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The New Normal

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Lin Feng stared out the window of the train, though it wasn’t the scene of Shanghai that played before his eyes. It was Season 1 again. His team had made it to the Finals of Worlds. They were sitting behind their computers in a small room. He looked over to his left. Silent sat next to him and Autumn two seats over. They were focused but he could tell they were happy. Then he looked over at the two players sitting to his right. Eleven and Tian Tian, both nervous and both excited. Lin Feng turned back to look at his own screen as An Xin yelled at him from behind to not get distracted. We were so happy! He smiled, grabbing his mouse with one hand and placing the fingers of his other hand on the keyboard. It’s time to play! And win! This world title is ours!

The smile disappeared from Lin Feng’s face. We lost. We… we lost. He remembered how he walked away after that loss. Everything that happened to his team after that point was a blank. But now Tian Tian had filled in that blank. Lin Feng found himself watching the events unfold before his eyes. The team looked lost without him. They kept staring at the seat in the middle, his seat. It was empty. Their expressions turned sour. Tian Tian reverted back to his normal self, wrecked by his nerves. I wasn’t there to help him. I was the only one who knew how to help him. But I left him behind. I left him. And now… and now… Lin Feng quickly wiped away the tears from his face, and then blew his nose into his sleeve. Fatty would have achieved so much more if it wasn’t for me… He could’ve been an Emperor. He’d have multiple world titles under his belt! But I left him… Lin Feng watched as Tian Tian got up from his seat and walked towards a group of strangers. They welcomed him, but his shoulders were slumped. I abandoned him…

Lin Feng turned his attention back to the rest of the team. To Eleven. You were one of the best Junglers in the world. Screw that! You were the best Jungler in the world! Read XIII had nothing on you! You were supposed to stay! You were supposed to keep playing and helping the team with your great skills! No one could jungle like you! Lin Feng banged his head against the window in a slow, steady rhythm, quietly cursing himself. He closed his eyes, but the scene kept playing in his mind. Eleven got up from his gaming chair. He walked towards a team that was ecstatic to have him. A second-rate team in the LSPL. Of course they’re thrilled to have you! You’re the best in the world! They don’t deserve you… You’re so much better than this! And if I hadn’t left… If only I’d stuck around a little bit longer… Maybe you wouldn’t have left.

There were only two people left in Lin Feng’s vision. They were Autumn and Silent. Lin Feng turned around and desperately searched for An Xin, but she wasn’t there. She’d already left. I kept them all together. And when I left, it all fell apart. There was no team left for her to coach, so she left. Why would she stay? She was my friend. She was helping me! And I left her, just like I left the others. I left her too… Lin Feng knocked his head a little harder against the window of the train, cursing himself for leaving his friends behind. I should’ve been there for them!

Autumn and Silent stood up together. There were teams literally begging for the duo to join. But they ignored them. Lin Feng was gone. Their team was gone. The dream was gone. And so they walked away from the scene. Two of the best players, icons in their respective roles, disappeared. Lin Feng watched with bloodshot eyes as they strolled away, becoming shadows of a time past. You two were so good together. Your playstyles complemented each other and everyone knew they were watching something special when the two of you played… You should’ve never left! The game needs you! I… I want to see you two play together again… 

Autumn was the most unique Support player in the world. He had an aggressive playstyle, but combined that perfectly with a high level of unpredictability. It made it impossible for teams to prepare for him. But it was when he played together with his ad-carry Silent that he stepped up to another level. Silent was the pony to Autumn’s jockey. He played steady and firm, focusing on his creep score but engaging when Autumn presented the opening. They were perfect together and no one could stop them.

