Day 3 of the Worlds quarterfinals! It was the day of Hand of God versus SSK! It would start at 7 PM on the dot. But that didn’t stop people from talking about the game before. The online forums lit up in the early hours of Saturday with discussions about the best of five series that would be played that night. It was a battle of regions. The strongest team from the LPL versus the strongest team from the LCK. Though, it was also a World level team versus the World Champions. There was a distinct difference between both teams, one most fans, even the Chinese ones, didn’t see Hand of God overcoming. However, that didn’t stop HoG’s fans from plastering the online space with supportive messages for their team! It didn’t matter what they believed would happen. For the only thing they could do to influence the games was to show their trust and confidence in the team and hope it would carry through into the game.
The incident with KG was a turning point for many Chinese fans. Their faces were pushed against the facts. KG never wanted to lose. But they struggled just like any other normal person would do. The thing that could help them over that point, to get them in a place where they could perform, that thing was encouragement. Confidence of their fans that showed through in their own gameplay. It was how fans could influence the game! Whether this was in a small tournament with almost no stakes or at Worlds where the stakes couldn’t be any higher, this rule didn’t change. If they showed their confidence and trust in the team. If they encouraged them to do better than they normally could. If they cheered in support even when things weren’t going great. Then, and only then, could their team perform at the best of their ability!
There was something else many Chinese fans had come to realize. The teams that qualified for Worlds, they didn’t participate for a participation trophy. They participated to win. Every waking hour they practiced, they prepared themselves both physically and mentally, to be in that optimal state where they could perform at the highest level. It wasn’t any different for Hand of God. They didn’t give up just because their opponent was SSK. They were working together, planning their game tactics. Finding that perfect plan that could get them the advantage and do the impossible! They would fight to the end and never give up!
Hand of God’s fans wouldn’t give up either. They would support their team through thick and thin! So they did the only thing they knew, and that was to plaster the online space with their support for the team. There were hundreds, thousands, and by the late afternoon tens of thousands of posts, all of them full with ongoing discussion. All of them overflowing with a singular wish. For Hand of God to play their hearts out tonight!
It was late in the morning and the sun was shining in Paris, France. League of Legends fans were streaming into the Zenith Paris, finding their way to one of the 9,000 seats. They were the lucky few who’d got their hands on a ticket before it was completely sold out. Their clothing was in the colours of their favourite teams and they’d brought with them signboards and glowsticks, with some especially fanatic fans trying to sneak in megaphones and fireworks. Inside the arena, Chatter rang out to the backdrop of epic battle music from the oversized speakers.
The time drew closer to noon and there were only 20 more minutes before the first game of Hand of God versus SSK would start. Backstage, the players could hear the vibing sounds inside the arena becoming louder as the announcer started hyping up both teams. All the way to one of the bathrooms. The bathrooms where Nightsong and Daybreak Hermes were hyping themselves up before they’d go on stage and play the best team in the world. Maybe even beat them.
Nightsong leaned over one of the sinks and looked at himself in the mirror. He was about to play one of the most important games in his life. The nerves that came with that even affected him. He took a deep breath and then splashed his face with some cold water.
Hermes came out from one of the stalls and walked up to the sink next to Nightsong. He opened the faucet and let the water splash on his hands while looking at his friend. He chuckled, short and rushed, and asked, “How’re you feeling?”
Nightsong breathed in, deeply, and then blew it all out through his nose. He forced a smile to his lips and looked up at his friend. “Excited! Of course! What else? I’m very excited! No one can beat me!”
This was Nightsong. Hermes knew his friend like no other. He asked, “Feeling the pressure?”
“Ha! Pressure? What pressure! Look at me! Do I ever feel pressure?” Nightsong laughed, his hands shaking. He quickly grabbed one hand with the other, then forced them both under the faucet. Anything to stop Hermes from noticing how they were shaking. He was nervous and he was feeling the pressure. This wasn’t just some random game. They were up against SSK in the World Championships! This could turn out to become the biggest game in his entire career! It’d be crazier if he wasn’t feeling the pressure. But that didn’t mean he’d admit to that.
Hermes rubbed his nose and smiled. “It is SSK we’re playing against. Look at my hand, it’s shaking so badly! I can’t get it to stop.” He imitated Nightsong, grabbing one hand with the other and putting them under the faucet. “But that’s normal. We’re playing against SSK. I have to face Rake in lane. Holy shit, dude. I have to face Rake. Rake! Fuck. I don’t know. This is going to be so difficult.”
Daybreak Hermes was China’s number one Midlaner. He was also a King. Fans had chosen him as one of the best players in the world! Some had even given him the nickname Star Emperor. There were very few players who were better than him, and those who were were only slightly so. Except for one. Against Phoenix and Moon, two Emperors, he would still have some confidence. They were the better players, but he wasn’t completely lost. However, that confidence was thrown out of the window when it came to Rake. Even Moon and Phoenix were terrified of the God Emperor. The best player in the world. It was only to be expected that he was fighting hard not to shit his pants.
