It was 5:53 PM. Seven more minutes until the start of the Quarterfinals for the Shanghai 16 School Tournament! High School 13 versus West High. Two strong teams clashing in a series that could go either way! The long hand of time marched closer and closer to 6:00 PM. 10 players had gathered below the stage, five on either side. On the far left, there was High School 13. On the far right was West High. Staring at each other, tension palpable between them. All around them were tournament staff, giving them last minute instructions and waiting to give them the official go-head to get up on stage. Waiting. Staring. Coiled. Then one opened his hand and waved it towards the stage. The ‘go’ sign, the green light.
Lin Feng was about to step forward, when someone pulled on his arm. He turned around to find Su Xue. She smiled at him and said, “Make me proud! If you do, I’ll cook anything you want tonight!”
There were a few ways to light a fire in Lin Feng’s heart. But all of them paled before the inferno that could be lit in his stomach. Through food. His eyes beamed at the thought of food and he replied, “Awesome! You can make me stir-fried eggplants, squash so—”
“Shut it! Win this matchup first. Then you can come and claim your prize,” Su Xue said, interrupting his food fantasy. Then she gave him a quick hug and ruffled his hair. “Go, kid. You can do it.”
Lin Feng let the hug overwhelm him, the familiar scent of Su Xue bringing peace. He broke free from the hug and laughed. “Don’t worry. I’ll win this game. It’s no biggie.” Then he turned back to the stage, his friends already walking up the steps, and walked up. His confidence was as big as ever. There was not a single worry on his face, a stark difference from the other nine players competing. They couldn’t smile, or look at the crowd, sweat dripping down their faces. They stared at their computer screens, barely breathing, as they waited for the competition to kick off.
Below the stage there was a special seating arrangement for the other six teams still in the competition. They were all present, including the players from Tonji Affiliated High. They were one of the teams who’d played against High School 13. They knew like no one else how strong this team was. But at the same time, that was weeks ago by now. Perhaps they’d just had an offday that day. Their Midlaner thought so, at least. He turned to his teammates and said, “West High was pretty decent last year from what I remember. What do you guys think? A win for them?”
The Toplaner stared at his teammate, eyes wide open. “Wait. You’re serious?” he asked after a moment of silence. He shook his head and mumbled, “Do you not remember that game? I don’t care how good West High is, they don’t have that Lin Feng guy. Holy shit was that dude good. I’ve never played against anyone better…”
The other three teammates nodded. They remembered. They wouldn’t ever forget that Riven. That wasn’t just a good game. That wasn’t luck. That was pure skill. More skill than their entire team combined. It didn’t matter how terrible that Lin Feng’s teammates were. When you were that good, solo carrying a game at this level was an easy thing to do. Besides, they’d played against West High before. Just last year, they were the ones who’d eliminated West High in the quarterfinals. West High was a good team, they had to admit that. But West High was just that. Good. Not great. Not perfect. Not Legendary like Lin Feng.
Tonji Affiliated wasn’t the only team talking about the match. Shanghai High School, the reigning champions, were also in discussion about this series. It was another round, and still the same and confident Lin Feng. They’d seen this before. It felt somewhat like deja vu. And if it was, then High School 13 would tear West High a new one and move on to the semis. From out in the first round of the qualifiers to the semifinals, though between then and now they’d almost completely revamped their team. A superb move.
“What do you guys think? I think this’ll be an easy win for High School 13. Right?”
“Yeah, probably. Did you see him hug that girl and talk about food? It’s just like last time. He doesn’t seem worried at all. And why would he be? We all saw him play. He’s fucking fantastic! Then they still have that ad-carry. She’s pretty decent too. Together they can easily carry any deadweight to the semis.”
“Who would’ve thought that fielding an almost completely new team can have such big results! Remember their team from last year? It was hot dogshit! And now they’re on their way to the semifinals. It’s unreal.”
Zeng Rui sat calmly, aloof. He heard his teammates talk but didn’t engage in conversation with them. Their logic was flawed. Who cares if High School 13 wins? He looked at the players from High School 13. Some of them look nervous. Good. Except for him. The thundering dumbass. Enjoy your five minutes in the spotlight while it lasts. Idiot.
The organizers of the Shanghai 16 School Tournament had revealed the brackets to the eight teams in the quarterfinals. Everyone knew who they had to play in this round, as well as their potential opponents in the next round. For High School 13, that potential opponent in the next round was Shanghai International. Zeng Rui smiled, an almost palpable coldness spreading from him. He knew how strong Shanghai International was. His team was the only team who’d beaten them! In the Finals! It was a hard fought victory for his team. Even he felt a cold shiver run up and down his body when he thought of them. We almost lost. They were good.
They’ll never bridge the gap. It’s the core that’s flawed… Zeng Rui glanced over towards the players from Shanghai International. They were different from High School 13. Shanghai International’s entire team was phenomenal compared to High School 13, which only had a good Toplaner and a decent ad-carry. Good players all around who’d played so much together that their synergy was on a whole ‘nother level. And to top that all off, beyond their good players and great synergy, they had a Midlaner and ad-carry who were more than good. They were GRRREEEAAAT! Genuinely top tier among all high school players!
It wasn’t just Zeng Rui who saw it like this. The players from Shanghai International felt the same. It was first voiced by their Jungler, who mumbled, “High School 13… They sound… Those idiots from last year? Didn’t we stomp all over them? They were terrible… How did they make it this far?”
The Support laughed, loud and freely, grabbing his stomach and arching his back just to give it a bit more power. Then he said, “I know, right? I couldn’t believe it either when I saw it. Maybe they cheated? Or did they just get the luckiest draw ever? It’s a disgrace for this tournament that a team like them got this far already.”
