Huni’s Road to Greatness

All images courtesy of Riot’s Flickr.

It’s common to see Korean pros go to the West at the end of their careers. After all, it’s a great way to play in a less competitive region while also earning enough money to comfortably retire. But for Seung “Huni” Hoon Heo, things didn’t go that way. For Huni, everything happened the other way around

First Steps

Huni’s took his first steps into the world of progaming way before he even thought of moving to another country. Back then, he was a practice partner for Samsung. You won’t find his name on any official roster or a substitute list. Because at the time, Huni operated from the shadows. At the time, it was if he didn’t exist.

That’s why when Fnatic first announced they’ll be adding a struggling LCK jungler—Reignover—and a previously unknown top laner to their roster, fans reacted with raised eyebrows and disbelief. To them, it seemed as if the organization that’d lost its star players, was grasping at straws to assemble a somewhat competitive lineup. But Huni didn’t let this backlash get to him. Now was his time to step out of the shadows and prove his worth on the competitive stage.

And he wasn’t going to miss it.

Immediately, in his very first game, the spotlight was on him. His first real test was also one of the hardest—Huni faced the previous EU LCS champion, Elements, and its seasoned top laner, Wickd. And while Huni struggled to keep up with the Dane in lane, he made up for it by playing off his jungler and showing up in teamfighting. Fnatic ended up winning that game, but that was only a taste of things to come. And—together with Reignover—Huni went on to take over the EU LCS.

Fnatic breezed through the Spring Split with a 13-5 win/loss record and took second place, finishing right behind SK Gaming and earning the Rookie of the Split award for Huni in the process. But Playoffs told a different story. The story of Fnatic pulling through against all odds and securing two back-to-back victories against H2K and UOL to claim the 2015 Spring Split as their own. After their final game against the Unicorns of Love, everyone hugged and cheered as Huni yelled at the top of his lungs. The spotlight was finally on him. And it felt surprisingly comfortable.

Bigger Stage

There’s only one road awaiting the winner of the Spring Split—the road to MSI. For Huni, it was time to move onto an even bigger stage and get his first taste of international play. Despite getting a good start with a convincing victory against TSM, Fnatic suffered three consecutive losses and barely made it out of groups with a 2-3 score. The Semifinals didn’t look good for them either—the team was going to clash with the Korean powerhouse, SKT T1.

The series was a lot closer than many would’ve thought. Fnatic gave the best performance out of any Western team facing an elite Korean lineup in almost two years. Huni’s personal highlight—surviving a 1v2 and even getting a kill on Faker on top of that. And yet, that still wasn’t enough to bring down the Korean giant. SKT T1 came out on top with a 3-2 victory. And while his teammates sat in silence with the devastating loss still fresh in their minds, Huni stood up and clapped. As Samsung’s shadow, he knew how hard it was to get to this point and that SKT T1 deserved to be celebrated. Or—perhaps—he already knew that greater things awaited him in the future.

If that was the case, he was right. Fnatic entered the 2015 Summer Split stronger than ever and tore through the competition to finish the regular Split with a staggering 18-0 record—a level of dominance that was unheard of at the time. It was only in the finals that they started losing their first games. But even then, dropping a series was seemingly out of the question for this lineup. After a 3-2 victory over Origen, Fnatic claimed the Summer Split trophy and turned their attention to Worlds.

By all accounts, 2015 World Championship should’ve been Huni’s moment. He’d already got used to the international play during his first competitive season and now, after the most dominant EU LCS Split to date, he was ready to take on the world. But somehow, it didn’t happen. Even though Fnatic made it out of the Group Stage with a 4-2 record, they suffered a crushing defeat in the first series against KOO Tigers.

Huni looked devastated after the loss. A large part of it was because of his own mistakes—he would overextend, miss flashes and mistime teleports. Worst of all, he’d blatantly get outplayed by KOO’s Smeb. This wasn’t the level of performance that fans had come to expect from the best EU LCS top laner, and so, to many of them, Huni became known as a tilter. The spotlight slowly crept away from him. Huni was once again in the shadows.

The Immortal

Many have expected Huni to spend another season in Europe. Sure, Fnatic may have struggled at international competitions but their domestic dominance still made the team a success. So why change something that isn’t broken? But the Korean top laner had other plans. With the recent loss at Worlds still fresh in his memory, Huni knew that something had to change. However, the decision he took left his fans stunned—together with Reignover, Huni left Europe and joined Immortals in the NA LCS. To the European fans, it seemed as though Fnatic’s power duo settled for worse teammates in favor of a larger paycheck. And they felt betrayed.

