High school teams competing at a university tournament. The official reason was that these were some very talented players who deserved to get the experience. But it was never that simple. In this particular case, it was a pissing contest between the three big Esports Organizations in China. Beijing, Guangzhou, and Shanghai were using their high school teams to show who’s next generation was the best. A couple of old men in their big offices were betting on who had the best kids.
The Shanghai Esports Association had given Team Shanghai two objectives to achieve during the Winter Collegiate Cup. The obvious goal was winning the entire tournament and showing that they were better than everyone else! But more importantly for the Shanghai Esports Association was that Team Shanghai beat the high school teams from Beijing and Guangzhou. And if they never got to face those two teams, then they had to at least rank higher in the tournament.
Chu Fang dropped the smile and pleasantries. He looked with a serious expression around the cybercafe’s private room. He said, “The high school teams from Beijing and Guangzhou are actually really strong. They’re far better than we initially expected.” He passed around a document, allowing the members of Team Shanghai to read through it, before continuing, “On there you can see the information I gathered on the Beijing team. They have seven members on their team. From what I could find, they’ve scrimmed against both Beijing U-Tech and China University of Political Science and Law. They won every game in both scrims.” He paused for a brief moment and then added, “Those two university teams were both quarter finalists last year.”
“So what?” Zhang Hao asked with a shrug. “We scrimmed against Shanghai University of Finance and kicked their asses! Sounds like we’ve got nothing to worry about.”
“Eh…” Chu Fang shook his head and said, “It’s not that simple. Don’t start underestimating them. The Beijing team didn’t even play with their main roster. Their strongest two players were sitting out in those games. And they crushed both teams. I’ve been told that they were really impressive.”
Zeng Rui closed his eyes and massaged his temples. It was hard to get any information on them, since we didn’t know much about them. I hoped that they were at most at the level of quarter finalists. But it sounds like I was wrong. He looked up at Chu Fang and said, “We’ve got our work cut out for us.”
“Uhm…” An Xin knew Chu Fang a little bit better than most others in the room. He likes to start with the good news… She observed Chu Fang’s expression briefly and then asked, “What about the Guangzhou team?”
Chu Fang smiled bitterly and replied, “Yeah… They’re better than the Beijing team. A lot better, supposedly.”
Long before esports there was the geek culture, which was little more than a group of Japanese animation, science fiction and video games enthusiasts. This culture grew faster in Guangzhou than anywhere else in China, quickly becoming a part of the city’s identity. Many people even called Guangzhou the first real cultural center of China! There were countless companies, like comic book publishers and streaming platforms, that had set up their base of operation in Guangzhou for this very reason. Yet Shanghai had overtaken Guangzhou in recent years to become the esports capital of the world. This was difficult to accept for the City of Nerds. And they were looking to bring esports back home!
All of this background information was important for Team Shanghai, because it explained how Guangzhou’s high school team had attracted some of the most talented high school players from Korea. They’d done this with their connections to big companies like Huya TV. Chu Fang took a deep breath and then asked, “Have you guys heard about a player called Goalie?”
“No? I’ve never heard about him before. Is he a strong player?” Lin Feng asked, puzzled.
The other members of Team Shanghai didn’t reply right away. They thought about it, because the name did sound familiar to them. It was eventually An Xin who made the connection. She raised her eyebrow and mumbled, “Him? They actually got him?”
Chu Fang nodded and explained, “Yeah. They got him. Offered him a nice fat contract it looks like. He flew over from Korea and started attending a high school in Guangzhou approximately two months ago. His rank on the China server isn’t all that high yet. But that’s just because he hasn’t spent much time on it. He mainly plays on the Korean server, where he has consistently been in the top 30 of the ranked ladder. His peak was rank 7. And…” He turned to look at Lin Feng. “…he’s a Midlaner.”
Zhang Hao’s eyes were wide. He stared dumbly at Chu Fang and mumbled, “7th place Challenger on the Korean server? What the fuck! That’s so impressive! He’s right up there with Rake! He’s played against Rake! How are we supposed to beat someone like that!?”
Zeng Rui hadn’t felt his eyelids twitch involentarily all day. But now they did. He finally remembered who Goalie was. Huya TV offered him a fat contract! That’s probably what Chu Fang is talking about. But I haven’t seen him stream the last few weeks. I was already wondering what happened… I guess this explains it. He’s been busy practicing with his team. Crap! I didn’t expect that he could be on Guangzhou’s high school team. All my predictions and expectations for the high school teams were wrong! I have to reconsider all of that! Why couldn’t they let us know about this sooner? This is really screwing with our schedule! He grimaced and scratched his head. It’s going to be so much harder to win now. Can we even win? Goalie is only a high schooler, but he has so much experience already! We’re basically screwed in the mid lane!
