The lights dimmed and a horde of sign-wielding fans erupted in cheers as Chris “HuK” Loranger made his way down the red carpet at Mississauga’s International Centre last Saturday. Draped in a Canadian flag, the 23-year-old from Cambridge, introduced as “the hero of Canada,” drew the loudest cheers of the weekend at the country’s first-ever eSports videogaming competition.
The game was StarCraft 2, a futuristic strategy game in which players attempt to build an economy and control an army powerful enough to wipe out their opponent. Other players travelled from South Korea, France, Sweden, and the United States to take part in the weekend-long tournament, but Loranger was the lone Canadian. The bar couldn’t have been higher—fans didn’t just hope he’d advance to the final round, they expected it. And if his swaggering, Muhammad Ali-like entrance was any indication, he did as well. As the competitors played in opposing soundproof booths atop a multi-level stage that featured strobe lights and a DJ, their games were streamed on two oversized screens. A team of broadcasters provided the 2,500 fans in attendance and nearly 50,000 internet viewers with live commentary, akin to a professional sports broadcast.
But when Loranger was swept out of the opening round by Korea’s Yang “Alicia” Joon Sik, the boisterous crowd fell silent. “It was heart-wrenching,” said broadcaster Ben Nichol.
The mood was less celebratory, but fans continued to cheer as France’s Ilyes “Stephano” Satouri trumped Joon Sik in the best-of-seven-finals and walked away with the $30,000 grand prize.
Loranger, however, was scarcely seen for the remainder of the weekend.