With two weeks left in the Champions Korea regular season, we already know one of the team's participating in the Grand Finals. Spring champions SK Telecom T1 will return to defend their crown, as they have only lost one match this season to CJ Entus. Couple that with the fact that SKT were the first team in the world to qualify for the 2015 World Championships and Faker and co. have a lot going for them heading into Week 12.
The question now is which two teams will join SKT in Europe this fall. Two months before the biggest tournament of the year and the clear favorites heading into the tournament are Mid-Season Invitational finalists, SKT T1 and China's EDward Gaming. Korea, the winners of the last two world championships, are looking to complete a three-peat on Halloween in Germany's Mercedes-Benz Arena, and T1 look to be the region's best shot.
But with South Korea's three most inconsistent teams rounding into form in the final weeks, do the trio of untapped talents have what it takes to be the surprise team that takes the World Finals by storm?
The Champions Hierarchy
1. SK Telecom T1: 15-1 (31-5)
As we'll be spending a lot of time on the three teams with the best chance of joining SKT T1 in October, we'll keep it short for the reigning and defending kings. SKT's regular season is now a vacation until the end of the season as they already have first place and a ticket to Worlds locked up. Expect a lot of Easyhoon and Tom off the bench for the final two weeks and a more laid back T1 than the usual unrelenting powerhouse that picked apart the rest of the field this split.
2. KT Rolster: 11-5 (24-14)
The first of our three teams that have what it takes to capture the Summoner's Cup, KT Rolster are the team you should feel most confident about in our trio. They're a solid bunch that know how to play well as a team from beginning to end, and they recently added the former T1 support Piccaboo to the line-up to solidify their shot-calling and map movements. The addition of Piccaboo in the middle of the season has taken Rolster's play to the next the level, as the current second-place team has only fallen to SK Telecom T1 in a close 2-1 series.
KT's strength lies in their ability to exploit the early game. If you give KT an inch in the first 10 minutes they will systematically take your legs, arms, and the rest of your body until you have nothing left. Piccaboo, outside of being an aggressive shot-caller and a good voice of communication on the team, has also created a strong partnership with Score, the team's veteran player who switched from his natural AD Carry position to the jungle this year in order to help further the team. The two players have made it their job to take any small victory their carries can grab in the early game and widen that lead, knowing when to strike and where to attack the off-balanced enemy team.
Although they've shown trouble in the past when they don't get off to their customary fast starts, KT have fixed up some of their weaknesses that plagued them last year as the Arrows and hurt them for a majority of this year. This was put on display in their last series against the KOO Tigers last week, coming from behind in possibly the biggest comeback in Champions history that saw them fight back from three downed inhibitors and the opposing team having a fifth dragon stack. They were able to pull off an incredible team fight near Baron to ace the Tigers and barrel down the mid lane to an improbable victory that would have been a 25 minute loss earlier in the season.
KT are a team full of potential, and they're continually growing into the team that they have the tools to be. Instead of jumping from extremes like the next two teams we're about to discuss, Rolster's growth has been a straight line that hasn't wavered since acquiring Piccaboo and establishing Nagne as their full-time mid laner. There is still the question if players like Nagne and Arrow can keep up with the world's mechanical marvels at those positions, but so far they've been able to hold their own with KT's Ssumday, Score, and Piccaboo being the core of the team since the start of the second half of the campaign.
3. CJ Entus: 11-5 (24-16)
We go from the team you have the surest bet on to the team that you should never — and I mean never — bet on in any circumstance. CJ Entus are a team that one week can look like the best team in the world and the next day look like they are trying to play Heroes of Newerth. They're unpredictable and unlike KT's growth, CJ are a true roller coaster, going from high ups to drastic lows in the span of a single match against the same team.
CJ are the old boys of the Korean professional scene. No, not in age, seeing as none of their players are older than 25, but in terms of experience. Their core of Shy, Ambition and Madlife have been professionals for four years now, and CJ's two 'young guns,' Coco and Space, both have been playing in Champions for over two years. Whereas a lot of teams change their roster monthly and have new kids coming through the ranks every other day, CJ are a team that rely on their familiarity.
Entus' greatest strength is just that — their togetherness and experience. Although they aren't an early-game team that will overpower their lane opponent (outside of Coco at times), they know when and how to team fight when the game gets past the 15 minute mark. CJ are a team that know how to work the map to their advantage to take towers and objectives that get them ahead of their seemingly stronger opponents. When you think the game is over after Space dies in the first three minutes to a gank or an outplay by the enemy's AD Carry, CJ know how to reel back, analyze the situation, and play safe until they can grab the kill back or set up a safe, well-coordinated team fight.
No team in the world is as big an enigma as CJ Entus. They've pushed SK Telecom T1 the most of any team outside of EDG this year, almost beating them in last season's semifinals and beating them twice in the regular season this year. Coco is a player, like the team itself, can take on any other mid laner in the world when he gets a suitable match-up or can snowball off a good first 20 minutes of the game. He is CJ's playmaker, carry, and star, and unless he can rack up kills and be a factor in the late-game, the rest of the team has trouble doing any real damage to the opposing team.