Lin Feng didn’t share any of the shock his teammates were feeling. He was a little bundle of joy! A true grin reaching from one ear to the other was somehow still growing wider on his face. His eyes were beaming in anticipation. He exclaimed, “Goalie is a mid main? Nice! That should be so much fun! You know, I’m really good at beating rank 7 Challengers too!”
An Xin giggled and said, “Right. Just leave him to Lin Feng. There’s nothing to worry about.” She then nodded at Lin Feng and added, “You might like to hear that Goalie is known for his LeBlanc and Fizz and all those hard-carry champions.”
“Sweet!” Lin Feng exclaimed. His grin was somehow reaching all around his head. “This’ll make it so much more fun to stomp him!”
Zeng Rui looked at Lin Feng in shock. Then a memory came back to him from the night before. It was his conversation with An Xin. She told me not to worry about it. Lin Feng was better than every other Midlaner at the Collegiate Cup. But that was before we knew about Goalie. He looked at An Xin, scrutinizing her every action. She… she doesn’t look worried? Is she? Is this all an act? Does she really believe Lin Feng can even beat Goalie?
Lin Feng suddenly turned to An Xin and asked, “Hey, how do you know so much about Goalie?”
“Huh?” An Xin mumbled. What’s gotten into him? It usually takes him weeks to make any kind of connection, if he does at all! Why is he so sharp now all out of a sudden? “Uhm…” She looked around for an answer and then explained, “I saw him stream on Huya TV a while back. He was playing really well, so I remembered him.” She giggled briefly before adding, “You know, not everyone is as short of memory as you. You couldn’t remember him if you saw him play this morning! You’re kinda like a goldfish.”
Lin Feng scratched the back of his head, his grin faltering. He muttered, “My memory isn’t that bad.”
An Xin smirked and said, “Did you bring your house keys with you last night? Or were you stuck at the door and forced Su Xue to close her stream again?” She smiled knowingly before adding, “Told you. Goldfish memory.”
“That isn’t fair!” Lin Feng protested. “That’s something completely different! You see, the keys…” He stopped himself and glared at An Xin. “I don’t have a goldfish memory!”
“Yes you do,” An Xin quickly countered.
Tang Bingyao tilted her head, quietly watching the childish quarrel between An Xin and Lin Feng. She zoomed in on An Xin, blocking out Lin Feng’s attempt at a defense. She made him completely forget about Goalie and how she knew him… Did she do that on purpose? Am I seeing things? Hmm… It feels like she did that on purpose. Mhm.
Chu Fang brought a lot of explosive news. Team Shanghai continued talking about it until long after he left. They went over all the information on Team Beijing first. It was impressive. Team Beijing looked like an incredibly strong team. But Zeng Rui and An Xin weren’t too worried. They only had to slightly adjust their preparations and expectations. There were some backup plans for a scenario like this, though. The real shock was the information on Team Guangzhou. The thought of having to go up against the brightest high school talent in Korea was daunting, suffocating and absolutely terrifying.
After going over Team Guangzhou’s information, they kept coming back to Goalie. He was their starplayer, the one Team Shanghai had to really prepare for. An Xin turned to look at Lin Feng and asked, “How confident are you in beating him? Please, I need a serious answer.” I know how good you were. But I also know you’re not there yet. It’s just… It’s really hard to see all the small things. How far along are you?
Lin Feng shrugged and said, “I won’t lose to him. Honestly, perfectly serious, more serious than I ever am…” He grinned and assured, “He’s just the right opponent. It’ll be a good challenge!”
An Xin watched Lin Feng. Really watched him. Every small move he made, she caught. She listened to the rhythm in his voice and searched for any kind of defensive mechanism at work in his mind. But she found none of that. He’s looking forward to it! It’s giving me goosebumps! It’s like four years ago all over again! Before every game, he was always so excited about beating a strong Midlaner! He’s getting to that point again, mentally anyway. Good. She faintly smiled and said, “Are you now? Well, that’s good. Do your best. I believe in you.”
Zeng Rui stared at Lin Feng in a daze. How can he be so confident? And why does BunBun just believe him? I just don’t get it… It doesn’t add up. He played professionally. That’s the only thing that makes any sense. Maybe he went by a different name. I just… I don’t get it. This is the only explanation I can think of. How else can he be so confident about beating Goalie? He only got to Challenger a while back! He sighed loudly and shook his head. Then he suddenly looked very serious and said, “Then let’s prepare. The tournament is starting soon. We need to be ready.”
Lin Feng started grinning again. He struck his trademark victory pose and shouted, “YEAH! Prepare and then conquer the Collegiate Cup! High School 13 is getting its second trophy! We’re going to fill the entire trophy cabinet!”
Tang Bingyao imitated Lin Feng’s victory pose and nodded. “Mhm! Let’s fill that trophy cabinet!”
