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On May 7, 2016, somewhere in the state of Georgia, Angela (and her parents) were standing halfway out the door on a hot afternoon with bated breath, then erupted.
“I never doubted them! I never doubted them!”
Sam “Kobe” Hartman-Kenzler’s iconic call shook the world as Counter Logic Gaming paraded toward Royal Never Give Up’s base. For the first time in Shanghai, the Chinese champions’ Nexus would fall, and the North American underdogs would reignite the faith of a legion of fans downtrodden by years of fruitless efforts.
Angela’s boyfriend, CLG mid laner Choi “huhi” Jae-hyun, and his teammates had done the unthinkable: They took down then-undefeated tournament favorites RNG and secured their path to the Mid-Season Invitational knockout stage bracket as the second seed in their group. And she was running late for her own college graduation.
Angela and huhi first met at the beginning of 2016, not too long before he first joined CLG.
“I love telling people this story,” she said. “He slid into my DMs.”
Huhi, Angela said, would message her every-so-often to ask when Black Desert Online, the popular MMORPG created by South Korean video game developer Pearl Abyss, would release in North America. As it turned out, he used to play the game a bit on the South Korean servers. After a few months of the same back and forth, and a bit of extra encouragement, those regular check-ins grew into something a bit more substantial.
“He did that to me again randomly late at night on KakaoTalk, and I kind of flipped out on him,” Angela said. “After that, he made a conscious effort to message me every day, and then we just started talking like that.”
When huhi first became a North American League of Legends Championship Series champion, and when he made LCS history at MSI 2016, he did so with his partner supporting him from afar. Since then, the mid laner-turned support, now with 100 Thieves, has had one of the most turbulent careers out of any player in the LCS. But between his impressive first year on CLG, getting kicked from 100 Thieves in 2019, swapping roles to join an Academy team and all of the hate threads along the way, he persevered, and Angela was his biggest supporter.
When huhi lifted his second LCS title on Aug. 29 with 100 Thieves, a League of Legends World Championship berth secured, Angela was once again cheering from home, but this time not for long. As she watched confetti coat the LCS Arena with specks of red and green, she rushed to spam him on Discord in excitement. This time, they’d celebrate together in person. They were heading to Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag’s house with the rest of the team for burgers, pizza and drinks.
Huhi redefined the narrative surrounding his career that weekend after years of working in silence. But how did he get there? It’s simple. Years ago, huhi – the player, loving partner, dog owner and “team mom” – made the decision to bet on himself. And from then on, he continued to do so, despite hatred and doubt, with the support of caring people behind him.
Angela, a software engineer by trade with experience working for organizations like NRG and Azubu, first got into League of Legends when the game was released in 2010. She was a CLG fan and recalled watching George “HotshotGG” Georgallidis’ streams and witnessing Michael “bigfatjiji” Tang’s clutch Enchanted Crystal Arrow at the World Cyber Games from that same year.
“When I met Jae, I was like, ‘Oh my goodness,'” she said. “This was a weird intersection of two worlds I’d never thought were possible.”
The pair started their relationship with a three-hour time difference. They called each other in the evening when he was finished with scrims. Angela made the move to Los Angeles shortly after huhi returned from MSI, and they were fast in their commitment to sharing a life together; they even got a Husky and named it Haru.
The difficulty of balancing a serious relationship with the intense obligations of huhi’s pro career became clear once the competitive season kicked off.
“His only off day was Sunday night through Monday,” Angela said. “I had the Husky that I was dealing with by myself. I had no car back then, I had just moved to LA with a new job and I was trying to adjust to everything.”
In the face of a brutal practice schedule and immense pressure from fans to perform well and make Worlds, huhi prioritized taking on his partner’s burden whenever he could. Even still, the stress on their situation took a toll.
The night before CLG’s defiant victory over the seemingly unshakable ROX Tigers at the 2016 World Championship, the couple stood tense in the hallway of huhi’s San Francisco hotel. They had gotten into an argument earlier that day, and after CLG’s loss to Albus-Nox Luna in the Group Stage, Angela flew in from Los Angeles to talk things out in person.
“I was so stressed out from trying to accommodate him in his schedule,” she said. “I was also tired and meeting his brother for the first time; there was a lot going on.”
The fight ended with tears from both sides. That was the first time Angela had really seen huhi cry, and the first time huhi had really shown outwardly that the hate and pressure he was receiving online was beginning to affect him.