Nightsong looked in the mirror, at himself. Then he smiled and turned to Hermes. “So he’s a little good. So what? That doesn’t change anything! You’re going up and you’re going to give it your absolute all! That’s what we do! Don’t look up to him. Look down on him! Piss on him and claim your territory!”
“That is what we do.” Hermes nodded and grinned. He looked up at the mirror straight into his own eyes. That’s right. I’m not giving up. I’m going to fight! I’m going to beat him! He turned to Nightsong and said, “You’re right. I can’t let him look down on me. We’re pros. It doesn’t matter what the odds are. We fight and give it our all. Who knows, maybe that’s enough today.”
Nightsong looked at his friend. The serious look in his eyes. The words that were meant to hype them up but that sounded completely ridiculous. His own nerves raging within him. It suddenly seemed all too comical. He started laughing and said, “Look at us! We’re acting like we’re supposed to be scared of them! Haha! They should be scared of us! We’re HoG! It’s just SSK! How bad can it really be? I’ll stomp all over them with my flashy plays and show the world who the best ad-carry is! And you do the same in mid lane! We’re going to kick some asses!”
Hermes smiled. “Hehe. I guess we did do pretty ok at the Mid-Season Invitationals. Maybe we can carry that through here. Only one way to find out. Let’s do this.’
Su Xue and Lin Feng were sitting in Su Xue’s bedroom behind her computer. The stream was on. There were 2,000 people watching, all of them here for Lin Feng’s insights. Their excited messages flooded the chat, slowly turning more nervous as 7 PM approached. They kept asking for reassurances from Lin Feng, something he wouldn’t give. He kept reiterating his view on the matchup. It’d be hard for HoG to win, but not impossible. Still, that little was enough for a lot of viewers. They felt a little more confident in HoG’s chances, until a few minutes later when this process would start all over again.
Su Xue was very much in on it with her chat. She tugged at Lin Feng’s arm as both teams went into Champion Select and asked, “Hey! What do you think HoG’s chances are? Like 40% Maybe 50? Do you think they have a better chance!”
Lin Feng scratched the back of his head. “Eh, I’ve said it to the stream already, HoG’s chances are pretty slim. If they play at their best and SSK screws up a little, then they might have a 30% chance of winning, I guess?”
Su Xue’s mouth fell open. She knew the answer. She tried to prepare herself for it. But it still hit like a truck. “Really? That low? Don’t you think their chances might be a little better? You know, just a bit?”
Lin Feng shook his head, resolute. “I’m being optimistic here. Realistically? It’s probably lower. SSK is really good. They’re the favourites for a reason.”
There were several conditions that had to be met if Hand of God wanted to win this series against SSK. First, they had to play a perfect Champion Select. That meant banning the Champions they wanted out of the game, including having SSK ban Champions for them, and also picking the Champions that were perfect for their composition. Of course, it’d help if SSK went with a composition that just happened to be weaker against theirs.
A second hard condition was Hermes. He was up against Rake. An impossible lane to win. But he didn’t have to win, not necessarily. As long as he could somewhat keep up, or even go even, then there was still a chance. He had to scale up and get out from under Rake’s pressure, so that SSK had to focus on mid lane as well as the other lanes. This condition applied for the most part to the early game. In the late game, where one teamfight could decide victory and defeat, anything was possible.
Hand of God’s Jungler was another important condition. Just like Lin Feng kept hammering on with Liu Yue, jungle pressure was everything. HoG’s Jungler couldn’t fall behind. He couldn’t react to SSK’s ganks. He had to be the one ganking. He had to be the one making plays. Or at least, he had to put enough pressure on the game that SSK’s Jungler couldn’t move around freely and dictate the pace of the game.
There were two more conditions. Top lane couldn’t fall. Going even was fine and even a slight loss was fine. But they absolutely couldn’t afford losing it. And then there was bot lane. Bot lane was where an opportunity lay for Hand of God. Nightsong was a strong ad-carry. If he could get a slight advantage in the early game and carry his team through the mid game and into the late game, then all bets were off.
If Hand of God wanted any hope of winning this series, they had to meet all five of these conditions. Not three, not four, all five. An impossible task. On a good day, Lin Feng saw them meeting maybe two or three of them. But that wouldn’t be enough. Hand of God would lose. Lin Feng lowered his head. The situation was clear. Hand of God needed a literal Hand of God to win this series. They needed divine intervention. A true miracle.
When Lin Feng raised his head again, the stream switched to the cameras aimed at the players. They first showed the five from Hand of God. From the Toplaner all the way to the Support. Their expressions were tense. Lip biting. Fidgeting. Shifting around in their chairs. It was clear how they felt. Then the players from SSK came into view. They looked completely different. Relaxed. Confident. Excited even.
The camera stopped on Rake. The 20 years old Korean and best player in the world. He sat behind his monitor, waiting for the game to start. His breathing was even and his expression was calm. There was no concern. There was no conceit. There was nothing that betrayed his feelings other than that calmness that felt so natural. When looking at him, there was no doubt in the minds of the viewers. SSK was going to win. This was going to be a quick and easy series. These were the words Rake spoke to them without even opening his mouth.