While the fans turned away from them, Huni and Reignover worked hard with their new team. Carrying three North American players against the stacked Cloud9 roster or TSM’s superteam was a tall order even for them—but the Korean duo was used to fighting against the odds. The 2016 NA LCS Spring Split kicked off much like Huni’s European career—with one win after another.

Of course, this could be attributed to C9 and TSM going through many more problems than originally expected. Still, few could predict Immortals crushing through the regular season with a 17-1 record. For Huni and Reignover, this was a testament that they could still find success on another team and in a completely different region. Together with his teammates, Huni set his gaze on Playoffs, hoping to claim that #1 spot and prove himself at the MSI. After all, in every story, third time’s always the charm.

But the very first BO5 against TSM introduced a different ending to Immortals’ narrative. Nowadays, most people remember this series for the dreaded Lucian top, but that only happened in one game out of three. The team’s problems ran much deeper than that, and the overreliance on Huni and Reignover led to Immortals prioritizing carry top laners in a tank-oriented meta.

With Hauntzer and Svenskeren being able to match the Korean duo, TSM countered this strategy and went on to sweep Immortals 3-0—a result that blindsided everyone at the time. Even though IMT bounced back to win the 3rd place match against Liquid, only the league winner could go to the MSI. Everyone on Immortals felt the weight of this loss. And as the team’s carry, Huni felt it the most.

The Immortals story didn’t end there. Huni wasn’t the one to give up after a single failure, and a bad read on the meta wasn’t enough to discourage him from trying to make his new team work. Competition getting a lot stiffer in the 2016 Summer Split, but Immortals still finished the season with a staggering 16-2 record, only one win behind the powerhouse TSM lineup.

And yet, everything came crashing down in Playoffs. The first BO5 against Cloud9 had Immortals struggle to establish control over the top side of the map. Huni had a hard time matching Impact, which was a huge problem for a team based around its top laner. Immortals lost to Cloud9 with a 2-3 score but—luckily—they weren’t out yet. The team defeated CLG to secure 3rd place in the league and faced Cloud9 in a rematch for the final spot at Worlds. But some bridges are not meant to be crossed, and C9’s white and blue overshadowed the dark green of Immortals. Huni buried his face in his hands, coming to grips that he’d miss another international tournament.

Coming to Telecom

At this point, Huni was at the crossroads. He could stay in North American or try returning to Europe and live the rest of his progaming days as a top-3 player in a weaker region. Many have chosen to follow this path in the past, including his teammate, Reignover. But Huni had other plans. He was determined to take his fate into his own hands and compete with the best players in the world.

Huni was going to the LCK.

When SKT T1 picked up the former IMT top laner, many have questioned the move, citing Huni’s selfish playstyle and tilt-prone nature. In fact, SKT themselves seemed to be uncertain about the move and brought a substitute—Profit—in case Huni didn’t work out. But Profit ended up playing only a handful of games because here, in the most competitive league in the world, Huni was standing on his own two feet.

All eyes were on him, as Huni—and SKT—put on an absolute clinic in the regular season. Even more surprisingly, Huni’s playstyle completely changed. He wasn’t taking up resources, asking to be put on carry champions or demanding jungle attention. SKT Huni was fine with taking a step back and letting his teammates shine.

Perhaps he finally realized that it wasn’t about the shadows or the spotlights anymore. Now, surrounded by world-class teammates, Huni could calmly play his role and still find success. And it showed through his amazing performance in the 2017 Spring Split. The tension was high as kt Rolster clawed their way to the finals and challenged SKT’s dominance. Huni would have to face Smeb, his former nemesis from the 2015 World Championship. But a convincing 3-0 victory by SKT was all it took to put an end to this rivalry. Huni was on top of the world, and not even Smeb could stop him.  

As LCK’s victor, SKT T1 traveled to the 2017 MSI. The fans questioned whether Huni would once again cave under pressure of an international tournament. But SKT’s dominant run put an end to these doubts. Even though numerous top laners from across the world challenged Huni, none of them could overcome him, and SKT finished the tournament with a confident 3-1 against G2. There wasn’t much cheering, and even Huni was unusually quiet. But his smile shined bright as he walked to the center of the stage, took his first international trophy and lifted it up in the air.

The Final Act

At some point, every great player gets recognition. Huni has played in three major regions of Europe, North America, and Korea. His career was filled with high and lows but even his lowest lows were better than the peak form of most other players. Of course, he’s yet to win Worlds—but in our minds, he’s already a legend. And we have no doubt that in summer we’ll see Huni perform on the biggest stage of them all.

 

 

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inthecure

Hi! I'm a League of Legends writer and an expert on three major regions of North America, Europe, and Korea.