Sun Ruinian stared wide-eyed at Shi Hang. What the… He wiped the spit and beer from his face and looked down at his wet t-shirt. He said, “Huh? What the? Why did you—”
Shi Hang shook his head and hurried to the kitchen. He came back a moment later with some napkins and shoved them into Sun Ruinian’s hands, saying, “Here. Clean yourself!”
“O-ohkay?” Sun Ruinian mumbled, confused more than anything. He shook his head and used the napkins to dry his face and catch the drips of beer rolling down his neck. What just happened? What came over him? Why did he spit at me? Was it something I said? All I said was something about that Midlaner. Was there something special about that? He looked back up at Shi Hang, who was standing in front of the coffee table and staring at the wall. What’s got into him? I’ve never seen him lose it like that! He chewed on his lips for a brief moment and then asked, “Uh, Shi Hang? You okay?”
Shi Hang abruptly turned his head to look at Sun Ruinian and then smiled. He waved his hands and said, “I’m good, I’m good.” He then searched around his pockets before spotting something on the floor. A pack of cigarettes. He grabbed it and took one out with trembling hands. “Lighter, lighter,” he mumbled while searching around and pulling a lighter from his pocket. He placed the cigarette between his lips and lit it before turning back to look at Sun Ruinian and asking, “Repeat that. Who is their Midlaner?”
Sun Ruinian pinched his nose. Why is he smoking? He knows I can’t stand the smell! And why is his hand trembling? What is wrong with him? He bit on his lips before replying, “Lin Feng. That’s what the document says.”
Shi Hang took the cigarette from his mouth and clenched his hand into a fist to stop it from trembling. The cigarette crumbled and ash fell down on his pants and the carpet, but he didn’t react to it. He didn’t even notice it. HOLY FUCK! LIN FENG!? Could it really be him? The Maple? That kid was only 15 back then, so that makes him what, 19 now? It could really be—
“D-do you know him?” Sun Ruinian asked, careful.
“Know him?” Shi Hang muttered. Then he started laughing uncontrollably. “Know him? Know him?” There are tens of thousands of people with that name just in Shanghai. But Lin Feng and An Xin playing League together? There can be only one! There is no such thing as coincidence! Everything about it screams Maple! He’s 19, so high school age. And if anyone could stomp Sun Ruinian, it is him. He sucked hard on his cigarette, letting the smoke fill his lungs before breathing it out in a perfect circle. He then shook his head and walked to the bathroom, saying over his shoulder, “Give me a bit. Gonna take a piss.”
Shi Hang sat down on the toilet, the cigarette hanging from his lips, and stared at his phone. The smartscreen was showing a name and phone number. Chu Fang. If anyone knows what’s up, it’s him. He always knows everything. He closed his eyes and grabbed his stomach. Why am I suddenly so nervous? It’s just a phone call! He grinned and shook his head before pressing down on the call button. He then just about pushed the phone into his ear and waited for the call to connect. It did a brief moment later. He shouted into the little microphone, “Chu Fang! It’s me!”
“Shi Hang? Hello,” Chu Fang replied, confused. “Why are you callin—”
“Is it him?” Shi Hang interrupted.
“Is it him? Who? What are you tal—” Chu Fang stopped himself and then changed to a different question. “Did you—”
“Is it him?” Shi Hang asked again.
There was a short silence on the line. A moment that felt like it lasted forever. But then Chu Fang’s voice sounded again. “It’s him.”
The phone slipped from Shi Hang’s hands and fell to the ground. His entire body trembled and his mind turned to mush. It’s him. It’s really him. Oh my god, he’s back. He’s back! Sun Ruinian has to play… Holy shit! He glanced down at his phone and mindlessly reached down to grab it. Then he just stared at it, stunned. Four years. You left for four years. I thought you’d never come back. But you’re back! It was about time! I’ve been waiting for you! He deeply breathed in and on the exhale placed the phone back to his ear. He said, “Alright. Thanks.”
Chu Fang asked, “Do you want his number?”
Shi Hang thought about it for a moment but then shook his head. He replied, “No need. I’ll see him soon enough.”
