The soft yellow glow of a table lamp shined down on the dark wood of a desk. Zeng Rui sat hunched over his notebook, scribbling down everything he believed could help Team Shanghai get an edge over Zhejiang University in the next round of the Winter Collegiate Cup. There was a clean layout in his notebook. He started with a basic strategy, after which he would delve into the strengths and weaknesses of the different team members within the specific strategy. And then he’d continue with opportunities and solutions to potential problems. He gathered far more information than they’d ever use.
Zeng Rui put down his pen and fell back in his chair, exhausted. He slowly massaged his temples to fight the light headache pounding at the sides of his head. I’m exhausted. Mentally drained. Why is this so much more complicated than my homework? He glanced at a different notebook neatly placed at the corner of his desk. I spent two hours after dinner working on my homework, from 7 to 9. I felt fresh. It was easy. And then I spent two hours working on… this. He shook his head and grimaced. Draft phase, early game map rotations, team comp synergies, general play… I’ve looked at everything! I know Zhejiang University’s strengths, I know how they play when they win a lane and also what they do when they’re losing a lane! I have more information on them than most professional coaches would bother with!
Zeng Rui shook his head and sighed loudly. My research into our opponents is why we’ve been doing so well in the Shanghai 16 School Tournament. I was prepared for everything! But there’s a massive difference between preparing for a game against Shanghai International or Zhejiang University… Zeng Rui closed his eyes and mumbled, “Hah, Zhejiang University, Zhejiang University…”
Zeng Rui flipped back a couple of pages and then traced his fingers over the many lines of his writing before stopping on one particular section. Team Shanghai’s weaknesses against Zhejiang University. Tang Tang is a B grade ad-carry and Samsara is an A- grade ad-carry. The solution is simple. I have to make up for that difference and help Tang Tang stay even in the lane. Difficult, but doable. He traced his finger over the next couple of lines detailing exactly how he was planning to help Tang Bingyao and references to different team comps and scenarios. He finally stopped on the next weakness. Zhang Hao in the top lane. He’s a good player at the high school level, but there’s just something missing when we look beyond that. He’s a C+ grade at best. That’s just not good enough. Zhejiang University’s Toplaner is a B grade player. There really isn’t anything we can do about that. BunBun can babysit him, but that won’t help the team as a whole. We’re going to have to accept that the top lane is lost. The other lanes just have to do better.
Zeng Rui turned the page of his notebook and searched through his work until he found a header that read ‘Team Shanghai’s strengths’. He frowned and moved his lips around. The thundering dumbass. How good is he exactly? I still don’t know. A grade or better. But that’s good enough for now. Zhejiang University’s Midlaner is much weaker than that. If we play around Lin Feng, we have a real shot at winning this series. It’ll just come down to whether he can carry hard enough to make up for Zhang Hao’s loss in the top lane. But that should be easy enough, so long as he doesn’t do something crazy again like that idiotic Zed engage against Fuzhou Tech! He got so lucky with that one. Lucky that we were there!
Anger blossomed in fiery tendrils from within Zeng Rui’s stomach and burning its way through his body. He closed his eyes and shook his head. Calm it! Nothing good comes from acting on impulse! Lin Feng is carrying. We win. The end. He forced a smile and went to the next strength. BunBun. Her I can trust. She’s basically the best player on the team. Not just for what she does during the game, but more than anything how she helps us outside the game. The way she coaches and the trust she builds up with the others… With her on the team, I think we have at least a 70% chance of bringing this series home. Maybe even more if the thundering dumbass plays his best game!
But why do I feel like I’m missing something? Zeng Rui rubbed his stomach and scrunched his nose. He glossed over his work again and reverified every bit of his analysis. It’s right! Everything is here! I even have a section on the possibility of AyDeeCee stepping in! I doubt he will, but it can’t hurt to consider the possibility. It’ll be hard, but BunBun said Lin Feng could beat him. Then why, why am I feeling like this? Why does it feel like something is wrong? He suddenly grimaced and shook his head. Is this what it means to be nervous? Is that it? Am I just nervous about our match against Zhejiang University? He shook his head again. No. That’s not it either. BunBun. Why am I thinking about her again? She hasn’t been on her A-game since she got sick, but she’s still really good. Well, most of the time anyway. Hmm… He scratched his chin and looked out the window behind his desk. She has been acting a little strange. There have been a few things here and there. She’s just good at hiding it. Is something wrong with her? That could become an issue…
The An family had an apartment in one of the highrise buildings in the center of Shanghai. An Xin sat in her room that had a beautiful view of the city. Moonlight spilled in through the open window and cast a shadow behind her. She was calmly staring at her monitor, which showed the end game lobby of a League of Legends game. Then she took a deep breath and closed her eyes. The corners of her lips dropped and her head fell ever so slightly forward. Another loss. I just can’t play like I used to. My Lee Sin is… isn’t what it used to be.
