E-Sporting Chance: HuK-HuK-HuK!

Another week, another round up of e-sporting news from ESFI World‘s senior editor, Samuel Lingle. Read on below for the results of the North American Star League and the trepidations of one particular player, Chris “HuK” Loranger.

Two weeks ago, the North American Star League closed the book on their second season, culminating in a rematch from the Dreamhack Winter 2011 finals. Team Evil Geniuses’ (EG) Ho-Joon “PuMa” Lee defended his NASL Season 1 title by taking revenge on the player who beat him at Dreamhack, Team Liquid’s Hyeon-Deok “HerO” Song. PuMa took home $40,000 for his efforts.

NASL is a true grassroots e-sports league. It’s privately funded by Russell Pfister, a man with a passion for competitive gaming and a dream – to produce a professional league that will showcase e-sports to the North American crowd. They broadcast matches four days a week in a league format that mimics many pro sports, ending in a live playoff, but failed to draw the viewership they’ve been looking for, especially in the second season. NASL has struggled with budget constraints, scheduling issues, and a myriad of other problems, but the close of their second season proved to be a good one, providing StarCraft 2 and Heroes of Newerth tournaments with excellent competition.

PuMa earned an EG sponsorship, leaving his Korean team The SCV Life (TSL) for a chance to compete overseas, after winning the first NASL season. He’s placed well at tournaments, especially dominating Western foes, but at events like Major League Gaming, battling many fellow Koreans, he’s often struggled. At NASL, he showed off his strength against non-Korean opponents, beating two top American Zergs, Shawn “Sheth” Simon and PuMa’s teammate, Greg “IdrA” Fields, and surviving a tough 4-2 semifinal series against Marcus “ThorZaIN” Eklöf, arguably the strongest Terran outside Korea. That landed him in the final against HerO, another Korean enjoying the benefits of joining a Western team and the man who beat him at Dreamhack a week earlier, and this time, he was good enough to beat one of Korea’s top rising Protoss players.

PuMa’s NASL run and his story is an interesting one, but the tale of the NASL Season 2 champion is similar to one I’ve already told. In fact, the two main characters were the same as Dreamhack’s story.

This time, I want to talk about a different topic, one that’s a large part of any competition, be it baseball, golf, or playing Super Smash Bros with your annoying brother – what happens when you aren’t the player kissing the trophy? What happens when you lose?

It may seem a bit counterintuitive to start that conversation with Chris “HuK” Loranger. Of all StarCraft 2 players, he’s one of the least accustomed to it.

The diminutive 22-year old Canadian-born-in-America is perhaps the most prominent and well compensated StarCraft 2 professionals outside of Korea. He’s a confident and sometimes cocky character with a quirky personality, never afraid to speak his mind. Once, he described himself as having “top three” control in the world, and while it’s certainly world-class, his greatest attribute is something else: his obsession with getting better. He will do whatever it takes to win at StarCraft 2, put in countless hours, even when he’s sick, or tired, or angry at the game.

[HuK – Photo credit: Zhang Jingna]

HuK burst onto the scene at Major League Gaming Raleigh in August of last year, and quickly became a sweetheart of the StarCraft community, travelling to Korea to train with the best and representing the Western scene on the biggest StarCraft stage.

He ranks 11th on the StarCraft 2 total earnings list, banking $60,250 in winnings over the course of his career, behind Frenchman Ilyes “Stephano” Satouri and nine Koreans. Evil Geniuses, the premiere multi-gaming e-sports franchise in the West, lured him from the Team Liquid label with a lucrative contract worth a “life-changing” amount. He is the only two-time champion at Major League Gaming in StarCraft 2 and the only Western player to consistently maintain the highest rank, Code S, in the world’s most elite tournament, the Global StarCraft League. He was one of the first Westerners to travel to Korea to train, and he’s one of the few to stay and have success.

That second MLG title came in mid October at Orlando, where HuK decimated the toughest field of competitors ever at an American tournament to that point. He then embarked on a world tour including GSL, Dreamhack Winter, MLG Providence, NASL Season 2 Finals, and the World Cyber Games, where he hoped to continue his strong play and “win $50,000.” But in Providence, he bombed out of the tournament quickly after beating HerO, though his two losses were to the eventual finalists, Johan “NaNiwa” Lucchesi and Dong-Nyung “Leenock” Lee. Dreamhack went worse: he narrowly survived his group stage only to fall against John “Seiplo” Seipel, a relatively unknown Swedish Protoss whose biggest accomplishment in StarCraft 2 is, well, beating HuK.

