A Liquid fan watches EG.HuK win MLG Orlando
In August 2010, When I first met Chris Loranger at MLG's first ever SC2 tournament, he had his hood up and sunglasses on. He was at the front desk, and he had sent an email: "Yo MLG, how do I get in? Do I just walk up and be like 'I'm Huk, bitches?'" He went on to win that tournament. I don't remember anything distinctive about his play, except that no matter what happened, he seemed to always find a way to win. Kiwikaki, the runner-up, seemed to do everything more precisely and creatively, but HuK somehow managed to just "fight better," if that abstract concept made any sense.
At the time, HuK was a kid with a huge chip on his shoulder. He had no progaming pedigree, not in Brood War or WarCraft 3, and he had not yet received the respect he felt he deserved. To many of the top players, Chris Loranger was a fluke, a passing player of note that would quickly fade once better mechanics appeared and more practice hours were logged. What he brought with him to that first MLG was an already large fan base and a certain aura. Even then, he had a belief in himself and that no matter who is opponent was, he could find a way to beat him.
In October 2010, Chris Loranger didn't have a cell phone. He was set to fly into Newark International and take a cab to the TLHQ to sign his Liquid contract and play in IEM New York. He was very late. Thirty minutes later and I'd either have to call Victor (Nazgul) and tell him that his newest recruit was here, or call the NY Police Department and report a missing person. HuK's attitude was one of supreme confidence in StarCraft and in life: that somehow, things will work out. It did, and he showed up, despite an obscenely expensive taxi.
Later that night, HuK mentioned he's going to Korea to try to compete in the GSL. I remember asking him how far he'd like to get, and if he thought Code S was a reasonable goal. He looked at me like I was crazy and said, "I'm going to win." I must have laughed, because he looked annoyed and said "You don't believe me? I will." I didn't believe him then, but I do now.
Chris Loranger is one of the most honest and direct people I know. He's also one of the most energetic. You can see it in the way he befriends players who don't even speak English, and how he tirelessly interacts with fans online and in person. I'm not saying HuK is the perfect player, as he has always been one of the most difficult and demanding players when it comes to conditions and treatment. This is not because he's spoiled, but rather because he works hard and expects the same from others. That and he's definitely a little spoiled.
However, you could not find a player who was better at rallying fans. After watching the mothership he built at MLG DC 2010 and his "that's Halo" comment, I remember thinking, if this guy ever gets over his booth anxiety and wins a major title, he'll be the most popular player in the world. Few fans remember this, but HuK's first overseas tournament at Cologne had him placing fourth in his group, behind Tarson, Morrow, and Artosis. Simply put, he played terribly. Whether it was a combination of the crowd, conditions, or underpreparation, he just wasn't ready.
In March 2011, just after Chris won a few series in Code A, he still wasn't ready, and people knew it. The forums were filled with doubters, people calling him out for bad play or weak opponents. I remember him asking for a list of comments from haters as motivation. To much of the StarCraft scene, he was still a pretender, someone who was practicing all day every day for six months in Korea and having nothing to show for it. He had the "easy" road into Code A by invite and somehow PvP lucked into Code S. His only major win was half a year ago against a North American only field that didn't even include IdrA. Many believed he didn't have it in him to win a major title.
But those that watched his stream knew it was different. HuK was tireless, mass gaming day after day, posting great records and great games against the best players in the world. This was not someone who queued up against the best and thought, "I'll give it a try." HuK is a player who always, without fail, believed he could win any game against any player. We watched him play MVP, NesTea, and many many others and run several accounts into the top 5 on the Korean server. It was clear from those games that he was on that level. The question was whether he could perform in the booth.
Then, a few months later, this moment happened. HuK beat Moon twice and July once on his way to the biggest foreigner accomplishment at the time. He would top it one week later, defeating IdrA, MC, and NaNiwa at HomeStory Cup to win back-to-back titles.
In the final game against Moon, you could see Chris in the booth unable to contain his celebration after holding off Moon's six pool. All those months of doubts and pressure and expectations were swept away in just two weeks. What happened at DreamHack was not just the result of HuK's hard work and decision to train in Korea, but a justification of his life decision to become a progamer. Win or die was his motto, and he had just won.
I remember the night when HuK said good bye to Liquid. It was at MLG Anaheim, the last tournament that he would see his teammates before he joined EG. The offer was something he had to take. Chris said that between former teammates, nothing would change much, but we all knew things would. It was almost as if someone had died and we were going through the stages of grief.
I found it hard to watch him play. I was conflicted as a fan and even half-rooted against him a few times. But those feelings passed quickly. Despite huge salaries and rising fame, Chris's core personality hasn't changed one bit. He did things the right way throughout the entire negotiation and bidding process between Liquid and EG. In the end, it's impossible to not to wish someone who is so genuine and hard working to succeed.
Fast forward to MLG Orlando. I hope you don't mind if I skip the details, it's quite a bittersweet memory for me. I didn't watch the finals at the venue. I was in an hotel room, half-watching the stream and getting ready for dinner. The way HuK was playing, with a 2-1 ES lead, in my mind the result was nowhere in doubt. I did however watch the celebration, and it reminded me of DreamHack in an alternate universe. Chris had done it again, something that no other non-Korean had. I was simultaneously intensely happy for my friend and sad that the jersey he wore was a darker blue.
Orlando was the first time his parents watched him play. Ironically, the only game they watched was his only loss of the entire tournament, to Hero. I met his parents as they first walked in. They knew their son was somewhat important, but he clearly had not told them just how important. When HuK was stopped by a fan on their way out to get lunch, his dad whispered to me, "is it always like this?" I wasn't sure what to say. "Your son is popular at MLG" doesn't properly capture the two-hour mass autograph line that would happen if Chris stayed in one spot signing stuff for too long.
Late night Sunday, I remember sitting in a dark, deserted cafe with two team owners and talking a little about what had just happened. Alex Garfield said, "if they interviewed me, I would have said you guys deserve 80% of the credit for getting him here. I would have said that on camera. We're all part of what happened today."
I am not here to say Liquid owns a majority share in HuK's Orlando win. Chris will succeed no matter what team he is on. However, I believe EG has treated him very well, and he is not a player who is easy to please. Liquid was the best situation for him in the year that he was here, and all things considered, EG is the best situation for him now. This is not a particularly easy thing to say, but it's the truth.
I've always said that the Farewell, Liquid`HuK says more about Liquid than any tournament win or interview could. Victor said, "When he joined Liquid he was good, but he was not a world champion. Now he's leaving, and look where he is. I think we can be proud of that, to have helped take him there."
What I am here to talk about is the bittersweet feeling I have when watching him win, a feeling I'm sure many other Liquid fans share. It's painful, but that's good. It's true fan devotion. The fact that I felt anywhere close about a professional StarCraft player's jersey color as Cleveland fans feel about LeBron (sans hate) is a step in the right direction. It means we care, and it means we're one step closer to true sports and one step away from pseudo-sport pretend games.
So MLG Providence is in three weeks, and HuK is the second seed. I'll be happy for my friend if he wins, but I really hope he loses to HerO again.