Brand new professional teams needed months and months of practice before they could compete at the highest level. This was because the players needed to get acclimated to each other. It wasn’t any different for Team Shanghai, except that they only had one month for this process. An Xin and Zeng Rui understood the time crunch. So after the first practice, they’d talked with each other and came up with a training schedule that would get the team to a level where they could compete for the Winter Collegiate Cup.
On the second day of practice, An Xin and Zeng Rui presented their training plan. It was simple and straightforward. Play a lot of League of Legends. Because more than anything, the team needed to play as many games together as they could to get attuned to each other. But they also had to learn from the mistakes they made. So An Xin would record the games and review them with the rest of the team, pointing out the mistakes and how they could’ve been avoided. And finally at the end of practice, An Xin and Zeng Rui would sit down together to talk tactics and strategy.
All five members from Team Shanghai liked this training plan. They got behind their computers and started practicing, quickly winning one game after the other. This was an unfortunate side effect of being a new team. They had to start fresh on the ranked ladder. From the initial placement matches to Platinum and beyond.
It took Team Shanghai two more days of winning every single game to find some serious opponents. But this was far longer than Lin Feng could stay focused. He’d enjoyed the first couple of games, but smashing Midlaners game after game became pretty stale. And in the last game of that day, he was completely lost in boredom. I should tell Fatty that Chu Fang invited me to play at the Winter Collegiate Cup! He’d love to watch me play! Maybe I can call him on the way home and tell him! Hmm, but what do I call our team? He needs to know which team to follow. He looked at the other, completely forgetting they were in the middle of a game, and said, “Hey! We haven’t named our team yet! What should we call it? Shanghai Masters? Or Challengers! Shanghai Challengers! Or, or, The High Schoolers!”
“We’re in a game,” Zeng Rui said. He closed his eyes for a brief moment and sighed, then added, “Besides, Chu Fang registered us as Team Shanghai. That’s our team name. Now will you please focus on the game?” Thundering dumbass.
An Xin chimed in, “Just focus on the training. Leave the rest to people with a brain!”
At the end of the first week of practice, Team Shanghai had made remarkable progress. Their teamwork improved rapidly, which helped them further improve almost every other aspect of their game as well. But the biggest changes were happening in the bot lane. More specifically, Tang Bingyao was progressively getting better at the game. There was still so much potential within her that she had yet to tap into.
Tang Bingyao had discovered early on that she was quite talented at League of Legends. But she never saw herself becoming a professional player. Then one day, while she was just playing games in solo queue, she was contacted by a representative from an elo boosting website, asking her if she wanted to work for them. They offered her quite a significant sum of money and she jumped on it. From then, she’d boosted more accounts than she could count, most of them from Silver to Platinum. She became really good at beating low elo players. But she rarely ever played against high elo players, which stagnated her progress.
Everything changed for Tang Bingyao when she met Lin Feng. He was really good at the game. Far better than any other player she’d ever met. So good that she couldn’t even tell exactly how good. And he wanted to teach her. The first thought she had was about money. Lots and lots of money, which she would make from boosting higher elo accounts. And then he taught her that there was more to League of Legends than completing orders and making a little money. He dragged her along, and she let him. Little by little, she found herself wanting to follow him. She joined the High School 13 esports team because he wanted her to play at the tournament. That was when everything started to change for her. She started playing the game far more seriously, and started improving because she wanted to be better for Lin Feng. She started improving her skills as an ad-carry. Then she started wanting to be better for herself.
During the Shanghai 16 School Tournament, Wei Dong was Tang Bingyao’s Support. He was a good player, but he wasn’t great. She learned a lot from playing with him, yet also saw the limitations. These limitations disappeared when she started playing together with Zeng Rui. He was exactly the type of player Tang Bingyao needed to bring her game to a higher level. She was improving with every game that they played together. It was to such an extent that Zeng Rui was actively complimenting her just about every game.
There was only one aspect of Tang Bingyao’s game that Zeng Rui wasn’t too happy about. It was something that stuck around from her elo boosting days, when she had to carry a game if she wanted to complete the order faster. And that was her choice of Champions. She preferred to play the most aggressive ones, like Draven and Graves. And while she was good at them, it greatly limited the team’s options in terms of strategy and team compositions. So after one game where she played in a particularly aggressive style, he turned to her and asked, “Why do you always play these hyper aggressive champions? Don’t you like to play something like Twitch? Kog’Maw? Or other different types of ad-carries?”
Tang Bingyao tilted her head and looked at him. “Hmm…” She thought about it a moment and then explained, “It’s easier to go in and kill them. I don’t like having to run around and hide.”
Zeng Rui rested his head on his hand and stared in the distance. He finally shook his head and said, “That really limits our range of team compositions though. And it’d be good for you too to get comfortable with other champions too. You’ll have an easier time playing against them in lane. I think we should try having you play Twitch, or maybe even Kog’Maw.”
Tang Bingyao curled her under lip and shook her head. “I don’t like playing them. They’re ugly.”