[HuK at MLG Orlando]

At NASL earlier this month, the struggles did not end. Looking forward to a tough second round match with HerO, HuK seemed to underestimate his first opponent, Dennis “HasuObs” Schneider. The German Protoss from Team Mousesports took down the Canadian in a best-of-five series, prompting HuK to tweet, “so depressed, going to stay in my room for the next 30-40 hours and try to recollect myself.”

Perhaps that seems like a bit of an overreaction to some, but like any professional sport, gaming is full of pressures and expectations that can mentally wear down a person. For HuK, a player talented enough to not only win tournaments, but be expected to do so regularly, that pressure can be hard to handle during a lengthy streak of poor results.

“Losing is the hardest thing about (pro gaming),” said HuK in and interview with ESFI at NASL, “for someone like me who devotes a lot of their time, I don’t get to see my family, I don’t get to see my friends. You just devote so much time to the game, just to lose, and it’s like, ‘Why did I do all that if I can’t win?'”

That’s a question that many pro gamers must ask themselves, tournament after tournament, considering only one single competitor accomplishes the ultimate each event. While a player’s own expectations must be realistic and many players have successful careers without ever winning a championship, most pro gamers will tell you that, if you are satisfied with less, you might as well quit.

Even so, a player’s own expectations are often not what lays heaviest on their shoulders: it’s the expectations of their adoring fans, the expectations of the team shelling out cash to send them to tournaments across the world, the expectations of family, and friends, who never thought pro gaming was a great idea.

Of course, those same fans, teammates, and family can also provide a support network to overcome periods of stress, but ultimately, HuK says, it’s something he has to get over himself.

“People tweet at you, you have friends talk to you, and they’re like, ‘It’s one of many tournaments, StarCraft 2 is going to be around for a long time, you’re going to have a lot of opportunities, just look past it,” he said, “Things like that help, but mainly its on yourself. It just takes time, time is the biggest thing. Hopefully you get motivated from it instead of getting sad and giving up.”

That kind of motivation is often what separates the champions from the rest, and pro gamers from casual ones.

[HuK at MLG Providence – Photo credit; ESFI / Zhang Jingna]

“You’ve just got to be really, really motivated. There are going to be times when you are going to have to practice, when it’s not going to be fun,” he explained, “You’ve got to love the game, and play the game like you love it, but there are going to be times when you don’t love the game, and you still have to practice, and you still have that match in two days, and you’ve still got to work hard and want it. You have to be hard-working and disciplined.”

Apparently, pro gaming isn’t all fun and games.

There are challenges for professional gamers besides the onus of expectations and the man in the booth opposite you. This year especially, travel has become a major issue for many gamers. In a single month, HuK’s competed in tournaments in the USA, Sweden, and Korea, crossing oceans every week to keep up.

“[Travel] sucks. It destroys me as a person. It’s not good. I’m hoping not to travel as much next year,” he said, “I’m a very emotional person, although I might not seem it, I get very depressed and sad even though I might not seem like it to the community a lot of times, so it’s really tough to have losses pile up, with the stress of travelling and not sleeping regularly, not exercising, whenever you travel you don’t eat well either, there’s a lot of bad factors that come with it. I’m a very light sleeper. Traveling sucks. It’s the worst part of the game, besides losing.”

On the surface, a job where you get paid to travel around the globe to exotic locations and play video games may sound great, and it is, but there are challenges for even the greatest players, both emotional and physical.

“Don’t [be a pro gamer]. It’s hard,” he says, “I don’t want to be cruel and mean, if that’s your dream and you can’t do without it, then me saying ‘don’t do it’ is not going to change your mind anyway. The job is really hard. A lot of things have to go right for you to make it. You have to be very good at it, you have to spend a lot of time playing it. I would never suggest doing it.”

[HuK signing autographs – Photo credit: ESFI / Zhang Jingna]

That’s not a very encouraging prospect, but for those with the singular kind of obsession, the drive you need to succeed at pro gaming, HuK is right: his words won’t stop you.

After NASL, HuK’s losing streak continued; he failed to qualify for GSL Code S for the first time in many seasons, and at the World Cyber Games finals, after topping his group, he fell in the opening round of the bracket. HuK plans to spend some time relaxing now that the season is over, but it won’t be long before the thing that drives him brings him back to training, even if it isn’t fun and even if he’s still reeling from his recent failures. He plans to “win everything” in 2012, and while that may be an unrealistic goal, it’s the kind you need to have in his line of work.

