Lin Feng closed the door to his room behind him. He kept his hand on the knob. Paused. Still. Hesitating, for a moment. Thinking. Then he walked over to his desk and sat down. Think of something else. Anything else. He took out his books out of his backpack. Math. English. Chinese Literature. Work for tomorrow, and work for the day after. He worked for several hours at such a high pace that he didn’t have the space of mind to think about anything else. Nothing at all. Until the clock struck 11 PM. That was when he paused. The homework before him felt unimportant again. He leaned back into his chair and looked up at the ceiling. It was grain white, but he barely noticed that the ceiling was even there. His gaze was long and distant.
Lin Feng didn’t keep staring at the ceiling, though he didn’t quite know when he stopped. He’d moved without himself even realizing it, sitting up straight again, grabbing his laptop, and opening a video. It was the video of the semifinals match between KG and SSK. The same video he’d watched six times already over the last few days. Nearly two hours of footage, including the time between games. He sat in silence, staring at the series that had silenced all of China. For a brief moment in time and space, China had come to a grinding halt. That was the extent of mental damage this loss had dealt.
However, Lin Feng didn’t rewatch this series to analyze how KG had played. He’d wanted to see Fatty win, but also knew that was practically impossible. The reason he sat here, again watching this video, was to analyze his own skills. He replaced KG’s Midlaner with himself and replayed the games. This was the most recent series played by Rake. It was his current skill. And that skill was far higher than Lin Feng had expected. It was to an extent that it was hard to compare. Apples with golden apples. Pears with pomegranates. No matter how Lin Feng looked at it, regardless of the methods he tried, he always lost, and miserably so. Rake toyed around with him, showed him every corner of the Rift, and then sent him back to the fountain. From laning to farming to teamfighting, be it individual ability or awareness, he was simply worse. A lot worse. So much worse that he even doubted he could do any better than KG’s Midlaner had. I might’ve even lost against KG’s Midlaner… Especially that last realization hit hard. Someone he never considered his opponent, much less his equal, was really above him.
Lin Feng clenched his fist and slammed it down on the desk. “Fuck!” he yelped. “FuckFuckFuck!” He grabbed his hair and pulled on it. I’ve got no right to even look at these games. None. I can’t even figure out how to beat some shitty high school team… That hurt. It felt like an Asian Giant Hornet had stung him, twice or thrice. He was looking at videos from Worlds, comparing him to the best players in the world. But he had no place on the world stage. He couldn’t even figure out how to beat a high school team. He gritted his teeth, angry and frustrated. I’m useless. Useless. Useless.
Over the past several days, Lin Feng had been thinking of strategies to beat Shanghai International. It was a simple high school game, it wasn’t that difficult. But to him it was. He just couldn’t figure out how to do it. If I can’t even do this, how can I even think about Rake? I have no right. No right. I… He pulled on his hair and sighed. Useless. I can’t even figure this small problem out. What can I do? I’m useless. Absolutely useless.
There was no doubt in Lin Feng’s mind, his teammates sucked. They were nice and he enjoyed playing together with them, but they just weren’t very good at the game. He hadn’t had long enough to train them, and there was only so much he could teach them. The rest they would have to do on their own. And since they weren’t as good as he was, or liked to think he was, he never stopped to consider them. They weren’t going to win this game for him. Only he could win this game. I have to think of a way. Maybe if I get just a little better. I have to train really hard, but maybe it can be enough. Shanghai International is an easy opponent. I can still 1v5. Do I have enough time?
The night grew deep. Lin Feng stayed up. He had to think of a way. There had to be something he could do to win this series. This was just a high school tournament. If he wanted to ever make it back to the top, then this couldn’t stop him. This should be easier. It should be the easiest tournament of his life. It’s just a high school tournament. There has to be a way. They are all terrible.
It was the middle of the afternoon. Senior Class 7 was following a lecture on mathematics. Their teacher, a man going through the rot before the midlife crisis, was droning on and on about functions, scribbling down chalk on the chalkboard. Most of the students in the class couldn’t even tell if the chalk formed some coherent message in the form of equations, or if it was English. Both looked the same, unintelligible. That was the case for a good majority of the class, anyways. There were the bookworms who knew exactly what was going on. But there were only a few of them, two to be precise. As for the rest of the students, they were yawning and fighting to keep their eyes open. They’d fall asleep, only to get that terrible falling sensation that woke them right back up. And then there was Ouyang.
Ouyang had put his backpack up on the table and was resting his head on it, his eyes closed and a weak snoring sound accompanying his breaths. Every now and then, he’d scare himself awake. A short moment with his eyes open. The terrifying question, “Did the teacher notice?”, playing on repeat in his mind. He’d slightly move his head, only to find their teacher still with his back to them. “Ah, safe.” He wasn’t even really awake in those moments, and he’d be back to his dreams within seconds. With a single exception.
