If I asked you what would be the biggest story to come out of the Korean regional gauntlet, how many of you would mention Jo “CoreJJ” Yong-in? How many of you even knew the former Team Dignitas ADC was now a support player for Samsung?
After leaving Dignitas in November of 2015, CoreJJ was actively looking to return to Korea. With Samsung losing their star ADC in Lee “Fury” Jin-yong, they were looking for someone who could fill that void.
During the Spring season, CoreJJ played 28 of Samsung’s games, only winning a mediocre 14 of them. He ranked 10th in Damage Per Minute, as well as only dealing 25% of his team’s damage in games he played. It was very clear that the ADC position on Samsung was quite lackluster, so going into the Summer season we saw CoreJJ start to transition into the support role.
This move was one of the most unnoticed roster moves in that offseason. Even if CoreJJ transitioned well, surely there was no way that he could ever nudge Kwon “Wraith” Ji-min out of his starting spot. Wraith has always been a highly-regarded support player, never thought of as a weak point.
In the Summer season, this looked to be the case. CoreJJ found himself playing only three games throughout the whole season, losing all three. While he struggled, the rest of his team was making strides. Samsung finished 4th in the standings, earning themselves their first playoff berth since they won Worlds in 2014. In the five games Samsung played in the playoffs, CoreJJ did not play a single one. At this point, Core was on the outside looking in, passing time until he could look to join a new team come the offseason.
Going into the Regional Gauntlet (which would determine the last Korean team that goes to Worlds), everyone expected a Samsung vs KT Rolster match-up to determine the 3rd seed for Korea. The road started for Samsung against a newly confident Afreeca Freecs.
In the first round of the Gauntlet, Afreeca was able to finally overcome their choking habit that had plagued them in the past. This alone made their matchup with Samsung worthwhile to watch. In the first game of the series, Afreeca undoubtedly had their way with Samsung. Jumping out to a 7-1 kill lead as well as securing the first two dragons, Afreeca quickly snowballed the game out of control using their early advantages that their composition provided.
With Game 2 looming, Samsung decided to throw a major curveball by replacing Wraith with CoreJJ. If you watch the VOD for the game you hear caster Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles say, “that is a bit odd, CoreJJ in and Wraith out.” Monte continues, saying that “CoreJJ has not played a game of League on the stage since June 24th, it is now September 1st. But more than that, he is 0-3 this season. He’s played two games of Bard and one on Zyra. It wasn’t so much that his individual play was lacking, but we’ve heard from Samsung in interview that a lot of their shotcalling comes from Wraith. Samsung says that specifically. When Core has played, the team’s shotcalling tends to fall apart in the late game. They do not do well as a unit without Wraith there to dictate their play. I have no idea why they would, down 0-1 in a worlds qualifier gauntlet, decide this is a good idea.”
In no way is Monte’s thought process here unjustified. This move was an absolute head scratcher from the outside looking in, but Samsung clearly knew what they were doing.
With CoreJJ in the lineup, they were able to quickly bounce back, easily taking the next three games. Throughout those games, CoreJJ was able to showcase that not only was he a proficient Bard player, but also that he could play Braum at a high level. Going into the highly anticipated rematch with KT, many wondered if Samsung would stick with the hot hand or go back to the reliable Wraith.
KT Rolster boasted a record of 19-0 vs Samsung since the start of 2015, so heading into this series it was pretty clear who the favorite was; most evidently shown by this quote from Erik “DoA” Lonnquist when introducing the broadcast, “Welcome to the gauntlet! That’s right, today we find out who goes to worlds! It could be Samsung, it could be KT, who knows? Well, we probably know, but it could be Samsung.”
With Game 1 preparing to start, it was shown that CoreJJ would be starting the series for Samsung. As pick and bans were underway, KT took Bard in the draft. Not only was this a major takeaway from CoreJJ, but Bard is also a strong pick into the Jhin from Samsung. This led to a situation where CoreJJ was either going to pick the Braum once again or play a completely new champion professionally.
Samsung would end up locking in the Tahm Kench for CoreJJ, and he played it masterfully. He posting a 0/0/15 stat line due to expertly navigating teamfights and skirmishes, which is far from easy to do as Tahm Kench. Expert Tahm players have to be quick and decisive with how and when they choose to reposition/save their teammates. Often times, there is very little room for error, so the fact that CoreJJ was able to do this flawlessly was quite impressive.