HuK and every other pro gamer would do well to remember something: losing isn’t a permanent condition.

ESFI World
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  1. Teronfel says:

    It’s been a great year for e-sports.2012 is gonna be even more awesome!

  2. smi1ey says:

    Huk has shown some incredible skill, being one of the few foreigners to consistently make it to the GSL Code S, and even to the Ro16. He’s one of the few remaining hopes for Protoss players (before Blizzard’s next patch hopefully balances them) to make it bast the beast that is Terran.

    On an unrelated note, if you’re even remotely a fan of Starcraft, the Blizzard Cup Finals that just took place is one of the most incredible finals I’ve ever seen- and I’ve been watching pro Starcraft for years.

    link to gomtv.net

    • tomeoftom says:

      Yeah! It was a ridiculous final, not least the final match.

    • Zhou says:

      Thank you guys for linking something without spoiling it in the slightest, much appreciated.

    • Dobleclick says:

      Would love to see those finals, but paying 10 bucks to see past the first set is just incredibly expensive. I hate GomTV and GSL with all my heart now…

    • Zhou says:

      Yeah, its a damn shame its paygated :<

    • Miker says:

      I stayed up until 5 AM to watch up to game 2 before passing out, and I only wish that I had stayed up longer to watch the whole series. The last game is utterly amazing, but MMA’s marine splits in the second game are also insane.

      Also, on the paygate: it’s probably too late to pay $10 for the season ticket now, as the games are already over, but if you enjoyed it, I wouldn’t be afraid to buy a season ticket for the first 2012 season, as then you’ll be able to enjoy all the games as they happen.

    • kimadactyl says:

      The paygate is great. No way they could provide so much top quality action without it. Get a season ticket and see, it’s so far above any other e-sport production wise. Even other high budget sc2 tournies don’t touch the GSL.

    • luckystriker says:

      Yeah, that was ridiculous. Also, GSL Nov, semis between MVP & Leenock. And Broodwar OSL Finals between JangBi and Fantasy. Like Teronfel said, it’s been a GREAT year for esports.

      As a side note, I’m dying to see the S-Class Broodwar players finally switch over to SC2 (not that I don’t love Broodwar dearly, but still), which is why I’m watching the next GSL season just to watch ForGG (ogs_Fin) play. Even though he was in no way S-Class when he quit Broodwar, imo he’s probably the most skilled Broodwar player to switch over so far.

  3. cjlr says:

    As much as I find it hard to care about the sports of a “men running after a ball” variety, I find it next to impossible to give even the slightest damn about e-sports. Oh, I’ve played the games. I know it’s a matter of very skilled people competing at a level beyond most of us. But that doesn’t make it interesting. And it’s kind of sad, because so many people do care, and derive a hell of lot of enjoyment following these things. It makes me feel like I’m missing something.

    • Malawi Frontier Guard says:

      I’ve never seen a comment like this on an e-sports article.

    • Maldomel says:

      If you don’t like it, you don’t have to force yourself into liking it, and you are not missing something if it does not seem interesting to you, even after seeing it. Simple as that.
      I like watching e-sports because I enjoy seeing pro players compete like that. Hell, I like it more than playing the actual games!

  4. The Greatness says:

    Oh god, please stop using the terrible Mercator projection as the title picture. I cannot stand looking at that thing.

    • TotalBiscuit says:


    • Vander says:

      @TotalBiscuit, actually the argument that i heard most often about the mercator projection is that represent the third world in a detrimental(?) way.

      Well, and the fact that with Mercator nothing is really where it should be. Usefull for sailing tough.

      Ha, yes, thats an article about Esport…dont care. I tried, but its so ininterseting FOR ME…

      The fact that you have to pay to watch is another hurdle, and a very dumb decision IMO.

    • Starky says:

      Well I’m not sure about detrimental – but it certainly shows Africa and other equatorial continents as much smaller than they are in reality compared to European and north American landmass.

      Which has been argued puts bias in 1st world children on the size and importance of those continents – which might continue to adulthood.

      While not perfect the peters map is probably better (it is to scale on landmass size):
      link to odtmaps.org
      It just looks weird for those of us who grew up looking at the standard map.

    • The Greatness says:

      The Mercator projection needs to be taken out of common use because people need to know that the world does not look like that! Greenland is not as big as Africa! And yes, I would say it does also put the bias on the first world. The Gall-Peters projection is much better, and the Robinson and Winkel Tripel projections are good comprosimises.

