It was 20 minutes into the second game of the Quarterfinals for the Shanghai 16 School Tournament. Though it was never really a game to begin with. Shanghai International was playing with such ferocity, with such complete domination, that no one even knew who their opponents were. This was Shanghai International’s party, and only they mattered here today. The main event of this party, the headliners, were the Midlaner and ad-carry. Yan Liang played on his Fisherman Fizz and fished up kills across the map. The unidentified opponents were helplessly speared by his magnificent harpoon, while he only found his own fishy self on the sushi mat one time, bringing his score to 6/1/3. The other life of the party was Liu Zhengjie. He had his Striker Lucian dribble his ball through the lane and nutmeg his no name opponents, killing them after the fact with his two big guns. His score was a perfect 5/0/5.
The players from Tonji Affiliated High watched the game breathlessly. Shanghai International was steamrolling over their opponents! The first game was an easy win, and now in the second they were 5,000 gold in the lead, not far from closing the series out. To those watching who also happened to read the Xianxia webnovels, they knew what was happening. Shanghai International had become the favored disciple in the best sect in a tournament for cultivation resources! They were tyrants on the rift! Everyone who appeared before them had to bow down! Their opponents had to kowtow and kiss the floor, begging to be spared from too humiliating of a defeat!
“Damn. They stronk. Like… Damn.”
“But it’s still the same playstyle. They always push and force openings out of nothing.”
“Yeah, it might be the same playstyle, but it’s also completely different. Are you watching the game? Do you see how good they are? It looks almost perfect. I haven’t seen a slip up yet…”
It wasn’t just Tonji Affiliated High who were worried. Shanghai High School, the strongest team from last year and favourites to take the trophy home again this year, was also paying careful attention to this game. Most of their players were a little worried. Shanghai International looked strong, much stronger than last year. And last year it was already a very close game. They all turned to Zeng Rui to see how their team captain was holding up. He was their pillar and their leader. His calm rubbed off on them whenever they started to worry, and it did now too. His expression was empty and his breathing was even. There wasn’t anything that betrayed his true feelings, except for his lack of blinking. He wasn’t going to miss even a millisecond of this game!
A short trip around the crowd was long enough for Shanghai International to end the game and win the series. They destroyed the Nexus and secured their spot in the Semifinals! They were only a single step away from the Finals, where they could finally fight for redemption after last year’s humiliating defeat! But though their minds were already drifting to the Finals, to scenes of defeating Shanghai High School and claiming the trophy, they’d first have to beat the dark horse. The team that was a misbegotten clusterfuck of both phenomenal and downright terrible players. High School 13.
As for the players from High School 13, the usual seven were sweating profusely and shifting around in their chairs, while one was leaning back, chilling. Su Xue sat behind this anomaly and tugged at his elbow. “Hey, Lin Feng? You have to play against those guys next, right? They look really strong…”
“Mhm, yeah. They’re strong. They played really good!” Lin Feng agreed, smiling. He enjoyed a real challenge, and beating Shanghai International looked like it might actually be a challenge. They were a strong team, though individually nowhere near his level. He was a lot better than them, but the same couldn’t be said about his teammates. Even Tang Bingyao, the next best player on the team after him, would be hard-pressed to achieve anything besides maybe going even against Liu Zhengjie. And at the end of the day, there was only so much carrying he could do. He couldn’t be everywhere all the time, and Shanghai International were the first team they’d face who could really abuse that.
Until now, Lin Feng’s go-to tactic to carry his team was by playing a strong Champion and let the game get to a stage where he could solo carry. Shanghai International wasn’t a team that would wait around for that to happen. They picked strong early game Champions and pushed and pushed. And then they pushed some more. They never let up the pressure. From start to finish, they pushed and forced plays. They would never give an opponent enough time to get strong enough to solo carry. Their games simply didn’t last that long. So Lin Feng had to think of something else. He had to come up with a different approach for this game, because if Shanghai International was allowed to push, then his team would lose. It was that simple.
Lin Feng looked over to Chen Ze. He’d lose. He then turned to Yang Fan. Same here. He shook his head as his gaze fell on Tang Bingyao. Even Tang Tang won’t win… He had to think of something, because if they went in like how they usually did, this would be the end of the road for them. If he played in top lane, mid and bot would lose. If he played in mid lane, top and bot would lose. It was a question of what the better option here was. He was a mid main, but the meta of the game was called League of Toplane for a reason these days. Neither option looked much better than the other. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. I have to find a way to win this. It doesn’t matter that it’s hard. It’s good! I actually have to try. But I have to try. I really have to try and think of something to make this work. Suddenly, he started smiling. First it was a weak grin, but then it turned to his usual goofy smile. His lips spread wide and they looked like they were almost touching his ears. His eyes lit up with light, almost as if they were shining. His entire face screamed joy! He clenched his fist and threw it up in the air, shouting, “Ha! The greater the challenge, the greater the reward! Let’s do this! We’re going to win! Woo!”
