It was 5:45 PM on Monday. 15 minutes until the Shanghai 16 School Tournament started. The players were getting ready for their games, the organizers were taking care of the last-minute tasks, and the fans were getting more and more hyped as they packed into the Mall. Chu Fang had arranged for 500 seats, but there was still more space. Most of the seats were occupied, while there were more people walking by and stopping to look at what was going on. Among the crowd were two familiar faces.
“Come on! Come on!” Su Xue shouted, dragging Zuo You along with her. She searched around the arena for a place to sit. “There! There’s empty seats over there! Come!”
“Hey! Su Xue! Stop! You’re going too fast! What are we rushing for? Don’t we have another 15 minutes? I’m on high heels here! Lemme walk!” Zuo You shouted after her friend, who was already pushing through another group of people. She shook her head and grumbled, loud enough that only she could hear herself, “Why in the world did I let her drag me all the way out here for some stupid high school tournament? What’s so fun about this? Stupid high schoolers.”
Su Xue walked by some people, their gazes catching her attention. She looked away, but trailed a finger through her hair. Zuo You followed a step behind, fire just about blazing from her eyes. Fire as hot as her hair was red. Her eyebrows were permanently arched down to the center. But that didn’t stop the gazes. She saw them everywhere. They were everywhere. She tried shooing them away, cursing them, but the hint was not received. One guy she passed even left his arm hanging behind him, just a little out of place. She slapped it away and shouted, “Hey! Get off of me!” Then grumbled, “Fucking perverts.”
The seats Su Xue had her eyes on were almost on the other side of the hall. The two girls pushed through the crowd to get to them. A sea mostly made up of guys. There were more than a few guys in the hall who purposely slowed down or sped up, just to be within an uncomfortable proximity of the two women. They leered and sniffed, hoping to catch a whiff of the fading notes of perfume. They were creepy. They were disgusting. More than anything, they were disturbing and made the girls feel uncomfortable. All Su Xue and Zuo You wanted to do was go to a tournament and cheer for their friend. They didn’t come here to get harassed by strangers. By these creeps. But that was exactly what was happening. Hands touched constantly brushed across areas that shouldn’t be touched. No one seemed to take the hints Zuo You almost screamed through the hall.
“Hey, fuck off! What are you squeezing in for?”
“You want me to break your hand and nose?
“You take one step closer, and I’m reporting you to the police!”
“I’m not afraid to use these 7 inch stilettos. Come, try me. Let me stamp a hole in your foot!”
“Zuo You, Zuo You!” Su Xue stopped and looked at her friend, whose face was as red as her hair. “Is this really necessary? Let’s not make a scene. People are already staring at us. I just want to watch the games.”
“Hmpf! Why do you think they’re staring at us? These creeps need to stop it. This is sexual harassment! You should stand up for yourself a little more, Su Xue! You can’t let these guys just take advantage of you. If they try to touch you, you kick them in the balls! If they try anything funny, you hit them in the face and scream for the police!”
Su Xue shook her head and smiled. “Ah, come on. It’s not that bad! And you do look really good today! Your makeup compliments your outfit perfectly! And your hair, damn! And I love your heels! You have to tell me where you bought them!”
Zuo You curled her lips and said, “Oh shut it! I know you’re just trying to distract me! Any other time and I would’ve been happy. But right now? Absolutely not! I dress the way I dress because it makes me feel good. Because I want to be fashionable and pretty! For me! Not for the fantasies of these lonely fuckers! Besides… You know most of them aren’t even looking at me, right? They’re all looking at you. I’m the reason why they haven’t jumped on you yet…”
“What? No way! Look at me! I put on a big sweater and–”
“Quit playing stupid. You want a compliment?” Zuo You looked at her friend and waited for a brief moment before continuing, “Fine! You look good no matter what you wear, ok? A stupid sweater isn’t going to hide how beautiful you are. There, happy? Or do you want more? I can go on if you want…”
“Aww, that’s so nice of you!” Su Xue grinned and winked towards her friend. “Anyways, I’m here for Lin Feng. He and I are practically family, you know! If I look like a slob, what are his friends supposed to think of him? So I had to put a little extra effort in today!”
“Talking about that kid,” Zuo You said. Then she paused as she took a moment to look around the mall. “Where is he? We came all the way here for him and he doesn’t even have the common courtesy to come and say hi? Such an ungrateful little bastard!”
