Lin Feng stepped out into the hallway and looked around for a quiet corner. School was out and there were students laughing and shouting everywhere. He pushed against the flow of students, glancing at his phone to make sure that it was still ringing. Why would Chu Fang call me anyway? The Shanghai 16 School Tournament has ended and doesn’t he have work to do? It’s a normal work day… He searched around for some privacy, but couldn’t really find it. His phone was still ringing, but wouldn’t for much longer. So he accepted the call and placed the phone next to his ear, using his free hand to plug his other ear. “Heya, Chu Fang! Why are you calling? What’s going on?”
“Hey, Lin Feng,” Chu Fang said. “You should be done with school by now, right? Do you have a minute to chat?”
“Yeah, school is out. I was about to head home,” Lin Feng replied. “Why? What’s up? Are you calling to buy me dinner? If so, then yes! I’d really like some chicken cutlet!”
Chu Fang chuckled and said, “Oh, you can come over and I’ll treat you to some food. But I live pretty far away. It’s going to be way past dinnertime by the time you get here. Are you sure you can wait that long?”
“Oh. Yeah… Guess I can’t…” Lin Feng replied, dejected.
“But I called today about something else,” Chu Fang continued. “Have you heard about the Winter Collegiate Cup? It’s basically the big brother of the Shanghai 16 School Tournament. Or the Shanghai 16 School Tournament for universities. It’s a big tournament. Anyway, it’s taking place next month. Would you be interested in participating?”
“Me?” Lin Feng blurted out. The Winter Collegiate Cup? I was talking with Fatty about that just the other day! He grinned and said, “Fatty made the same mistake the other day. I can’t play in the Winter Collegiate Cup! I’m still in high school, remember?” He paused for a brief moment, then added, “But you knew that. We spoke at the Shanghai 16 School Tournament! Wait, is this one of those hypothetical questions? Then my answer is yes! It sounds like a really cool tournament with so many great players! Of course I want to play in it!”
Chu Fang laughed and said, “Never change, Lin Feng. Never change. And yes, I know you’re still in high school. But no, this isn’t some hypothetical situation. The Collegiate Cup used to be exclusive to university teams. But there were some changes made to the format of the tournament this year. One of those changes is that we’re inviting three high school teams to join. One from each of the three big esports associations: Beijing, Guangzhou and Shanghai. It’s basically an opportunity for our most talented players to get some early experience at the university level. So, are you interested?”
“Are you asking me if I want to play in the Collegiate Cup?” Lin Feng asked, ecstatic. “Yes! YES! I’ll be the best at the university level too! This is going to be awesome! We’re going to beat everyone and become the best high school team and the best university team too!”
“WaitWaitWait!” Chu Fang interrupted. He waited for Lin Feng to stop talking and then explained, “Yes, I want you to participate. Just you. This isn’t High School 13 participating, but the best high schoolers from Shanghai playing. I’ve been put in charge of drafting the Shanghai team. The team I have in mind right now consists of you in the mid lane and BunBun in the Jungle. And…” He paused and shuffled some documents before continuing, “…Tang Bingyao? The ad-carry on your team? I want her as the team’s ad-carry. As fo—”
“Oh. That makes sense! I’ll play in the mid lane!” Lin Feng interrupted. “I’ll go and tell BunBun and Tang Tang right now about it! I’m sure they’ll want to play too! Talk to y—”
“Wait! WAIT!” Chu Fang said. “Don’t hang up! Wait a second!”
Lin Feng had already moved the phone away from his ear and was about to end the call when he heard Chu Fang cry out. He placed the phone back to his ear and asked, “Huh? Did you say something? Is there something else? Didn’t you call about the Winter Collegiate Cup? You told me about it already! I want to tell BunBun and Tang Tang the good news! They’ll be so happy!”
“Yes, I did say something and yes there is something else,” Chu Fang replied. “I wanted to let you know what the full line up will be for your team. I drafted the Support and Toplaner from Shanghai High School. I ho—”
Lin Feng laughed and said, “Oh, that’s fine! Is that all? I’m going to tell BunBun and Tang Tang then. By—”
“Wait! Please! One more thing!” Chu Fang shouted. Then when the call stayed connected, he quietly said, “I’m sorry. I couldn’t hide it any longer. The boss…”
Words entered Lin Feng’s ears, but he didn’t hear them. There was a loud banging sound that he couldn’t quite place. He stared at the last couple of students walking down the hallway. “I couldn’t hide it any longer.” He didn’t need to ask what Chu Fang couldn’t hide any longer. Fang Hao knows. I wanted to make a quiet return to the scene. I wanted to slowly work my way up. And then face everyone when I’m ready for it. On my terms. But I ran into Chu Fang at the Shanghai 16 School Tournament and now Fang Hao also found out… How much longer before the others find out? What if Rake finds out and sees me playing at a high school tournament? His heart slammed into his ribcage with every beat, his throat dried up, and he had to fight back the urge to run away. I can’t do that! I won’t do that again. I’m not going to abandon my friends! And I won’t let Fang Hao down again. But…
Lin Feng walked back into his classroom a couple of minutes later. His friends were all still there, waiting for him. But he didn’t see them, not really anyway. He was still lost in his own mind, trying to come to terms with what Chu Fang had just told him. And every time that he had a new thought about the situation, his facial expression changed with it.
Ouyang had been barely able to contain himself for the last few minutes. Ren Rou had to almost physically restrain him from running after Lin Feng. But when he saw Lin Feng walking back into the classroom, he couldn’t stop himself any longer. He ran up to Lin Feng, threw an arm around his friend, and shouted, “Best bro! What did the vice president of the Shanghai Esports Association call you for? Tell me! You can’t keep secrets from me! That’s against the bro code! Tell me!”
