Being a CJ Entus fan is depressing. Believe me, I know.
The first KeSPA-recognized team to get into League of Legends while the rest of the big sponsor teams were still invested in StarCraft, CJ Entus are the only one of the storied KeSPA franchises not to make it to the World Championships. SK Telecom T1 have a world title. Samsung have a world title after only coming in at the tail end of the 2013 season. KT Rolster finally, after trying for years to qualify, made it to Worlds and placed in the Top 8 before falling to the KOO Tigers. Out of the four organizations that have been embedded in the Korean eSports scene for the last decade, CJ Entus are the only one of the four to not have won a domestic championship during their time sponsoring a team in League.
It's not fun to cheer for CJ. When they signed the two Azubu teams three years ago, Frost and Blaze, it was the dawn of a new age. It was the start of KeSPA's full transition into League as it became Korea's No. 1 competitive video game, and the tag-team of fire and ice were at the forefront as the region's most popular teams. Frost were coming in as runners-up at the 2012 World Championships, and Blaze were a topflight club that could contend right along with their kin as best in the nation. CJ Entus had it all: popularity, pedigree, and talent. They were the first to get into League, had the best players in the region, and had the fanatical support of the people watching. By this point in 2015, it would have been expected that Frost and Blaze had already captured at least three or four domestic titles and one world title between themselves.
Two years and 37 weeks since CJ signed Frost and Blaze and we're still waiting for a major domestic title or even an appearance at the World Championships. The biggest win for CJ Entus over these past few years has been Blaze's run at the World Cyber Games in 2014, beating China's OMG in the finals and winning the coveted trophy of a tournament that isn't even run anymore. Beyond that, it's really been a lot of preseason optimism leading into heartbreak in the later rounds of tournaments.
This year, following the new rules that forced all franchises to only have one team, it was the first time that fans didn't expect much from the rundown, older CJ Entus team. Surprisingly, that new pessimism in the preseason turned into satisfaction when CJ Entus shook off a terrible beginning of the year to make a semi-miracle run to the semifinals of Champions Korea's spring split. That's when the dreams of making it to the World Championships once again sprang into the heads of CJ followers. But, in true CJ Entus fashion, the team stumbled at the final hurdles of making it onto the world stage, losing in the quarterfinals of the summer playoffs to KOO in a sweep before getting manhandled by the Jin Air Green Wings in the Korean Regional Finals. For the third straight year, CJ Entus failed to send a team to the World Championships, and all they and their fans were left with is a bitter taste in their mouth as they watch their peers travel across the globe.
2016, though, this will be the year! Forget about 2013. I don't even remember what happened in 2014. And 2015 didn't even count really because China bought half of the players in Korea the year before. Now that it looks like CJ Entus are seeing the writing on the wall about needing a fresher, updated starting five, next year could truly be the year that the new CJ Entus dynasty starts. After failing to make Worlds three times, I think we're on the verge of seeing an entirely new team in 2015 without the remnants of the old regime still hanging on for one more possible victory lap around the Rift.
In a perfect world where CJ Entus offers up the money to buy new players and stops hoarding their old stars, this is the dream lineup that I'd like to see them run in the new year.
Do I want this to happen? Absolutely.
Will it happen? If the last three years of roster moves and coaching has taught us anything about CJ Entus, then, well, no. We'll probably see Space as the new jungler and Ambition will be playing AD carry.
Code Name: CJ Entus
Saviors Heroes Squadron 2016
Top: Lee "Flame" Ho-Jong
Alright, I know what you're thinking. I go on a 12 hour rant about how CJ Entus doesn't pick up new players and my first pick for their CJ Heroes squad to bring them to world domination in 2016 is a guy who was on their team in 2013. Yes, that's incredibly hypocritical — but I don't care. Flame should have never left CJ Entus. In an alternate timeline where Shy goes to China and Flame stays to play alongside Coco to carry the load on CJ, they probably...still fail to qualify for the World Championships. But I'm sure it would have been a lot closer than how they got smashed by Jin Air last month.
Unless Riot completely changes the top lane meta at the start of 2016 and reverts the top lane back into boring tank fights — seriously, don't do that, Riot — then CJ Entus is going to need a top lane carry starting for them. In a league that is probably going to have Ssumday, MaRin, Duke, and Smeb, you're going to need someone who can split-push, be a carry, and win games through their own hands. That's not even mentioning SoHwan, the top lane amateur pickup from Jin Air, an aggressive offensive-oriented Riven main who will be the most anticipated top lane professional debut since MaRin for SKT.
