Team Shanghai showcased what was by far their strongest performance in the Round of 16 series versus Fuzhou Tech. But they were still a new team with clear weaknesses. Their teamwork left a lot to be desired and the individual players weren’t necessarily the best in their role either. Zhang Hao in the top lane was quite clearly one of the weakest Toplaners in the entire Winter Collegiate Cup, and though Tang Bingyao had a lot of untapped potential, she was only average right now. That left Zeng Rui, An Xin and Lin Feng. Zeng Rui was an uncontested A- Support. Everyone recognized that. But An Xin and Lin Feng were new to the Shanghai scene. No one knew them beyond the few games they’d seen. And in those games, An Xin had played a strange method that looked lacking, while Lin Feng had a habit to be better than his lane opponent without actually looking all that much better.
Fuzhou Tech was the strongest opponent Team Shanghai had faced in the Winter Collegiate Cup. But just like in the previous rounds, they played at a level right above their opponents and beat them. There were no flashy plays, except from Lin Feng at the end of the second game, and nothing that stood out in particular. So it wasn’t all too surprising that Team Beijing didn’t think too much about Team Shanghai.
Team Beijing was a team of monstrous talents handpicked by the Beijing Esports Association. They were the best players from their region specifically recruited to beat the teams from the Shanghai and Guangzhou Esports Associations. And Goalie belonged to Team Guangzhou. The Beijing Esports Organization learned about Goalie early on, and so they knew they needed a lot more than just a university level team.
Zhejiang University was a solid B team. It could be argued that Sun Ruinian lifted them up to a B+ grade, though not everyone agreed with that notion. But Team Beijing was indisputably B+ grade. In most years, this was enough to compete for the title. And odds were that it was enough this time around as well. But Fan Yuan, the vice president of the Beijing Esports Association, wasn’t satisfied with his team. He looked at the individual members in the office room, one at a time, before lecturing them. “Stop underestimating your opponent,” he said before turning his back to them and looking at the projection of the replays on the wall. He then slapped his ruler against it and continued, “These five players are handpicked by the Shanghai Esports Association! They have beaten every opponent they’ve faced so far! And odds are that we have to play against them in the main tournament.”
Fan Yuan took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Our main roster consists of a B grade player, two B+s and two A-s. We have no Goalie in the mid lane, but we’ve got a strong team. Probably stronger than Team Shanghai. But not when we can’t even be bothered to take our opponents seriously. Team Shanghai has strong players. We need to… How do I get through their egos? He turned to look back at the seven players from Team Beijing and said, “Nothing good will come from looking down on them. All I’m asking is to consider their strengths and be ready to play against them, and beat them.”
A chuckle sounded in the quiet room. One of Team Beijing’s members shook his head and said, “You really think they’re going to make it to the main tournament? With that team? They’re playing Zhejiang University next, right? The way I’m seeing it, Zhejiang University has the better team. We just watched both games. Zhejiang University looked far more convincing.”
“I’d put my money on Zhejiang University. We should focus on them,” another team member chimed in.
The other players from Team Beijing all agreed. They started talking about the Zhejiang University versus Stepping Stone University game, commented on how Sun Ruinian had truly reached A- grade in the ad-carry role, and argued that with the line-up Zhejiang was sporting they really couldn’t be disregarded. Gradually, the arrogant and derisive undertone disappeared from their conversation and was replaced with respect. Zhejiang University was a strong team and deserved their full attention.
“True, true. Zhejiang University is indeed a strong team,” Fan Yuan agreed, nodding. I finally have their attention now. Good. We’ll focus on Zhejiang University first. He continued, “Zhejiang University won the first Collegiate Cup four years ago. Their founder became one of the best professional players in League of Legends, though he quit years ago. Our latest intel on him says he’s focusing on his studies.” He briefly paused before adding, “But that also means he’s still at Zhejiang University. Which means he is eligible to play. You might’ve heard his name before. AyDeeCee.”