Lin Feng slumped back in his seat. We were so close to winning Worlds… Our big goal, the dream that brought us all together, the one thing we were going to achieve together! And then I screwed up. I lost that Finals. Game 5, my loss. We would’ve won if it wasn’t for me. He chewed on the inside of his cheeks and fidgeted with his fingers. Tian Tian had told him his old teammates had all found their footing in life. They were moving forward. And he was supposed to be happy for them. But he couldn’t get himself to feel happy. They were the best players in the world. And now, almost no one remembers their names… They should’ve won the world title! If only I didn’t hold them down! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

Lin Feng shook his head furiously and punched the side of the train. “AH!” He grimaced, rubbing his fist. Stop this. He forced himself to take a deep, calming breath. Why did they quit League? Did they just give up? We all had the same dream. We were going to win Worlds… together. That was the dream. They spoke about it at length at every opportunity they got. We’re going to win Worlds! We are going to win Worlds! A knot twisted in Lin Feng’s stomach. He reached for it and hunched over. D-do they regret joining my team? Do they hate me for ruining our dream? I… He chewed on his lip, but couldn’t get himself to even finish the thought. His mind went blank, until a couple minutes later a final thought hit him. Do they still want to win?

Su Xue had spent much of the afternoon in the kitchen to prepare another delicious feast dish for Lin Feng. And it was delicious. She hummed happily as she sat across from him at the dining table, eager to see him dive in. He’s going to love this! I made it just how he likes it! And it came out so well! Huh, why… She first thought that he was looking at the food, but now she was starting to doubt that. He is looking down, but… Is he looking down at his lap? “Uhh, Lin Feng?” she asked, puzzled. “Are you… not hungry?”

Lin Feng mumbled without looking up, “Already ate.”

“What the…” Su Xue said, speechless. Then she glared and shouted, “You could’ve told me that before I spent several hours working my ass off in the kitchen! You know how much work this was?” She wanted to continue shouting, but he wasn’t reacting at all. Then she sighed and shook her head. “What’s with that glum look, Lin Feng? Are you okay?”

“Oh, yeah, yeah. Sorry, I’ll eat,” Lin Feng mumbled. He reached for his chopsticks with one hand and his bowl with the other. It was still empty, but he didn’t notice. He grabbed at the air in his bowl with his chopsticks and then took a bite. Chewing. Dazed.

Not this again… Su Xue looked at Lin Feng, annoyed. Then she wagged her finger at him and lectured, “If there’s something bothering you, say it already! Stop bottling it up all the time. You have friends around you who want to help you. But they can’t if you won’t tell them what’s going on! Now tell me, what’s got you down today!” Is this going to be a weekly thing? Why does he always have to bring the entire room down with his sulking? Did a girl say something mean to him or something… Maybe I should call BunBun and see if she knows what’s wrong this time.

Lin Feng looked up at Su Xue through watery eyes. Then he rubbed his face and slapped it a couple of times. The depression disappeared and he forced out his usual grin. “Don’t worry! I’m okay! If something’s bothering me, I’ll tell you! Really! I’m good!”

My ass! Su Xue shook her head, frustrated. She finally sighed and asked, “Really? Are you sure?”

“Really! I’m sure!” Lin Feng replied, laughing. “Oh! Oh!” he continued. “How are you? Did you stream today? Were the viewers nice to you?”

Su Xue’s stream was her achilles’ heel. She completely forgot about what they were talking about as her eyes lit up. “It’s going really well! I’m getting hundreds of new viewers every day! And so many of them stick around! I get so many new followers and subscribers today! Oh! Oh! And donations! Donations too!” Then she pursed her lips and added, “But the videos aren’t going that great…”

Su Xue had started making commentary videos a while ago. She initially tried to make them with gameplay provided to her by Lin Feng, but that didn’t work out so well. It proved very hard to sound excited and give good commentary when she didn’t even fully understand what was going on on the screen. Lin Feng could get a penta kill and she’d just sit there and stare, baffled by the moves that led up to the fight as well as the fight itself. So she ended up commentating on her own gameplay, which she then sent to editor-in-chief Zuo You.

Zuo You was incredibly talented at video editing. With a few simple touches, she increased the quality of Su Xue’s video to such a level that she barely recognized it as her own video. And Su Xue was in love with the result. She hugged and thanked Zuo You a thousand times and was convinced that this video would get her more viewers than she could dream of! So she uploaded it to PlayMoreLoL, which was a video streaming website specifically for League of Legends gameplay, and notified her stream followers to go and check it out.

