Team Shanghai was through to the next round of the first preliminary of the local division of the regionals of the nationals of the Winter Collegiate Cup! It was just the first step, but a good start was half the work. Zeng Rui looked at his teammates from Team Shanghai and said, “We’re going. East China University of Science and Technology is a stronger team than whoever we’re facing in the next round. We don’t need to spend our time watching them. East China Medical School is the only other team in our local division who’s half-decent. But since they’re in Group 1, we won’t have to play them until Regionals anyway.”
An Xin nodded and added, “What Zeng Rui says. And also, it’s pointless to worry all the time about our next opponent. Sometimes you just have to let go and relax a bit. I think this is a good time for that.”
Lin Feng grinned and suggested, “I’m hungry! Let’s go celebrate our win over a lot of food!”
“Celebrate?” Zeng Rui asked, surprised. There is nothing to celebrate, you thundering dumbass! He shook his head and said, “We’ve only won the first round of the first qualifiers. What’s there to celebrate?”
“What do you mean, ‘what’s there to celebrate’?” Lin Feng countered. “We won! That’s worth celebrating! We’ve taken our first step towards the championship! Of course that’s something worth celebrating!”
An Xin smiled and asked, “Does that mean we’re going to celebrate after every round?”
Lin Feng rubbed his chin. Food after every round? That does sound good! He clapped his hands together and said, “That sounds like a perfect idea! It’s a deal! We’re going to celebrate every win with food! It’s going to be delicious and a great boost to morale! Great idea, BunBun!”
“Enough, goldfish!” An Xin smacked Lin Feng on the back of his head. She then turned around to look at the others, a smile replacing her annoyance with Lin Feng, and suggested, “It’s still early. I like the idea of having some dinner together. Just tonight. We’re not going to do this every time we win.” She turned back to look at Lin Feng and added, “And Lin Feng, I swear, if I hear a peep…” She raised her hand again.
Lin Feng rubbed his head painfully and grumbled, “What was that good for!? You just suggested the same thing I did! This is so unfair! And I’m NOT A GOLDFISH!”
Zhang Hao looked at Lin Feng, sympathetic. He always knows just how to say the wrong thing. Maybe he could use some advice… He said, “Lin Feng, maybe don’t talk so much. She always hits you when you start saying things.”
Zeng Rui looked at the exchange taking place and shook his head. What is wrong with these people? How did I end up with them? What did I do to deserve this…? He finally waved his hand and said, “Alright, fine. We’ll find a food stall and grab a quick bite to eat.”
Tang Bingyao raised her hand and said, “Mm-mhm. I want to sit down and eat.”
“Hotpot! Let’s get some hotpot! I’m really good at eating hotpot too!” Lin Feng exclaimed, walking down the pavement with the others from Team Shanghai.
An Xin glared at him and said curtly, “Hotpot is too heavy. We’re not having that again. Let’s get something a little lighter.”
Lin Feng looked a bit upset when everyone agreed with An Xin. But he got all excited again when they found a small restaurant. If he couldn’t have a heavy dish like hotpot, he could just order a ton of light dishes! So he started ordering numerous dishes, soups and white rice. He grinned at the others, who were all shaking their heads, and proclaimed, “Look! This isn’t too heavy! I’m really good at ordering light dishes too! And my metabolism is really good too!”
An Xin glared at Lin Feng. Her lips curved up into a smile and she narrowed her eyes. “HMM? What was that? I dare you to say that again!”
Lin Feng ignored the stares from his teammates and looked away from An Xin at his beverage. It was mango juice. I really want a beer… He glanced at Tang Bingyao. But she can’t hold her alcohol at all. I don’t want to have to carry her home again! That was such a hassle! Yeah, better to just not bring up alcohol. I’ll have to get really good at not getting Tang Tang drunk too! He grinned again and then raised his glass. “I know it ain’t alco— I mean… Let’s have a toast! We won today! Ganbei!”
Everyone clinked their glasses and took large swigs from their fruit beverages. After which Lin Feng stood up and started shushing everyone. When they were all silent, he exclaimed, “We’re playing again in three days! And when we win that one, we’re going to Regionals! And then we’ve got the main tournament! So many more dinner celebrations! We’re going to win the whole thing! I’m really good at winning games too!”
An Xin looked at Lin Feng, a smile creeping up on her lips while bloody murder started glowing in her eyes. She said, “HMM? Did you put alcohol in that drink? Or are you just that stupid? We’re not even close to qualifying for the main tournament! Don’t get ahead of yourself! Now sit your ass back down!”
Zeng Rui massaged his eyelid, feeling it starting to twitch again. He said, “The next round should be easy. But the Regionals are going to be tough. We might even run into Fudan or Zhejiang University. We’ll have to be ready for that. Keep training and stay focused on the goal.”
“Hey, Zeng Rui?” Zhang Hao asked. He waited for his friend to look at him and then continued, “I heard Fudan and Zhejiang University both invited coaches and analysts to help them prepare for this tournament. They were already some of the strongest teams in the competition… What are we expecting to do against them now?”
