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Ah, Life’s Little Surprises!

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The host of the Semifinals announced the individual players of High School 13 and Shanghai International as they made their way up the stage. Lin Feng basked in the cheers from the crowd, waving to them and laughing as he walked up. The rest of his team was a little bit more nervous, focused on their rivals on the other side of the stage. Those rivals, the players from Shanghai International, weren’t smiling or laughing. They were calm, aloof. High School 13 wasn’t their opponent. There was no reason to get excited for this series. They would blitzkrieg their way to the Finals.

High School 13 was a fairly average school. Their clubs never made it far in the big tournaments, regardless of the sport. The recent achievements by the esports club were an exception. That made it so much more remarkable. The students had been talking about it all week, and a large number of them had come to cheer their team on. They wanted to be that 6th member of the team and give their club that extra boost of motivation by cheering as loudly as they could.

“High School 13! High School 13! It’s all skill! No luck! Skill!”
“We’re going to the Finals! We’re going to the Finals!”
“I love you, Lin Feng!”
“Tang Bingyao is the best ad-carry! Liu Zhengjie is a noob!”
“We’re the best! Rock on, Ouyang!”
“Show those guys from Shanghai International who’s Boss!”

The students from High School 13 kept cheering at the top of their lungs, uncaring of the looks and glances from the people in the crowd. They didn’t care what others thought about them. They were here to support their team, and supporting them was exactly what they would do! In stark contrast, the students from Shanghai International were much more reserved. They believed that their team was far superior to High School 13. There was no need to cheer, or show their support. Their team would win. They were just here to watch it happen. And in that frame of mind, the cheers from High School 13’s students were more than a little annoying.

“What is wrong with those idiots? Can’t they shut up?”
“I don’t know, man. Fucking country bumpkins.”
“So excited over making it to the Semifinals. I’d almost feel bad for them…”
“Haha. Can you imagine? Losing to them? What a joke!”
“Right? You know, if they win, I’ll eat my shoe!”
“Haha! How did these idiots even make it to the Semifinals? Did they get an easy draw or something?”
“It’s all luck. They’ve got the easy opponent in every round. I’m thinking it might be rigged.”
“None of that matters. Now we have an easy way to the Finals.”

The players from Shanghai High School found their seats in the special viewing area right below the stage. They sat down and watched High School 13 and Shanghai International get ready for the match. The ad-carry turned to his teammates sitting next to him and said, “Shanghai International is winning this one, right?”

“Probably, yeah…” the Jungler said. Then he thought of something and added, “So that’s another repeat of last year. It’s gonna be us versus them in the Finals again… Kinda  boring to be honest.” He relaxed back in his chair, putting his feet up on the railing in front of him.

“Does it really matter?” the Toplaner asked. He shook his head and grinned, apathetic about the outcome. “We’re going to win regardless of who we play against. Neither team has anything on us.”

Zeng Rui listened to his teammates talk, but didn’t join in. It was a pointless discussion, in his opinion. He’d watched both teams play and analyzed them. Shanghai International was the better team. They would make it to the Finals and High School 13 would lose. He looked up at the stage and the players on both teams. Shanghai International has the same team as always. As expected. High School 13 has… He blinked his eyes and took a second look. Who is she? He hadn’t even seen who the players were before his eyes were drawn to the girl pacing back and forth behind the team. Did they get a coach?

“On the Blue Team, we have High School 13! And on the Red Team, we have Shanghai International!”

The host riled up the crowd one more time as the two teams entered Champion Select. It was the start of the game! First was the banning phase. Both teams could ban three Champions. There were no big surprises here. They banned six Champions who were very strong in the current meta, like Darius and Hecarim. Then High School 13 was the first to lock in a Champion. They chose Jarvan IV. He was a strong Jungler and a relatively safe choice. There were no Champions who could completely shut him down purely based on their kits. It would come down to skill.

Shanghai International picked the next two Champions. They went with the same tactic as High School 13 by picking two safe choices. Their Champions were Lee Sin, a great Jungler, and Leona who was a strong Support.

The next two Champions would be selected by High School 13. There was a brief discussion going on, leaving the crowd waiting. Then, they locked in Annie and Draven. This pick provoked gasps from the crowd. Draven was an aggressive Champion. He was very strong once he got going, but until then, Shanghai International had every chance to shut him down, especially when he got picked so early in Champion Select. But that wasn’t how the lively crowd from High School 13 saw it. They knew about Tang Bingyao’s Draven. The video of her match against Senior Class 8 had been passed around the school all week. Her Draven was phenomenal! She was going to carry the team to a win!

Yan Liang was Shanghai International’s Midlaner and team captain. He’d done his research and wasn’t the least bit surprised when he saw the Draven pick. But there was still a frown on his face. “Annie?” he muttered. That pick had caught him off guard. He’d done his research. He knew which player favoured which Champions. But Annie wasn’t on that list. Where is she going? Annie could be played almost everywhere. But in the current meta, she was mostly played in Support and sometimes in the top lane. That didn’t change the fact she was a mage who could go into mid lane or even jungle.

“It’s going to be Support Annie for sure,” Liu Zhengjie said, distracting Yan Liang from his thoughts. He sneered, condescendingly, and said, “Annie and Draven, huh? That’s some big damage early game. I can see what they’re trying to go for. But it won’t work. Not against me.” He grinned, confident. It doesn’t matter what they try. I’m half a pro. They can’t beat me.

