Shackled Minds, Heavy Hearts, Transient Euphoria

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There was a belief, a bit of conventional wisdom, a line of thought among long-time fans of the competitive scene for League of Legends. It was simple. Europe beats Korea! North America beats Europe! Korea beats North America! Exactly like Rock-Paper-Scissors. This was the ‘rule’ created by truly small brain analysis that occasionally held true but also had a million and one exceptions. The idiot logic was built up after watching what seemed like a recurring pattern over the years. The European teams managed to do well against the Korean teams, most of the time. Then the North American teams managed to do well against the European teams, most of the time. Finally, the Korean teams dominated the North American teams, most of the time.   

Why this pattern sprang into existence and managed to hold true most of the time, no one could really say. The best theory was that it was from the difference in regional playerbases. The European teams played against each other, and played in a way that tripped up the Koreans. Same thing for the North American teams against the European teams. But at the very end, the Koreans always managed to dominate. But again, there were a million and one exceptions to this sort of thing. Not that most of the fans watching competitive LoL cared about that nuance. For them, the 80 IQ EU > KR; NA > EU; KR > NA equation was enough. Truthfully, the mental gymnastics required for that algorithm might’ve taxed the mental acuity of 40% of the fanbase. 

For the upcoming semi-finals matchup between Legend and Season in the World Championships, this small brain analysis was enough for most fans to confidently and assuredly state that Season held the upper hand. Because LoL Rock-Paper-Scissors-ROFL-LMAO-LOL logic was irrefutable. Of course, there were also those who took simplicity to another level. An almost -200 IQ level. Including a certain dude-bro in Senior Class 7 whose blood and mouth ran far faster than his brain.

“ListenListenListen! Forget about League Rock-Paper-Scissors! All you need to know, my brother, is that Autumn is the second ranked Emperor. Phoenix is the third ranked Emperor! Do I need to make this any clearer? Number 2 is better than Number 3! You smelling the smarts here? Autumn is one rank higher, so Season is going to win this semi-finals matchup! It’s going to be as smooth as I am with the ladies,” Ouyang declared. 

Yang Fang turned around in his seat and stared at Ouyang over his horn-rimmed spectacles. Then he shook his head. “Ouyang. There are several things wrong with everything you just said. Let’s start with the first one. I’m not an expert on the subject per se, but based on observations you are not smooth with women. Now that we’re done with that, let’s talk about the rest of this. Do you really think the analysis and predictions for a game between two of the top teams in the world with some of the best players is as simple as that? Do you really think it’s as simple as some arbitrary ranking that states that the second best player in the world has an edge over the third best player in the world, so Season is going to win? If it were that simple, there would be no esports, no World Championships, none of this. The only logical conclusion here is that you’re just as bad with predictions as you are with women.”

Ouyang progressively frowned and grimaced as Yang Fang talked. Then he glared at Yang Fang for a long minute. “Oh? Oh! Well, ya know what? How about you spin up that egghead and try? Come on, fog up those glasses. Have a brain blast! Riddle me what you got. Show me how streets ahead you are! I’d like to see you try. Even the professional analysts and strategists at Worlds can’t predict who’ll win! Everyone gets it, Yang Fan.  Legend and Season are among the foremost teams in the world. There’s a lot of things to think about. But getting bogged down in the deets, what’s the point? Think about it! There’s always a trap, and worrying about the trap is pointless. You say trap and I say no, you say tomato and I’ll say potato. We’ll never get an answer until someone checks under the hood. Ain’t no point in thinking. Or overthinking. Might as well go full small brain genius. Because when everyone else thinks smart, you might as well think dumb! Ain’t nothing wrong with being 40 IQ when everyone else is just guessing anyway. I got just as much a chance of being right as anyone else.” 