The initial response to the video was just as Su Xue had expected it to be. There were tens of thousands of views and thousands of likes and positive comments. But after a few days, the video hit a plateau. The views stagnated and the positive comments were drowned out by negative ones.

another shitty commentator joining on the bandwagon?
Who even uploads this crap…
at least add your facecam so we can look at your personalities………
FK THIS SHIT SUCKS!!1!!
Worst. Video. Ever.
friggin bronze and silvers thinkin they can commentate vids of their own shitty gameplay lawl

“See?” Su Xue said as she pushed her phone in Lin Feng’s face. “Look at all these messages! Stupid trolls have nothing better to do then make fun of my video!” She gritted her teeth, hesitating, but then finally added, “Most of the positive comments are from my stream fans. The negative ones are almost all from the people who watch on PlayMoreLol… They don’t seem to like it…”

Lin Feng took the phone from Su Xue and read through the comments. All the while, Su Xue kept complaining. First she argued that it was a lot more difficult to commentate videos than she expected. And then she said that most of the negative comments were probably trolls who were just trying to look cool and that her video really wasn’t as bad as some comments made it seem.

After a few minutes of this, Lin Feng shrugged and said, “Eh, this is normal, isn’t it? Everyone has something bad to say about new commentators. It’s just how it works. But you got your viewers helping with good comments. And the video is really nice too. I’m sure you’ll get there! You just have to keep trying!”

Su Xue pursed her lips, ready to argue. But she stopped herself from doing that and instead nodded. I know he’s right. I have to keep pushing. It’s just that… No, he’s right. She forced a smile and said, “Yeah, I guess you’re right. It just would’ve been nice if they all liked it. But yeah, I just have to make another one. Keep working hard and find the formula that works. Yeah! I’ll slowly get popular. I can do this!”

“I believe in you! You’ll get super popular!” Lin Feng cheered. Then he added, “Besides, nothing is perfect the first go. But this was really good. You’ll only get better and those negative commenters are going to come back next time and fall in love with your videos!”

Su Xue rolled her eyes and said, “Well, hello mister optimistic. Where were you a minute ago, when I was having dinner with this moping sack of depression?”

Lin Feng looked up and asked innocently, “What? Me? I didn’t look sad!”

Su Xu threw her arms in the air and shouted, “Whatever!”

Lin Feng smiled and said, “I’m telling you the truth! I don’t know what you’re talking about! I wasn’t sad!”

Su Xue jumped to her feet and kicked her chair back. Then she leaned over the table and wagged her finger in Lin Feng’s face. “Now you listen to me, you little shit!” she shouted.

Lin Feng looked at Su Xue and really smiled for the first time that evening. He nodded as Su Xue lectured him on how to be a good roommate, a good friend, and a good little brother. He listened to her at first, but when she started repeating herself, his mind drifted back to his old friends. Winter break is coming up in another month and a half. I’m going to visit the guys then. And I’m going to apologize to each of them! Maybe we can even have a team reunion then! But first they deserve a proper apology. I left them. Sorry, Eleven. Sorry, Autumn. Sorry, Silent. I mean it.

The biggest event of the year for High School 13’s esports club had ended. They had won the first big prize for the school, and the winner’s cup was placed in the brand new trophy cabinet. But that also meant that the team members didn’t need to practice every day anymore. They suddenly found themselves with a lot of freetime. Or so they thought. They hadn’t had much time for their studies over the last few months and they’d fallen behind. More importantly, most players on the team were in their senior year. So they threw themselves at their study books in preparation for the college entrance exams that were coming up later in the year.

Ren Rou was the only member of the esports team who had more work to do than before. Every student in the school suddenly wanted to join the esports club after their victory at the Shanghai 16 School Tournament. And Ren Rou was determined to accept them all. So she welcomed them to the club, taught them the game, and organized all kinds of activities that were fun for players from all levels to participate in.

There were, of course, numerous activities centered around the team members who had won the Shanghai 16 School Tournament. There was the ‘play-a-game-with’ event, where new members could play a game of League with their favourite player on the team. Tang Bingyao was the one who played most of these matches by a long shot. Everyone wanted to Support her, and they all asked her to play Vayne. Then there was the ‘free coaching lessons by…” event. Ren Rou had explained to all the new members that the only reason the team won was because of the coaching they received from An Xin. The new club members hoped they could also quickly improve their skills by a few lessons from An Xin.

