The headquarters of the Shanghai Esportions Association was located in a high-rise in downtown Shanghai. On the top floor, looking out over the city, was the president’s office. Fang Hao sat behind his desk, leaning back in his chair. He held his mobile phone beside his mouth, Chu Fang’s voice coming from the little speaker. It wasn’t a serious call. Chu Fang was the perfect protege. He worked himself to the bone, searching for the next big star to be born. Fang Hao walked over to the window and looked down at the streets below. A sea of car lights, barely visible below the lights coming from the office buildings around.
Fang Hao stared at the nightscape of the city, Chu Fang’s voice still coming from his phone. He took a deep breath, air filling his lungs as he raised his shoulders. Then he let it all out. The air, the memories from four years ago and everything since then. It’d been an uphill battle, and it still was. He was the man who helped China step to fame in the esports world through DotA. China became the dominant region. They were the best. And even after their first generation of talents decided to retire, a new one, the next one was ready to take over the scepter. His work in all of this was exemplary. So much so that he was appointed the position to oversee Chinese interests in the new massive online battle arena game League of Legends. He was asked to work his magic again, but this time without direct supervision.
There were doubters who thought League of Legends would never become anything big, but he ignored them and pushed through. He pushed and he pushed to prove everyone that he was suited for the job. Sponsors, manpower, and equipment were just some of the obstacles. From nothing, absolutely nothing, he built up the Chinese League of Legends scene to what it was today. From working for weeks to land a small time sponsor, to now where the biggest sponsors in the world came to him for a deal. From barely being able to organize a small LAN-event, to holding multiple events on several different levels throughout the year. All of that was his hard work.
It wasn’t just him. Fang Hao was blessed with employees who believed in his vision and players that were just as passionate about building up the scene as he was. Through their love of the game, they infected the Chinese people with the League of Legends bug. Most memorable of these players were the five who made it all the way to Worlds in Season 1. The true heroes of the scene. Their result saw a direct and sharp rise in the game’s popularity. The five who flew to London to represent the LPL. The team that made it all the way to the Finals.
Chu Fang sighed and shook his head, smiling. “That day when I heard we qualified for Worlds. I still think back to it so often. That was the happiest day in my life. They were something special.”
Fang Hao chuckled and said, “Mhm. We worked so hard and then those kids thanked us by actually making it to Worlds. It was all going great until those guys from the Global Esports Association came knocking…”
Maple the wonderkid. One of, if not the best player in the world at that point. He was only 15 years old, a year too young to compete. An exception was made for him to play in the LPL. This was then communicated with the Global Esports Association, who had no qualms with it. Maple was allowed to play in the LPL. But when it came time for the kid to play at Worlds, suddenly the Global Esports Association had something to say about it. Fang Hao still remembered how angry he got. He never really got mad. But that day, in the office of people who could have his job, he lost himself and raised his voice high enough that people in the office building across the street could hear him.
“I’m the Vice President of the Chinese Esports Association! We’ve had this conversation before when we wanted Maple to play in the LPL. Back then you had no issues? But now? Now it’s an issue? Your stupid organization suddenly feels threatened? Are you afraid our wonderkid will knock out whatever team you’re cheering for?
“I DEMAND AN EXPLANATION! I DEMAND THAT YOU LET HIM PLAY!”
“We’re not going anywhere until you say he can play. WE’RE STAYING RIGHT HERE!”
Fang Hao grinned as he thought back to those days. His yelling hadn’t done them any good, but in the end, the wonderkid was allowed to play. Their team made it all the way to the Finals. They did absolutely fantastic. He was so proud of them and had been eager to see where they would end up. It was unfortunate that the future he hoped to see them have didn’t play out like that. The lost Finals were a harder blow to the team than he or anyone could’ve expected. The wonderkid quit, and the rest of the team split up after. Of the five, only two still played the game, and only one was still on an LPL team. God Roundy was the only one of that team full of talent who was still on the top of his game.