“Oh! I don’t think he’s here yet!” Su Xue said, still pushing her way towards the empty seats. “He’s coming by train together with his classmates. But they’re playing in the second round, so I think he’ll get here in a bit.”
“Second round?” Zuo You muttered. She squinted her eyes and asked, “So we’re going to watch random high schoolers in the first round?” The dots connected. She wasn’t happy. Profanities flowed from her lips, sounding frighteningly familiar to her. But they were already here. Might as well try and enjoy it. Stupid brat… They got to their chairs and sat down. She leaned back and clicked her tongue. “Who’d thought some high school League tourney would be this big? League is getting really popular lately.”
Su Xue nodded. “Why do you think I started streaming? It’s getting bigger everywhere! And these high school competitions are getting bigger every year. They’re even nearing the university level competitions! You know, I was reading an article the other day online. Apparently, the average rank of all semifinalists of this event last year was Diamond 1!”
“What? Are you serious?” Zuo You asked, stunned. Then she shook her head and said, “Damn. These zoomers… They’re really leaving us millennials behind. It’s all just because they started at an earlier age! How can we compete with that? Go back in time? Haha. Ha… Oh. Hey. If the average rank last year was Diamond 1, then what about this year? Will Lin Feng be ok, you think?”
“He sounded pretty confident. Told there was nothing for me to worry about,” Su Xue replied. Then she smiled and did the Lin Feng special. She clenched her fist and threw it in the air. “I believe in him!”
Zuo You shook her head, hopelessly. “You two have been hanging out together far too much. He’s starting to rub off on you…”
Su Xue grabbed her hand and put it back to her side, then asked, “Uh, really? You think so?”
It was 5:50 PM. There were 10 more minutes until the start of the Shanghai 16 School Tournament. In the backstage area, a member of staff ran up on Chu Fang and said, “Boss, we’re pretty much all set.”
Chu Fang nodded. “Thanks for the hard work. Can you tell me how many teams have checked in?”
“Nine. The two teams playing in the first round have checked in. They’re just waiting and are ready to go up on stage at any time. You just say the word,” the staff member reported. He then handed over a clipboard to Chu Fang. It was the bracket. Who would play who at what point in the tournament.
Chu Fang looked over the clipboard. There were three teams this year, just like last year, who looked clearly stronger than the rest. Tonji Affiliated High, Shanghai International, and Shanghai High School. They were placed in different sides of the bracket, so that they wouldn’t meet before the semifinals, or even finals. This was a little trick they had planned to make sure the most exciting matches were played in the semi finals and finals. There was nothing worse for a tournament organizer than seeing a title favourite go out in the Round of 16. The title contenders generally had a lot of fans and were much more likely to make the impressive plays. These were the teams they wanted to see it make all the way.
The staff member interrupted as Chu Fang was still looking through the brackets, “As you can see, we’re set for the same semis as last year.”
Chu Fang breathed in through his mouth and then let it all out. He was less than happy about this development. The top teams from last year were still mostly intact. This year they were expected to do the same, fight for the trophy. They were by far the strongest teams. And in that lay the problem. It wasn’t that they were strong that was the problem, Chu Fang was happy about that. The thing that worried him was that there were no new contenders. There was no other team who seemed ready for the challenge. It was just going to be another win for one of these big three teams, and he wouldn’t get his hands on any real talent. This tournament was to scout talent and it didn’t look like he’d find any this year. None that he hadn’t found last year already, at least.
Take Zeng Rui. The Support for Shanghai High School was a real talent. Someone who could make it to the top of the professional scene and fight on the world stage. That was the kind of talent he wanted to find! They were people the Shanghai Esports Association wanted to invest in. But why can’t there be more? He sighed. Finding one was great and all. But it was hardly enough to pump flesh blood into the LPL. It was far from enough to create some real competition at the top. Why are we even going through all the effort for the 16 School Tournament and the Varsity Tournament if we’re not finding any talents? It feels like a waste of time.
Chu Fang shook his head empty. These thoughts were useless. I have to focus on what I do have power over. He looked over at the staff member, who still stood there waiting, and asked, “Any dark horses? Any team that looked a little better? Anything that might suggest some level of talent?”
“Hmm…” The staff member took the clipboard back from Chu Fang and scanned through the list of names. Then he read one of them. High School 13! “Oh! There actually is! I almost forgot. There was this team that got knocked out in the first preliminaries round last year, but they qualified for the main tournament this year. Even beat Tonji along the way. They could be interesting.”