Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon lounges in the press room after his 28th straight victory in the League Championship Series regular season, grinning from ear to ear after spending a bit of time with his family and teammates. At 18 years old, the age at which most kids are trying to decide what to do for a living, Huni has already lived on three continents, played in front of arenas packed with thousands of fans and hoisted various trophies. While he knows playing League of Legends is a job he must take seriously, Immortals' top laner never forgets he's playing a game -- and that he also wants to have as much fun as possible.
"I think he's bronze," Huni said with a laugh when I asked about his younger brother's prowess in League. His brother, along with other members of Huni's family, traveled over to Los Angeles this past weekend to see him play live for the first time in the North America LCS. "Yeah, but I'm from bronze as well. I started [at] bronze in Season 2."
Just more than a year ago, Huni was a relative nobody in the scene. He was a practice partner for Samsung Galaxy, and although his mechanical skill was lauded, it was difficult to move up the ranks of an organization that housed the two best teams in the world at that time. After catching the attention of Fnatic management before the 2014 World Championships, the South Korean teenager got his first break as a pro gamer by signing with the European team for the 2015 season alongside jungler and fellow South Korean Kim "Reignover" Yeu-jin.
When he first started playing the game, Huni conceded that he played only as Akali in the top lane. Over time he began to learn more champions and level up as a player, eventually becoming an established solo queue player who caught the eyes of teams in his homeland.
Huni couldn't have asked for a better first year playing abroad. With Fnatic, he won Rookie of the Season honors for the spring split, and the team won both seasonal championships along with a semifinal showing at the Mid-Season Invitational in Tallahassee, Florida. It all culminated at the World Championships, where Huni and Fnatic beat the MSI champions, China's EDward Gaming, in a quarterfinal before getting blanked 3-0 by Korea's KOO Tigers in the semis.
A short time after Worlds, Huni and Reignover decided to move from one LCS to another, signing with Immortals for the 2016 season. The Korean duo already accomplished the first perfect regular season last summer with Fnatic and now, at 8-0 with Immortals, the two are looking to be the first perfect regular-season team in North America.
"The first difference is the weather," Huni said, comparing Germany to Los Angeles. "[Also], I'm always saying that the food is so good compared to Europe. Because in L.A., there is so much good food. Every kind of food is in L.A. Every block there is a restaurant with good food."
From his early days on Fnatic to today, the difference is clear in Huni's play. In a parallel to his status as a one-trick pony when he started the game as a bronze player with Akali, Huni also had a severely limited champion pool when he started his pro-gaming career. While it grew as the year went along, he still found trouble adapting, and it eventually led to his getting beaten by more flexible Korean top laners like Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho. With Immortals, he's already been able to widen his champion pool, playing six champions in eight games.
"I have to show them I'm doing well," he said, talking about his visiting family. "Imagine if I lose, then they'll be sad, and I'll be sad as well. They [wouldn't be] able to speak properly to me [after the game] because they know if I lose I'll be sad."
Fortunately for Huni, his confidence helps him believe he can win any match he goes into. He is one of the most technically gifted at his position in the world. He shows no fear when it comes to facing the best players, even if he's in an unfavorable champion matchup or falls behind early. He said that it's good to be confident but that he and his team aren't getting ahead of themselves and want to prepare accordingly for each team they take on.
Still, Huni is sometimes reckless, and the player who keeps his bravado in check is teammate and close friend in the jungle role, Reignover. Since joining forces on Fnatic, the duo has become synonymous with well-executed aggressive timings and plays. To Huni, Reignover is like family.
"He's like an older brother," he said. "My feelings are like [he's] an older brother. [Although] he's older, I can do whatever I want to him. He's a really good person ... and kind."
What makes the brotherly relationship between Huni and Reignover perfect is the balance between them. Huni says he believes that regardless of what goes wrong, he can reverse the tide and make something good out of it. Back when Reignover was a rookie, he was given the nickname 'Gameover' for his lackluster late-game performances and inability to do well in clutch situations. With Huni's lighthearted attitude and positivity, he's helped Reignover grow not only to one of the best early-game junglers in the world, but also one of the best junglers, period.
Reignover is the brains of the operation. He's now credited as one of the sharpest minds with shot-calling, allowing him to control Huni's rambunctious tendencies on the map. When Huni plays too overzealously and finds himself trapped in lane with three enemy champions wanting to kill him, Reignover is usually there right behind him, ready to fight to the (in-game) death alongside his brother in arms.
And Huni remains focussed on North America. He doesn't watch other leagues. When he elaborated that he doesn't use videos of other teams to practice, I inquired what kind of practice he does do to keep in elite form.
"Just play solo queue and think about the matchups ... I also read the patch notes. It's my job, and I'm always trying to be the first person to play a new champion [in the top lane]."
"Are there any new champions who you think can be good for the top lane?" I asked, wanting to know if he's been practicing something like top lane Miss Fortune or Xerath.
"It's secret," he replied.
"You have something planned?"
"I have pretty much [a] plan, yeah," he fired back, laughing, as he had throughout most of the interview.
Behind the eccentric practice and good-natured fun is a player who works extremely hard every day to get better. He started out as nothing but a low-ranked player in 2012 before ultimately becoming a substitute for a Korean team by 2014. In 2015 he became a household name for League fans with his joyous personality and in-your-face style. And in 2016, still self-assured as ever, he's evolved even more, adding new facets to his game while also picking up more champions for his arsenal.
Huni knows he can be the best in the world, and it doesn't matter to him if you believe him or not. Sooner or later, if he has his way, he'll make you a believer -- all the while chuckling with a massive, knowing grin on his face.