Ouyang had just scared himself awake again. He glanced around the room, careful. A few people looked back at him. Shit. They noticed. He was nervous to look towards the teacher, but still did. Please don’t look at me. Please don’t look at me. Please… Ah, good. The teacher was still with his back turned to class, like he’d been doing all hour. Then Ouyang glanced over at his deskmate. He looked at Lin Feng, whose eyes were wide open and who was writing and writing some more. His eyes widened, shocked and now completely awake. “Damn! What are you being awake for? This is math, dude. You know, Triple Z hour!”
Lin Feng didn’t even seem to notice Ouyang talking to him. So Ouyang fought off his laziness and lifted his head off his backpack. He watched Lin Feng writing, furiously, then looking at what he’d written and ripping the page out. Once, twice, three times. It kept going and going. Ouyang then leaned over towards Lin Feng and looked at what his bro was writing. “Hey dude. Watcha wri—” He shut up. He kept his lips tightly sealed. The teacher had turned around, he saw it from the corner of his eyes. He turned towards the teacher, grabbing something from his table to start writing with. It was his phone and the target of his hard work was his table.
Through all of this, Lin Feng hadn’t noticed a thing. He was busy with something more important than Ouyang’s constant need for attention. Nor did he care for the class. He’d done his homework and knew the substance for this week of math. What he didn’t know was how to beat Shanghai International. That was what he was working on. Bans. Team compositions. Shanghai International’s play style. Lane match-ups and player habits. They were all analyzed, scrutinized, thought over a thousand and one times. He could practically dream every different scenario he’d come up with. It was exhausting. He’d been up since late last night working on this. His eyes were bloodshot and he could really use some coffee. But there was no rest for the wicked. No! Useless. Not good enough. Won’t work. Dammit. Stupid. Why am I so stupid? This is useless. I need to think of something. There has to be a way. It can’t be this difficult. It’s stupid. I’m stupid. Why am I not better? I need to be better. I have to be!
Training after school at the NetCow Cafe had become somewhat of a ritual for the players from the High School 13 esports club team. They would play ranked games, sometimes playing with substitutes like Ouyang, and work on their game. Lin Feng would watch over their shoulders, pointing out their every little mistake, no matter how small or insignificant. Sure, there were better and worse days. Days on which they played terrible, and days on which Lin Feng wasn’t his usual self. The last few days had been days where Lin Feng was a little more quiet than usual. But he was never totally silent. There was always his breath blowing in their necks as he watched over them. There was always the, sometimes tired voice as he pointed out yet another mistake. Today was different. He wasn’t breathing in their necks. He wasn’t pointing out their mistakes. He was standing there shaking his head. It wasn’t even about a bad play or a misplay, he just shook his head from start to finish. There wasn’t a thing they did that looked good to him. Then, he gave up. “You guys keep practicing. Play a few more games. I’m going to play some solo queue games over there.” He pointed towards a computer that he was already walking towards.
Liu Yue turned around, as did the others from the team, and watched Lin Feng sit down behind a computer and move the mouse around. “Uhh?” He turned to Ouyang and then Tang Bingyao. “What’s going on?”
“I…” Wei Dong stared at Lin Feng, who was now clearly logging into a League of Legends account. He guessed, half convinced, “Maybe we played that badly today and he needs a moment?”
“Nah. No way. That’s not our bro-man,” Ouyang said, shaking his head. “No way. I watched you all play. You guys were doing fine. Mega fine I’d say. There’s no way that is the reason for whatever this is.”
Yang Fan adjusted his glasses. He had something to say, and it was going to be something smart, or he wouldn’t push up his glasses. “Right. We were doing fine. Just fine. Do you think that with our skill just fine is enough to beat Shanghai International? Of course it isn’t. We need to play great and even then our chances are slim to none. Let’s not beat around the bush. We need to step up our game.”
Yang Fan was right, they all knew it. They’d been working hard in their own ways towards becoming better players, towards stepping up their game. But it wasn’t anywhere near enough to beat Shanghai International. It wasn’t even enough to make the series close. Shanghai International would play with them, fountain farm them, and then laugh at them in front of a large crowd. If they didn’t watch out, it’d be a repeat from last year. Just that this time around, there was a large crowd of hundreds of people. They fell silent. If they kept up their current method of training, they could just as well give up. There wasn’t enough time before the match to get ready. But they also didn’t know what they could do to get good enough before then. Everything they knew, it wasn’t enough. It just wasn’t enough. They weren’t enough.
“It’s fine! We just have to try our best! Don’t worry about the rest!” Ren Rou cheered, trying to break the negative spiral they found themselves in. Think positive! Think positive! she told herself. Then she put on an even brighter smile than normal and took a move from Lin Feng’s playbook. Something he’d done so many times with so much success. She clenched her fist and threw it up in the air. “It doesn’t matter what happens, as long as we’ve given it our all! Everything will be worth it if we just give it our all! Let’s give it our all and do this!”
Lin Feng looked over towards Ren Rou. He’d heard her words. Then he looked at the others, who were now all nodding, with Ouyang jumping around and shouting and being his over-the-top excited self. He shook his head. It does matter. It’s not enough. He didn’t care about regrets or everything being fine. Who cares about stupid things like that? You don’t win the silver, you only lose the gold. Second wasn’t good enough. Fourth definitely wasn’t. He wanted to lead High School 13 past Shanghai International and then win the Finals. That trophy had to be theirs!