“So what if they did?” Lin Feng interjected, confused. He grinned and pointed at An Xin. “We’ve got a better coach and analyst!”
Zeng Rui ignored Lin Feng and took a minute before answering Zhang Hao’s question. They hired people to help them. Yeah, I know. But they didn’t hire BunBun. Or me. We’re both really good. I don’t think we’ll have an issue on that front. He finally said, “We’re good in terms of coaching. But…” He paused and made sure to catch Lin Feng’s attention before continuing, “Those teams have been playing together for far longer than we have. They have more experience at the big tournaments than we have. They have better scrimming partners. They have better facilities. They have a lot of things in their favour that we simply don’t have right now. We need a lot more than some fancy strategy to beat them.”
An Xin nodded and added, “If we want to beat opponents at that level, we have to start by perfecting our laning phases. We have to win every single lane from here on out. Because if we’re not ready to win against Fudan and Zhejiang in the lane, then we’re certainly not winning against them in the mid and late game. They have too much experience to let that happen.”
Zhang Hao nodded along to An Xin and when she finished said, “I understand. I’ll work hard on improving my laning phase! I’ll give it my all!”
Tang Bingyao tilted her head and then pumped her fist in the air, “Mhm! I’ll win my lanes!”
Lin Feng looked from Zhang Hao to Tang Bingyao and then back at An Xin. He scratched the back of his head and asked, “So you’re saying I have to carry you guys?”
An Xin giggled, covering her mouth with her hand, and said, “Sure. If you want to take it like that, you carry us!”
Zeng Rui wasn’t laughing, or giggling. There is that serious look again… He thinks he can really carry us? Who is he? He looked at Lin Feng, quietly observed him, and finally said, “Only if you can carry the games by yourself.”
Lin Feng waved his hand and replied in complete confidence, “You guys should’ve told me this earlier! Don’t worry! I’ll carry! I’m really good at carrying games too!”
Thundering dumbass! Zeng Rui wanted to argue. Every little part of him wanted to argue. But he reeled himself back, forcing himself not to go down that path. He glanced at An Xin. You said he can beat every Midlaner. I’ve never seen him lose in the mid lane. And he is always so confident. Why can’t you guys just tell me what I’m missing? What’s so special that I can’t know about it? Just tell me already! Can he really beat every Midlaner and carry all the games…?
A phone started ringing, pulling Zeng Rui away from his thoughts. Everyone turned to look at Lin Feng, who was already searching around in his pockets and on the floor. “Where’s my phone? Where’s my phone?” he mumbled repeatedly, until Tang Bingyao pointed at the phone buzzing on the table. “Oh! There’s my phone!” Lin Feng laughed and answered the call, “Hey! Chu Fang! What’s up? Did you see us play? We totally wrecked them!”
“So you’re through to the next round?” Chu Fang asked from the other side of the line.
Lin Feng grinned and said, “Yeah! We won! 2-0! It was super easy! Our next game is in three days!”
Chu Fang replied, “That’s good to hear! Keep at it!”
“Don’t worry! We’ll keep going at it!” Lin Feng exclaimed. He then struck his trademark victory pose before adding, “We’re going to win the entire tournament! Zero losses! Many wins! I’m really good at winning too!”
Chu Fang laughed and said, “Good, good! I’ll be looking forward to that. And when you guys make it a little further, I’ll make sure to come and cheer you on in person!”
“You get to see me carrying again! Just like before!” Lin Feng replied, laughing.
Chu Fang was in Fang Hao’s office at the headquarters of the Shanghai Esports Association. His phone call with Lin Feng was played on speaker, so that Fang Hao could also listen to everything being said. After the connection broke, the two men looked at each other. They knew Lin Feng and how happy he liked to act, especially when things were going right. Fang Hao was eventually the first to talk. “Good,” he said.
Chu Fang nodded and said, “Sounded like he was pretty confident. It’s good to see him like this again.”
Fang Hao laughed and replied, “The happy little kid.” He grinned before continuing, “But it’s too early to celebrate. All I want is to see him return to his real form. This is only a university tournament. It’d be terrible if he lost.” His expression suddenly fell. He gazed out of the window and took a deep, long breath. He finally added, “I’m afraid it’s not enough though. It’s taking him too long to get back to form.”
Chu Fang didn’t reply right away. He sat back in his chair and followed Fang Hao’s gaze out of the window, looking out at the night sky of Shanghai. What Lin Feng is doing is great for anyone else. We’d be jumping around with someone that talented. But… This is Lin Feng. This is Maple we’re talking about! He was already playing in the World Finals when he was only 15 years old. And now, at 19, he’s playing in a university tournament. It is slow. It isn’t going fast enough. The new season is going to start soon and before we know it, Worlds is back. Where will he be? We need him back on his game! We need Maple! Some high school kid having fun at a university tournament is worthless to us. Come on, Lin Feng! Find your rhythm again. We need the real you to step up. Help everyone remember the wonderkid from Season 1! We know you can do it. You just… You need to do it already. Step up! He breathed in long and deep, then let it all out. But he’s still just a kid. Can we really ask so much from a kid? Isn’t that what we did four years ago too? And that’s when he left. It was too much pressure. He chewed on his lips and finally asked, “Don’t you think we’re asking too much from him? Maybe we should just be happy that he’s on his way back…”
“I know we should be happy. Don’t think I don’t,” Fang Hao replied. He then shook his head and continued, “But who else can do what he can? Do you know anyone who’s as talented as he is? Absolutely anyone out there who has what it takes to beat Rake? Because I don’t. I can’t think of a single player here in Shanghai who has even half of his talent.”