    • kimadactyl says:

      This entire site, and all of e-sports could be categorized first world problems! It’s a straw man argument :p

    • BAshment says:

      If you judge a continent based on its geographical size i think the damage has already been done.

    • datom says:

      Map pedantry time …

      The Gall-Peters projection is mostly famous because of the political statements made by Peters, which was a bit of a marketing coup but not really very substantive. While the Mercator map may, I suppose, lead to incorrect perceptions about continent size (Canada and Australia are also undersized in Mercator but I’m pretty sure they’re not geographically discriminated against), that’s really not what it was for.

      The Mercator map was based around navigation, for which distance between two points is crucial. With Peters, distance and shape are compromised and thus the map cannot be used for navigation. However, Peters covers area better, at expense of shape.

      This is the problem of making a globe flat. It is unsolvable while we continue to use 2D representations of a 3D problem.

  5. CaLe says:

    If more top Koreans start attending the foreign tournaments then I can’t see HuK winning all that much in 2012. Still, best of luck to him.

  6. Moorkh says:

    Starcraft again?

    I hear there is more to eSports than just a single game…

    • TotalBiscuit says:

      Correct, however Starcraft 2 is by far the dominant eSpot in the west, with the most going on.

    • rocketman71 says:

      StarCraft 2 is not a game, it’s a mini-MMO.

    • TotalBiscuit says:

      In what possible galaxy is that the case?

    • Maldomel says:

      @Totalbiscuit: Still, there are other games that could be covered. Even though the point of view in this article could be applied to every e-sport out there.

    • KoenigNord says:

      There are many other competitive and non-competitive games. Just visit twitch and see: CS 1.6, TF2, HoN, LoL, WoW Raids, so many more.
      Live streams like justin.tv made this e-sport year a lot more interesting. Youtube isn’t the same. It’s like watching football on a video tape.

      For the topic, HuK is one amazing person, saw his stream yesterday or so, EG-team cheered him when he was cheesed 2 times in a row. He won’t give up easily and he is always polite. That’s a very good characteristic.

  7. Web Cole says:

    I do love Huk and it was sad to see him slump at the end of this year but it gives him a chance to show he’s a real champion and come back from it : )

  8. Blame says:

    I was kinda baffled when in the dreamhack winter coverage you forgot to mention Heroes of Newerth, despite it being the 2nd most important game in that tournament and despite you covering other games which had a much smaller tournament.

    However, looking at how you handled the Heroes of Newerth part of the NASL tournament, it seems like you intentionally avoid it. Probably because you think it’s not an important enough game (although I kinda wonder what metric you use to decide this). Or you found out that the “pro” HoN players are bunch of immature kids, I don’t know. Of course, I don’t expect you to talk abotu every big tournament of every competitive game and you probably know next to nothing about it – but you could at the very least have mentioned more than just “NASL also has a Heroes of Newerth tournament”.

    Again, not saying you should have made a detailed article about the Hon tournament – you probably couldn’t. I’m just wondering why you are so selective in covering games – especially at DHW. RPS readers don’t have to know who won NASL or DHW, but right now they won’t even know the game is still played competitively for prize money. (that said, it’s also weird you didn’t cover the inclusion of HoN into NASL like you did for SC 2)

    For reference, there was a Heroes of Newerth LAN tournament with a prize pool of 40,000$ at the end of NASL Season 2. The vods (of the 4 final bo3 matches) are available at honcast.com.

    One last time before I’m trolled: I don’t care so much about you not covering HoN here, but more about the way you are selecting what tournaments to cover. (why did you talk about a little silly dota 2 or quake live tournament if you only care about SC 2?)

    • Starky says:

      It’s pretty simple really to be frank, anyone interested in competitive HoN already knows, anyone who doesn’t will probably never care, because HoN is bloody horrible to watch if you don’t know the rules, terms at least basic tactics.
      It’s also utterly lacking in player story, drama, history or personality – nothing against HoN players (or any of the DOTA clones for that matter), but not a single one of them has any kind of crowd draw.

      Now DotA-likes could manage that in time, in years – though I don’t think HoN is the one that will achieve that. It doesn’t overcome the issue that the game is just way too complicated for the uninitiated viewer.