An Xin looked past Ouyang’s excitement and at Lin Feng. He looks like he saw a ghost… What did Chu Fang say to him? She nodded at Lin Feng and probed, “Are you ok? Did Chu Fang call with bad news?”
Lin Feng shook his head and said, “No. He actually had some really good news, I suppose.” He scratched the back of his head and explained, “We’re invited to play at the Winter Collegiat—”
“THE WINTER COLLEGIATE CUP? NO WAY!” Ouyang cried out.
Lin Feng nodded and continued, “Yeah, BunBun, Tang Tang and I will be representing the high school team from Shanghai.”
“Really?” An Xin asked, surprised. “That’s… that’s really cool!”
Tang Bingyao’s mouth fell open a little, dollar signs in her eyes. After learning how much prize money the Shanghai 16 School Tournament offered, she’d done her research on other tournaments in Shanghai and China, including the university tournaments. The prize money increased exponentially at the university level! We don’t even have to win. A good performance will already get us so much money. I’ll have so much spare change! Mhm!
“Uhh…” Ren Rou interrupted. “Isn’t that great news? Why were you looking so out of it a moment ago?”
Lin Feng scratched the back of his head and said, “Oh, well, you see… That’s because…” He rubbed the deep creases on his brow and sighed. “It’s nothing. Nothing.”
An Xin had been watching Lin Feng since he walked back into the classroom, studying his constantly changing expressions. And she finally figured it out. Chu Fang told someone. But you don’t look mad, I think. So did you already expect it? Was Chu Fang forced to tell someone? Maybe his boss? It’d be hard to keep it a secret from Fang Hao after we won the Shanghai 16 School Tournament. That could be it…
Yang Fan adjusted his glasses and asked Lin Feng, “Right, so you, Tang Tang, and BunBun are playing. But that’s only three. A team consists of five players. Who are the other two players on the team?”
“The other two?” Lin Feng asked. “Oh, they’re those two from Shanghai High School. Their Toplaner and Support!”
Chu Fang had also called Zeng Rui to invite him to represent the Shanghai Esports Association. Zeng Rui had accepted and informed Chu Fang that Zhang Hao, who was Shanghai High School’s Toplaner, would also accept. This was the kind of opportunity no one wanted to pass up on. Now he sat in the computer science lab at Shanghai High School, waiting for the rest of his team to come. When they did, he told them about his call with Chu Fang and that he and Zhang Hao were going to play at the Winter Collegiate Cup.
Zhang Hao pointed at himself and said, “Me? Sweet! Thanks for accepting the invite on my behalf!”
The other three players from Shanghai High School’s team were also very excited.
“That’s awesome! You guys are going to play in a university tournament! That’s almost at the professional level!”
“Cap and Hao Bro are going to play against university students! That’s so cool! I wish they’d also invited me…”
“Aghhhh! I’m so excited just thinking about it! I can’t imagine how exciting it must be for you guys! Just imagine! You’re going to be playing against university students! That’s, like, almost the professional level of League!”
Zeng Rui smiled and nodded at his teammates and he also felt some of their enthusiasm. But he wasn’t nearly as excited. He sat down behind a computer and lowered his head. It is really nice that we’re invited. You don’t get these kinds of opportunities often, so I had to accept it. That much is obvious. This tournament is going to be a lot more difficult too. That is a valuable experience. If I want to become a professional player at some point, I’m going to need experience like this. It’s just…
Zeng Rui frowned. He couldn’t help but feel the pressure. If he was going to play, he wanted to win. And he was well aware of how good the teams at the Collegiate Cup were. He’d watched them play before and recognized many name tags from the Challenger ladder on the Ionia server. There was one name in particular that stood out to him. Samsara. This player’s real name was Sun Ruinian, a student at Zhejiang University. And he was the best ad-carry Zeng Rui had ever played with in the solo queue. When I play with him, the games are always so easy. I don’t think we’ve lost a game playing together. But when I have to play against him, I suddenly have to try so hard. He knows just how to get me off my game. And he is only one of many. His team didn’t even make it to the Finals last year! There are so many really good players who can make my life difficult.
Zeng Rui pulled up a website on the computer in front of him and browsed through the list of players who’d participated in the previous Collegiate Cups. Know him, him, him, him, him, him… I’ve played against so many of them. And they are on Challenger grade teams! At the Shanghai 16 School Tournament, we still had so many teams with not even Diamond line ups. There were Platinum players and worse… But now we’re going to have to beat Challenger level teams. I don’t even think we can make it to the quarterfinals. It’s going to be really difficult. But I really don’t want to give up before we even start playing. It’s just really hard to stay optimistic knowing how good the opponents are going to be.
Zeng Rui leaned back in his seat. He closed his eyes and rubbed his temples. I’m playing to win. I won’t go there to become second, third, or anything like that. I’ll have to lead our team to victory! That’s what I’m going to do! He sat up straight and opened his eyes. They radiated with a blazing determination! I’m going to be the first high schooler to win a university tournament! It’s going to be difficult, but if anyone can do it, it’s me! I’ve been at the top of Challenger for a long time now. And that girl from High School 13 in the Jungle is also really good. Zhang Hao is a strong Toplaner. That ad-carry from High School 13 also seemed good enough in the final game of the finals. We just have to keep her at that level consistently. That just leaves… Zeng Rui gritted his teeth. He didn’t want to say it. Now he could still pretend it wasn’t true. But he also knew that wouldn’t change anything. If he wanted to win, he had to do it with the team that Chu Fang drafted. He picked the thundering dumbass for the mid lane. He could’ve picked anyone else. But no. He went with the thundering dumbass. I’m going to have a headache.