Rub your eyes and look at the standings as long as you like, but the result is real: CJ Entus ended SK Telecom T1's almost six month undefeated domestic streak in a 2-1 victory. During SKT's stretch of five months without a match loss, CJ Entus were the closest to ending the reign before it really even got started, as they lost to SKT in the semifinals of the previous split in a knife-edge series that went all five maps.
In a region with many inconsistent teams, CJ Entus are the most inconsistent. They have the skill, team fighting, and experience to beat any team in the world in a best-of-five series. They showed that last season when they were inches away from eliminating SKT and making the Spring Grand Final, and their skill ceiling was proven once again when they beat SKT in a best-of series for the second team this year. When CJ don't get stomped in the early-game and are playing well past the 15 minute mark, they're one of the best squads in the world when it comes to team fighting.
Problem is, CJ's peak form isn't what you're going to get from them half the time. A lot of the time, you'll see CJ Entus meander around the map for the first game, getting beat handily by bottom tier teams that they should have little trouble with, and then coming alive when they're pushed to their brink. Instead of SKT's ability to keep a high level of play through various patches, CJ Entus are a team that can beat SKT and EDward Gaming on a Saturday and then get blown out by SBENU Sonicboom or Longzhu IM on Sunday.
When you compare CJ to the other top teams in Korea, even the up-and-down NaJin, their early game staggers behind the pack. The only team in playoff contention they're better at in the early game are the Jin Air Green Wings, a team that is flimsy in the laning phase and do a lot of their work through playing defensive, kiting. Entus' main strength that gives them a chance to knock out and beat any team in the world in a best-of-five series is that they have the perfect blend of experience and team fighting. They can be behind through a weak laning performance and turn it around through one nicely coordinated team fight that gets Coco rolling.
For CJ Entus to make Worlds and do damage when they get there, they'll need to rely on their three strengths: veteran knowledge, expertly orchestrated team fighting, and Coco.
With CJ looking like they're going to stick with Shy as their main top laner, there is no secret who runs CJ Entus offensively. It's Coco, their star mid laner, who leads their entire team in kills, damage per minute, and gold allocation. If Coco can get a few kills in the first 30 minutes of the game and get a snowball rolling through a won team fight, then CJ Entus are as dangerous as any team in the world. If Coco is stifled by the enemy team and never gets going, it then comes down to Space, Shy, or the jungler to carry, and that hasn't worked out nearly as well for CJ.
Although CJ Entus were able to make SKT bleed for the first time this season, it doesn't mean anything except that it helps them get a bit closer to clinching a playoff spot. SKT T1 have proven over the past five months that even if they falter a bit at times, their play will rebound quickly to keep at a consistent elite level. CJ proved last season in the playoffs that when they're playing well, they have the tools to beat SKT. The former top organization in Korea and former 2012 Worlds finalists will now need to learn how to keep their elite level play longer than one night if they want to be taken seriously as a group that can challenge for the Summoner's Cup in October.
The Champions Hierarchy
1. SK Telecom T1: 14-1 (29-5)
The unconquerable were finally beaten for the first time this season. Sure, they lost to CJ Entus, but that was only after locking in their first place spot in the regular season as well as a spot at Worlds. As cliché as it sounds, one loss does not tarnish anything SKT have accomplished over the past two seasons. There is no question that they're still the best team in Korea and one of the two favorites to win the Summoner's Cup alongside EDward Gaming.
The biggest loser out of CJ vs. SKT is Longzhu IM, the team that SKT will face next in the schedule. After getting their perfect streak broken by CJ, Longzhu better hope that Faker doesn't make it his mission to release all his frustration on them.
2. KOO Tigers: 10-5 (23-12)
KOO are the saddest tale in Korea. It's hard to argue that they aren't easily the second best team in Korea. They've had an incredible year, first placing as last season's regular season champions, and now are back in the Top 2 of the standings following a shaky first two weeks of play. With their circuit points from last season, consistent high level of play, and above average players at every position, it's hard to see KOO not making it to the World Championships.
...But they can't beat SKT. The Tigers have lost nine straight games to T1, and they've gone from extremely close games between the two best teams in the region to SKT outclassing them. KOO are more consistent and a better overall team than CJ, NaJin, or KT, but they also lack the ability to take down the best team in Korea like the three teams below them.
The curse of being an incredible team but lacking the x-factor to challenge the only team above them.
3. CJ Entus: 10-5 (22-16)
4. KT Rolster: 10-5 (22-14)
5. NaJin e-mFire: 9-6 (21-17)
These three teams are grouped together because they all share a similar trait: an extremely high ceiling that is overshadowed by their inconsistency.
KT Rolster are a Summoner's Cup contender when they get a lead in the early game. If Ssumday can get going in the top lane, or if Nagne can get a first blood in the first five minutes, then it's almost always a wrap. Piccaboo and Score have created a strong synergy together that can rip games wide open if Rolster get a bit of a lead and start hammering away at the enemy team.
As seen in their win against SK Telecom T1, CJ Entus can beat any team in the world. And by looking at the matches they've lost to the worst teams in the league, you begin to realize that they can also lose to any team in the league. Coco is the lynchpin of the squad and their star, main carry, and playmaker all rolled into one. When CJ are playing at their optimum level, Coco is carrying the game, Madlife is making plays, and the rest of the team is fighting flawlessly across the map to secure a victory.