God Roundy was a top talent. He was a beast in top lane back then and still to this day. No one could deny that, and Fang Hao wouldn’t either. But despite that, Tian Tian was nowhere near the best player on the team. There were at least two players better than him. One of them was the ad-carry, the clear number two on the team. As for the best player on the team. That was Maple, the wonderkid, the best player in the world. The 15 years old kid was so ridiculously good at the game that every time Fang Hao watched him play, he had to take a step back and make sure his eyes weren’t playing tricks on him. And ever since, he compared every talented new Chinese star to Maple, only to find himself somewhat disappointed.
Chu Fang broke the silence, breaking the memories, and said, “If those guys were still playing, we’d have won Worlds at least twice by now. They were good.”
“We wouldn’t just have won Worlds. We’d have two Emperors,” Fang Hao laughed. Then he went quiet as those final scenes played through his mind again. He recalled how Maple walked away. The kid was gone before he’d even noticed it. Maple was the best player to have ever come out of China. He was an Emperor. There was no one who could deny that. But he’d quit the game. He was gone, and so he wasn’t an Emperor. He was an almost forgotten name…
Fang Hao shook his head clear of those memories. They were tales of four years ago. Today, there was another story building up. KG could write history by defeating SSK! That deserved his attention. He slapped himself across the cheeks, just to wake himself out of his thoughts, and asked, “Is that final game almost done? Everyone at the venue is probably itching to go home and watch KG versus SSK. We should finish well before then, right?”
Chu Fang quickly replied, “Yeah. First series is done. High School 13 made it to the semis. Shanghai International is now playing, but that shouldn’t take too long. They’re clearly the better team.”
“Oh? Shanghai International? They were the runner-up last year, right? They were pretty alright from what I remember. Uhm. What was the second team? High School 13 you said? Are they a new team? I don’t remember hearing about them before.”
Game 1 was a stomp. Shanghai International waltzed all over their opponents and finished the game in a short 25 minutes. They’d picked strong early game champions and brute forced their way into the opponent’s base. The second game didn’t seem like it’d be any different. In the first 10 minutes of the game, Shanghai International built up an advantage that was difficult to come back from. Too difficult by all standards.
Below the stage, the players from High School 13 were watching the games. Tense. Nervous. Sweat dripping down their faces and their hands clam. Last year, Shanghai International looked strong. But because they weren’t good enough of a team yet, they had no idea just how good Shanghai International was. Now, however, they did have a clue. They spotted the big and small techniques and tactics Shanghai International forced to push for the advantage. This Shanghai International was far better than they expected.
“C-can we really win?” Liu Yue muttered, dazed.
His question was met with silence. Chen Ze and Wei Dong stared at the screen, terrified. Yang Fan kept adjusting his glasses, looking, searching, but not finding anything. And then there was Ouyang. The man with quick wit. The myth who always knew what to say. The legend who brought up morale just by being in the room! He sat there, silent.
Lin Feng was laser focused on the games. He heard the question, but didn’t turn to look at his teammates. The game was more important. He had to spot the small things, the errors that Shanghai International made that he could take advantage of. “They’re strong, but…” he said, half to himself and half to his teammates. His eyes were on the large screen, never shifting away. Every small play, he wanted to see it. Then he smiled. He’d seen what he needed to see. His hand almost automatically clenched into a fist and was flying up in the air. He jumped from his chair and shouted, “We’re still going to win!”
Chu Fang put his phone away and was about to find his seat to watch the last few minutes of the Shanghai International game, when a staff member walked up to him. They handed him a document and said, “Here’s the information on all the teams in the quarterfinals. It also has something on High School 13.”
Chu Fang accepted the documents and nodded. “Thanks for the trouble.” Then he started flipping through the pages until he found the information they had on High School 13. He skimmed what was written down. School information, club president, team membe— His eyes went wide as the document slipped through his fingers and fell on the floor. He trembled on his knees, his hands shaking violently. “T-this… T-this…” He stared at the document on the ground, then dropped to his knees and grabbed it up. His finger traced over the information from High School 13 again, directly towards the names of the players on the team. Towards that one particular name. His mouth fell open. He closed it, only for it to fall open again. “H-how?”