“This… what? Traps? Hood? Potat…” Yang Fan wanted to say something, wanted to argue back. But the words died in his mind before they got to his tongue. He was speechless. Ouyang had become… Nicholas Cage! So random and pointless that he transcended conventional standards and thought to create a new point that no one ever really thought of. The biggest shock of all was that Ouyang’s words made complete sense. Did Ouyang independently arrive at Occam’s Razor… in reference to League of Legends?!

Lin Feng had been watching the exchange quietly from his seat the whole time. But Ouyang’s moment of insane clarity and Yang Fang’s reaction to it was too much for him to handle. He broke down laughing and gave Ouyang a thumbs up. “Ouyang’s right. Nothing wrong with keeping things simple. I don’t blame him. Both teams are really strong, so it’s hard to predict who’ll come out at top. There really is no point in overcomplicating things!”

Ouyang jumped out of his chair and fell to his knees, arms raised to the sky in supplication, once he heard Lin Feng say he was right. Then he cried out, “YES! PRAISE THE TRUE SAVIOR VAN WILDER! In! Yo! Face! Yang Fan! I thought your faith was strong but you needed proof. Well here it is! Even Bro Feng over there agrees with me! Only the truest of bros can see the genius in other bros!” Then he sat back down with a smug smile on his face, basking in the moment where he’d one-upped Yang Fan. 

“Fine, fine, stop making so much noise. Your analysis was fantastic, you truly are the more intelligent one. Far smarter than I. Real-real big brain,” Yang Fan said as he motioned to Ouyang to calm down. Then he looked over to Lin Feng and curiously asked, “What are your thoughts on this? Who do you think is mostly likely to win this one, Season or Legend?”

“Hmm… Me?” Lin Feng thoughtfully rubbed his chin. He had an answer in his mind. Or he thought he had one anyway. He mulled it over again and then scratched his head. His analysis wasn’t as simple as Ouyang’s, but he didn’t know if he could explain it right. And it would take too long anyway. “Oh, I guess Season probably has the higher chance of winning.”

Legend and Season. Two of the best teams in the entire world. Both teams also had an Emperor as one of their players. Two players who stood at the top of the world, facing off against each other. They were the strongest representatives from their respective regions. This semi-final matchup, everything was about nuance. One misclick, one minor incorrect decision, one champion stepping just a hair too close or being a smidge too far away. That was the difference between victory and defeat here. Lin Feng just didn’t feel comfortable making a clear judgement about who would win this game after being away from the competitive scene for so long. This game was at an entirely different level of play. Even the players on both of the teams playing couldn’t confidently state they had a 100% chance of making it through the semifinals. The only person qualified to make a statement with such certainty was someone who stood above them. Perhaps.

The city of Brussels in Belgium. The Sun rose on the day of the semi-finals. Thousands of fans, spectators, enthusiasts, literally anyone who was even remotely interested in League of Legends and nearby had all gathered together to watch this epic semi-finals match between Legend and Season. The arena was completely packed! There was not a single empty seat in the whole place. Stage lights flashed around wildly and Silver Scrapes boomed out from the speakers, hyping an already hyped crowd up to the level beyond that of a Super Saiyajin! 

In the VIP viewing area above the ground level with the crowd, the members of Team SSK calmly looked down at the stage below. They were breezy, not a line of tension visible on their faces. Maybe it was magic, or maybe it was Maybelline. But they were aloof, untouched and unblemished by the hype and excitement and tension in the air. Pure indifference to the competitive semi-finals matchup that was about to take place, unconcerned about who would win. It simple did not matter to them.

One of the coaches for Team SSK turned to the unassuming 22-year-old Korean lad sitting next to him. He smiled and asked, “Hey Se-Ho. Who do you think will win?”

Se-Ho. Han Se-Ho, that was his full name. But this Midlaner was far better known by another name. His summoner tag. The handle of the world’s best Midlaner and the God Emperor among the Four Emperors. Rake. 

