CoreJJ’s wake-up call to the LCS
As esports players begin to get on in years (read: enter their mid-twenties), retirement rumors inevitably crop up. It seems like a pointless topic to speculate about, but the truth is that fans get invested in players’ stories, which means they care about how and when they end.
There are only a handful of League of Legends players whose careers have spanned a continuous decade or more. Questions of retirement have been directed at all of them at some point or other in the latter years of their careers — think the annual discussion of “will this be the year Faker goes to the military?”
CoreJJ, Team Liquid’s longtime veteran support player, has been playing League of Legends professionally for ten years. When I mention the retirement rumors circling this offseason, he replies with a swift: “Who said that?”
Then, “I will not retire. I’ll play for a long time.”
So, there you have it, Team Liquid fans. CoreJJ is very clear when it comes to dispelling any concerns about his career potentially coming to an end soon. He plans to compete for a long time to come, and for the foreseeable future, Team Liquid is where he’ll do that.
CoreJJ joined Team Liquid at the tail end of 2018. At the time, he was no fresh-faced import; he already had five years of experience (including one in NA) and a Worlds championship under his belt. So suffice it to say he was ready to make a statement, and he did just that by not only helping Team Liquid achieve a first-place finish, but also earning the MVP award in his first LCS split.
He would go on to stay with Team Liquid through all the ups and downs that followed that first split — including 2022, which could arguably be called one of the worst years in the team’s history. The organization splurged on a roster of bonafide superstars that included Bwipo, Santorin, Bjergsen, Hans sama and CoreJJ. There was no question of the individual talent on the roster, but with the players’ collective experience also came a fundamental disconnect in the way they saw the game. Each player was already too set in their ways to form a truly cohesive whole, and they struggled to get on the same page all year.
“For more veteran players, they don’t want to get interrupted,” CoreJJ said of what went wrong in 2022. “They have their own routines. So sometimes it’s hard to get along with [each other].”
It was a lackluster year for Team Liquid, and despite the roster’s star power and reputation as a “superteam,” they just barely missed securing a spot in Worlds. This opened the organization up to renewed scrutiny (and ridicule), and left the team’s future in question.
It wasn’t particularly surprising when all of the players who had comprised the “superteam” departed Team Liquid. All except for CoreJJ.
Now, as the beginning of the 2023 League of Legends season looms, Team Liquid’s roster has a very different look to it — different to anything the org has fielded before, and different to anything else in the LCS, too. The team is made up entirely of Korean-speaking players and coaching staff, including two young rookie carries, a top laner coming from the LPL and a defending Worlds champion Jungler.
Among his new teammates, CoreJJ now stands alone as the most experienced player. He was already familiar with Yeon and Haeri — the team’s new ADC and mid laner, respectively — from their time on Team Liquid Academy, and believed strongly in their potential to be brought up to the big leagues.
“We’d talk to each other a lot, and I knew they were good enough to be in the LCS,” CoreJJ said. “I’ve been talking to [Yeon] for two years. He’s improving every year, every time, and he’s still improving. He was considered the best ADC in academy, and I can say that he will turn into the best ADC in LCS this year.
Organizm vibes pic.twitter.com/JRvIXTELIT— Team Liquid Honda LoL (@TeamLiquidLoL) December 3, 2022
The other two members, Summit and Pyosik, have been playing at the highest level for a bit longer, but their careers have had very different trajectories. Summit, the top laner, has played in all kinds of teams, going from the LCK to the LCS to the LPL, and earned MVP honors for his performance as part of Cloud9 in the 2022 Spring Split. Meanwhile, new jungler Pyosik has only ever played on one team in the LCK, namely DRX (you may recognize this team from when they won Worlds 2022).
“I know some people are worried about our new players,” CoreJJ said. “Summit and Pyosik are really solid, and when Haeri and Yeon played against LCK players, they could actually compete against them. So I saw the potential there — these guys can compete against world-class players.”
So, this is the Team Liquid of 2023: a team of players who either have relatively little experience or have proven to be able to adapt to their environment. For CoreJJ, it’s a refreshing change from last year’s situation, especially when the task at hand is developing a new team including multiple rookies within a relatively tight window.
