Samsung Galaxy's CoreJJ: 'My achievements weren't a fluke'

Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in, right, acknowledges the crowd. Provided by Riot Games

The elevator doors slide open to reveal an expectant sea of fans neatly aligned in eight straight lines. The hall instantly erupts with a crashing wave of shrieks and camera shutters.

Joyously overwhelmed by their thoroughly dominant 2-0 mauling of SK Telecom T1 - the reigning League of Legends world champions who had been rocking a 10-match winning streak in the spring season - the players of Samsung Galaxy proudly stride to their respective rows. Donning some of the widest grins seen this season on the lobby of OGN e-Stadium, in Seoul, South Korea, they are clearly more than happy to start sharing their supporters' delight.

One player's demeanor quietly stands apart from the rest, however.

As if he were a time traveler acting out the same moment for the fifth time, Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in, 22, surveys the crowd with an expression of unruffled omniscience. Just another day at the office, his slight lean backwards seems to suggest.

Standing serene amidst the otherwise exuberant meet-and-greet, support player CoreJJ creates a quiet contrast. Ten steps to his left, Lee "CuVee" Sung-jin is busy being his usual bubbly self, greeting his admirers with signature charm; ten to his right, Park "Ruler" Jae-hyeok is making it a point to enthusiastically bob his head at all of his fans' chatter. Something about CoreJJ feels just right - a stillness in movement, an underlying Taoic balance.

A fan in line tells her friend that from what she knows of CoreJJ, he will be lost, as usual, in a mental replay of today's laning phase.

I head forwards to take a closer look.

"I made it to the finals of [Worlds] last year, but my time as a support was short, and my time as a starter was even shorter," CoreJJ starts. "So what I'm setting out to prove this year is that my achievements weren't a fluke; that it was made possible due to my skill."

After failing to impress League Champions Korea as an AD carry last spring, CoreJJ made the surprise decision to swap to the support position that summer. A gutsy move, as the team already had top-of-the-league talent - Kwon "Wraith" Ji-min - in the role. Yet it paid off.

Over the LCK Gauntlet and then the World Championships, CoreJJ moved on from being used as a joker card in losing situations to completely taking over Wraith's starting spot. His proactive mindset in game and sheer dominance in lane were assets valuable enough to justify the switch.

To be clear, Wraith still is very much in contention for the coveted starting seat. Samsung Galaxy turned heads during this year's offseason by retaining the entirety of their Worlds roster, making them the first finalists since 2012 to have done so.

I was curious if there were any competitive advantages that came from this tactic.

"The competitive advantage we got [from the roster retention] was, well, good players remaining on a good team. That's mostly it," answers CoreJJ. "I don't think there was a huge advantage in terms of team synergy or anything. Keeping good players, I think, was the [main] benefit that came from re-signing our roster."

"Haru, in contrast [to Ambition], keeps telling us that we should do this, we should do that, and just makes a lot of his own calls. So shotcalling has become more of a [group activity]." Jo "CoreJJ" Yong-in

Relevant to CoreJJ's answer is Samsung's offseason acquisition of ex-CJ Entus jungle prodigy Kang "Haru" Min-seung. Haru, who offers a style of play markedly different from that of 2016 mainstay Kang "Ambition" Chan-yong (no relation), has inspired Samsung to approach the game in a completely new manner.

SSG 2016 revolved around avoiding risks, playing standard, and setting up advantageous situations prior to committing to fights. SSG 2017, on the other hand, continuously looks to put themselves in advantageous situations through fights. Having learned exactly how to play from behind, Samsung now feel the need to force others into that position.

"Ambition really was a final arbitrator of sorts; he usually looked at the big picture and let us know whether [our calls] would be a good idea or not. Haru, in contrast, keeps telling us that we should do this, we should do that, and just makes a lot of his own calls," CoreJJ notes. "So shotcalling has become more of a [group activity]."

Samsung's rather disappointing form early on in the season can easily be explained by this massive change in the decision-making structure of the team. Their new mode of operation requires all five players to possess a much higher level of game knowledge, a large part of which can only be attained through experience. Mistakes were inevitable.

"We went through a growing phase. Ambition's presence had been huge, and learning to operate [without him] caused some instability," admits CoreJJ. "But I believe we're on the upswing now, and are on the road to becoming a more complete, well-rounded team. Last year, we were a solid team. This year, we are going to be both solid and sharp."

Watching him absentmindedly fondle the golden band on his ring finger, I remember he has a girlfriend. Alongside Ambition, CoreJJ is one of the few South Korean pros who maintain a public relationship yet remain a model professional. That means having a mindset that won't settle for anything less than total victory.

"Our ultimate goal is to achieve what we failed to last year. We want to win Worlds," he declares with a grim face. "And everything up until Worlds is part of the process."