Ready for a blast from the past? In 2013, esports was just starting to get a handle on the industry. StarCraft 2 was one of the kings of the arena. One talented player rose from the top to place in one of the biggest tournaments in the world, and landed a spot on Evil Geniuses after doing it. His name was HuK, a Canadian StarCraft 2 prodigy. Here’s an interview that we had with him in 2013, when esports was just starting to pick up steam.
(Editor's note: We recognize the outdated capitalization of "eSports", but have left it as originally written for nostalgia's sake.)
With a sly smile Chris "HuK" Loranger puts down his headset. As he steps out of the soundproof booth, the "Huk, Huk, Huk!" chants hit him like a brick wall. He gestures to the audience to make more noise, a request they willingly grant, before he walks over to his defeated opponent Jang 'MC' Min Chul – a former roommate of his – to give him a hug.
We are at MLG Orlando in October 2011 and Chris has just done something that only a few people in the world can even dream about. He has won the most competitive StarCraft® II tournament outside of South Korea. With the victory Chris breaks the Korean domination in International tournaments and thus becomes a beacon of light for thousands of aspiring pro gamers world wide. They want to follow his trail, walk in his footsteps and do the same as he has done.
Chris went to South Korea to play StarCraft II in the world's most competitive gaming environment, landed a contract which is reportedly worth six figures a year and came back to win one of the hardest tournaments in the world. He is the prime example of what following your dreams can lead to. But like everything with Chris, things are more complex than that.
Never The Best Kid
Chris and his brothers grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida. Labelled "The Sunshine City" due to its 360 days of sunshine each year, St. Petersburg is the fourth biggest city in Florida with an estimated population around 240.000. Growing up was however all but sunshine for the young boys. The family was very poor and dealt with a whole series of issues, including domestic-, drug- and alcohol-abuse. Chris is weary of speaking about his youth but concedes that the issues propelled him in the wrong direction as a young boy.
"I've always considered myself to be a generally good person, but at the time, having nothing to lose, I acted out, Chris says about his teenage years in Florida and adds: - I guess you could say I was a little hoodlum."
At age 16 the two boys moved to Ontario, Canada to get away from the problems. The tipping point for Chris' father had been to see his son locked up in juvenile prison.
"My brothers and I moved because of issues that my mother was having. I was never the best kid and my living situation in Florida didn't help. I guess the breaking point for my father came when I kept getting in trouble with the police and finally ended up in juvenile prison.""
Things had spiralled out of control for Chris, who couldn't seem to find his way out of the trouble.
"Had I not moved to Canada my family and I both agree that I'd most likely be in the military, jail, or dead,"" he says.
A Big Heart
To many people such a childhood would have a negative impact on the rest of their lives, but not Chris. During the research for this feature one general notion repeatedly kept popping up; that Chris has a really big heart for people and their problems. Whether it comes down to personal time or money the story is that he will go to great lengths for the people close to him.
"Living with Chris is an experience, whenever he leaves somewhere there's a pretty big space left behind, and a serious drop in the amount of laughs had by everyone,"" Jonathan 'Jinro' Walsh says.
He lived with Chris for a year in the Liquid-oGs team house in Seoul, Korea. For over half a year they were the only foreigners in a house of Koreans. That alone could have created a strong bond, but from talking to Walsh it's very clear that there is much more to it than just that.
"You could say that Chris is both very serious and very easy going - he'll constantly pull crazy stunts or troll everyone he knows, but at the same time there are very few people I'd pick over him if I wanted to discuss something serious or personal.""
"I'd say this carries over into a lot of his traits - he can be both very responsible as well as extremely irresponsible, selfish as well as extremely generous. Whichever extreme, he's definitely not someone you'll forget, Walsh adds."
This dual sided nature of Chris is something that he is aware of himself.
"I don't think a lot of people really know me in depth, but I think those that do would say I'm a very complex person, he admits before he adds.
"I can be very serious, emotional, and deep at times, but I can also be very lively and joke around with the people that are close to me."