Chu Fang had no response to this. They both knew that Lin Feng was still just a kid who liked to act as such. But hidden behind that playful exterior was a monstrous talent. Zeng Rui is good, but not that good. Tang Bingyao is good, but not even close to that good. BunBun… They’re all great players. But they’re not Lin Feng. He is just so much better. And it comes so easily to him. It’s… He shook his head. We need Maple.
Fang Hao stood up from his seat and walked over to the window. He looked at the busy streets below and said, “There’s no one else. We both know it. It has to be him. It can only be him. I wish, I really do wish that there was someone else. Someone who could share the burden with him. But there just isn’t. He is so far above everyone else that we can only turn to him. When he gets rolling, there’s no stopping him. That’s the Lin Feng… We need Maple, it’s that simple.”
Chu Fang slowly nodded. “I know.”
Fang Hao chuckled and shook his head. “Of course One had to be the one to find this kid. It takes talent to find talent, or something inspirational like that. One was so good in his active years. He still is. It almost sounds like a fairytale when you think about it. China’s biggest talent finds an even bigger talent! And we’ve got front row seats. I just really hope Lin Feng can do half of what One did for the Chinese esports scene.”
The second best of three for Team Shanghai took place on Friday. The team traveled to East China Medical School after their classes ended and waited for their turn to play. The audience was a bit more on their side because of the spectacular fashion in which they beat East China University of Science and Technology in the first round. And this second best of three series wasn’t any different. Their opponents just weren’t good enough. Team Shanghai won their lanes and from there carried the two games to quick victories. Both games ended on the 20-minute mark, one by a unanimous surrender vote and the other by a destroyed nexus. With this series in the bag, Team Shanghai secured their spot in the next round of the tournament. The East China Regionals.
Every local division concluded around the same time. Replays of all the games were uploaded to the tournament website, giving a first glimpse into the strength of the teams still in it. This opened up the possibility for teams to prepare for the next round by working through the available data from their potential opponents. They could search for weak spots and come up with tactics to counter a team’s favoured Champions.
Every team competing in the East China Regionals was doing this. And while researching, they also looked at the games from Team Shanghai, who’d made it two rounds further than most people expected. It quickly became evident why Team Shanghai had made it to Regionals. They were a far better team than anyone initially expected. From individual skill to team synergy, they were better at every facet of the game compared to their opponents.
Rumours started floating around that Team Shanghai wasn’t just playing in the Winter Collegiate Cup to get experience at the university level, but to compete at the university level. People started comparing their games with those from Fudan University and realised that Team Shanghai had the raw skill to make it to the main tournament. This was a very important discovery, because that was where it became region versus region.
In the Regionals of the Winter Collegiate Cup, the teams from East China duked it out between themselves to see who would move on to Nationals. But once there, they wanted to make sure that the teams from East China made it as far as possible. So they trained together and gave each other feedback and ideas. Anything that might be of help to see the teams from East China make it a step further in the main tournament. This was especially important this time around because their best team in the previous edition only made it to third place.
The condescending tone disappeared when people discussed Team Shanghai. They didn’t talk about the high school team or about the team with two girls on its roster, but about a team who could potentially make it to Nationals and achieve a great result for East China.
The teams in East China weren’t the only ones reviewing the games from Team Shanghai. The high school team from Beijing, Team Beijing, had gathered in a conference room at the Beijing Esports Association. There was a large projection on the wall, showing the replay of the third game played by Team Shanghai. It was a fast game, where the different lanes beat their opponents with relative ease. There was a lot of action, and somehow it all ended in Team Shanghai’s favour. But the members from Team Beijing quickly lost interest. If they wanted to watch some random team stomping another random team, they could do that anywhere. There was nothing about this game that really stood out to them. And it was the third one of its kind.
Team Beijing’s manager was Fan Yuan, a 28 year old man with short, black hair. He was one of the three Vice Presidents from the Beijing Esports Association. He pointed a couple of things out on the projection with his ruler and kept on talking throughout the entire replay, not once looking at the members of the team. When the replay finally ended, he turned to look at them and asked, “So what do you guys think about Team Shanghai?”
There were a couple of shrugs and one team member was picking his nose. They really didn’t care about Team Shanghai. If these games proved anything, it was that there were better things to waste their time on.
“Hey!” Fan Yuan shouted. He pointed his ruler at the team members and said, “We’re having a team meeting! Pay some attention! Tell me what you guys think about Team Shanghai!”
It was the substitute Toplaner who eventually replied. He snorted and said, “I don’t know? What do you want us to say? You saw the games, right? They look like shit. What are we wasting our time on them for?”