Fan Yuan had joined the Chinese esports scene midway through Season 2. He was a young man eager to show his worth and climb the ranks of the Chinese Esports Association. To that end, he’d spent every waking minute of his life learning everything there was to learn about China’s competitive League of Legends scene. We were all still learning back then. There was just so much to do and not enough time to do it. He had briefly glanced at the data from before Season 2, but quickly cast that aside. He’d reasoned that players from the past weren’t going to help China win, only active players could do that. And the most famous active player in Season 2 was AyDeeCee. He was a phenomenon! It was actually exciting to go and watch games back then just because he was playing! I still remember how high we graded him. 81%! All this talk about B grade players and A grade players… At 80%, you transcend that rating system and truly step into the realm of a professional player! AyDeeCee took that step years ago! He was in a realm of his own! If he really starts playing again… He shook his head and turned to look at Yu Ping. I wonder if Yu Ping can beat him. Doubt it. Even after all this time, I doubt Yu Ping can beat AyDeeCee. He sighed and said, “Yu Ping, prepare to play against AyDeeCee, just in case.”
Yu Ping raised an eyebrow. Why would I need to prepare for him? He hasn’t played in years… He grinned and said, “Don’t worry about him. I’d love to show my skills off against him.” He paused for a moment, then shrugged and added, “He’s an old man from Season 2. It’s Season 5. Almost 6. This is our season.”
Team Guangzhou had moved to a luxurious apartment building that the Guangzhou Esports Association had rented just for them. It was their little, very large gaming house. They were gathered in the main training room together with their coaches and were reviewing the games played in the East China Regionals. More specifically, they were talking about Zhejiang University and discussing the possibility of AyDeeCee stepping in to lead Zhejiang University to the main tournament.
Goalie listened to what his interpreter told him and then turned to look at his coach with a blank expression. He slowly enunciated, “Ay. Dee. Cee?” Then he grinned and shrugged, before leaning over to his interpreter and whispering a message in Korean.
The interpreter turned to look at the coaches and translated, “Goalie says he remembers that someone with that name played all the way back in Season 2, maybe even Season 1? He calls them a ‘relic of the past’. We’re now in a ‘new’ period of League of Legends that doesn’t care about ‘old fame’. Goalie also says that…” He briefly paused and turned to look at Goalie, who nodded at him. He bit on his lips before saying, “Goalie also says that if AyDeeCee really comes back, that he’ll ‘beat him back into the coffin he came crawling out from’.”
The two coaches both looked at Goalie who was still smiling. His pale, starved face created a terrifying expression. They almost recoiled back, but eventually just shook their heads. They were accepting of the confidence bordering arrogance, mostly because Goalie was one of the most talented players in all of League of Legends. His teammates, on the other hand, didn’t care one bit for Goalie’s antics. They were used to the strange things he said and of the fact he spent so much time behind his computer that he skipped more than a few meals. If anything, it motivated them to train harder too, just to be worthy to play together with him.
“That’s right! We’ve got Goalie! What’s some old bloke gonna do?”
“Lawl! Is Zhejiang University going to cast Dead Rite to bring AyDeeCee back to life?”
“Did that guy even play in the last three years? How good can he really be?”
“What Goalie said! A relic of the past! He shouldn’t come back. He’ll just stain his legacy!”
“I hope that old fart stays in his retirement home! The young rule now!”
A loud sneezing sound boomed through a dorm room in Zhejiang University. Shi Hang, a 25 year old man, rubbed his nose clean on his sleeve and complained, “What the hell is going on? I’ve been sneezing all day! Is someone talking about me, or am I just getting sick?” He looked out of the window over an almost empty square down below. The coldness that winter brought carried people inside and made them turn on their heater. Shi Hang wasn’t any different. The temperature in his room was so high that he wasn’t even wearing a sweater, just a clean white t-shirt.
Shi Hang walked to his fridge and took two bottles of beer out. He looked over his shoulder and asked, “Want one?”
The other person in the room, sitting on the edge of a seat fiddling with his fingers, was Sun Ruinian. The ad-carry from Zhejiang University’s esports team chewed on his lips and shook his head. “No thanks.”
Shi Hang shrugged and put one beer back. Then he grabbed a knife and took the cap off his beer. He took a large swig and walked back to the small couch in his living room. There, he let himself fall down and put his feet up on the coffee table in front of him. “So, what led you here?” he asked. “Looking to mooch food off of me again?”