After speaking that night, the two would shift their focus towards huhi’s upcoming match against ROX Tigers, the No. 1 seed from South Korea. It was a match that could either make or break his career.
And the next day, this happened.
Even today, huhi’s play on Aurelion Sol against ROX remains one of the most iconic performances at an international event in North American history. The match established huhi as a player with a distinct style, and the win marked a positive turning point in his relationship with his girlfriend.
But the hype would soon pass. Over time, huhi again became a target for blame and harassment from fans. And this time, the solution would be trying something entirely different.
The role swap
As someone who witnessed firsthand the effect vile messages from fans had on huhi, and just how bad those messages could get, Angela described the community sentiment towards huhi as nothing short of brutal, unwarranted and unacceptable.
“People were saying the reason why CLG slumped in summer was because huhi got a dog,” Angela said. “There were tweets at us and Reddit posts saying ‘kill the dog.'”
At the time, both huhi and Angela attributed the worst of it all to the overall toxicity of the CLG fanbase. So when huhi left the org at the end of 2018 and received an offer to join 100 Thieves, they were ecstatic to get a fresh start. There, he reunited with longtime teammate and close friend Zaqueri “Aphromoo” Black and had a clear role within a roster that was stacked on paper. The thought was that the supportive style huhi had made himself known for should mesh with the rest of the team, and he could even serve as an occasional on-the-fly translator for fellow South Korean teammates Bae “Bang” Jun-sik and Kim “Ssumday” Chan-ho.
That honeymoon phase was short-lived, though. As losses piled up, 100 Thieves fans were quick to point to huhi as the weakest link of the team. He was eventually replaced by young talent Max “Soligo” Soong, and 100 Thieves ended the LCS 2019 Spring Split in 10th place.
“It felt like he was scapegoated by the org at the time,” Angela said. “It was one of the hardest times for us, and we both cried a lot. It kind of started this really dark snowball.”
When he first joined the org, huhi split time between Golden Guardians Academy and main teams. | Provided by Riot Games.
In the time between leaving 100 Thieves and joining Golden Guardians, huhi took one of the biggest bets a pro League player can make by switching positions to support. Rather than risk ruining his career entirely by joining a weak LCS team or Academy team as a mid laner and potentially failing, he would pave his own path to redemption and reinvent himself by role-swapping.
The source of inspiration for such a critical move probably isn’t what you’d expect.
“It was my mom’s idea; she kind of suggested it to us,” Angela said. “Her reasoning was, because she watches Jae’s stream and YouTube content, that he’s not always just picking mid as his role; he auto-fills a lot, and he’s played support and jungle a lot.”
Huhi received plenty of offers to play support for Academy teams and eventually joined GG Academy, where he would play alongside his current teammate Victor “FBI” Huang for the first time.
“My hardest point was getting along with FBI,” huhi said after his LCS championship victory. “In the beginning, I was not that good in lane. I feel like FBI was a player that was really aggressive in lane and he had some sort of expectation. ”
“That was causing some difficulty, but whenever I voiced it towards him, I think he also improved a lot as a person and as a friend and as a teammate, and I think that’s why I’m here today.”
A transitional period
The transition to Golden Guardians Academy in 2019 was the beginning of one of the most taxing periods of huhi’s career. In addition to the stress of moving between the Academy and main rosters, huhi’s time at the org was exacerbated by internal issues involving a staffer within the org.
“I think Golden Guardians somehow made our lives harder than being 10th place on 100 Thieves and getting kicked ever did,” Angela said. “It even got to the point where they would spread around rumors that our dog killed another dog. He would just refer to our dog as a ‘dog killer.'”
Angela cited that comment made by said staffer as particularly inappropriate and hurtful.
“It really destroyed my mental at the time because I was watching someone I think is extremely hard-working and such a good person being bullied in the workplace and couldn’t say anything about it because there are careers on the line,” Angela said. “Even going into summer, as they did so well, that kind of behavior still continued.”
The decision to start Yuri “Keith” Jew, who had also recently switched to support from bot lane, over Huhi on the main lineup going into spring 2020 was a confusing and frustrating one for huhi. But he accepted it and continued working toward his goal of earning a starting spot. When the org released a video explaining the move that stated Golden Guardians were “wanting someone with hands that can see when they can actually punish and kill in lane,” it was jarring, especially considering the years of starting roster experience huhi had over Keith.