Everyone on the esport’s main team helped out, even Lin Feng. He grumbled and complained. He argued that he had better things to do with his time. And he tried to sneak away when he thought nobody was looking. But all it took was a single glare from An Xin for him to suddenly start volunteering to help organize activities or play with club members. And everyone understood why. There was something about the way An Xin smiled at Lin Feng that sent shivers down their spines. They unconsciously stepped away and held their breaths, terrified to get caught in the crossfire. All eyes would then turn to Lin Feng, begging him to do the smart thing. To do whatever An Xin wanted him to do. But he just never seemed to get it.

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The Mucous Prophet!

Dev Thought: So I’m still not feeling great. But I figured this would be a good opportunity to talk about something very important to me. And all of you as well. Socks. 

Socks are very important. They keep your toes warm and a nice pair of socks is like a plush and comfortable second skin. Not that many people think about their socks though, and they don’t realize how much they’re missing out on. I used to just get whatever standard socks I could find without much thought put into them. Then I discovered the Heat-Tech socks from Uniqlo, and my entire life changed. 

Oapksdopaksdopakposdk words no come. Fuk this. Devshard out.

Okay. Wait. Devshard back. So you guys know how your nose gets runny and stuffy when you’re sick, yeah? You blow your nose to relieve that congestion. And I know everyone’s taken a peek into the tissue to see what came out of their nose multiple times in their lives. Don’t even pretend like you haven’t. Anyways, I like to see what my nose produced and what came out every time I blow my nose. But in recent times, I’ve noticed that there are distinctive shapes and patterns that emerge whenever I blow my nose. I’ve been working on learning to interpret the shapes, these mucoid symbols, in an effort to understand what it is they’re telling me. I believe that each of these shapes can be correlated to events that have occurred either in the recent past or events that will occur in the future. And each of the shapes in each tissue come together to form an overall pattern that can be used to divine the probabilities your life will take in the future. 

That’s right. I’m developing the field of mucous and tissue based prophecy. And if I succeed, I will go down in history as the Pathogen Prophet. 

Sietse Thought: Devs has found the dao he’s pursuing. Divination! This is obviously a greater dao, and as such incredibly difficult to grasp. He could’ve taken something simple like becoming a necromancer and raising the dead, he is a doctor after all, but he knew fate had something greater in store for him. So he ignored the advice of his parents, of his friends, and even of his first master who abandoned him for a lack of etiquette, and walked down his own path.

Cultivation is a lonely road full of heavenly tribulations and random black panthers (Hae-WHO!). And this is only going to be more difficult for Devshard, since his strongest divinations come when he is so sick that snot is running from his nose. He will chase the clouds to find that perfect storm, just so he can get sick enough for his next divination. And through this ordeal, withstanding the rain, snow, and thunder, he strengthens his body. And through the endless nights sick in bed, he strengthens the mind. And as he glimpses at the future and sees the darkness it has in store for him, he strengthens his soul. For he is no pussy who fears a hard life. He is Devshard, The Mucous Prophet!

Shanks Thought: See. I told these two that they could keep resting. But nope. They insisted on putting out this chapter. Devshard sounds like he’s still coked up on Nyquil, and Sietse is clearly still having a weird fever dream where he’s some cultivator in Coiling Dragon.

Anyway, I’ve been busy doing schoolwork over the past two days and catching up on the things that need catching up on. Devshard also gave me a side project that was coding related, and it took me far too long to realize that it was an exercise in futility. 

For those of you who’ve done a little bit of programming before, this should be a familiar experience. You’re tasked with implementing a function that you know is not really possible with the current tools and coding knowledge you have available. But you give it a try anyway. You junk up your code so badly with weird workarounds that you barely recognize it anymore. And after several hours of grueling work, you think you finally have a solution. Until you realize it still isn’t working properly, and your code is returning funky results. 

So you keep persevering. You try more creative solutions. You might even attempt to negotiate with your code as if it has a mind of its own. But nothing works. Then after several more hours of banging your head on the keyboard, you decide to pause for a minute and do some more research. That’s when you find out what you’ve been trying to do is actually impossible. And the realization that you wasted so much time and energy on something impossible makes you want to go bungee jumping without a rope. Honestly, the feeling is only on par with trying to debug something for two days straight only to realize the problem was a one letter typo.

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