“No, no,” Sun Ruinian replied, shaking his head. “I’m not here for that…” He pursed his lips and looked at the man sitting across from him. Would people still come to our esports club if they saw you like this? You know you’re the most popular guy at our university, right? Everyone wants to join our esports team because of you! They don’t even care about Rake or Hermes, they only talk about you! They’re proud of being part of the esports club you founded!
Shi Hang took a second sip from his beer, a special brew that had a salty bitterness to it. He let out a satisfied burp and leaned further back in his chair. Sun Ruinian, Sun Ruinian. He grinned a bit and nodded to himself. I did well recruiting him. He’s a great player and when I couldn’t be bothered with the club anymore, he happily picked everything up for me. I don’t have to do anything anymore. And he’s doing really well. We’ve got more than 500 members and are the university’s biggest club! Sure, many join because of me, but Sun Ruinian is making the right advertisements for that!
The smile suddenly disappeared from Shi Hang’s face. He moved his lips around and observed Sun Ruinian, disgruntled. But the number of members and how it’s going at the university is one thing, being competitive is something else. We used to compete. Really compete. But since I left the team, we’ve been falling behind. We haven’t won the Collegiate Cup even once since I won it. We didn’t even make the Finals last year! That was a damn disgrace! How could they get knocked out in the semis? It’s below us. He took another swig from his beer and shook his head. What’s next? We don’t even make it to semis? Are we going to drop out in Regionals? Fuck that! Sun Ruinian has a lot of talent, and he’s got the right attitude. But something is clearly missing. What did we have when we won? We had me. I was A grade back then, closing in on A+. I was better than Sun Ruinian is now. Far better. He’s talented and all, but he’s just not good enough. We need more!
“I’m really not here to mooch food off of you!” Sun Ruinian repeated, a cold shiver spiking down his spine. Why is he looking so mad? Did I do something wrong? What did I do wrong? He chewed on the inside of his cheeks and played with his fingers, nervous. He’s the founder of our esports club and I’m screwing up. But when I do something wrong, he’s always really blunt about it. If I screwed up, he would’ve told me already, right? What am I supposed to… I should talk. Maybe I can convince him to join our team… He closed his eyes and tried to calm himself down. Then he opened his eyes to look at Shi Hang and said, “We won the Round of 16 yesterday. The quarter finals are up next. We can qualify for the main tournament again.”
Shi Hang took a large sip from his beer and looked at Sun Ruinian, uninterested. “Quarterfinals? Still the East China Regionals, right? That’s hardly worth mentioning. The only thing I care about is that you win that tournament. Come back to me when you have.”
Sun Ruinian smiled bitterly and complained, “You make it sound so easy, but it’s not. It really isn’t.”
Shi Hang raised an eyebrow and snorted. He said, “I won it four years ago, didn’t I? So let’s just assume I have a pretty decent idea about the skill required. And you guys? You aren’t that much worse than we were back then. So what’s the deal? Why aren’t you winning?”
“Because I’m not you!” Sun Ruinian exclaimed. He bit on his lips and looked down at his shoes. I’m trying, I really am! But I’m not you! You’re better. Even back then you were already far better than I’m now. Not just as an ad-carry but also as a shotcaller and team captain. He took a deep, long breath before saying, “You know, if you help—”
“Enough,” Shi Hang cut Sun Ruinian off. He shook his head and added, “Stop this. You keep trying it and I keep saying no. It’s starting to annoy me. I played in the LPL, you know that right?” He briefly paused to let his words settle in, then shook his head and continued, “How can I possibly lower myself to play in this kiddy league? Everyone will make fun of me. And they would have every right to! I’m too good to play in that tournament. That’s the end of it.”
I know, I know! That’s what you keep saying! Sun Ruinian rubbed his eyes and sighed, tired. He argued, “Yes, but have you seen the teams competing this time? They’re far better than befo—”
“So what?” Shi Hang asked, curling his lips into a frown. “They brought in kids, yeah? From high school? And you’re telling me they’re better than you are? What? You want me to come and show those kiddies the skills of an actual professional player? Do you really not hear how ridiculous that sounds?”