Shi Hang stared at his phone, dazed. He’d ended the call with Chu Fang a couple of minutes earlier, but still hadn’t recovered from the shock. He grabbed a new cigarette from his pocket and placed it between his lips. Then he took out his lighter and lit a small flame. The strong taste of tobacco filled his mouth as smoke flowed down into his lungs. Lin Feng… He closed his eyes, recalling events from years ago. I first found out about League right when it was released. A couple of my friends were also into it and we even convinced the uni to let us form a club. Then the Chinese Esports Organization announced the Collegiate Cup. That was our first chance at playing competitively. Of course we jumped at it! And we won. Of course we won! We were great! I was the best ad-carry in the entire tournament! He shook his head and smiled. I really wanted to be the best ad-carry, and I thought I could be. But that quickly changed after I got a taste of the real competitive scene. My ad-carry skills weren’t really all that. I still remember those games against Silent. I got destroyed by him! That’s when I knew I could never play ad-carry at the highest level.
A thick cloud of smoke filled the small bathroom, but Shi Hang didn’t pay any attention to it. He barely even noticed it. I got so upset when I played him, because I knew I’d never be that good. He was just so much better! But I wasn’t bad at the game. I just hadn’t found my role. He helped me realise that I had to look at the other positions. That’s when I found out that the mid lane is far better for me. In the mid lane, I was the best! He rocked his head back and forth and bit on his lips. For a very brief moment, anyway. Then he came. I’d never seen anyone quite like him. Never have. He was just so much better than everyone else. He shook his head and laughed. “Lin Feng, Lin fucking Feng.”
“Hah!” Shi Hang shook his head again and sighed. He took another puff from his cigarette before tossing it in the toilet bowl. “What am I doing? I’ve become old.” He flushed the toilet and washed his hands, then walked back into the living room where Sun Ruinian was still waiting for him. He won’t stand a chance against Lin Feng. No one does.
Sun Ruinian looked over his shoulder at Shi Hang, concerned. What’s gotten into him? Was something wrong with his beer? But beer doesn’t really go bad, right? Just tastes more like water when it gets old? Or maybe he had some bad takeout food again…? He probed, “You feeling okay?”
Shi Hang waved the question away and instead asked, “You’re playing against Team Shanghai next? Against Lin Feng, right?”
“Yeah?” Sun Ruinian answered slowly. “We are. Why?”
Shi Hang nodded and said, “Good. You get your wish, I’ll play. Make the arrangements.”
Sun Ruinian felt his jaw drop. He stared at Shi Hang and didn’t know what to say. What? Huh? What? He? Did he just say he’s going to play? Shi Hang is going to play? We’ve been asking him for months to help us out! Years! And he always says no! It’s always kiddy league this and kiddy league that! He always talks about losing face, and now, now, now he wants to play? He’s going to play!? He blinked a couple of times. We have people coming to Zhejiang University just for a chance to play League with Shi Hang! They practically worship him! We all do! And now he’s going to play for us again! With him on the team, screw Team Shanghai, we’re going to win the whole damn thing! Shi Hang is a former pro! He’s far better than anyone else playing at this tournament! We’re going to win! We’re going to win!
Shock morphed into joy, then morphed into bliss, and finally morphed back into confusion. Sun Ruinian looked at Shi Hang and searched for an explanation in his friend’s face. He was lecturing me only 10 minutes ago. It was beneath him to play in the Collegiate Cup. Even if we lose without him, it’s beneath him. And now he suddenly wants to play? What changed? Lin Feng. Their Midlaner. That’s when it happened. He changed when I mentioned that name! What is so special about that kid? He asked in an uncertain tone, “Shi Hang, you always said no. Until I mentioned Lin Feng… Is it because of him?”
No, that’s ridiculous! Sun Ruinian shook his head and looked away. Lin Feng was in middle school when Shi Hang was a professional player. How can the two of them possibly know each other? They can’t have any history, can they? But… He scratched the back of his head and asked, “Do you know him?”
“Don’t worry about it,” Shi Hang replied, shaking his head. He walked to his fridge and continued, “Just take care of the paperwork for me. Oh, and you’re going to want to put me down as your Midlaner.” He shook his head again and opened the fridge to grab another beer, mumbling, “Fate really works in mysterious ways…”
“Yeah, I’ll take care of the paperwork,” Sun Ruinian replied. He then scrunched his nose and asked, “What was that last bit?”