Zeng Rui stared blankly at Tang Bingyao. Ugly? He took a deep breath and started massaging his temples. I expected this from the thundering dumbass, but not from you… But fine, whatever. If you don’t feel like playing them, then don’t. Let’s put your preferences first and the team results second. He blew all the air out of his lungs, then pursed his lips and asked, “But if we need you to play them, you will?”
Tang Bingayo nodded hesitantly and said, “Mm, if I really have to.”
Zeng Rui nodded. That’s good enough for now. I’ll have you enjoy playing them if we need to. You’re far more talented than I expected. It shouldn’t be too difficult for you. Then he turned to look at the other members of the team. Zhang Hao is just a good Toplaner. I knew that. It’s good to have him here. I can always rely on him. And An Xin is just a really good coach. And her Jungling is far better than I expected. I only saw her play one game at the tournament, but that wasn’t even her best game! I don’t know how she does it. She finds ganks everywhere! It’s really impressive.
There were five members on the team. Zeng Rui finally looked at Lin Feng. I don’t want to say it. I don’t want to say it. But… He sighed. But it doesn’t matter what I think about him. He is the best player on the team. By far. His mechanics and awareness are something I’ve only ever seen in professional players. But his name… Maple… I’ve looked up every professional player in the last two years, and I couldn’t find his name. Still, when I watch him play, there’s something different compared to the others. The way he approaches the laning phase, the teamfights, everything he does is just that little bit different. I don’t know how to explain it. But it’s really good. I wish I had it.
Zeng Rui nodded at Lin Feng and said, “Where did you learn those skills? Like, really? You’re playing far better than any other non-professional player I’ve played against.”
Lin Feng looked over at Zeng Rui and grinned. “Didn’t I tell you? I’m really good at mid too!”
Zeng Rui massaged his temples again and finally shook his head. There’s no way a professional team would ever accept someone like him. He’s far too annoying.
The second week of practice for Team Shanghai saw their teamwork rise several more levels. But they couldn’t just practice. Rest days were just as important as training. An Xin and Zeng Rui had decided to take Wednesday afternoon off. Not by skipping the training, but by inviting their old teams from High School 13 and Shanghai High School to practice with them. Team Shanghai 1 played against the brand new Team Shanghai 2. And then games with random lineups followed. It was a great few hours to unwind from a week and a half of serious practice.
But the relaxation couldn’t last forever. After their friends went home, Team Shanghai got back to work. An Xin and Zeng Rui reviewed their strategies and more importantly their progress. It was impressive what the team had achieved in so little time. But there was one big problem. An Xin and Zeng Rui both saw it.
Zeng Rui looked at everyone and sighed. “We’re still not good enough.”
Tang Bingyao looked at An Xin and asked, “Hmm?”
Lin Feng quickly added, “Yeah! What do you mean, not good enough? We’re doing great!”
Zeng Rui shook his head and explained, “We have to play in the regionals first. Our region is East China, which coincidentally is the strongest region. Half of the quarter finalists from last year came from East China.” He had a grim expression as he named them, “Fudan University came in third, Zhejiang University fourth, Shanghai University of Finance sixth and East China University eighth. And there were two more teams that made it to the round of 16.”
Lin Feng exclaimed, “Wow! We’ve got a strong region, huh!”
East China was composed of Shanghai, Fikoam and Zhejiang. All three of them were big esports cities. But Shanghai was the esports capital of the world. They had the most professional players and some of the biggest talents all gathered together. It wasn’t at all strange that the Winter Collegiate Cup preliminaries for East China were a lot more difficult than for the other regions. The high school teams from Beijing and Guangzhou had a comparatively much easier road to the main tournament.
Zeng Rui looked gravely at Lin Feng and then Tang Bingyao as he said, “If we’re not prepared, we might get knocked out in the regionals. I’m playing to win, and not to get knocked out in what is essentially a qualifier.”
Tang Bingyao considered the new information and then asked, “But if we make it through regionals, the rest should be easier, right?”
An Xin smiled and said, “The other regions also have strong teams. They just won’t have had as much practice against really strong teams. So, yes, we’ll have a small advantage. The main event should be a bit easier because of this, especially in the earlier rounds.”
“In the early rounds, yes,” Zeng Rui agreed. “And then it’ll be a lot more difficult. Don’t get sloppy or think that we’re there after the regionals. That’s just the start.”
Lin Feng had been listening to the conversation, incredulous. Why are they talking about which matches will be easier? Who cares about that! He finally couldn’t hold himself back anymore and said, “We’re going to win the trophy anyway! Who cares who our opponents are? We’ll just have to beat them all! That’ll be fun too!”
Zeng Rui turned to Lin Feng and nodded. “We want to win. And to do that, we have to be ready to beat everyone. We just aren’t at that point yet. But I’ve thought about something for that.” He paused for a moment and then continued, “I reached out to the esports club from the Shanghai University of Finance and asked them if they’d be interested in a couple of practice matches. They agreed to play us on the weekend.”
Lin Feng’s eyes lit up. He just about shouted, “We’re going to be scrimming against a university team? That’s awesome! When are we playing? Saturday or Sunday? Tell me! I want to know!”