The Beijing Esports Association had assembled a team of seven talented players for the Winter Collegiate Cup. None of these players needed any experience at the university level. They could skip straight to the LSPL! And that was precisely why the Beijing Esports Association had recruited them. Because only with a lineup like this could they clinch the Winter Collegiate Cup title and show to the Guangzhou and Shanghai Esports Associations that they were the strongest and most talented region in all of China!
Team Beijing had played a good number of games, including scrimmages against university teams and the first couple of games in the Winter Collegiate Cup. They won each of those games convincingly, quickly becoming a terrifying opponent for the other teams competing. But what really threw the teams in North China off was that Team Beijing was playing with their B lineup. Their two star players, the Midlaner and Toplaner, hadn’t played a single game yet! This was a tactic the Beijing Esports Association had come up with in preparation for the main tournament. No one would know just how good they were until it was already far too late to do anything about it!
The substitute Toplaner looked at Fan Yuan, the team’s manager, and shrugged. He glanced at his teammates and said, “I don’t know what you guys think, but…” He pointed at the replay they were watching on the projector. “That Toplaner is shit.” Why do I even need to spend time on this? I’m a Master in the Ionia server! And that Zhang Hao? Yeah, that dude is like Diamond… His Fiora sucked hard. Fucking waste of my time watching this!
Fan Yuan nodded and said, “Thanks for sharing your insights.” He then turned to the others and asked, “What about you guys? Anything to add to that?”
Team Beijing’s ad-carry stretched his back and rubbed the sleep from his eyes. He yawned and said, “I don’t know. Those Botlaners are a terrible match. It doesn’t really matter how good they are individually, they can’t play together for shit. All I could see were the glaring mistakes they kept making because of communication issues. If they play like that? We don’t even have to try.”
Fan Yuan slapped the ruler in his palm. He took a deep breath, looking at each of the team members in turn. “Stop this. Sit up straight. Watch the footage.” He slapped the ruler behind him, where the beamer was projecting the replay of Team Shanghai’s game against the East China University of Science and Technology for a second time. “Look at what they’re doing right! We’re not going to underestimate them! We’re going to study them, and then when we play them, we’re going to tear them apart!” He narrowed his eyes and added, “Don’t forget. They beat Shanghai University of Finance 2-0 a while back. That’s a strong team.”
“The way I see it,” Team Beijing’s Support started. He pushed his glasses up the rim of his nose, irritated, and then looked straight at Fan Yuan. “The way I see it, Team Shanghai tricked them. Their Support is Zeng Rui, yeah? He’s a Challenger and I’m guessing the captain of the team. He has a decent idea about shotcalling. Not at all strange that they won against the Shanghai University of Finance. And that university team most likely underestimated Zeng Rui’s team as well. There really isn’t a whole lot to it. Zeng Rui used the little skill he has to trick Shanghai University of Finance. I don’t see why we need to spend time on this.” He chuckled and added, “Can’t wait to kick that noob’s fat ass though.”
Team Beijing’s ad-carry glanced at his Support, surprised. What’s got him all worked up? He never talks this much… And what the fuck was that laugh? But, hmm, a Challenger Support? Team Shanghai is better than I expected then. We shouldn’t underestimate any Challenger. Fan Yuan is right to tell us we need to prepare. He looked at his Support and asked, “Zhang Hongyi, how good do you realistically think he is? A Challenger is impressive. We can’t just push that aside.”
Zhang Hongyi turned his head to look at his ad-carry and snorted. How good? Not good enough to worry me! I would’ve also been Challenger by now if there isn’t a hard cap of 200 players! I’m at the top of Master! Screw that noob’s fat ass! He finally said, “Don’t worry about him. I got this.”
Team Beijing’s Jungler looked at his two Botlaners and said, “If Zhang Hongyi says so, let’s assume that he’s got it. He’s been playing a ton of duo queue at the top of Master, so he’ll have plenty of experience against Challengers. Let’s forget about that Support for now. What about that Midlaner? That guy actually looked good.”
The substitute Midlaner raised his eyebrows and moved his lips around. I’m a Master. He can’t be that much better than me… Right? Fuck me. He is. That dude played that far too well. He looked at the footage, which was still playing, and said, “He plays his lane really aggressively. I’m not sure I can beat him in the early game…”
“Doesn’t matter,” Yu Ping said. He sat at the back of the room, leaning back in his chair with his feet on the table. “I’ll play against him.”