NaJin are the most raw of the three teams and probably the one with the most potential. While we've seen KT and CJ both show their peaks this season, I don't think we've even see how good NaJin can be if they got better at shot calling, creating vision across the map, and fighting as a team. We've seen a bit more cohesion from NaJin lately , with them playing a cleaner, more crisp game that doesn't end with Ohq trying to do too much or Duke improperly teleporting into a team fight.
If e-mFire could continue to build on their success of playing as a five man unit instead of getting by on their individual skill, they very well could be the strongest team in the world. Unfortunately, we're only a few weeks away from the end of the season and Worlds is right around the corner. The worst thing about NaJin is that we might never see their true potential as a team by the time the year is over, be it in Champions or at Worlds.
6. Jin Air Green Wings: 8-6 (17-14)
The Green Wings are a late-game team, and they really don't care how much you beat them up in the first 15 minutes as long as they can survive. They're an excellent defensive team when they can get past those precious first parts of the game, but it's also a reason why KT Rolster and SK Telecom T1, the two best teams in the early-game, are a combined 8-0 against Jin Air this season.
Jin Air are at their best when the game is low in kills and non-chaotic. They're in their element when a game has six kills at fifty minutes, can kite the enemy team with a non-engage comp, and win the game through masterfully playing the map and objectives over winning through one huge team fight. Their style of play has put them out of the playoffs with four matches remaining, but they only have one series remaining against one of the top six teams in the league, that being the second place KOO Tigers.
7. Samsung Galaxy: 5-9 (13-20)
8. Rebels Anarchy: 4-11 (14-25)
Not much has really changed with these two teams since we last checked in.
Samsung are still learning how to be a good team and slowly building into next year. They've started to master beating up on the weaker teams in the league, which means they now have to worry about becoming better in the offseason to be a playoff team in the next spring split.
Rebels Anarchy are, at this point, just having fun. All of their games are blood baths, averaging the most kills in their games of any team in the league. They're also the second quickest team when it comes to game length in Korea, only trailing behind SKT T1. The Rebels come into a game, play like a solo queue team, hope Mickey kills more people than that kill him, and end the games in a timely manner in either a huge loss or victory. If no miracle sponsor shows up in the offseason, it'll be interesting to see where players like Mickey and Lira end up in 2016.
9. SBENU Sonicboom: 0-14 (6-28)
10. Longzhu IM: 3-11 (8-24)
Yeah, I did it. So what?
I quit on Incredible Miracle.
I've given up on believing they will ever break through their stereotype as the lowly gatekeepers of Korea. Every year it feels like they come in with some good games from qualifiers or a new player that is tearing up the solo queue ladder, but it always ends the same — no miracles, just incredible disappointment.
SBENU Sonicboom are not a good team. They've not won a single match, and there is an incredibly good chance that they got the entire season without a meager victory. But you know what? They've gotten better as the season has progressed. Sasin and Nuclear, the team's two best players, have grown from the first half of the season to the next. Sonicboom are a rookie team that are showing great improvements and could actually be something in 2016 if they get past the qualifiers and keep their two key players.
Longzhu have a few match wins under their bet, yet what does it really matter in the grand scheme of things? Their roster is full of veterans, and they're only starting one rookie, igNar, who has probably been their best and most consistent player this campaign. They are going to go to the qualifiers again, most likely stomp some Challenger teams, and get right back into Champions where they'll change their roster a little bit to provide hype before getting smashed again by the top teams.
SBENU Sonicboom have a distant and faint light at the end of the tunnel. That light might not even come to fruition, but it's at least there.
Longzhu IM's tunnel is only darkness and despair, and that's why even when Sonicboom have zero wins to their name, Incredible Miracle are the true bottom team of Korea's hierarchy.
The All-Champions Team (Week 10)
Top: Ssumday (KT Rolster) 8/5/37 in 5 games
KT Rolster is a pretty easy team to tell if they're going to win. If Ssumday is doing well in the game, Rolster are most likely going to win. If he isn't doing well, then they're going to have difficulty winning. KT's star in the top lane is the energy that runs the team, and Rolster do everything they can to make sure that Ssumday gets off to a fast start in their games.
Jungle: Chaser (Jin Air Green Wings) 5/1/20 in 2 games
Similar to Ssumday and KT Rolster, Chase is the player that makes Jin Air Green Wings run. He's involved in over 80% of all their kills and is nearly unstoppable if he can get a lead on one of his carry junglers. But as with Ssumday, when an opposing team shuts him down early and gets him frustrated, Jin Air look like a plane that have had their wings clipped.
Mid: Faker (SK Telecom T1) 27/13/29 in 6 games
SKT T1 didn't have the best week on the Rift, going 3-3 in all, but that doesn't mean Faker didn't have a good week. He played two of the region's best mids, KT's Nagne and CJ's Coco, and ended the weekend with the second highest GPM of any mids (GBM was first with only two games played) and kept his spot atop of the MVP rankings heading into the final games of the split.
AD Carry: Ohq (NaJin e-mFire) 9/2/14 in 3 games
Ohq summarizes NaJin's entire team in a nutshell. He's extremely talented with the potential to be the best in the world, but he's still maturing and still has a lot to learn before he can put his name next to the Deft's and Imp's of the world.
Support: Madlife (CJ Entus) 1/6/27 in 3 games
CJ's legendary support picked up his biggest match win in over year when he was able to end SKT T1's legendary domestic win streak. Madlife might be not the same star that he used to be back in 2012 when people didn't even know Faker existed, but he's showing this split there is still a reason why he was the first true 'God' of Korean LoL.
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for theScore eSports who covers the North American LCS and Korea's Champions. You can follow him on Twitter.