Shi Hang looked at Sun Ruinian and kept shaking his head. He continued, “Don’t think I haven’t paid any attention. I know about the three high school teams. Team Beijing looks decent. B+ maybe? You can beat them. I don’t see an issue there. And then there’s the Guangzhou team as well. I read something about a Korean import. What was his name again? Goalie or something, right? He’s the best player in the tournament? A+?” Shi Hang was still shaking his head and started grinning. “You do realise that my ‘grade’ is far above A+, right? This whole grading system, it’s for amateur players. It’s for university students, and not for real professional players. Do you really not see how weird it would look if I stepped in? Sure, nothing is stopping me. But nothing is stopping God Roundy from playing either, is it? But is he playing? No, of course he isn’t! He’s a professional player! This is an amateur tournament! Can I beat Goalie? Of course I can! Jesus! But I’m not going to lower myself to that level. I’m just not. And that’s the end of that.”
Sun Ruinian nodded in understanding. I know all of that! I know! It doesn’t make sense for you to come back and help us! But we both know how good our… how good my team is. We’re not good enough to win this tournament. We’re just not! And yes, I get why you don’t want to play. But with you, we’d win! That’s why I’m here again to try! I have to! He bit on his lips and wanted to argue, but held himself back.
“Right,” Shi Hang finally said. He took a quick sip from his beer and wiped the foam from his lips before asking, “Who are you guys playing in the next round anyway?”
Sun Ruinian grinned. Here it comes. He’ll laugh at me. He’ll call me useless. He shook his head and said, “The high school team from the Shanghai Esports Association. Team Shanghai.”
“Hoh? And they’re the team you want help with?” Shi Hang asked, worried. He sat up straight in his chair and even took his feet off the coffee table. He continued, “You mean you have to play against the team handpicked by the Shanghai Esports Association. Shit, they made it all the way to the quarter finals? They must be really good! You better not underestimate them. I want you guys to beat them—” He couldn’t keep the facade up and started laughing. He leaned back again and said, “That was a joke, if you didn’t catch on. I don’t know how good they are, but since I haven’t really heard anything about them, I’m sure you guys are better. Easy qualification for the main tournament, right?”
Yep, there it was. He made fun of the team I think we might lose to. What do I do now? Sun Ruinian smiled bitterly and replied, “We’ll do our best. I’m not going to underestimate them, because if we don’t give it our all, I’m not sure we can even beat them. I actually don’t know how we’re going to beat them.”
Shi Hang frowned in honest surprise and asked, “What? Are they actually good?”
Sun Ruinian nodded and explained, “Yeah, they’re surprisingly good. Their ad-carry and Toplaner are easy enough, but the other three members…” He briefly paused to take a deep breath and then continued, “Their Support is Zeng Rui. He’s an A- Support. He’s good, but not unbeatable. Then there is their Jungler. An Xin. I’m not sure what to think of her. Her gank timings and pathing gave me the chill—”
“WaitWaitWait!” Shi Hang interrupted. An Xin? He sat up straight for real this time and looked Sun Ruinian in the eyes. “An Xin? The player in their Jungle is called An Xin?”
“Yeah, that’s her name. I can show you,” Sun Ruinian replied, confused. He looked at Shi Hang doubtfully and asked, “Is something wrong? Do you know her or something?”
Shi Hang waved his hand and said, “Ah, it’s fine. I’m fine. Go on. Where were you? Just their Midlaner, right? What’s so bad about their Midlaner?” He raised his beer bottle and let the light fall on the glass. Just a bit left. He put it to his lips and emptied its contents into his mouth.
Sun Ruinian nodded slowly and said, “Yes. Their Midlaner. That’s the real problem. The others are good, but I can see how good they are for the most part and I can come up with a way to beat them. Then there is their Midlaner… I don’t know. The way he was playing, there just was something about it…” He shook his head and raised his shoulder before continuing, “I just don’t get it. I’m afraid he’s far better than Zuo Chong. I really don’t know what to do about this Lin Feng—”
The bottle of beer slipped from Shi Hang’s hand and fell on the ground, while the beer in his mouth went down the wrong pipe. He coughed violently and spit out the beer across his table, spraying Sun Ruinian. Tears sprung in his eyes from the pain, but he didn’t notice it. The shock was too great. LIN FENG? He coughed, choked, and couldn’t see much through the black spots clouding his vision. But he still jumped up and over the coffee table. He then grabbed Sun Ruinian by the shoulders and shouted into his face, “WHAT? LIN FENG!?”