CJ Entus is the team of ifs.
If CJ Entus doesn't get absolutely decimated in the lane phase, they can still comeback with concrete communication, team fighting, and belief in one another.
If Coco doesn't get shutdown and taken off the map, he can be CJ's main carry and the best player on the field when the game moves out of the lane phase into the mid portion.
If Shy, Ambition, and Madlife play well then they can resemble their former all-star selves instead of old-timers that looked like this year could be their last.
In baseball there is something known as a Three True Outcome. The phrase is used for a player that only does one of the three: gets a walk, gets the best possible outcome of a home run, or gets the worst possible result in a strikeout. CJ are a two true outcome team — they'll either look like the best team in the world with everything needed to win the Summoner's Cup, or they'll get the worst outcome possible and look like five solo queue players who have no business playing the world's best.
4. NaJin e-mFire: 10-6 (23-17)
Unlike KT and CJ, NaJin have never shown their true potential. If they did you'd be looking at the best team in the world.
In terms of mechanical talent, there might not be a better team in the world. NaJin house Duke (top lane) and Ohq (ADC), two players who you could put in lane with any player in the world and feel comfortable they have the talent to outplay their opponent and grab the kill. The trouble for their two stars comes in the little things that they need to work on to become the best at their position in the world. Duke has shown problems with teleporting and at times been on the back foot when engaging for his team from across the map. Ohq, although possessing all the skill in the world to be the best player on the planet, is still a kid maturing every game he plays to learn his limits and how to play with the rest of his squad.
e-mFire are the perfect mix of new talent and old. Watch, the team's weakest player in terms of skill, is their leader when it comes to veteran experience. He is the only Korean player to make Worlds three straight years, and even with eventual replacement Peanut destroying the Challenger league, he's doing his best to make sure he'll make it four in a row.
NaJin is one of the few teams in the world with true one punch knockout power. Due to having three carry threats at top, mid, and the AD Carry role, NaJin can blitzkrieg the lane phase, roll over their opposition, and enter the mid-game with a gigantic advantage that is impossible for most teams to come back from. NJE's pitfalls come when the game gets out of their comfort zone of playing individually or in pairs and are forced to play as a five man unit. They make rookie mistakes, can look discombobulated in their grouped team fighting, and make boneheaded, overzealous mistakes that take an easy 25 minute win turn into a 45 minute struggle.
With improvements in their communication and closing out games, NaJin have turned from a non-playoff team last season to vying for a top two spot this season. They still show a lot of the problems that made them miss the postseason last split, but even with minor fixes and a few cleaner, less mind-numbingly extended victories, they've bumped their ranking into the upper-echelon of Korea's ladder.
I'd say the current NaJin we're seeing is at 70% of their overall potential. The rest of Korea is hoping they don't get any better before the playoffs come, or we could very well see NaJin back to their fourth return trip to battle for the Summoner's Cup.
5. KOO Tigers: 10-6 (23-14)
Don't look at KOO's slide in the standings as them getting worse or trailing off. Think of it as the three teams above them simply realizing their potential and starting to show their real strengths. KOO was never supposed to be the best team in the world when they busted through the gates of Champions, but they came together quicker than any team in the reforming region and took advantage of it. With the rest of the top teams starting to find their footing, we see the holes in their games and players like Pray falling behind improving young talents like Ohq.
6. Jin Air Green Wings: 9-7 (20-17)
Jin Air Green Wings lost to SBENU Sonicboom, a team that was 0-15 coming into the match.
On a scale of one-to-10, with 10 being extremely panicked and ready to move to China, Chaser should be at a 17 by this point.
7. Samsung Galaxy: 5-11 (14-24)
8. Rebels Anarchy: 4-12 (14-27)
9. Longzhu IM: 4-12 (10-26)
10. SBENU Sonicboom: 1-15 (8-31)
All four of these teams are officially eliminated from the playoffs and a shot at hoisting the Summoner's Cup. Let's keep this short and summarize how I feel about all four teams in six words for each.
Samsung Galaxy: NEXT YEAR THEY'LL BE GOOD...MAYBE!
Rebels Anarchy: Kill...or be killed and surrender.
Longzhu IM: Frozen really needs a new team.
SBENU Sonicboom: They finally won. Wow, Jin Air.
The All-Champions Team (Week 11)
Top: Shy (CJ Entus) 5/0/13 in 2 games
Jungle: Score (KT Rolster) 5/1/ 11 in 2 games
Mid: Easyhoon (SK Telecom T1) 10/2/14 in 2 games
AD Carry: Ohq (Najin e-mFire) 20/0/19 in 2 games
Support: Pure (Najin e-mFire) 1/5/32 in 2 games
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.