Now with a 1-0 lead and the curse finally broken for Samsung, it was their time to close out the series. However, KT had other plans.
In Game 2, CoreJJ once again showed a new pick in his arsenal: Karma, The Enlightened One. However, it would prove to be ineffective. KT was able to find a victory in this game despite Samsung top laner Lee “CuVee” Seong-jin getting an early lead on KT top laner Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho in top lane. Adding to Samsung’s woes, KT jungler Go “Score” Chan-ho had a nearly flawless game with Nidalee, going 10/1/4 Game 3 was a much cleaner game for KT, as they thoroughly dismantled Samsung. Despite the magnitude of the loss, Samsung’s bot lane duo was the lone bright spot. CoreJJ was still able to make some plays and even out-damaged Samsung jungler Kang “Ambition” Chan-yong, while Samsung ADC Park “Ruler” Jae-hyuk was on the top of the damage charts.
KT simply looked like the better team, the team everyone expected to see going to Worlds. Down 2-1 now and facing elimination, Samsung needed to regain their composure. In this situation, it was very reasonable to think Samsung may switch back to Wraith, considering the circumstances. Instead, they chose to go back to relatively the same team composition that integral in their Game 1 win. This formula once again proved to be too much for KT, as Samsung completely picked them apart. KT, now for the second time, was limited to just one kill and a lot of that came down to CoreJJ’s great Tahm play.
Coming down to a final Game 5, Samsung stuck with what was working. They once again locked in the Tahm Kench for CoreJJ and the Kennen for CuVee. The game started with Ambition and Lee “Crown” Min-ho getting an early first blood, which kickstarted Ambition’s early game a significant amount. He used that momentum to then secure the first dragon as well as a double kill for himself at around 14 minutes. To this point, Samsung had earned themselves a 2k gold advantage and they never really looked back. At around the 20 minute mark, the teams clash again, this time resulting in Samsung acquiring a dragon, two kills and a turret, all just for the life of CoreJJ. 24 minutes in, another fight breaks out in the top lane, resulting in a four-for-one trade (for Samsung), as well as a turret and an inhibitor. With the pressure now building up in top lane, Samsung was able to catch out Score and take Baron. From this point on, they slowly bled out KT and take the game at 34 minutes, cementing their place at Worlds.
Finally, the roller coaster of a season was over and you could see the relief in all of the players after the game. Watching Crown hold back tears as the realization sets in that all of his hard work paid off is easily one of the most endearing moments in esports this year. Then you see Ambition, sitting their soaking in the fact that finally, after nearly 5 years of competing, he was going to compete for a World Championship. While the cameras show the jovial faces of Samsung and the distraught faces of KT, Monte says “CoreJJ comes into the Gauntlet and helps carry this Samsung team, what a story for Samsung. Losing all their players in 2014, and now, they’re back.” He hits the nail on the head with this narrative, perfectly ending what is an amazing story.
Despite the feeling of winning something so important, Samsung still has its toughest road ahead, and so does CoreJJ. Some people are still skeptical on whether or not CoreJJ will start at Worlds. In Nick “LastShadow” de Cesare’s most recent video on the group drawings, he goes on to talk about the matchup between TSM support Vincent “Biofrost” Wang and Wraith. When asked in the comments of the video why he is talking about Wraith and not CoreJJ, he says the following, “I expect to see Wraith come worlds, just going off soloq reasoning. I would be very surprised if they do roll with CoreJJ for worlds.” Wraith is an extremely gifted support player this could easily be the case. Nonetheless, it’s an interesting dilemma. With how well CoreJJ played and how aggravating it must have been to watch your team win the biggest game without you, I’m sure Wraith is fiercely motivated.
Samsung and CoreJJ’s journey has been storybook so far, but now they face their most formidable ble opponent next at Worlds.
What are your thoughts on Samsung and CoreJJ? Who do you think will be starting at Worlds? Let us know in the commnts below or by tweeting us @GAMURScom.
The author can be contacted on Twitter at @OhSoDicey for any thoughts and concerns.