Throughout the last decade, Chris “HuK” Loranger has become one of the staple names of the esports. During the years, like many others in esports, he’s taken on a variety of jobs and roles within the industry, starting as one of the top US SC2 players, going through a variety on and off-stage positions, until landing in Kraft Group as the company’s President of Gaming. Last week, we had the opportunity to ask him a number of questions about his job, assembling Boston Uprising, and other Overwatch-related matters.
We know that you had a significant role in putting the Boston Uprising roster together, but can you explain for me and the readers what other duties do you have as Kraft Group's “President of Gaming”?
“I am a combination of sorts. I am a general manager, head coach, a manager of the players and staff and I'm a ‘bridger of gaps’ – I don't know if you want to define that as a role or not. Basically the Kraft Group has a lot of great people working for them but not a lot of esports people and I've had quite a few experiences working in a lot of different roles from the talent side, business side, project management, consulting and advising. So I kind of help here and there no matter what the field or department would be – so whether it's contracts and legal or it's working with HR and letting them know what the precedent is in esports or it's the sponsorship group or letting them know who would be good sponsors or who would fit well into the dynamic of the Kraft Group plus our new business venture. The amount of work I have done with a lot of bigger corporations looking to get into esports equipped me well for my role now. It's kind of a little bit of everything.”
You've mentioned on multiple occasions how much emphasis you put in coachability when selecting the players, but I couldn't find information on how you picked the coaches for Boston Uprising. What qualities were you looking for, considering Overwatch is still a fairly new esport and what are the main strength of each of the coaches?
“I used a process where I trialed and selected coaches at the same time as we were in phase one trials with players. My decisions were made based on the coaches’ insight and feedback of the trial process, players and how they evaluated, among other things. Saying who is a good player is nice, but explaining why they are is more impressive. Before players were recruited we had our coaching staff selected and signed up. I think at a base level I looked for coaches that had a high [level of] understanding of the game, complimented each other and myself well and of course are hard-working.
“Crusty’s main strength would be working with our Korean players and having a great understanding of the game.
“Shake is a former pro who honestly could be playing in OWL. He has a strong understanding of the game. I think Shake is the most professional staffer that we hired."
“Mini is detail-oriented and not afraid to challenge ideas and concepts. He’s able to pick up on trends and tendencies as well. Mini has the unique ability to be my ‘no’ guy. I think it’s important to have that to keep perspective sometimes.”
A lot of fans have noted that Boston Uprising's approach, focused on staff and coaching, is similar to what the “New England Patriots” are doing in the NFL. To what degree is this something you wanted to do and how much is it the ownership's vision of how teams should be ran?
“It was my decision. With that being said, whenever I updated Jonathan [Kraft] or Robert [Kraft] and gave them my vision and what I saw as valuable for our team both in the short and long term, they were very receptive of it as well. I think it was a happy coincidence. As someone that is a football fan, but not necessarily someone who keeps up with the NFL, it was really cool to see that comparison. Then to hear about it and actually start reading more and learning more about Bill Belichick and the Kraft Group in general and how they view things and to learn that we're on the same wavelength even if it wasn't intended.”
As most fans know, you have the experience of playing games at a high level, Overwatch included. Do you plan on utilizing it to get involved, or at least assist, in the coaching once OWL starts?
“Yes, for sure. Even now going into the preseason and when we selected the roster, for every part of it I have been part of the coaching process. We have a lot of talented staff. We have one of the best North American flex supports that have played the game to date. We have one of the most notorious and infamous and excellent Korean head coaches who has done great things for up-and-coming teams in Korea. Then we have an analyst and an assistant coach that also have a lot of experience. So we're very well-rounded but I am and plan to be as needed to step in as a leader and a coach for the team, both for staff and players.”
In the last few years we've seen more and more traditional sports owners and organizations enter the esports space. One of the major upsides of that is more money entering the scene, but what are some other things endemics can learn from them or benefits?