A Natural Talent
Most eSport fans aren't close to him of course. They only know Chris from his StarCraft II career, but the Canadian has enjoyed streaks of success in both the original StarCraft: BroodWar and Relic Entertainment's Company of Heroes.
"I'd say the two games I was most competitive at would be the original StarCraft and Company of Heroes. Though most people in the StarCraft community didn't know who I was at the time, I was able to get some big wins versus big names. In Company of Heroes, the Gamereplays.org community considered me an expert," Chris explains.
When StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty hit the stores in the Summer of 2010 Chris had already come out as one of the most impressive players in North America, earning invitations to Day9's King of the Beta tournament and the first major International LAN event, the Intel Extreme Masters stop in Cologne.
Being good online and being good offline are two different things however, and Chris didn't manage to make an impact in his first International venture. He dropped out of IEM Cologne on an abysmal 13-16th place, after narrowly being eliminated in the groupstage.
Seven days later a revitalized HuK made an amazing comeback to the competitive circuit, as he won the very first Major League Gaming StarCraft II tournament in Raleigh. With just five days between falling out of IEM Cologne and the beginning of MLG Raleigh, no one had predicted Chris to take the victory, but the learning experience in Germany had been exactly the fuel he needed.
For his victory Chris received a healthy $2.500 check. A nice payday for a weekend's work, but dwarfed in comparison to the $85.000 1st place prize in South Korea's Global StarCraft League, which kicked off the same week. After seeing the qualified players for the first season of GSL, Chris voiced his intention to go to Korea.
"I should have went. I mean, this is a nice event and all, but $85.000 is $85.000," Chris said to Team Liquid's liveblogger at MLG Raleigh.
As it happened, Chris got the chance to go to South Korea – and even faster than most people had expected. After seeing his contract with Millenium run out, he signed with TeamLiquid in the end of September 2010, not even a month after his victory in Raleigh. Only a few weeks later he joined the rest of TeamLiquid's players in the oGs Teamhouse in Seoul. Chris had finally come to Korea.
You Have to Go to Korea to Be One of the Very Best
It could seem weird that a 21 year old is travelling to South Korea to play an online game. Why wouldn't he just stay at home and play over the Internet? The answer to that lies in the unique Korean approach to professional gaming. Instead of living at home, professional gamers in South Korea lives together in apartments that are owned or rented by their team. They eat, sleep and play together – often up to 12 hours a day of the latter.
Such a competitive environment has one direct effect on all players; to get there you have to be professional. Now just a year and a half after landing in Incheon's International terminal, Chris is a veteran amongst the foreign StarCraft II professionals living in the country and experiencing the effects of living in these team houses.
"I have learned to be more professional, not just in the way I look at the game, but in all aspects of life. I'm more capable at prioritizing things now. Being a pro gamer teaches you to be efficient and that approach affects the way you think about life overall."
"Being here, in team houses, has made me grow up a lot too, Chris says when asked about how the experience has influenced him."
It's not just for professionalism Chris went to Korea. In his own words it is a necessity to go there in order to be one of the best playes in the world.
"I don't think it's a necessity [going to Korea] to improve, but if you want to be one of the very best at StarCraft it is a necessity that you come here. You learn to take the game more seriously. The Korean mindset is entirely different than the foreign mindset."
The biggest difference comes down to practice. How much you practice and more importantly, according to Chris, how you practice. When talking to the young Canadian it is obvious that he has spent hours of pondering about how he practices. On normal days Chris plays between 10 and 12 hours , broken down in 3-4 hour sessions. He doesn't just mindlessly play the game, but takes his time to think about his own and his opponents' actions.
And this is where he differs from alot of other players. In Chris' understanding there is a sharp contrast between "bad" practice and "good" practice.
Bad practice comes when you're playing just to play. If you're not trying your best and you're just going through the motions you're not getting anything from it; that's bad practice, he explains.
"Good practice involves learning from every single game and trying to play your best every single second."
It sounds overwhelmingly simple, but Chris has been employing this overall strategy since he started playing StarCraft II. Most of his practice consists of playing on the Korean ladder, an approach which his former room mate and practice partner Jonathan "Jinro" Walsh testifies about.
