The road to the Champions Korea Spring Finals has begun. After 12 weeks of regular season play, the field of eight has been whittled down to four. The GE Tigers' undefeated rampage through the first three-quarters of the season secured them their automatic spot into the Champions Spring Grand Finals. SK Telecom T1 had an undefeated second half of the season — beating the top placing Tigers 2-0 to end the season — and are seated in the semi-finals, only needing one Bo5 win to meet GE again in the finals.
At the starting line that leads towards the Champions Spring Grand Finals, we have a clash between CJ Entus and the Jin Air Green Wings. Once the kings of Korea, CJ were seen as a rebuilding team coming into the season and were the surprise squad with their third place finish. Jin Air were at the opposite end of the spectrum; they were a surging team at the end of 2014 and seen as a possible contender in 2015, but had a weak end to the season which now has them limping into the playoffs.
Four teams remain.
Three Bo5's left in the season.
Two teams will meet in Seoul for the Champions Korea Spring Grand Finals.
Only one team will end the season as victors and head to the Mid-Season Invitational in Tallahassee, Florida to represent the Korean region against the best the world has to offer.
CJ Entus: The Korean Jokers
The best way to describe CJ Entus is as follows: at this moment, do you think CJ Entus is a Top 10 team in the world?
If you do, they will promptly suck in the next game you watch, feed endlessly and look like a bunch of chickens with their heads cut off. Coco and Shy will look lost with their tiny champion pools; Ambition will show his growing pains in the jungle; Space will be the Space of old and be a background character in a game where his team needs him to be a main carry; and Madlife, Korea's living legend, will show his age and look like a player who's past his prime.
All that to say that when CJ Entus are bad, they're really bad. Their biggest advantages — team fighting and their wealth of experience — can be their undoing and make then look like a mediocre team at best.
Right when you think that CJ Entus is a bad team, they'll laugh and promptly play the best teams in Korea and pick apart the teams below them in the standings. During the season, every time it looked like CJ's holes were exploited by the rest of the league, they held firm, beat the teams they had to beat to make the playoffs and ended the season on a strong note.
It was truly a team effort on how CJ Entus brought themselves back from what seemed to be a few seasons of rebuilding and trying out new players for aging stars. Moving Ambition to the jungle was a risky move, but he has been a rock for the team all season. While you can argue he's had his share of faults when CJ has been at their worst, he's been able to come into a new role and use the experience he's amassed over the past three years to keep up with the league's younger, more mechanically gifted junglers.
The same can be said about Shy, Madlife and Space. CJ Entus held tryouts and looked to be ready to move their legendary support out to pasture for some new blood, but Madlife isn't ready to hang up his mouse and keyboard anytime soon. Space and Madlife had by far their best season together as a duo, as the two players finally showed some signs of chemistry after countless seasons of minimal impact in the bottom lane.
Shy gets the job done. Give him a tank. Give him Lulu. He will protect, shield and teleport at all the right moments. In a season that was dominated by two more carry-oriented top-laners in Smeb (GE) and Duke (NJE), Shy didn't try to be fancy for a majority of the season. If he wasn't strong on an 'in' champion at the time like Gnar, he didn't try to force the issue and conform to the flavor of the month. He stood in the top lane, did the dirty work, and was repaid by his team by putting on good carry performances and helping CJ lock down a top three seed in the regular season.
I have no idea what to expect from CJ in the playoffs. They could easily lose 3-0 to Jin Air and look like the entire regular season was a fluke, or they could just as easily destroy Jin Air, upset SKT and find themselves in the the Champions Korea Grand Finals for the first time since CJ Entus Blaze lost to MVP Ozone two years ago.
They're smart. They have veteran leadership and experience. And, at their core, CJ Entus is a family. When a lot of people counted them out and denounced their management for perceived terrible roster moves — like the author to this very article you're hopefully still reading at this point — they believed in each other. They look terrible at times and can still be a bit of a joke when things go wrong, but CJ Entus have stuck together and fought through the adversity.
Who needs teammates when you have four brothers beside you?
Jin Air Green Wings: The Sorrowful Story of a Sad Plane
There was once a League of Legends team known as Jin Air. They had a great sponsor, a good support staff and players with amazing potential. But as hard as they tried, each season ended in absolute horror. Their teams would either get destroyed in the regular season, or, if they were lucky, make it to the playoffs and get torn apart in the first round. The Sad Plane flew around the dark skies of South Korea mournfully, hoping that one day their frown would turn upside down.