“I'd say [the environment] is more professional in general. From my standpoint working with the Kraft Group there has definitely been a leveling up of sorts between myself personally, then also between our staff. Between setting up processes and formats just to better condition players, better condition the coaching staff and getting everybody to work under a premise instead of just, as an example, having one coach basically just talking to the players and that's all there is. It's generally just bringing the level of professionalism up across the board for players, staff, business practices and other things as well.”
Going back to the league, is there a specific team you're particularly excited to face in the upcoming pre-season? Obviously, with this being the league's inaugural season, there hasn't been time to develop rivalries, but surely there must be a team you or the guys feel that much extra motivated to beat.
“For us we're always aiming for number one, but I think the regional rivalry between Philadelphia and New York are the ones I'm most looking forward to. I would say especially New York. They took a very, very different approach to what we did in the sense that they just bought a whole Korean roster, which in my opinion is the easy way out of doing things and it doesn't really make sense from a business standpoint. So I would say as of right now they probably have a little bit of a leg up on us but we'll see by the end of the season where things are.”
A significant portion of fans from the competitive community as well as the media have been critical of the roster and skeptical of its chances to do well in OWL, but you've expressed your confidence. What do you think is it that we, as outsiders, are missing about the team?
“I think a lot of the community, including pro players, ex-pro players and community insiders are basing a lot of their presumptions on how big certain names were, not necessarily their skill as competitors. I think measuring how good a player is and can be is always going to be a soft science and something that other teams and other GMs didn't necessarily do as good of a job as we did. With all that being said, the number one thing that we were looking for, and I think I've emphasized this a lot, is having players that are coachable.”
What advice would you give any young and highly ranked solo-queue player that might be reading this, who has an interest in becoming a pro in Overwatch? Is there something in particular, other than showcasing their skills in Contenders, such a player can do to get your attention?
“I think being a good person and making sure that you have the right characteristics, not only in game but out of game as well. Obviously something that I keep emphasizing is having players that not only are good now before they hit the OWL ultimate tier one pro scene, but also have the ability for growth. A lot of that growth is coming from the ability to listen, receive criticism and feedback and then implement it and improve. I think we're building a very strong program here in Boston and I think other organizations will also have other strong programs so it's always about being humble and being hard-working and willing to take the next steps to continue to improve.”
Throughout the last year, with Winston's Lab getting more and more popular, one of the big discussions in the community has been about the role of stats in evaluating individual players. How much value do you put in the stats have in Overwatch right now, compared to the eye test, and did they play any part in your decisions when building the Boston Uprising roster?
“Stats definitely played a role. We used a five-check system and I would say one and a half of those checks were stats. So if we looked at a player and they met five out of five of those check marks and we were very happy with them and that included stats and that showed in their play and the other checks that we used, then generally speaking we were very hot and heavy about signing them. Then that obviously goes down to maybe four checks or three and a half checks or maybe they only met one or two. Stats are important for us, but I wouldn't say that we weigh on them too heavily right now. What Winston's Lab has done up to this point though has been great for the community and for the pro teams and has helped a lot of people weigh in on what teams are good and bad. With that being said, I think they ranked us from a player stats standpoint on their own website as twelfth out of twelve teams as well. So it obviously doesn't mean everything.”
Do you have any message for the fans or any last words to end on?
"To the fans: I think it's rare to see a team so heavily criticized in esports and for everybody to be pegging them dead last. Everybody loves a good underdog story. I believe we are going to be that underdog story and I believe we'll show that in time. If you like the David versus Goliath story or Remember the Titans, whatever it might be, cheer for us. I think you'll have fun doing it. Also I'd like to express a personal thank you to the Kraft Group and Robert [Kraft] and Jonathan [Kraft].
If you wish to keep up with Chris and Boston uprising, you can do so on Chris’ personal twitter, as well as the team’s twitter and facebook pages.
(Photo credits: Kraft Group)
About the author:
Hello readers, I go by the ID RadoN! I’ve been following different games within the esports industry ever since finding out about it in 2009. The titles that I follow closely for the time being are Overwatch, CS:GO and Quake, while occasionally dabbling in some other games as well. If you wish to reach out, follow future content, or simply know more about my thoughts on esports and gaming, you can find me on Twitter at @RadoNonfire.