Fan Yuan looked at Yu Ping, who was Team Beijing’s main Midlaner, and smiled. He looks confident. Good. We know how good our opponents are and he is still so confident. And no one knows a thing about Yu Ping! This plan is going to work out great! He nodded at Yu Ping and said, “Good. I’ll leave that to you then.”
Yu Ping snorted. He couldn’t be bothered to entertain Fan Yuan with a response. What a pathetic waste of time! Team Shanghai? Team Shangshit! I hope they get knocked out before we have to play them. Then I can focus on Team Guangzhou. On Goalie. His annoyed expression became a little bit tense. He narrowed his eyes and flexed his jaw. Goalie. Show me what a Rank 7 Korean Challenger is worth. I finally want to test my skills. Please make it fun. I don’t want to win this tournament without any challenge.
Team Guangzhou was going through a similar preparation as Team Beijing. They’d gathered at the Guangzhou Esports Association and were watching the replays from Team Shanghai. The two coaches paused the videos on the large LCD screen every now and then to point out a couple of things, but they otherwise watched the games in silence. And in boredom. They came to the same conclusion Team Beijing had. There was a lot lacking in the gameplay from Team Shanghai. The only person on the team that looked on top of their game was the Midlaner. But Team Guangzhou had Goalie in the mid lane.
One of the two coaches turned to look at Goalie. He was a small and thin youth with a sickly pale complexion. And his small, beady eyes were easy to miss. The coach asked, “What do you think about that Midlaner? Will he be a problem?”
The interpreter sitting next to Goalie translated the question to Korean. Goalie looked at the interpreter in confusion and then turned to the coach and raised an eyebrow. There was a spark in his eyes that was easy to miss due to how small they were. But the smirk on his lips said it all. He replied to the interpreter in Korean, though everyone could guess what he was about to say.
“He says,” the interpreter translated into Chinese. “That he won’t waste any more of his time on this Midlaner. This Lin Feng has no real skill. Goalie says he can beat him on his worst off day with three fingers in his nose.”
Goalie noticed how the interpreter raised three fingers and suddenly scrunched his nose. He moved his head back and forth and then raised his hand and placed it behind his back. Everyone could guess what he meant. He was saying that he only needed one hand to beat Lin Feng. He then said in broken Chinese, “Easy.”
Team Shanghai was making the most out of the little time they had to prepare for the next round of the Winter Collegiate Cup. They were still only a newly formed team and really needed every second they could get to work on their synergy and plan out strategies. This was further reinforced by the minor setback due to Zeng Rui and Zhang Hao changing their approach to the game. It made them better players, but it’d take time to adjust the team’s strategies and synergies to these changes. So they practiced every afternoon, meeting up at the cybercafe after school and only going home for dinner.
Lin Feng went through the motions. School in the morning, practice with Team Shanghai in the afternoon and walking home with Tang Bingyao around dinner time. Su Xue was waiting for him at home every night, dinner usually already on the table. They’d share a quick bite together, after which he went to his room to do his homework. The night ended with him joining Su Xue on her stream, playing a couple of games with her or her viewers.
Before Lin Feng could grow too comfortable in this rhythm, it was interrupted. He’d just finished his homework and was about to have fun with Su Xue on stream, when his phone started ringing. Who;s calling me this late at night? He reached for his phone and checked the caller ID. His eyes went wide in shock. He double-checked the caller ID, just to be sure. Then he smashed on the green phone icon and placed the phone next to his ear. “Sir!”
“SIR!” Lin Feng repeated a second later impatiently. He moved the phone from his ear again and checked to make sure the call was still connected. It was. He was on the phone with One, his mentor, the most famous player in world esports! There were many people out there trying to make a name for themselves, like Han ‘Rake’ Seho or the older Lee ‘Rake’ Dojae, but none of them reached the illustrious height of One. He was renowned worldwide as the best player in the famous massive online battle arena game DotA! He was the first name added to the Esports Hall of Fame! He was everything Lin Feng aspired to be! It’s One! One is calling me! One! One!
“Sir, sir! Are you there?” Lin Feng asked for a third time.
“Hey, hey? Can you hear me?” One asked. “Sorry, I’m in Thailand. The signal is pretty terrible here.”
Lin Feng smiled and quickly replied, “It’s good! The connection is good! I can hear you!”
“Good! That’s good!” One said. “I heard you’re playing in the Winter Collegiate Cup? How’s that going?”