Yan Liang, Master Midlaner and team captain of Shanghai International, waved his hand, cutting off the conversation. “Enough of that, guys. Who cares about last year? Fact is, they’re still in it this year. We might meet them in the semis. Who knows, maybe they’ve actually become a strong team.” He paused, ever so briefly, then broke out laughing. “Oof, I could barely keep a straight face through that. Hahahah! Can you imagine? Those losers actually becoming good? Hahaha! What a joke!” He wiped the tears of joy from his eyes and tried to take a deep breath, only to burst out laughing again.
The Support patted Yan Liang on the shoulder, still laughing. He said, his short breaths keeping him out of breath, “Haha! You almost had me! Haha! Remember? Remember how they went after Liu Zhengjie’s Trist? Haha! My god, they were so pathetic!” He was out of breath, completely. He fought hard to get some more oxygen in his lungs before he continued, “That last fight where they ran out of their founts and gave a triple kill away. Oh boy. It’s all coming back to me now! Haha! Shit shit! And right before the end. Liu Zhengjie here was dancing and taunting them! Hahaha!”
Liu Zhengjie, Master ad-carry, reclined back, balancing his chair on the two hind legs. He shook his head and smiled, “Not my fault. They were asking for it. All I did was give it to them. But man. They were garbo. Like. Really garbo. Shame we didn’t let that game dragon a little longer. I would’ve gotten a penta. Would’ve been the easiest penta of my life.”
The Toplaner looked over at Liu Zhengjie and teased, “Hey, don’t go jinxing yourself now. Find some wood and knock it off! You see that pretty girl up there?” He pointed at Tang Bingyao who sat up on stage behind her computer. “She’s their new ad-carry. Smokin’ hot and crazy good. Who knows, maybe she’ll slap your ass if you don’t watch out. Unless that’s what you’re into, hehe.”
Liu Zhengjie shrugged his shoulders and said, “Eh, if it’s a girl, I’ll have to go easy on her. Gotta act like the gentleman I am, y’know?” He then turned his attention away from High School 13. He just didn’t care about them. A weak team last year, a weak team this year. They could replace all the players they wanted. That wasn’t going to change the simple fact that a bad team was a bad team. And he was good. Very, very good. So good that a coach from an LSPL team had approached him and asked if he was interested in playing for them. That was how good he was. In the entire Shanghai high school League of Legends scene there was only him and Zeng Rui who’d been offered a spot in an LSPL team.
Zeng Rui! Liu Zhengjie turned to look over at his rival in a different role. They played different roles, but also in the same lane. And that lane, in last year’s finals, had gone to Zeng Rui. Zeng Rui had won that lane and he had lost. His parents, his friends, that coach from the LSPL team, all of them had seen him lose to another high schooler. This was a disgrace! Just thinking about it made him angry. How he couldn’t pressure like he usually did. I hate him. Hate him. Hate! But this year. When we meet in the Finals. Watch me. I’ll make you feel what I felt. And worse. You’re going to get your ass kicked so hard… That. That… He’d completely forgotten about High School 13. He didn’t care about the semifinals. His team was too strong. The Finals were just about guaranteed to feature Shanghai International.
High School 13 took another step forward on their historic run in the Shanghai 16 School Tournament! The games ended without much fanfare. Lin Feng played. It was too easy. There was never the question if High School 13 would win, only when. Was it going to be sub 20 minutes, or were they forced to fight for their wins. Spoiler. They weren’t. It was easy and fast and only an hour later, the series came to an end. High School 13 went 2-0 and took the series. They moved on to the semifinals!
The players from High School 13 walked down the stage, smiling, cheering, laughing. Below the stage a large gathering of esports club members were waiting for them. Their friends and fellow League enthusiasts. They cheered and laughed and lifted Ouyang up on their shoulders. Ouyang who hadn’t played a game but was shouting like he’d carried the whole team. “WE DID IT! SEMIFINALS, HERE WE COME! HIDE YO KIDS, HIDE YO WIVES! WE WRECKIN EVERYBODY OUT HERE!”
Lin Feng laughed with his teammates and accepted the hugs and bro-fists from his fellow club members, until he noticed Su Xue standing just a bit behind the esports club members. He walked up to her and showed her his bright, goofy grin.
“Good job, kid!” Su Xue laughed, ruffling his hair. “You did great. I’m proud of you!”
“Of course I didn’t let you down! I told you. I’m really good at the game!” Lin Feng said.
“You little fool. Is it so hard just to say thanks? Why do you always have to be so full of yourself?” Su Xue teased, laughing. Then she looked at him and asked, “I guess you’re done for the day? Or are you planning to watch the other game?”
Lin Feng scratched the back of his head. “Oh, yeah, I was planning to watch the second match. We’ll be facing the winner from that match in the next round.”
While the Shanghai 16 School Tournament was moving on to the second quarter-finals series, Chu Fang was backstage, taking a phone call. The person who’d called him was his direct superior, Fang Hao, the President of the Shanghai Esports Association. He was informing Fang Hao on the going-ons at the tournament. Between all the buzz and people pulling him to every which direction, he took the time to inform Fang Hao. Not because Fang Hao was his boss, but because Fang Hao was also his mentor. Someone he deeply respected.
“Everything is running smoothly. The first match was won by High School 13. It’s all looking good. I think that’s about it,” Chu Fang reported.
Fang Hao said, “No need to be so stiff, son. I believe in you. That’s why I left you in charge. You don’t have to double check everything with me. You can do this. You really can.”
Chu Fang smiled and replied, “You’re too nice to me. Honestly, I’m not good at taking charge. It’s just, difficult. I much preferred it back in the day when I followed you around and helped you.”
It was silent on the line for a minute, before Fang Hao sighed. “You’re talking about the Season 1 Worlds? Time flies by. You’d almost forget it. But that was already four years ago.”