefa or ohq, depending on where NaJin’s priorities lie. Space captures more than any other player the essence of CJ’s flawed roster policy in the last few seasons.
The X-Factor in CJ’s decision-making process is the jungle role. Together, Flame, CoCo, Madlife, and Emperor sound like a top 3 team, even without mentioning the jungle position at all. The lynchpin in this whole process will be whether or not CJ decides to retain Daydream for the jungle, and it is my opinion that they will not need to, for reasons I will explain. Firstly, there will be an abundance of talent created by the vacuum from the rule change, including top-tier talent like Spirit from Samsung Blue, should that organization decide to release Blue and retain White. Secondly, it is my opinion that OGN will create a one-time loophole in the ? rule in the season immediately following the rule change. For those unfamiliar with this particular rule, it states that teams that compete in OGN only retain their guaranteed spot if they keep ? of the original roster from the season preceding the current one. It is the opinion of the author that they will expand the ? rule to encompass the whole organization, so players from both Blaze and Frost would count toward the ? qualifying number. Besides, even if this posited loophole does not come to pass, it's not like Daydream is garbage. His performance has not been pure magic by any means, and not one analyst would rank among the likes of kaKaO or DanDy, but he is an all-around solid player who does what is required for his team. However, "solid" is not what CJ needs at this point in time to win a season of Champions. What they really need is an impact player that defines the playstyle of the team and is given the resources necessary to implement that playstyle. dade is probably the best example of this type of player, and, who knows? If Blue is really dropped from the Samsung stable, than dade himself will become a free agent that CJ could potentially acquire.
In a perfect world, as other journalists have mentioned, where aliens have landed and they ask to play the very best that CJ has to offer, we would see a team consisting of Flame, (probably) Spirit, CoCo, Madlife, and Emperor (or another free agent ADC). This lineup would be ideal, because Spirit’s tendency to focus on the solo lanes is a familiar pattern, derived from helping dade get rolling in nearly every game that Blue played this World Championship and past two seasons of Champions. The issue of an ego battle between Flame and Ambition would not be nearly as much of a stumbling block as on Blaze, because CoCo has been playing support-style mids like Orianna, Ziggs, and Lulu. He can farm up and maintain an even keel with his lane opponent, while Spirit or whatever jungler CJ chooses focuses on getting Flame rolling. And, of course, Madlife’s lane presence is unparalleled, even if his adaptation to the vision changes over the past year has been rocky at best. Spirit on his signature sightstone champions can shoulder a greater share of maintaining vision control, taking some of that burden off Madlife, and letting him focus on working with Emperor and managing his lane. And the removal of Space relative to Madlife’s performance can’t be understated either: If Madlife is Goku, then Space is his weighted clothing.
For the reasons stated above, it is the author’s opinion that the rule change will force CJ to do what they have not been willing to for the past year: Consolidate their talent onto one squad, fill in the gaps with promising free agents, and make a serious run at taking a season of Champions. CJ’s sentimentality toward their players and unwillingness to make tough decisions because of it has been their downfall almost since the day they first sponsored the teams. The OGN reshuffle, therefore, can only mean good things for CJ Entus in the future.