      My girlfriend can watch SC2 games with me, and enjoy them – maybe not to the level I do, but she can enjoy them – she can follow the players, follow the casters and follow the drama, and the casters in SC2 do an exceptional job in keeping the game exciting.
      Take Total Biscuit (poster in this thread) he’s criticised by many for not having the game knowledge of say Day9, Artosis or other semi-pro/ex-pro casters – but he does an excellent job of keeping viewers entertained and invested in the excitement.

      HoN just doesn’t have that, or the production values Sc2 has, and I like DotA.

      Honestly I think much of the success of SC2 in this regard is down to it’s clean and clear art style and simple yet graphically pretty fidelity – you can tell what shoots what, you can tell one army from another – spells and moves are not overly laden with particle effects or other things that just confuse the visual clarity.
      That and the basic rules are incredibly simple – with massive complexity in the minutia – so everyone can quickly get a basic grasp, and increase game knowledge only yields increased understanding and appreciation.
      DotA (HoN, or LoL) on the other hand has vastly complex and arcane basic rules – which take a lot of time, and experience to even gain a basic appreciation of.

    • kimadactyl says:

      I play hon, a lot. IMO it will never be a real esport until these are sorted:

      1. Players so immature it’s not even a joke
      2. Company with history of being pretty shady, and not talking about it
      3. Very new game
      4. Very complicated game spec wise that’s not really immediate to speccing
      5. Most importantly, not enough high levels teams (see 1-4)

    • Blame says:

      I entirely agree that SC 2 is a far more spectator friendly game than HoN. It’s also quite understandable that RPS finds the SC 2 competitive scene more news worthy than HoN (it is). So I agree with you Starky.

      Let me reformulate my post this way: my question to the RPS authors is: why do you cover those LAN events? (note: I’m not implying this coverage is a bad thing, on the contrary)
      Basically, I’m quite naieve and supposed that RPS wants to raise awareness of E-Sports. In such a light, it would have made sense to me if they’d mention the various games that have a decent competitive scene/have lots of tournaments. Obviously, I’m not saying “raising awareness for E-sports” is what the purpose of those blogs should be (who am I to decide that?), just that in a certain light it does make sense to ask RPS to coverage more games and more tournaments!

      (also, once again, why cover the DHW dota 2 tournament? I’m terrible sorry for this derail and flame war potential, but I’m curious.)

    • iHavePants says:

      Because this article was specifically about HuK and therefore they focussed on the game he plays?

    • mickygor says:

      Starky, does your girlfriend read RPS? This is a blog for enthusiasts, I’d hazard a guess that the majority either know or would easily grasp the basics of a DotA clone or any other genre of video game with an eSports scene.

  9. iaguz says:

    2 things about HuK:

    1) He was a top Company of Heroes player during the (I think) era of Tales of Valour.

    2) The only thing I hate about huk is that whenever I hit him on ladder and lose (which is unfortunately all the bloody time) I get to have a lovely conversation with one of my mates about it cuz they were watching the bastard’s stream.

    Thanks huk!

  10. catska says:

    Oh how grand, another e-sports article that pretends Starcraft 2 is the only game out there.

    • mickygor says:

      Yea, I can’t bring myself to even read this one. This looks like an article about a specific player of a specific game (like the last one, if memory serves). I’m sure it’s a great article, but it’s the sort of focus I’d expect to find on a site focusing on that specific game, not a blog about an entire platform of games. A more broad coverage wouldn’t go amiss. Not everyone enjoys Starcraft, and to dismiss counter strike, league of legends or other smaller esports repeatedly like this is… well, it’s starting to get misrepresentative.

    • rawtheory says:

      Are you mad at Sc2 for being the dominating force in E-Sports? Are you mad that the other competing E-sports games have a mere fraction of player/spec interest? Or do you resent how SC2 was designed from the bottom up as an E-sport that a total outsider as spectator can come to grips with in minutes? Are you upset at the growing importance of this single game to PC gaming in general?

    • catska says:

      It is hilarious how much importance you put on SC2, but those of us who have been around competitive games for 10+ years have seen many games rise and fall based on PR money and hardware company payoffs. What I am eager to see is how the community scrambles to keep themselves relevant when the higher-ups decide its time for a new game to shine so they can sell more hardware and copies. I guess only then will they realize that they shot themselves in the foot by pretending only the latest and greatest is ‘news-worthy’.

      Also, get off your high horse kid. SC2 has a long way to go before it can be compared to the other giants of e-sports. Come back to me when it still has a lively pro-scene 10 years deep like Counter-Strike 1.6, Quake, and Brood War have had.