"Chris pretty much just uses the ladder to practice, and has done so for as long as I've known him, which is all the way back to the beta days. He will always take the time out to play custom games with anyone who asks, and if he has a game coming up on non-ladder maps he will prepare a bit for those, Walsh says when questioned about his former partner-in-crime's practice habits."
"However, he is definitely not one of those guys who will tailor some ultra-specific strategy that can be used only once and only on one map. His mindset is more that he wants to be so good that he can just make the safe choices and overcome any gamble on the opponents part by just having an overwhelming basic skill advantage."
When Chris joined TeamLiquid, fans expected that he would have an instant impact in International tournaments. Not only would he be able to go to Korea to practice full time, but he would also have the financial backing to travel to most International events.
The outcome was appalling though. As a new TL-player he quickly secured two 3rd places finishes in October 2010, in the IEM Season 5 American Championship and MLG Washington 2010 respectively. Eight months and several high profile International events later, those third places were still his best results. Despite picking up a top 16 finish in GSL Code S in March 2011, the image of Chris as a player who struggled to live up to his true potential was more prominent than ever.
After spending eight months in the oGs teamhouse and flying out to at least one major event each month, Chris had only $2.850 to show for his efforts. Despite the lack of results he was not about turn his back on Korea though.
"I feel like without moving to Korea I wouldn't have been as successful in non-Korean tournaments as I have. I'll always be striving to win a GSL. Maybe with less travel and more practice I can do it, he says when we questioned him about his lack of domestic success in Korea."
While other Westerners, like his current team mate Greg "Idra" Fields and Team Liquid's Dario "TLO" Wünsch, have pulled the plug on their stay in Korea in order to get closer to family and friends, Chris has no qualms in staying abroad.
"It [moving back to Canada] is always a thought that's in the back of mind, but to be honest I can't see myself moving back from Korea any time soon, he says before adding:
"Nowhere feels quite like home, but I guess if I had to pick a place I'd say South Korea."
It's 20 junho, 2011, and the professional StarCraft II circuit is in Jönköping, Sweden for the biggest LAN in the world, DreamHack. Chris has won eight matches in a row and qualified for the Grand Final and a shot at a $16.000 first place prize purse. Not only has he won all his matches, he has also only dropped one map out of the 16 he has played. His opponent in the Grand Final, Jang "Moon" Jae-Ho, is a legendary WarCraft III professional with over $200.000 in total tournament winnings. It is the Canadian David against the Korean Goliath.
With more than a thousand practice hours from the little apartment in Seoul under his belt, Chris is however ready. He doesn't crumble under the expectations and after what seems to be the most tense game ever, Chris takes a 3-2 victory and storms out of the soundproof booth, where he is instantly surrounded and congratulated by his Team Liquid and oGs room mates.
Leaving A Family
Following his victory at DreamHack, Chris was in high demand. His contract with Liquid was nearing its end, he was the best non-Korean player in the world and his personal fan base was one of the biggest in the Western hemisphere; in other words, HuK was a superstar.
And Evil Geniuses, North America’s biggest eSports team, had noticed. They gave Chris “an offer he couldn't refuse” to woo him away from the team he had stayed with for a year.
When he left Team Liquid and the oGs team house for Evil Geniuses in August 2011, he dedicated a paragraph to everyone in the house in his farewell letter. Not an empty phrase for the team overall, but a personal message to everyone in the house. To Chris it felt like leaving his family all over again.
"It sucked [to say goodbye]. Like I said, oGs still feels like home to me. I can't help it, Chris admits."
"I'm so close and comfortable with everyone [in the oGs house]. Saying goodbye wasn't too hard, as we still hangout, joke, and what not. Not seeing them on a daily basis still gets to me though, and I still miss them."
"Emotionally I was very upset at the time of the switch. It felt like the end of an era for me. I was so close to so many in people from Liquid, whether it was players, staff, or admins. I think Liquid is the most family like team in eSports, or at least they struck me that way, Chris explains."
Being emotional is a part of Chris' personality; he can't help it he says.
"I just always do my best to do the right thing, and I care about other people a lot."