They’re not enough. I have to do this. It’s all on me. Lin Feng had watched his teammates play. Not just today, but every day for the last month and then some. He knew exactly how good they were, and how far they’d come. But the fact of the matter remained, they were Platinum, they were Diamond, they weren’t Masters or Challengers. There was a vast chasm between where they needed to be to even stand a chance to beat Shanghai International and where they actually were. The only way to bridge this chasm was if he carried them over. He had to take them on his shoulders, because on their own they would fall into the depths and lose. I have to carry them. It’s all on me.
Lin Feng stopped caring about helping his teammates improve. There simply wasn’t enough time to get them to a satisfying level. The only way was for him to make up for their shortcomings. And to get to that point, he had to work his hardest and improve as quickly as he possibly could. To that end, coaching his teammates became a waste of time in his mind. It was time better spent on working on his own skills. So that was exactly what he did. He abandoned them. Left them to their own devices. They could go home for all he cared. It didn’t matter. The only thing he cared about right now was beating Shanghai International, and to achieve that, he had to work hard. Harder than he ever had, perhaps. His eyes were locked on his screen. He was playing Yasuo in the mid lane, dashing through minions and dominating his lane. Not enough. It’s just not enough. I have to get better. I have to do this. Come on, Lin Feng. You can do this! You can! You just have to do it! Carry them! You’re good enough to do this. If you can’t even do this, why are you still trying? If you fail this, you might as well give up completely. This time, you can stay away for good. His eyes were red. I have to carry them.
At the NetCow Cafe Lin Feng ignored his teammates and friends, and at home he ignored Su Xue. The world of friends and happiness he’d built up around him crumbled. A darkness shrouded him. It devoured the world as he knew it and replaced it with a single thing. League of Legends. That became his life. Playing the game and then writing down his findings, only to realize his findings weren’t sufficient to help him win against Shanghai International. He wasn’t good enough. His methods weren’t perfect yet. But he would get there through the power of will. That’s what the little voice in his mind told him, anyways.
It was a grave he’d dug himself before, a familiar road he’d walked before. The Finals of the Season 1 World Championships of League of Legends. The Korean team was too strong. He lost hope in his teammates and took on the burden himself. He had to win this game. It was all up to him. So he plotted and trained and worked every waking second. Back then it wasn’t enough. He lost and blamed himself, rightfully so. The burden wasn’t his. It wasn’t his back then and it wasn’t his right now either. But he refused to listen to that rationale. After the semifinals match at Worlds, the KG versus SSK series, he’d let the darkness in. It consumed him. It became him.
Lin Feng was only one person. He wasn’t God. But he was pushing and punishing himself as if he were. Sleepless nights in which he pushed his mind to think of new ideas and strategies, followed by long days of playing solo queue. Whenever his eyes started closing, he gritted his teeth and splashed some cold water in his face. Sleep was for the weak! He wasn’t weak! He would persevere, he would push through all obstacles, he would realize his dreams! And right now that dream was to win the Shanghai 16 School Tournament. He’d do whatever it took to accomplish that. As for everything else, that could come later. Another time. It wasn’t important, not to him. The darkness was no longer shrouding him, but shining out from him. He was the darkness.
Su Xue was helpless. She tried what she knew, cooking Lin Feng dinner and being her cheerful self. But it worked to ill-effect. Lin Feng’s friends at school had even less of an idea of what to do. They watched their friend lose himself to an invisible enemy. The bags under his eyes became the least of their worries. He’d stopped putting on clean clothes. His hair was a mess. He couldn’t keep his hands from shaking, and there was a strange twitch to his eye. Except for the seven of them, everyone else at school had started walking a large circle around him. In fact, even his friends wanted to.
The days blurred together. High School 13’s esports team didn’t stop training. But they did spend more and more time looking over at Lin Feng. He hadn’t stopped coming to the internet cafe, but he had stopped talking with them. These last few days, he sat behind a computer a row over and started playing solo queue. He was in another game, an easy one from the looks of it. He wasn’t as annoyed as he could be. Yang Fan finally turned to Tang Bingyao and said, “Hey, you know him best. Go talk to him.”
“Right! You two are already lovers, wink wink! Haha! Hottest couple ever, am I right? He has to listen to you! Tell him to stop being such a downer! I can feel his negative energy all the way from over here! It’s such a mood killer,” Ouyang chimed in.
Tang Bingyao shook her head, visibly frustrated. “I tried. It’s not working. I don’t know what to say or do. He just nods but doesn’t listen. It’s like he isn’t even here…”
Ouyang rubbed his temples and groaned, “Ahhh, then what do we do? We’re his bros! His best buds! It hurts my pure heart seeing him like this. We have to do something! Tell me what we can do!”
There was an awkward silence. They’d all tried their own ways of approaching Lin Feng, but none of it had worked. In the end, Ren Rou sighed. She looked over the others and asked, exasperated, “Is there really no one that can talk to him?”