Finally, after a year of tinkering and playing around with rosters, the Sad Plane finally looked to be on the path to happiness. A strong start to the season. Players making big plays and winning games together as a unit. The attendants of the Sad Plane worked as a cohesive unit, not caring if the passengers fell asleep during their games as long as they won in the end. Everything in the Land of Jin Air was great! The Sad Plane was truly happy for the first time!
... and then Jin Air lost their last six games of the season. The Sad Plane realized he would never be happy and crash landed into the Spring Playoffs. The status quo had returned.
The Jin Air Green Wings were on the right track to becoming an extremely good and calculating team that used their smarts along with their map movements to win instead of outright team fighting. Unfortunately for them, as the season progressed and the game started to change from patch to patch, the Green Wings never adapted. While teams were picking up the new champions, items and compositions, Jin Air were like a 35-year-old trying to relive his glory days in high school — annoying, incredibly sad to watch and trying to act like Jarvan IV is cool and still 'in' this season.
Beneath their massive amount of problems hides an extremely talented team. Pilot has grown into his own this season, beating out CptJack for the starting AD carry role and being the hyper carry Jin Air needs in times of need. GBM, who along with Cpt Jack were former CJ members, has become one of the better mid-laners in Korea and looked to be fighting for the top spot before Jin Air's nose dive to the bottom of the table. Trace, Chaser and Chei all have continued their pace as solid, reliable players at their role who could make it on most teams in Champions.
You want to pick the Green Wings. The talent is certainly there, but it's almost like they can't stop reliving the best parts of the first half of the season and don't want to face the harsh realities of what is new in the game. They're still an on-point and smart team when they want to be, knowing how to ward the map and control the pace of the game, but none of that has mattered when they get stomped into the ground with inferior compositions.
The good news for Jin Air is that even with their massive problems, they still played well against the three playoff teams in the regular season. They split the two series against SKT and CJ, and they gave GE a strong run for their money and didn't roll over in either of their losses to the Spring finalists this season.
You want to believe the Sad Plane can have his moment in the sun instead of always having a storm cloud follow him everywhere, but they're going to need to have a strong shift in the way they play if they want that to happen.
Every part of me wants to pick Jin Air. CJ Entus are looking great right now, meaning they're in for a great fall shortly. Jin Air, who are currently in their great fall, need a ray of hope and sunshine against CJ before they get slaughtered by Faker and co. in the semifinals.
If, and this is a big if when looking at Jin Air's history, the Green Wings can start playing like a current team than being stuck in the past, I think they're the better team than CJ. Chaser can be spotty at times and feed gigantic amounts once every ten games, but he's usually one of the better and more reliable junglers in Korea. Ambition has held his ground so far this season, but Chaser has all the tools to beat him.
The marquee matchup for me will be in the bottom lane. Pilot, if he gets the start over CptJack, is one of the sneakiest but greatest players of the season. He has started nineteen games, making him less prominent than the other ADC's, yet he has put up huge numbers when his name has been called. Space has definitely improved and we can call him one of the better ADC's in the league. However, Pilot has the potential to be the AD carry with more time and patience behind him.
While I think either team will be huge underdogs against SKT in the semis, they both have moments where they can hang with the elite. But right when you think you're ready to call them World contenders, they fall on their faces and embarrass themselves. This series is truly one of the most unpredictable in any of the regional playoffs; the outcome could change every day of the week depending on how a team is feeling.
I want to pick Jin Air.
I want to fly with the Happy Plane.
I want to continue believing CJ Entus is a lie and that their family motto will end up being a gigantic farce.
Jin Air should be the better team. The thing is, there have been many times in Jin Air's history where they should have been much better than what they actually were. CJ, while having their moments of complete and utter terrible play, can say they've been to the mountain top and know what it means to be winners.
Until Jin Air can prove they can get past the first round of the playoffs, their frown will never really be flipped upside down.
Prediction: CJ Entus 3 - 1 Jin Air
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for The Score eSports, and he will be bringing you coverage of the Champions Korea Spring Playoffs. He just realized he picked CJ Entus to win a playoff series and doesn't know what to do with himself. You can follow him on Twitter.