Team Shanghai spent the next few days practicing as much as they could, until Tuesday came around. It was the 8th of December. The Winter Collegiate Cup was officially starting. University teams from all around the country started in the first round of preliminaries, fighting against local opponents in an 8-team knock-out bracket. Only two teams from each bracket would advance to the next round. And then there were still far too many teams left. Just in the Shanghai League alone, there were five different local divisions.
Team Shanghai’s first round of preliminaries were at the East China Medical School. They agreed to meet up there at 5 P.M. sharp. Zeng Rui and Zhang Hao were a little early. They waited, impatient. Lin Feng, Tang Bingyao and An Xin were late. The two both had their phones in their hands, checking the time and looking if there were any messages. They were just about to call, when the thundering dumbass’ familiar voice rang out. “Hao Bro! ZengZeng! Look, look! I brought you guys egg crepes! Do you want one? You can’t get hungry while playing! Here, take one! I brought enough for everyone!”
Zeng Rui’s eyelid started trembling. He put his hand over it and looked past Lin Feng, where An Xin and Tang Bingyao were both nibbling on their own egg crepes. He then shook his head and said, “No thanks. We don’t have the time to laze around. Let’s go inside.”
There were signs on campus pointing Team Shanghai towards the playing hall. Lin Feng wanted to look around a bit, but Zeng Rui didn’t allow that. He pulled everyone along, constantly reminding them that they were already late and that they really had to hurry up. He kept this up until they entered the hall. That was when he turned to the others and said, “We’re in Group 2. It’s a single-elimination, best of three series, and only the top 2 teams in each group advances. So we have to win everything.”
Lin Feng grinned and replied, “So we just gotta win two best of threes, right? Okay, got it!”
Tang Bingyao looked at Zeng Rui and asked, “Who do we play first?”
“East China University of Science and Technology,” Zeng Rui replied.
East China Medical School had pulled out all stops to create an impressive arena for the first preliminary round of the Winter Collegiate Cup. There were two soundproof booths for the players and a large stage that could easily hold 300 people. And it was packed. Completely jam-packed. Many students from East China Medical School had come to watch the preliminaries of the Collegiate Cup. They were chilling in their chairs and gossiping about the latest news. They were laughing and joking about the teams that were terrible in previous editions and would probably be terrible again. And they were complaining about having to sit through a high school versus university game.
One guy in the audience suddenly stood up. He gazed past the stage to where Team Shanghai just entered the hall. “Hey!” he shouted. “Hey! Hey! Guys! Look! Over there! There! You see those kids? I think they’re the high schoolers! Yeah! They’re the high schoolers! That’s the high school team!”
The noise in the hall came to a grinding halt. 300 pairs of eyes turned around to look at Team Shanghai, scrutinizing them. And then a commotion broke loose.
“You’re shitting me, right? That’s the high school team everyone has been talking about?”
“They look so young! Are they really good at the game?”
“Are those girls actually on the team…? Please tell me they’re just there for moral support. PLEASE!”
“I don’t have a good feeling about this… They look like shit.”
“What a strange team… Are those girls on the roster? Maybe their other two players are on the toilet?”
“Can’t wait to see them feed their asses off and make an embarrassment of themselves!”
The first best of three series was between two teams from Group 1. The players from Team Shanghai sat down in the player seating area next to the stage and looked up at the large LCD screen that was suspiciously similar to the one at the Shanghai University of Finance.
Zeng Rui glanced at the two teams and then said to his teammates, “The first match is between the East China Medical School and some other tech school.”
“We just have to win Group 2. What do we care about Group 1?” Lin Feng asked.
Zhang Hao wasn’t listening to Zeng Rui or Lin Feng. He was glaring at a couple of other players who were sitting together a little distance away. He grumbled, “Those damn shits are talking shit about us! Why do they keep saying we got in through our connections? What connections? I don’t have any connections! This is so stupid! Just because we’re the only high school team in the East China region, we get all this attention. Why can’t they just shut up about us? I’m not rich!”
An Xin smiled, unconcerned, and said, “Don’t take it to heart. They’re just salty that we’ll knock them out of the tournament.”
Lin Feng laughed and chimed in, “Yep! We’re going to stomp them! I’m really good at stomping people too!”
East China Medical School won their best of three series in two quick games. The crowd was cheering. Their team had made it to the next round! They didn’t even quiet down as the host stepped up on stage and announced the next game. “Next up, we have East China University of Science and Technology versus Team Shanghai!”
But when the words ‘Team Shanghai’ flowed from the host’s lips, everyone stopped talking. All eyes turned towards the players from Team Shanghai. Some were curious, others venomous. Tang Bingyao slumped back a little, while Zhang Hao wanted to stand up and fight all the angry glares! But Lin Feng didn’t seem to notice the reaction in the hall. He only paid attention to the host. It’s our turn to play! Finally! He jumped to his feet and pumped his fist into the air, shouting, “It’s finally our turn! Let’s stomp them!”