Chu Fang felt his heart beating hard and fast, crashing into his ribs and trying to get out. Faster. Faster! His hands trembled. He traced his finger over the name. That name. Him. He couldn’t believe it. This wasn’t possible. It was a name he’d often thought of, wistfully. A time when China competed for the world title. The wonderkid. I-is it… He shook his head once, then slapped himself across the cheeks twice. Lin. Feng. Challenger. That was all the information the piece of paper held. Nothing more. But it told him everything he needed to know. It… It…
The member of staff who’d brought Chu Fang the document stared down at his boss, dazed. His boss was nicknamed Mister Unshakeable. He was always calm. It didn’t matter what got thrown at him or what he had to deal with, it never brought him off his piece. With calm determination, he waltzed over everything thrown at him, smiling along the way. That same person was now sprawled on the floor, desperately tugging a piece of paper, almost crying. “U-uh, boss?” the member of staff asked, careful. But there was no reaction. His boss was staring at the paper, tracing a name, holding it to his cheek and cradling it. “Alright then,” the member of staff mumbled, raising his brows. He bit on the inside of his lips, his foot already off the ground. He hesitated for a moment, but then turned around and walked away.
Chu Fang didn’t see the look in his employee’s eyes, nor would he care if he had seen it. There was only a singular thought on his mind. Lin Feng. It… It… He traced his fingers over the piece of paper again. It really said it. Lin Feng. Challenger. He moved to the wall over to the side and leaned up against it, then wiped his face. He put his hand over his mouth and blew out all the air from his lungs, full of disbelief. H-how… How is this possible? H-he left…
Lin Feng had left the scene four years ago, at the end of season 1. He was a 15 year old kid back then. Now, four years later, he was 19. He’d grown up into a young adult who was attending his final year of high school. Chu Fang counted it out on his fingers. The name. The rank. That joyful look on this Lin Feng’s face when he walked up on stage. The age. There were too many coincidences for them to be coincidences. “N-no. This can’t be real,” Chu Fang mumbled, more frantic with every repetition. “T-this can’t be… it can’t be real!”
However, the more he thought about, the more he started believing it. This Lin Feng was the same Lin Feng who competed at the Season 1 World Championships. This Lin Feng was the same Lin Feng who beat Phoenix and led his team to the Finals. This Lin Feng was the Lin Feng who went toe-to-toe with Rake in a tense series that lasted five games. It was the first and last time in League of Legends’ history that Rake was pushed to his limits. There was no one else who came so close to beating him. Chu Fang said with his lips shaking but his voice firm, “This. Is. Maple! It really is him!”
Chu Fang bit on his lips, smiling. A smile that covered his face, with tears of joy running down his cheeks. “It has to be him!” His mouth was making all kinds of strange movements. He didn’t know what to do with it. “It really is him! It is!” he shouted, looking like he’d completely lost it. But he didn’t care. He pushed himself onto his feet, his knees shaking with excitement. “I need to make sure. I need to see him. If it really is him… It is him, I know it!” He rushed out from the backstage area and looked around the arena, searching for that face, mumbling, “Where did he go…”
High School 13 had made it to the semifinals. The games for the day had come to an end. By all right, they should be celebrating their victory. Chuck a few beers and congratulate themselves on a job well done. They’d gone further in this tournament than ever before! But they didn’t care about any of that. They only cared about the trophy, and the team standing in their way towards it. That team, right now, was Shanghai International.
The whole team was down. They could barely raise their heads, their hope having sunk down into their boots. Their hope was initially, after winning their quarterfinals, rather high. But that all changed when they watched Shanghai International play. It didn’t matter how much Lin Feng had taught them, they were still a far shot from being Shanghai International’s opponents. There was a distinct difference in individual skill and team synergy. A difference that Lin Feng couldn’t bridge for them. They knew he was good, but there was a limit to what one person could do. Even if that person was Lin Feng.
Ouyang looked around at his friends. The same he’d watched win the games, while he sat out. This isn’t right. His gaze was steady. He knew his job. “Ha! What’s with all the long faces, my awesome super-bros? It isn’t like we gotta play against Shanghai High School! Now that would be bad… I know! Come, sing with me!” He cleared his throat and started singing, very loudly, “Always look on the bright side of life… tu-du, tududududu. Always look on the light side of life… tu-du tududududu!”
Yang Fan grinned and shook his head. “Idiot.” Then he adjusted his glasses and said, “You’re right. We do need to look on the bright side. I guess it was about time we faced them again. Remember what they did to us last year? Let’s give them some payback for that!”
Tang Bingyao tilted her head and asked, “You guys played them last year too? What happened?”
“Yeah, you see…” Ren Rou started, then trailed off. They were walking towards the exit of the venue. But to get there, they had to walk between the rows of chairs packed closely together. Straight up ahead, there was another team walking in the opposite direction. Both sides stopped, just standing there, staring at each other. Ren Rou tried to put on a brave front, pushing her chest forward, but her shaking arm revealed how she really felt. Scared and angry. Furious for what these assholes had done to her and her team last year! And terrified the same would happen again this year.