“For rookies, usually they can mold with whatever the team is,” he said. “I want to make sure this team has the best environment for rookies to see and learn [from]. And I’ll make sure that if there’s any problems, I can help out. I don’t think I’m a person who’s very outspoken to teammates, who approaches them and tells them what to do. But one thing I do a lot is showing them what professional players should be, with my passion for the game. For next year, I will keep doing that and also talk to them a lot about whatever we need, in game and out of game.”
CoreJJ and the coaching staff — MaRin and Reignover, two legendary ex-players in their own right — now have the task of guiding these younger players through whatever should arise. The team hasn’t had much time to seriously practice together yet, but from CoreJJ’s perspective, the pieces of a truly great team are already there, and it’s up to them to put them in place.
“I knew MaRin and Reignover before, so I was very excited when I heard they were going to join,” he said. “This team and this roster — I don’t think there’s any possible way it could be better. Liquid did everything they could do. It’s time for us to do the best we can do.”
For all his optimism, though, CoreJJ is still realistic about the unique challenges that crop up from a roster like this. Many other LCS teams have veteran players who have been through it all, but newer players haven’t had the same exposure to various circumstances yet. There are some things that can only come from experience, and the way players learn to respond to certain things — setbacks and successes alike — often define their growth.
“Rookie players don’t have any experience playing in certain situations,” CoreJJ said. “So whenever they’re struggling, I need to make sure I’m giving them a guideline to follow. It would be a lie to say there’s no pressure, but the pressure is less than last year’s, with the superteam.. I think this pressure will give me more motivation, and it’s kind of exciting, because it’s the time to prove myself — how good I can be as a player. It’s also challenging for me, to see how much further I can push this team. I’m very excited.”
Apart from proving his mettle, though, CoreJJ has a much bigger and loftier goal in mind for this Team Liquid roster. It’s no secret that the LCS has struggled on the global stage; the region’s chronic inability to place highly at Worlds is one of the League of Legends scene’s favorite in-jokes, made funnier by the fact that it just keeps happening. But if everything goes the way CoreJJ wants — and expects — in 2023, this iteration of Team Liquid will give the region a much-needed push.
The all-Korean-speaking roster has already become a hot topic of discussion among LCS fans, and eyes will inevitably be on Team Liquid to see if this unique approach leads to any meaningful results. For many in the LCS community, meaningful results will be scrutinized closely. The roster’s Korean comms and practice culture hark back to the days when foreign teams like LMQ and Quantic would come to NA to farm the LCS (with mixed success). But CoreJJ sees this team of development players as having a larger purpose. He’s hoping that Team Liquid will attain the kind of success in 2023 that ripples out and affects the scene as a whole. In short, he wants this to be the LCS’ wake-up call.
“One thing I can guarantee is that there will be no other team that tries harder than us,” he said. “There will be no other team that deserves to win more than us. I’m wishing that we can change the entire culture of LCS, because for LCS to do well in the future, not only this year, I think Team Liquid should dominate the LCS, to make sure that everyone can follow us and copy us.”
Ultimately, that’s the driving force behind the longevity of CoreJJ’s career, and the reason why he expects to play professionally for a long time to come. He approaches League of Legends with a kind of competitive fervor, one that makes the game the singular focus in his life. To hear him describe the philosophy of esports, it all sounds very simple: whoever works the hardest deserves to win the most.
“The League of Legends scene is a competition,” CoreJJ said. “Work-life balance is a mirage. There should be only one [team] who deserves to win the most from the way they play. The last few years, the other regions — especially Asian teams — deserve to win Worlds way more compared to LCS. So I want to make sure when we play versus LCS teams, we deserve to win, and when we lose, I want to be really sad because we deserved it but we couldn’t get it.”
When CoreJJ first joined Team Liquid, he gave an interview where he made it very clear that the only thing he cares about is competing and winning. It’s not purely out of a desire for personal glory, though; he wants to better not only himself, but everyone around him, too.
“I really like to compete, and I really like to win,” he said. “League of Legends is the thing that I do best. I just want to keep having that feeling of winning.”
CoreJJ is, above all else, a player with high expectations for himself. In 2023, he’s looking to take his career to a new level, to become a player who can elevate a whole team to their maximum potential, and perhaps even bolster change in an entire region. It’s a wildly ambitious goal, but he’s already won Worlds. What’s another ambition?
“I believe this year we’re going to make a really big sensation,” he said. “I’m very confident we’re going to play very well. So keep your eyes on us, and keep cheering for us.”