Rake turned to his coach and said, “Season will win. It’ll be 3-1. Or 3-2.” His reply was calm, collected, and precise. It had an eerie mechanical quality to it, the absolute confidence of a machine that had calculated everything and come to the only possible conclusion. There was no hedging. No explanation. No justification. His analysis and judgement were absolute. Then he looked back down at the stage. The first semi-final game between Legend and Season was starting.

The first game of the series went on for 45 minutes. Legend managed to drag it out to the late game phase. This was where they were the strongest and the most comfortable. Then when the stage was set, they went in for one last crucial teamfight. Phoenix started the engage with his Orianna and his ad-carry Tristana followed up and took out the rest of Team Season’s Champions. Then they pushed down mid lane together and took out Season’s Nexus. Legend grasped the first victory of the semi-finals matchup and an early lead.

The second game, Season came out the gate swinging hard with a new team composition that was strong in the early game. They dominated during the first 15 minutes. Then they pushed that advantage out further, continuing to snowball hard and keeping Legend on the defensive. Season trampled over Legend’s Nexus and ended things at the 30 minute mark. With this game, Season had evened things up and tied the matchup score at 1-to-1. 

The third game was a truly unfortunate one for Legend. They lost the game during Champion Select, where they had allowed Autumn from Team Season to pick one of his main Support Champions. Tahm Kench. Autumn showcased why he was an Emperor in that game, chaining godlike plays together into unholy combos, saving his teammates at the very last second with Devour, and manipulating the flow of the game. Team Legend was off-kilter the whole time, and Autumn’s Tahm Kench was always there to catch them off-guard when they were most unbalanced to engage with his ultimate. The game was over before Champions had set foot on the rift. Team Season pulled ahead with this win, making the score 2-to-1. They were now a single game away from taking the whole series.

An incalculable number of European fans watched the matchup at the edge of their seats. Nails were chewed off, breaths were held. The earth of the continent was bathed in the flop sweat of nervous gamers and fans. They couldn’t couldn’t help it. The combination of excitement and energy drinks had revved their hearts. They prayed to Gods Ancient and new alike. Some even lit incense offerings to PewDiePie. They wanted to do whatever they could to help Legend endure the pressure and mount a comeback. But their prayers went unanswered. Even PewDiePie could not change the outcome of the fourth game in the series. Legend had lost. Team Season destroyed their Nexus.

The LCD screens in the arena all showed ‘VICTORY!’ over the ruined chunks and dying embers of Team Legend’s Nexus. A hush fell over the entire stadium, almost as if everyone in the crowd had simultaneously decided to let the moment sink in. Then the quiet and stillness was broken by applause. Quiet at first, slow. Then it gained strength, rolling through the crowd, growing in volume, before finally erupting into deafening cheers. Even the European fans cheered and clapped through their disappointment. Legend had lost, but they’d also played an amazing series! Team Season had also played brilliantly. And they were there to witness it all live!

The North American fans in the crowd were especially excited. They were waving their batons and cheering their hearts out. Season had won. They had defeated Legend 3-1! Their region was advancing to the finals!

Up on the stage, over on Team Season’s side, Autumn remained seated in front of his deck. He leaned back in his chair and shut his eyes, taking a moment to rest. A moment to reset mental after focusing hard in four straight games. But his face was calm. No trace of excitement, no joy, nothing. It didn’t look like this win meant anything to him at all, like he’d been expecting to win the whole time.

Over on Legend’s side, the mood was somber and heavy. Phoenix balled his fists and let his chin fall to his chest. Then it snapped up suddenly. His eyes narrowed as he considered something that he’d only just thought of at that moment. Concentration and focus back in full force. Then he sighed and shook his head.

“THAT WAS INTENSE! We haven’t seen a series this tense and exciting in a while. It was a toss up to say who would make it through, both teams were fantastic. But it’s Team Season at the end of it all who’ll be going onto the Finals!” Stone announced on the official Chinese commentator desk for Worlds.

Beside Stone, Qinghe nodded.  “Indeed. Season played extremely well in these past three games. Legend also played well, especially Phoenix in the midlane. But in the end, in terms of tactics and game plan, he wasn’t a match for Autumn.”