An Xin was playing on her Korean account, hovering between Master and Challenger. By all rights, this was a very high ranked account. But it wasn’t anywhere near where An Xin felt like she could be. She opened her eyes and sighed loudly. “It’s just not enough,” she mumbled to herself. Then she clicked to the endgame lobby and looked at her statistics. It’s just not enough. I’m nowhere near where I used to be! This game would’ve, should’ve been a win! I made six minor slip-ups and two major mechanical blunders! I can’t make those if I want to play at the highest elo! This isn’t even near my top either… At most, at most I’m playing at two thirds of where I was before.
Four years ago, when Lin Feng took his break from League of Legends, An Xin continued playing. She played for years and became one of the best players on the ranked ladder. Not just in China, but also in Korea. She had fought her way all the way up to the Top 10 at one point. But since her name didn’t have the Chinese prefix, no one knew. That all happened before she was diagnosed. Back when she could still fully use her hand. An Xin opened her eyes and looked at her mouse hand. It was slightly trembling and just holding onto the mouse put a strain on her body. I was so good, far better than most professional players! I played against the best players in the world all the time and beat them! But then, then this happened. She threw her hand up in the air. And now I can’t even get close to my mechanical skills from back then! I’m practically useless like this…
An Xin had never told anyone about her achievements in League of Legends. She enjoyed the anonymity. Even Lin Feng wasn’t aware of just how high she’d climbed. But that was all in the past. She struggled to pinch her mouse, the veins in her hand pushing through her skin. They even look dead! She pinched her eyes closed and sucked back the tears. They look grey and sickly! Why won’t my body send more blood there!? Stupid body! She kicked against the back of her desk, frustrated. I’ll never get back to where I was! I won’t be that good again, just because my body won’t function like it should! This is so unfair!
The tears were becoming hard to hold back. An Xin stood up from her gaming chair and jumped on her bed. She grabbed the blankets and wrapped them around her, then buried her head into her pillow. This is so unfair! Why does my body have to be this stupid? Can’t I just have a normal body? I just want to be healthy! Why can’t I have a chance to play League like I know I can!?
Zhang Hao balled his hand into a fist and punched up into the air, shouting, “Yes! Another win!” He grinned and felt his entire body trembling from excitement. “Phew! That was so close! But I won it! That’s another 13 League Points!” He clicked on his profile and looked at his match history. He’d played three games tonight in Ionia Master. The first was a loss, but the next two were both victories. He nodded and said, “Sweet! I’m doing great today! At this rate, I might finally get to Challenger!”
The excitement quickly died down when Zhang Hao said that last word. Challenger. He’d been dreaming for years to reach that high on the ladder. But it was too difficult. He wasn’t good enough. I need to get better. The team depends on me not screwing up! That’s bad enough. Even Tang Tang is quickly getting a lot better than I am! I’m still only a C+… If I don’t improve to a B grade player, what can I really do for the team? I’m just going to hold them back! He gnashed his teeth and mumbled, “I don’t want to be the weakest link! The others are all training so hard to win, and then there’s me! They’re getting better and I, I’m just not. I’m Master while they’re all Challengers! I need to become a B grade before our game against Zhejiang University! One way or another!”
Every time he said their name, Zhang Hao felt a massive pressure weigh down on him, suffocating him. Zhejiang University. He pursed his lips and pushed back against every fiber in his body that was screaming at him to give up. They’re the last opponent before the main tournament! We have to make it to the main tournament! We won’t lose because of me! I’m not going to let that happen! He suddenly shouted, “I want to win! I want to win so badly!”
Zhang Hao pressed his hand against his chest, feeling his heart beating in rapid excitement. We’re playing to win the whole tournament! Winning! He tried to calm himself down a bit by regulating his breathing, but just the thought of winning a tournament of this magnitude had his heart smashing into his ribcage. He chewed on his tongue and entered the ranked queue again. His eyes burned with determination as he vowed, “Zhejiang’s Toplaner is B grade. I’m C+. I’m going to become a B- grade player before we play! I’ll show everyone that I’m not the weak link! I’ll help the team and at the very least I won’t lose my lane! I’m going to beat that guy!”