“Yeah, I am! We won the first round! And the second round!” Lin Feng exclaimed, grinning. “We crushed the opponents! It went really well! I guess I’m still really good at winning games too! Oh, I think we’re going to the Regionals next!”
One chuckled and asked, “You’re winning the tournament, yeah?”
“Of course I am!” Lin Feng replied, almost sounding insulted by the question. “I wouldn’t let you down! We’re going to win this tournament easily!”
“Good, good,” One said. He breathed in sharply and looked out the window of his villa at the beautiful green scenery outside. Winning a university tournament when he was the best player in the world. He played at the World Finals! And now he sounds excited about winning a university tournament… How the mighty have fallen, hehe. He shook his head and moved his lips around. But he really needs to start challenging himself. He won’t learn anything from this. Hmm… Can I help him somehow? What could I make him do? He looked at his computer, which had the League of Legends client open. I could do that… The season is almost over. Some last minute climbing of the ladder could challenge him… Yeah, that’ll work. He smiled and asked, “Did you know that the competitive ranked season ends in a month on the Korean server?”
“I guess?” Lin Feng replied. “Why?”
One ignored Lin Feng and continued, “The top ten Challengers in the Korean server are being tracked live until the season ends. Right now, Rake has got three accounts in that top 10. First, second and ninth. And it would be one, two and three if there were more hours in a day. You know how good he is. The entire top 10 could be his if he had the time and energy to go for it.”
Lin Feng listened to One, his usual grin disappearing. He stared at his laptop and chewed on the inside of his cheeks. I know. I know. I know he’s playing really well! He’s the best player in the world! I’m nowhere near good enough to be playing against him yet. I need more time! A lot more time! But he’s using that same time to get better himself! It’s difficult! I don’t know… It’s really difficult! Maybe I’m not good… I’m good enough, but maybe there isn’t enough time… He laughed at himself. He shook his head and laughed at himself. Here I was all happy about beating some Diamond players in a university tournament… What am I doing? Am I really happy about this!? Those guys were never my opponents! I’m way too good for that level! It’s not even… It’s not even worth my time. I’m only falling further behind Rake. All the time I’m spending messing around, Rake is getting better! And better! AND BETTER!
Lin Feng was breathing faster and faster, biting on his lips in frustration. I’m letting myself get distracted! My goal isn’t this Collegiate Cup! I want to become the best player in the world! And I can’t do that if I’m satisfied by beating a couple of Diamond players! That won’t help me improve! There is only one thing I should be focusing on. To get back to my original level. Get on the level of the Four Emperors! Screw these damn qualifiers! They mean nothing! I need to stop letting myself get so happy about winning them! It’d be a disgrace if I lost them! These teams are bad. I’m so much better that I don’t even have to try to win! He knocked himself on the forehead. “Stupid. Stupid. Stupid!” While I’m here having fun, Rake is working hard to become better! I need to get my head in the game! I’ll never get to his level like this!
One breathed out loudly, interrupting Lin Feng’s thoughts, and asked, “That Midlaner from Team Guangzhou? Goalie? You know who I’m talking about?”
“Yeah,” Lin Feng replied, dejected.
One continued with a second question, “He peaked at Rank 7 on the Korean Challenger ladder, right?”
“Yeah,” Lin Feng repeated in the same dejected voice.
“You’re going to beat him, right?” One asked.
“Yeah,” Lin Feng said, still dejected.
One paused for a brief moment before saying, “Alright. Then I have a job for you. Something that might actually push you. Before this whole Winter Collegiate Cup ends, I want you to climb up to Challenger on the Korean server. And you’re not stopping when you get there. You’re going to surpass Goalie’s peak and then break into the Top 5.”
Lin Feng stuttered a few incoherent words, speechless. Top five? Top five in the Korean server? Can I? That is right up there at the top! Rake is there! I’d have to play against Rake… and, and I’d have to beat him! I can’t get to the top five if I don’t play against Rake! Unless I only play when he isn’t around. But he’s always playing… I’ll have to play against…
“What?” One interrupted. He chuckled and asked, “Don’t think you can do it?”
The message landed. Lin Feng clenched his phone and gritted his teeth. He breathed in deeply, letting the air fill his lungs, and then breathed every negative emotion out of his body. His laptop stood on his desk. He glanced at it, determined. “I can do it. Of course I can do it! I’ll do it! I’ll get to the top of Challenger on the Korean server before the Collegiate Cup is over!”