Yan Liang glanced over at Liu Zhengjie and nodded. “You’re right. That should be it. Sivir has a spellshield, pick her. Let’s make that Annie useless.”

Shanghai International locked in Sivir and Twisted Fate. Sivir was an ad-carry with a Spell Shield. This was a barrier that blocked damage, but also crowd control. Annie was a Champion with powerful crowd control, so Sivir was the obvious pick. As for Twisted Fate. He was a mage with a lot of map pressure. That could only work in Shanghai International’s favour. His map-wide teleports could change the dynamic of any teamfight! Yan Liang had thought of all of this and then some more. If I team up with Lee, we can get a few early ganks in bot and make the Annie and Draven useless, hehe.

However, all the plans that Shanghai International had made in the last couple of seconds were thrown right out the window again. It turned out that the Annie wasn’t a Support, not in this game at least. High School 13 locked in their fourth and fifth Champion. Braum and Malphite. Braum was a Support and Malphite was a Toplaner. That could only mean that Annie was going in the mid lane.

Right below the stage, Shanghai High School was watching the Champion Select. Including Zeng Rui. The initial disinterest from his face disappeared without a trace, replaced by a hint of surprise. He looked at the girl who was still pacing back and forth behind High School 13’s team. Did she plan this? He tried to read the expression on her face. But she wasn’t looking in his direction, so he couldn’t tell. “That was clever,” he mumbled.

“Shit,” Yan Liang cursed. They were wrong. Their whole plan had collapsed. And worst of all, Annie was really strong against Twisted Fate. Shit! How did we not see this coming? He grinded his teeth, looking at the Champion icon of his Twisted Fate. No one plays her in mid anymore. Why… It made no sense to him. Annie was a powerful Support and she paired well together with Draven. She was supposed to go Support! “Shit!”

In stark contrast to the frustrated Yan Liang, Lin Feng had that familiar wide grin on his face. It was a combination of confidence and joy. This was the outcome he’d been hoping for. It felt so good when Yan Liang locked in that Twisted Fate. It secured his win. He looked over his shoulder at An Xin and said, “This is fun!”

An Xin smiled and replied, “Yep. They fell for it. Hook, line, and sinker.” The strategy she’d come up with was a simple and straightforward one. She played Shanghai International a fool in the Champion Select, forcing a favourable match-up for the Annie. Lin Feng would play her in mid. He was good, and a fed Annie was really strong. Together with Tang Bingyao’s Draven, they’d be a menace in the early game, while the other three Champions would shine in the mid game. This was because of the intense crowd control that came from their ultimates. That would give Lin Feng and Tang Bingyao enough time to ace Shanghai International. As for the late game, well, as An Xin had put it, “We don’t need to worry about that.”

Shanghai International hesitated with their fifth pick. Their whole team composition didn’t make sense anymore, and they were trying to come up with an alternative method. But they had already committed. It was too late to make any substantial changes. So they ended up going with Fiora, a strong top lane Champion.

An Xin was happy. Her plan had worked. Now it was up to the team to win. She walked towards the steps leading down the stage, then paused. She turned around and looked at her team. “You can do it, guys. Crush them!” she said.

“Yeah! No worries! We’ll win this, easy!” Lin Feng laughed, confident.

Tang Bingyao nodded, smiling, and said, “Mhm, leave bot to us.”

《Welcome to Summoner’s Rift!》

Lin Feng took a deep, long breath. The grin disappeared from his face. It was replaced by an expression that looked calm, yet determined. He placed his right hand on the mouse and his left on the keyboard. His eighth grader syndrome flared. He mumbled in a voice only audible to him, “You wanna play too? It’ll be fun!” There was no more rut. No more frustrations at his own inabilities. No more struggling. An Xin had taken care of all of that with her arrival. He was free. Right now, there was only him and Annie. Everything else around him disappeared. The venue. The crowd and the noise they made. The teammates sitting next to him. He smiled and made his best Annie imitation, saying, “Play time!”

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Insert "KiDs ThEsE dAyS..." Old Man Rant

Hey folks. A reminder that you have three days left to sign up for the Secret Santa event on the Discord. Sign-ups close on December 9th 11:59 PM EST. Sietse also has an important exam tomorrow so the release of 183 tomorrow will be postponed for the day after.

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So I was watching a video the other day and ended up finding out that McDonald’s discontinued using Ronald McDonald as a mascot after the clown scare in 2016. That’s crazy. I honestly never noticed, and it made me think about other things from my childhood that kind of disappeared without me noticing.

One big thing I never see anymore is kids being allowed to be out on their own after school. Back when I was nine years old, I’d be out most of the day playing with the neighborhood kids and wouldn’t get home until diner. I’d also regularly scrape my knees because I was a really clumsy kid who tripped a lot. I don’t remember it being a big deal back then, but I can’t imagine that happening with kids now.

My younger cousins come straight home right after school. They get to play on their iPads, phones, or computers, but they’re not allowed to go out by themselves. Also, any extracurriculars they do are controlled by their parents. By no means do I think it’s bad, and I would probably do the same if I were to have kids. But I can’t help but find the difference surreal; how a whole new generation of kids are growing up with a completely different childhood from mine. And then how the generation following will also have wildly different childhoods.

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