“No, it’s nothing,” Shi Hang replied. He turned around to look at Sun Ruinian and continued, “Anyway, this is looking like it’s going to be the most difficult Collegiate Cup yet. You can forget about Goalie. He is playing. That’s the only player we should be worrying about. And since he is playing, I can also play.” He shook his head and grinned. I thought he quit for good. It’s been four years. But he’s back! I wonder how many people know. Hmm, since no one has talked much about Team Shanghai, I guess there is almost no one who knows. The Shanghai Esports Association is really dirty inviting him to play at a university tournament. But this is a great opportunity for me to welcome him back to the scene!
Shi Hang looked at Sun Ruinian and asked, “What are you still doing here? You got what you wanted! I’ll play in that silly little tournament. Now get your ass outta here and practice! Practice your ass off and then some! You guys need to get a lot better, fast! If you drag me down, I’ll have your ass!” He grabbed Sun Ruinian’s coat and threw it at his friend. Then he opened the front door and kicked him out.
After closing the door, Shi Hang leaned with his back against it and stared out the window on the other side of the room. The sun was disappearing in the distance, its last rays shining into the room. He’s back. Maple is back. There’s going to be a massive reaction in the world of esports. And I just got myself first row seats. This is gonna be good!
A former professional player had discerned Lin Feng’s identity as Maple. Shi Hang had played against Lin Feng in the mid lane on multiple occasions and the two had become good acquaintances over those games. But that was four years ago. In the present, Lin Feng had only briefly thought about Shi Hang before focusing back on more important matters. There was the quarter final match against Zhejiang University in the Winter Collegiate Cup that he had to prepare for with Team Shanghai, and more importantly he wasn’t anywhere near the Top 3 on the Korean Challenger ladder yet.
One had challenged Lin Feng to reach the Top 5 on the Korean Challenger ladder. The fact that One asked him to do it was enough for Lin Feng to really try. But when One gave him the CN•HOOK2 account, that determination grew to a whole new level. It didn’t matter how difficult it was and how long he had to try, he would succeed! And then some!
There were 200 players on the Korean Challenger ladder and Lin Feng started at the bottom. After the first round of wins, he found himself ranked 170th. This was a phenomenal result and something that most Chinese players would find great pride in. But it was nowhere near enough for him. He had to climb higher, and he had to do it a lot faster too. The end of the season was fast approaching and the games ahead of him were only going to become more difficult.
Lin Feng stared at his computer screen that showed the Top 10 on the Korean Challenger ladder. Top 2. Both of them are Rake. He somehow found the time to get two accounts all the way to the top. And his third is only a few ranks below! That just shouldn’t be possible! He has to win almost every single game to get that far! I can’t do that. He grimaced and slumped back in his chair a bit. He’s so much better than I am. But I’m not giving up! I’m going to play! I’m going to win! I’m going to get better and kick him off his throne! I’m the best! He jumped up from his seat and pumped his fist in the air, exclaiming, “YEAH!”
An alarm beeped. Lin Feng glanced over and saw the time. 11 P.M. already? I promised Su Xue I’d let her watch. He grabbed his laptop and walked through the hallway to Su Xue’s bedroom. From far outside, he could already hear her voice. “Enough, enough! Stop this! I’m busy tonight! I told you guys at the start! I’ll make it up some other time! Hey! I’ve already made up for it plenty of times! Don’t act like I never stream until 2 or even 4 A.M! I do that all the time!”
Lin Feng pushed the door to Su Xue’s bedroom open and walked in. He placed his laptop down on her desk and glanced at the long string of messages flooding her chat.
「wooah woah woah! Xue xue, why are you ending the stream so early!」
「didn’t you say you’d stay upw tih s us until 3!」
「xue xue, you’ve changed!」
「ReAl GaMErS DOn’t SlEEp」
「something fishy is going on! I can smell it!」
「brothers, it’s time to mass unfollow!」
Su Xue glared at her camera and said, “You guys have had enough fun! I’ll be back tomorrow. Good. Night.” She clicked on the button to end her broadcast and closed the tab, not even bothering to read the latest string of messages that were mentioning Lin Feng. She then turned to look at Lin Feng, changing her glare into the brightest smile, and asked, “Are you ready? Did you finish your homework? Come on, hurry hurry! Faster! I wanna see you play! Plug in your charger and log into the Korean client! I want to see you play!”