Heo "Huni" Seung-hoon knew where he was going: the European League Championship studio.
"Does he know why he's here?" A makeup artist asked as she finished up the powdering process of his stage makeup.
There was no response from the top laner or the cameraman who was filming him.
Led to a table in front of an EU LCS backdrop with a laptop to his left and an orange box to his right, Huni bounced in his chair, tilting his head from side to side. Giving a soft smile to someone off-camera, Huni lifted up the lid of the box slowly, revealing an engraved trophy.
"League of Legends Champions Series," he read aloud. "Outstanding rookie. 2015. Spring split."
Huni's voice was confident and cheery. His English proficiency had improved exponentially that split over a short time frame of three months. This was primarily attributed to Huni's teammate, fellow South Korean import on Fnatic and fluent English speaker Kim "Reignover" Yeu-jin, yet Huni attacked the English language with the same voracity that he used to decimate his top lane opponents that spring, making significant progress through sheer determination.
He looked up at the camera and then down again at the glass award nestled in the open box, "I don't know. What is this?"
"This is an award," someone said. "From Riot to you."
"This is the MVP," another person chimed in. "The rookie MVP award."
Huni nodded and placed the box back onto the table while the few people gathered to film him burst into scattered applause. It wasn't until a few seconds later, when they began congratulating him, that he realized he had won.
"For me?! Oh my god. Ohhhhh my god!"
He leapt up from his chair. It took a moment to settle him down in front of the laptop, set up with a camera and microphone so he could accept his award on a live-stream. When asked to speak, Huni was still beside himself.
"I didn't expect anything but...oh, it's so good!"
He laughed, holding up the trophy for the camera.
Nearly three years later, Huni was seated in the chair closest to the audience at Riot Games' LCS Arena in Los Angeles. He chatted loudly, focused on not falling too far behind to Team SoloMid top laner Kevin "Hauntzer" Yarnell's Vladimir.
For the first time in what seemed like years, the audience was not on TSM's side. Instead, Echo Fox fan chants filled the arena. Huni had an entire cheering section with small, matching banners. Thanks to choice Zac initiations from Huni's Echo Fox teammate, Joshua "Dardoch" Hartnett, Huni and company came away with the victory after 56 minutes.
The audience erupted into cheers. Fans mobbed the stage alongside vocal Echo Fox owner, Rick Fox.
"We knew we would outscale our enemy with our champs," Huni said. "That's why we just kept saying positive things. We knew what we could give up and stall the game to six items. We're just trying not to say a lot of negative things."
A half hour after the win, Huni looked across the audience through the large glass window of the press box. He was calm, sitting back on a faux-leather couch, hands folded on his lap. In his debut season, a GIF of Huni wiggling excitedly in his seat on the EU LCS stage went viral on social media. In 2018, Huni was relaxed, visibly matured from years of competitive experience -- and his recent time in South Korea on SK Telecom T1.
After a frustrating 2016 on Immortals where the team razed through two splits only to falter in playoffs, Huni was the player that IMT intended to build its team around for the upcoming season.
Then SKT came calling.
And when the most decorated League of Legends organization calls, you answer. Huni returned to his home country to be a part of the team that he had successfully tried out for prior to joining Fnatic in 2015.
At first, it was a perfect fit. To the shock of his western fans, Huni played tanks like Maokai and won the 2016 Mid-Season Invitational with the team. Yet, come 2017 summer, Huni was swapped out for Park "Untara" Ui-jin, who was a safer, steadier laner.
Cracks began to show in SKT. When Untara couldn't hold his own against Longzhu Gaming's Kim "Khan" Dong-ha in the 2017 LCK Finals, Huni was brought in. Two games later, when the LED stage changed from "Bedrock of Legends" to "Champion" under Longzhu Gaming's feet, the members of SKT shuffled out of their booth defeated.
The expression on Huni's face wasn't sadness or even anger -- it was shock.
Two months later, the cameras focused on SKT's Lee "Faker" Sang-hyeok, despondent after an 0-3 loss to Samsung Galaxy. Two chairs down from him, Huni was the first to wipe the tears from his eyes and greet the new world champions.
When Echo Fox's roster was formed in the 2017-18 offseason with Huni, Dardoch, mid laner Kim "Fenix" Jae-hun, AD carry Johnny "Altec" Ru and support Adrian "Adrian" Ma, skeptics wondered how a team with such storied and vocal personalities would perform as a unit.
Before Echo Fox played a single match, fans penciled in the team's mid-season demise. As soon as Echo Fox fall behind, they said, the team will crumble under pressure.
Huni was included in these predictions. His passion for the game and rambunctious personality was seen as a double-edge sword: impossibly strong when his team was winning, but palpable dejection when his team was losing. Currently, the team sits atop the NA LCS standings, undefeated.
Huni laughed off these predictions with a more measured chuckle than his boisterous giggling of seasons past.
"It was just easy," he said of communication on his new team. "We're working on it, we're not perfect yet. Most teams are having problems with communication. It's a new season and the meta always changes so we're just working on it."
In his first game back on North American soil, Huni locked in Lucian, a legitimate counter to FlyQuest's Lee "Flame" Ho-jong's Gangplank, but also an infamous pick for Huni. A year and a half ago, this would have been a sore spot for the then-Immortals top laner, who picked it against TSM in an ill-fated 2015 spring playoffs loss. Now it was just a lane counter to the high-damage scaling pirate -- and if it seemed a bit cheeky, it was still the perfect return to NA.
"My Lucian is always best in the top," Huni joked.
He quickly became more serious. "My teammates trust in me and we practiced the pick. If my teammates didn't trust in me, I wouldn't play it. I don't want to play something where my teammates or coaching staff don't trust me."
Huni has seemingly already won the trust of his new teammates, and has brought a newfound maturity with him from his time on SKT. He wants to use what he learned on SKT to become a leader on Echo Fox.
"I learned a lot about how to think more about League of Legends," Huni said. "On SKT I was a new player and I was getting help from other players. Now I can help other players too.
"When I was a rookie, I had 99 percent passion just to win and I was not professional enough," he said. "I just feel that I should think that this is work. There's a lot of fans that want to see me doing well, that's why I felt I should try to be better and better."
His voice took on a harder edge when he said these words.
Huni's commitment to his fans and his own personal development will never be joking matters for him, and weren't even in his awe of the 2015 EU LCS Rookie of the Split award. Where there was raw passion, there is now a stable drive, no less ambitious but, like his top lane performances on the Rift, more mature and controlled.