Golden Guardians eventually promoted huhi to join FBI on the main roster. Huhi and his partner prepared themselves for any outcome.
“We were like, OK, let’s just get ready for anything that happens,” Angela said. “And if it doesn’t go well, it doesn’t go well. But just play for yourself.”
With huhi on the LCS lineup, Golden Guardians bounced back enough in spring to complete an honorable sixth-place playoff finish and ramped up enough throughout summer to compete with the league’s best for a spot at the 2020 World Championship. For the first time since 2017, huhi was on a roster that fans could get behind, and his efforts to reinvent himself as a player – through all of the negativity – were paying off. He was focused on the path ahead, but for Angela, it was bittersweet.
“The day I knew something was really wrong was when they won the first series vs. TSM very decisively,” she said. “Instead of feeling happy, I burst into tears immediately.”
It’s a tired cliché, all things happen for a reason. But following that fourth-place finish with Golden Guardians in the first summer – highlighted by huhi and FBI’s standout performance as a duo – the support re-signed with 100 Thieves for the 2021 season alongside teammates FBI, Tanner “Damonte” Damonte and Can “Closer” Çelik.
“My first time with 100 Thieves wasn’t pretty for either side,” huhi said. “When I got the offer on 100 Thieves as support, I was scared that that would happen again.”
100 Thieves start their Worlds 2021 journey against Edward Gaming in Group B on Oct. 11. | Provided by Riot Games.
Not far into the 2021 spring split, Damonte was replaced by mid laner Tommy “ry0ma” Le, who, in turn was replaced by Felix “Abbedagge” Braun heading into summer. The newly completed roster would not only maintain a top-three spot in the league standings for the entire split, but would also go on to bring home 100 Thieves’ first LCS title. This made them the fifth organization to ever win a North American championship.
“It feels really good that the relationship got better and now I’m giving them their first trophy,” huhi said. “It means a lot.”
Two titles, two roles, two dreams
With a vocal portion of the community against him, huhi went from kicked off the 10th place team in the LCS, to role-swapping and playing for an Academy team at the bottom of standings, to climbing his way up to the main team and almost denying the eventual summer champions a trip to Worlds. Now, in a little over two years, he’s a two-time champion – the first to do it in two different roles – and considered a top support in the LCS.
With only his own sense of self-motivation and the support of his loved ones pushing him on his climb, the young rookie who awkwardly slid into Angela’s DMs back in 2016 defied his critics and became a champion once again. To his girlfriend, huhi’s work ethic and determination have always shined through in-game, but his greatest strength comes from the things we aren’t able to quantify by looking at a screen.
Despite the weight of competition, and the internal struggles that came with it, he remained intentional in his care and dedication toward the person he loves.
“He’s just grown so much as a person in terms of doing life stuff,” Angela said. “He’s learning how to drive, he takes care of so much stuff around the house; he’s such a dependable life partner. He’s a person who wants to better himself all the time so that he can do those things. I feel like that’s the difference between him and most people.”
“Everyone can do those things. It’s just whether or not you’re a person who wants to do those actions.”
At a press conference preceding the LCS 2021 Championship weekend, 100 Thieves General Manager Chris “PapaSmithy” Smith shared the story of huhi’s “team mom” nickname. Huhi’s the guy inviting his international teammates, unable to see their own families, over for holiday dinner, or inviting the team over for board games or food after LCS weekends, win or lose.
“When it comes to players in esports, at least in League of Legends, high emotional intelligence is not necessarily an expected trait of a competitor,” PapaSmithy said. “I think huhi is super smart about reading a room and supporting his teammates, whether it’s bringing them up when they’re down or reining them in when they’re a little bit too over the top.”
In the 2017 CLG | ROADS episode titled “Two Dreams,” huhi and Angela both relived the events of that fateful night in San Francisco at the 2016 world championship. He shared his two dreams for himself, the goals he shares with the people closest to him, one seemingly small and one much bigger.
“I want to go see pretty stars with my girlfriend,” he said. “And I want to win Worlds for my girlfriend and Haru.”
Now, having overcome a mountain of obstacles along the way, huhi’s forged himself a clean slate at the top of the summit. Through years of adversity and false hope, he kept climbing. Next comes a shot at that larger dream, the 2021 World Championship, with all the stars aligned for further redemption.
Pop culture consumer and League of Legends thought-haver. Working on becoming a weirder person.