Shy is a great player. A hall-of-fame caliber player that has a claim for being the greatest top laner in the history of the game. A genius that got to the World Championships after only playing the game for six months. Nonetheless, the current iteration of Flame is a better carry player than Shy, and that's why CJ is going to need in the region with the best top lane offensive talent in the world. Unless CJ can somehow pry TheShy from Team WE, steal one of the above mentioned Korean top laners, or revive Save's career — remember him? — I think Flame coming home would be a good start to the Year of CJ Entus.
What's Actually Going to Happen: Shy will be the opening day starter. Flame will be watching through a window, a single tear rolling down his face at what could have been with his old team.
He will then proceed to wipe away said tear with the cash China gave him to sit on a bench.
Jungler: Lee "Spirit" Da-yoon
This is half for my own benefit to see a good CJ Entus team and half to actually see Spirit play on a good team again. Spirit was arguably the best jungler for the first half of the 2015 year before he realized he played on Team WE, one of the worst teams in China's LPL and there was no one walking through the door to save him from trying to carry a team that would have been in the minor leagues without him.
Spirit is rumored to be one of the Koreans strongly considering a return back to his home country, and what better place than CJ Entus? Okay, it would be a better place in this imaginary world where CJ actually sign all these players. It would be a pretty similar situation to Team WE if Spirit signs with CJ, Coco leaves for China, and he has to play alongside Shy and Space for the entire year while also trying to help their rookie mid lane, Bdd, acclimate to the world of pro-gaming.
The move would give CJ Entus something they haven't had in a long time if ever: an elite jungler. The pairing of Flame and Spirit is one that I think could benefit both players if they were able to team up. Flame had to play with TBQ for an entire year when he wasn't sitting on the bench, and Spirit was given the pleasure to play with Aluka on Team WE for the entire year. Together, Flame and Spirit could possibly find the synergy that they've been longing for.
What's Actually Going to Happen: Ambition stays in the jungle, or they sign Maknoon to be their new jungler. In the case that Maknoon isn't available, they'll sign Reapered and throw him into the jungle. And if those two aren't willing to jungle, they'll probably pick a fan from the crowd, ask him if he is a jungle main, and then start him if he tells them he isn't.
Mid: Shin "CoCo" Jin-yeong
The one player that shouldn't change from CJ Entus' starting lineup is coincidentally the one player that is the most rumored to be leaving. It's impossible to talk about CJ's ace in the mid lane these days without people bringing up the speculation that China's Snake is preparing to offer him a big contract or another LPL team is waiting in the wings to scoop him up. To be fair, it wouldn't be a huge surprise on either side. For the Chinese teams, Coco is one of the best mid lane players in the world that had to do everything for CJ Entus last year. On Coco's end, why wouldn't he leave for China if CJ doesn't put a good roster around him? Why get paid less than your peers over in China while also having to pull along your entire organization by yourself?
Again, this is merely a dream scenario where everything goes right for CJ Entus, so in the world where CJ does actually invest in building a topflight starting five, Coco would be in the center of it. With Flame and Spirit already on the roster, he wouldn't have to carry the burden of winning games by himself any longer. He'll have a top lane who wants gold resources and the attention on him, and Spirit will be a proactive jungler that can set him up to get ahead in the early-game. The added weapons would also allow him to breathe easier in the lane phase, the other team not doing everything in their power to put him down early to destroy CJ's chances of winning.
What's Actually Going to Happen: Coco is going to sign a big contract in China, leaving CJ Entus to enjoy playing with a squad that will actually help him out. Bdd, the top ranked mid lane prospect, will be thrown to the wolves on a team that isn't capable of helping him out and relieving the pressure other teams will throw at him. Best case scenario is that he has a Mickey-like season as a rookie, and the worst case scenario is that getting killed 40 times in his first five games forces him to retire from pro-gaming.