Stone chuckled. “That’s very true! Well, this calls for a celebration! We have to congratulate Team Season for advancing to the Finals!”

Qinghe also beamed a smile before riffing back, “Right! Reaching the Finals of the World Championships is THE DREAM of every professional team. Team Season climbed all the way to the top and is now only a single step away from the Summoner’s Cup!”

Stone nodded. “The only thing left to do is wait for tomorrow, when we’ll find out who Team Season will be up against in the Finals for the League of Legends World Championships! I don’t know about you Qinghe, but I’m more than a little nervous about tomorrow. We’ll be here the whole time, letting you know what’s happening when it happens!”

The two commentators paused right after this, letting the hype dwindle. The millions of Chinese fans watching the live broadcast of Worlds also settled down. The excitement from the matchup between Season and Legend completely washed away and replaced by apprehension. Because they were reminded that tomorrow was coming. The games today were fun. Satisfying to watch. But now the games were over and the anxiety that had hidden in the dark corners of their minds had come roaring out. Tomorrow. When their very own Team KG would play against Team SSK in the last matchup of the Semi-finals. 

Reader Engagement Matters Guys!!

Dev Thought: So today was supposed to a double chapter day. Like all Fridays are. But it’s not going to be.

So we had a whole giant Ted Talk thing where I told you guys that there are practical and sentimental reasons to comment and engage with us. That even when something is free, there is a price to it. Because that’s the reality of the world we live in. There is no such thing as free. Even when you don’t pay anything, someone else has to pay for things so you enjoy the thing that you like for free. In the case of the Rise Team? We pay with our labor for you guys. We work on the chapters, the thoughts, the fun community stuff, all of it. When it comes to WuxiaWorld? They pay actual money for the servers, the bandwidth, support, and also to the tech team who maintain and upgrade the site and app. So you don’t have to. And we’ve told you guys over and over that serialized daily web novels are meant to be read daily. We’re not the only team that’s said that to some of you. Sure, its nice for you when you get to have 30 chapters saved up to read. We’re all happy that you’re happy about that. But someone’s still got to pay the price of making those chapters and putting them up for you now, since you don’t by refusing to read the novel in daily installments. That’s all of us, collectively, who produce the content behind the scenes.

The same thing goes for comments. So you have an understanding of how utterly shit ad-revenue rates are, let me draw you a parallel. On Twitch, where they know for sure you’re paying attention and watching, a 30-second ad roll in the middle of a Twitch stream pays $0.02/viewer. So the actual calculation of it is $0.02/viewer/30 seconds of ads. If we calculate that out on scale, a Twitch Stream that has 2000 people watching it and plays a 30 second ad-roll makes a grand total of $40. You guys know why ad revenue rates are that shit? Because no one believes that content consumers are engaged with the content they’re consuming, and they also don’t believe that people who aren’t engaged with the content they actually want to see will be engaged with any advertising that supports the content. And they’re right. Now all three of us have heard a lot of different reasons for why commenting is so difficult for you lot. And we’ve tried to help make it easier as much as we can. But at the end of the day, there’s only so much that we can do if you can’t muster the energy to type out a sentence or two that shows some engagement with the chapter that we spend hours crafting. But there is a price to it.

In this universe, actions have consequences. There is no such thing as free, and someone has to pay the price for your choices. So we’re turning it around on you a little bit today, equalizing the scales. You haven’t commented, you haven’t reviewed, you haven’t demonstrated any significant engagement in our content which allows us to be paid for the work we do. So today, you get one chapter instead of two. That’s the price.

And for the 20-ish% of you that are going to get all enraged that a bunch of people who translate and publish a web novel have the gall to ask you to do something in return for freely consuming content, I say this. None of this is a threat. This is a statement of fact. You make it financially unviable and emotionally unrewarding for content creators to create content, we’ll just go back to doing things that bring us joy and pay the bills better. Then no content for you.


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