Before Week 4 of the 2022 League Championship Series summer split, TSM announced that veteran top laner Heo “Huni” Seung-hoon would be stepping down from the starting roster due to wrist issues. The roster move marked the first time Huni had been unable to play due to injury in a competitive career that began with Fnatic in the 2015 EU LCS spring split.
Huni’s current position within the TSM coaching staff marks yet another change for the revolving door starting roster of the organization, but more significantly, it brings Huni’s League of Legends esports career to a crossroads, and with it, many questions about his future.
A legend is mortal
Photo credit: Riot Games
A wrist issue sidelining a pro player is not a particularly unusual occurrence in esports. This wasn’t Huni’s first time dealing with this type of issue, either. His first bout with wrist problems was in 2016 on Immortals during the postseason.
“It wasn’t a major issue. It was really minor,” Huni recalled. “It felt really bad, but that was it. It never hurt the rest of the year.”
In 2017, Huni played for SK Telecom T1 in his home country of South Korea, and just like on IMT, he could recall only a single day throughout the entire season when he had wrist pain. However, upon returning to North America for the 2018 season, he began to incrementally have to take more measures to deal with gradually increasing wrist pain.
“Sometimes, it would just be hurting all day,” Huni said. “But then I would just take a rest, and the next day, it was better. But these days, there are more days where I’m actually hurting. I take a rest, and the next day, it’s still hurting. I wasn’t fully recovering.”
On TSM in 2022, Huni began to reduce the amount of time he would play League of Legends, but issues persisted despite his best efforts to mitigate the issue.
“I was trying to force myself like play more, but like … it's just not possible,” Huni said. “And I decided not to do it because I think it's going to be hurting for the rest of my life.”
To say Huni has accomplished a lot in his career is a massive understatement. Huni is part of an exclusive club of players who have competed in the premiere circuits of South Korea, Europe and North America. He won two European domestic titles with Fnatic in his rookie season, and added another to the mantle with SKT T1 in the 2017 LCK spring playoffs. He has qualified for the League of Legends World Championship three times, highlighted by a finals appearance with SKT at Worlds 2017.
Photo credit: Riot Games
After stepping down from the position of starting top laner, Huni moved into a coaching role for TSM. The decision was mutual because while Huni was not being forced into any new position after stepping down, he felt remorseful about leaving his team in the lurch.
Huni had thought about a distant future in coaching, albeit under different circumstances.
“In the past I had thought about coaching stuff because I feel like there aren’t very many good coaching staffs,” Huni said bluntly. “I thought I could be better … A head coach doesn’t necessarily just need game knowledge. A head coach also needs socializing skills. The human relationship in teamwork is way more important than game knowledge. You need to find some balance.”
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Huni was planning a coaching career once his playing days were behind him. He felt his combination of game knowledge, a wealth of competitive experience, and a keen understanding of the professional player experience due to his own career would make him a strong candidate for any coaching position once he was ready to put away his own mouse and keyboard. However, with injuries sidelining him for, at the very least, the foreseeable future, he’s jumped into the role in full force.
“Even though I’m not playing, I really want to work in esports,” Huni said. “I felt that I’d be really grateful to teach and coach players. If those players then do really well, I thought that’d make me feel really good and appreciated.”
Hanging it up … unless?
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Huni is unsure whether his playing days are behind him. He’s unsure of whether a rest of any length can return him to his previous vitality, but that doesn’t mean he is ruling out.
“It’s going to be tough. It’s not going to be easy,” said the top laner before pondering a hypothetical return to competitive play. “For the first year, I’d be really rusty because I will have not been playing.
“We’ll see. I’d say there’s more chance of not coming back, basically, but if there’s a chance … I’m going to try again.”
Considering that his career as a competitive player could be over, Huni has looked upon the past fondly despite the unfortunate circumstances keeping him on the sidelines of Summoner’s Rift, at least for the foreseeable future.
“I’m trying to think of it in a more positive way … I did a lot -- I have had a really good career,” Huni said. “I’ve accomplished a lot and I’m just telling myself that I’m OK with either retiring right here or just taking a rest and seeing how it goes.”
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Huni is already missing playing, but the overwhelming amount of support he’s received in his recent experience coaching, as well as being part of the LCS broadcast as a guest analyst and caster, has made it clear to him that he wants to be a part of esports, regardless of whether his time as a player could be over.
“It sucks that it might be farewell as a player, but I always appreciate it,” Huni said when asked about the support he’s received in recent weeks. “Even though I’m casting, they’re chanting my name. Even when I’m coaching, they’re chanting.
“I will definitely miss the stage. For sure. I will miss the gameplay, but I just want to say that I appreciate all the support and I hope I’ll still be around.”
Lead photo credit: Tina Jo / Riot Games via ESPAT