AD Carry: Kim "Deft" Hyuk-kyu
The second of our former Samsung players, Deft, is a person I'd call the Rich Man's Space. The current starting AD Carry of CJ, Space is not necessarily a bad player. He is adequate at what he does and was not the main reason why CJ failed to make the trip to Worlds this year. Despite that, when Deft answered in a recent post-Worlds AMA that he wants to return to Korea and play in his home region again, the first team that popped into my head was CJ Entus.
Space is a good Jinx player. Deft is an amazing Jinx player.
Space is a good Kog'maw player. Deft is an amazing Kog'maw player.
Space sometimes can takeover in teamfights. Deft routinely can takeover in teamfights.
Space is a sufficient teamfighting hyper-carry player. Deft is the quintessential teamfighting hyper-carry.
Everything that Space brings to the table, Deft can also bring but simply better. If Space was on a team like KT Rolster or SK Telecom T1 where an AD carry isn't forced to be a focal point carry, then I could actually see him being a really good player. Problem is, CJ Entus is a team that sorely needed a reliable secondary carry next to Coco and neither Shy nor Space were up to the task. At times Space was able to convert his chances and be that late-game carry that he prefers to play, but if Deft is available and can be signed in this imaginary world where CJ has money to spend and the brains to build an elite team, then there is no debate that CJ should switch out their longtime starting AD for the EDward Gaming star.
What's Actually Going to Happen: Space is going to be the starting AD Carry forever. Even when League is gone in 400 years, an immortal Space will still be sitting in the OGN booth playing the defunct game in virtual reality as CJ's only remaining player.
That, or they do actually sign Deft but still put him on the bench behind Space in true CJ Entus fashion.
Support: Lee "Heart" Gwan-hyung
This is where a lot of Madlife and Mata fans are going to bite my head off that I didn't pick either of them and went with Heart instead.
Before you do, though, listen to my reasoning. Heart, while not as big of a name when compared to those Summoner's Cup finalists, was, in my opinion, better than either in the summer split of the 2015 season. Even on a team that had a lot of issues and wasn't as strong as either Coco Entus or Vici Gaming, Heart still put up good numbers, made stellar plays, and helped his Unlimited Potential team fight for a playoff spot for a large part of the season before eventually falling it.
Due to UP being relegated by Spirit's Team WE, Heart is in a position where he can either leave and not participate in the secondary league of China, or fight for a second time through the difficult LSPL and have little to not shot making the 2016 World Championships. A move back to Korea wouldn't be too crazy of an outcome, and what better team than beside his old buddy Deft? Heart and Deft were one of the strongest bottom lane duos in 2014, and if CJ has a lineup like Flame/Spirit/Coco in the upper half of the map, their relaxed in-lane style will fit perfectly. They can slowly grow into the late-game like they did on Samsung Blue when Spirit was in-between Acorn and Dade.
Apart from Heart, either Madlife staying on board for one final year alongside Deft or Mata returning to Korea would also be satisfying in completing the CJ roster.
What's Actually Going to Happen: Space becomes the first person in League of Legends history to play both the starting AD Carry role and support role at the same time, controlling two champions at once. Madlife, Mata, and Heart sit on the bench.
The recently formed CJ Entus/Samsung Blue hybrid dominates Champions Korea in the spring, sweeping Faker and SK Telecom T1 in the finals of the playoffs. They do even better in the summer season when they go through the entire campaign without dropping a single map, defeating a returning KaKAO and Rookie tandem at KT Rolster in the grand finals of that split.
They then go onto Worlds and win the Summoner's Cup by taking every game in 15 minutes. Froggen's new European superteam also makes the finals, but is no match for the mighty CJ Entus and their destined year of greatness. With CJ as world champions in front of 140,000 fans in China, the former legends of the franchise like Shy, Madlife, Reapered, and the rest come on stage to celebrate with the players that finally helped CJ Entus become world champions. Space sits from the stands, clapping softly as he doesn't understand why he wasn't put in over Deft in the Summoner's Cup Finals.
At the end of the champion ceremony where Kanye West does a 20 minute set, Riot employees come onto the main stage and announce that they've finally completed the replay system and it will be playable starting right at that second. Everyone cheers, Flame raises the Summoner's Cup, and the greatest year of League of Legends comes to an end.
What's Actually Going to Happen: I wake up from my dream and remember CJ Entus didn't make Worlds for the fourth straight year.
Tyler "Fionn" Erzberger is a staff writer for theScore eSports. You can follow him on Twitter.