Tang Bingyao pushed the door to her bedroom open and walked in. It was a small, almost empty room. Her bed was to one side and had seen better days. There was some wear and tear in her sheets that revealed the yellow mattress and pillow, and the only thing remotely eye-catching was a pink cartoon bear blanket. Just that the colours were faded. Next to her bed stood a wardrobe, missing a drawer and one door and standing at an angle. The last piece of furniture in her room was her desk. It was empty except for an old lamp and a Jinx figurine.
It’s so cold. Tang Bingyao shivered as she walked over to her window. It was closed, but she could still feel a breeze slipping through the cracks. I really need to do something about this, sometime… She chewed on the inside of her cheeks as she closed her curtains, which didn’t really close anymore because a part of the rails was broken. She then took out her pyjamas from her wardrobe before curling up in her bed and hiding under her blankets. Hmm, I need to save up for a new mattress too, but the blanket is still nice and warm. She smiled a bit as she pulled the blanket up to her chin.
Tang Bingyao stared up at her ceiling, patches of paint only partly connected to it. Also that… Mhm. She closed her eyes and focused on other things. I finished my homework, so that’s all good. Grandma took her meds and is in bed. I’ll make her a nice breakfast in the morning. She took a deep breath, nerves slowly grabbing a hold of her. She started scratching her neck and chewing on her tongue. We’re playing against Zhejiang University next. I have to play against Sun Ruinian next. He’s so good. But we need to win this tournament! How am I not going to feed against him? He’s so much better than me!
The sounds of a car slamming the horn followed by sirens came from outside Tang Bingyao’s bedroom. She pulled the blanket over her ears and tried not to think about that and instead about the upcoming quarter finals match against Zhejiang University. I’m going to lane against Samsara! And I don’t care how good he is, I’m going to beat him! Mhm! She clenched her blanket in her iron grip, fighting back the anxious, almost nauseating feeling in her stomach. I don’t want to be a burden to the team and Lin Feng! But it’s more than that. I want the team to lean on me! I want to be the carry! I want to help Lin Feng win!
The thought of his name was enough to flush Tang Bingyao’s cheeks red. The last hints of coldness were blasted away by the sudden heat Lin Feng’s name carried with it. She reached her arm out from underneath the blanket and searched for something on the floor, relying completely on touch. It was her very own ‘nightstand’. When her fingers wrapped around something cold and hard, she smiled. She traced her fingers around the edges before holding the item up right in front of her face, the weak moonlight burning through her curtains enough illumination to make out the rough shape of it. I love this Draven keychain. Mhm! I’m going to fight for you! I’ll show everyone how good I really am! Samsara has nothing on me! With you by my side, I’ll always win! For you… For you I want to win. You trust me. I won’t let you down. I don’t care who we’re playing next, or how good they are, I’ll give it my all. All for you.
Tang Bingyao held the Draven keychain with both hands and placed it close to her chest. She smiled and nodded at herself. I’m not going to let you drag me along. I’ll stand on my own two feet! Mhm! I’m going to stand by your side and pull my weight! And together we’re going to win it all! First up Zhejiang University, then the Collegiate Cup, and after that whatever game you want to win next!
The quarterfinals of the East China Regionals were being held exactly seven days after the Round of 16. The eight teams gathered at the venue again, as did the many fans that were hoping to witness some high quality gameplay. Every round was a direct elimination. And every next round, the matchups were bound to get more exciting. This was especially true for the quarterfinals in East China. Zhejiang University was taking on Team Shanghai, who were a far stronger team than the fans originally expected.
The audience was loudly discussing and arguing about the potential outcome of this best of three series. Many said that Zhejiang University was the strongest team, while Team Shanghai used a combination of skill and luck to make it as far as they had. But there were others, led by Ouyang, who noted that everyone kept underestimating Team Shanghai and that Team Shanghai kept proving them wrong. But this discussion took a sharp turn when a tournament official walked up on stage with a microphone and announced, “There has been a change to Zhejiang University’s roster. Shi Hang is replacing Zuo Cheng in the mid lane. Zuo Cheng will stay on as a substitute.”
“It’s not April 1st, is it?”
“Are they for real? Is this for real? AyDeeCee is going to play?”
“Oh my god, Zhejiang University actually did it? They’re going to let a professional player on their team? What bosses!”
“AyDeeCee is playing? We’re going to get to see AyDeeCee? SWEEEEEEEET!”
“What the… Do they have no shame?”
“Hahaha! Can you believe it? They fucking recruited a professional player to beat a high school team!”
“OH MY GOD! AYDEECEE IS GONNA PLAAAAAAAY!”