The Move to EG
Even though the decision was one that brought up a lot of emotions in him, Chris still thinks that he did the right thing in accepting EG's offer.
"Looking back now I still think it was the right decision, and I think Victor [TeamLiquid's owner] would even agree. The level of care EG provides for me is unexplainable."
"The biggest thing for me is being able to focus as much time as I can on the game and having everything taken care of for me. I suck at real life."
And that's where Cody "evoli" Conners comes in. He is Evil Geniuses' General Manager and takes care of handling the players.
"Here at Evil Geniuses we do our best to take care of all our players needs so they can spend their timing perfecting their craft. That means we take care of event registration, their living arrangements, their travel arrangements, and whatever else they'd like us to help them," Conners says.
"Chris, in particular, prefers management to be really involved. He wants to focus on StarCraft and that alone. That kind of attitude and work ethic produces results, so I do my best to make sure that everything he needs or wants is taken care of for him.
That kind of personal micromanagement creates a strong bond between two people, and Conners has evolved a friendship with Chris that works. When asked to explain how his personal relation with Chris is, he reiterates what Jonathan Walsh already told us.
"Chris and I are good friends outside of our professional relationship. He's a really funny guy, and he always lifts the spirits of those around him. He isn't kidding when he says he is a jokester. Chris can be pretty silly."
Whether Conners is right or not about him being a jokester, Chris has seemingly found the right home in Evil Geniuses. His Top 8 placement in the GSL Code S tournament in August 2011 is a testament to the fact that they provide the level of care that is needed for Chris to relax and perform. Getting to the quarterfinals in the toughest StarCraft II tournament in the world takes an incredible level of skill and endurance.
And more than anything else, Chris' victory at MLG Orlando in October 2011 proved that he has what it takes to win a major International event with all the big guns in attendance. Besting a two-time GSL Code S winner, a two time GSL Code S 2nd place finisher and the reigning NASL Season 1 winner, Chris cemented his status as the one foreign player who could challenge the Koreans.
Doing the Right Thing
Chris' choice to move to Evil Geniuses reflects his overall life philosophy. If they had tried to do a hostile takeover and poach him from Team Liquid, he would probably have straight up rejected them. To Chris it is very important to do things the right way, or as he says, "to do the right thing."
"It doesn't always work out the way he intends, but Chris is an idealist. He will go to great lengths to do what he think is right – or honorable as he says."
"I think a lot of people lack a real understanding of what it means to be honorable. I would personally sacrifice a lot to try to lead by example. Even though I think I make pretty good money, I have also passed up a lot of financial opportunities and have caused some issues in the community that effected me negatively, because I felt like it was the right thing to do."
"I would like to think that if I was in a life or death situation and I had to sacrifice my own life to save another person, even a complete stranger, I would do it. I think if more people had that mindset the world would be a much better place. I just want to do the right thing," he finishes.
Improving One Step At a Time
The proof that Chris walks the way he talks is visible when you look at his tournament results. Following his 1st place in Orlando, Chris took 5th in the MLG National Championship in Providence in November – a more than respectable position in a tournament with some of the very best players in the world.
December and January became veritable nightmares for Chris however. He was knocked out in the first playoff round at both DreamHack and World Cyber Games, before being eliminated from GSL Code A in late January. Thus when Chris flew to New York for MLG Winter Arena in February, nobody really counted on him to make a big splash despite his 5th seed. But just as with his training regime, Chris rarely lets anybody else's opinion influence him, when he knows he is doing the right thing. As long as he can see that he improves in the long run, he will stick to what he knows works.
In his first match in New York, the Evil Geniuses player was almost knocked out by the American qualifier DdoRo. From there on however, Chris picked up pace and eventually took 3rd place, in front of GSL Code S top 16 finishers Oz and PartinG amongst others. As the highest placed non-Korean at the event, Chris spun back into the limelight. During March's MLG Winter Championship on Columbus, Ohio, the Canadian once again proved that he has all the tools it takes to become the best in the world. In a tougher bracket than in New York he took fourth place, and once again became the highest placed non-Korean player.
While he has had problems with continuity before, Chris now intends to stay on his game.
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