Zhejiang University had convinced Shi Hang to play for his esports club in the Winter Collegiate Cup! A former professional player stooped down to play with amateurs! The news spread through the channels and sent everyone in East China into a massive uproar! There were many questions about the authenticity of the news. But with the tournament organizers delivering the news, there wasn’t much to argue about. Shi ‘AyDeeCee’ Hang was going to play at the Winter Collegiate Cup!
“I can’t believe Zhejiang University actually did this. Shi Hang’s playing? Really?”
“I know right? Fucking unbelievable! Since when are pros welcome!? What’s next, God Roundy is going to play for his university? Just imagine! The Collegiate Cup would become stupid! The organizers should’ve never allowed Shi Hang to play!”
“AyDeeCee did quit way back in like Season 2, or was it 3 already? I don’t remember. Anyway, he hasn’t played at the highest level for years. Maybe the organizers took that into consideration? That has to be it, right? They can’t start accepting real pros to play at this tournament?”
“It’s all fun and all, but what about the other teams? Just look at Team Shanghai! Those kids worked their asses off and showed some really promising performances to make it this far. It was always going to be hard for them to beat Zhejiang University. But now with AyDeeCee? It just became impossible. Geegee, I guess…”
People in the audience had called their friends and posted on social media when the news of AyDeeCee playing for Zhejiang University was released. It didn’t take more than 15 minutes before a new flood of people looked to push their way into the venue. All of them wanted to watch the man, the myth, the legend! Shi Hang! Founder of the Zhejiang University esports club! Most valuable player of the first edition of the Collegiate Cup! Victor of the first edition of the Collegiate Cup! University player gone professional! The accolades were too many to count. Shi Hang hadn’t just won a lot of games, he had won the hearts of all university students in China! And now, after three years of absence, they got the opportunity to watch him play again!
The venue filled up. All the seats were taken, the stairs were full and even more people were pushing their way in through the entrance. They didn’t even care about finding a seat anymore. The large LCD screen above the stage was high enough that it could be seen from anywhere in the large hall and big enough for everyone, even those at the very back of the hall, to clearly see what was going on.
“Can you believe how lucky we are? Shi Hang got 81% by the Chinese Esports Organization! 81%! That’s fucking mental! And now he’s playing at a uni tournament! Shit we’re lucky!”
“What do you mean, 81%?”
“How do you not know this? Noob. Whatever. That’s the grading system the Chinese Esports Organization uses for professional players. Basically, our whole system with the C, B, A grading, right? Well that’s just for amateur players. The real high level pros are beyond A+ and then you start looking at this percentage thing. Daybreak Hermes, yeah? He’s 87.5%!”
“So AyDeeCee or Shi Hang is almost as good as Hermes? Doesn’t that put him like right below the Seven Kings? What the fuck is someone like that doing at a university event? That’s kinda stupid if you ask me.”
“Now you get it! That’s what we’re all saying! It is stupid! But at the same time… We’re going to get to see Shi Hang play again! A real pro player dude! We’re gonna see him play! WOOOOOOOOO!”
“I don’t get what’s so exciting about it… Why would a pro do this? He’s bullying Team Shanghai! Those kids worked so hard and now they have to play a pro? What the fuck!”
“Eh, whatever. Who knows why a pro does things? I don’t. I’m just here to enjoy the games and then hopefully some drama!”
The other teams competing sat in stunned silence after the news was revealed. They forgot to do anything while the audience behind them exploded. But finally some started talking. Players expressed their frustration with Zhejiang University. They complained that it wasn’t fair to field a former professional player and that it was bad sportsmanship. Many more started discussing how this change was going to affect Zhejiang University’s team. They agreed that without Shi Hang, Zhejiang University was a solid B grade team, maybe even B+ grade. But with Shi Hang in the mid lane, they argued that Zhejiang University could reach as high as A grade. Not just because of Shi Hang’s skills as a Midlaner, but also for his skills as the team’s captain. He was said to lift the level of his entire team up with his presence alone!
Everyone in the player seating area eventually turned their attention to Fudan University’s team. Aurous, a former team member from Fudan University, had made it as a professional player and was currently on the main roster of an LPL team. The intention from the teams was clear. They wanted Fudan University to contact Aurous and have him contact Shi Hang to figure out what was going on. It didn’t take much pushing. Fudan University wanted to find out the truth as much as the others. Their team captain sent Aurous a text message, and Aurous replied that he was on the case.
Aurous was in the middle of a League game when he received the text message. He wanted to ignore it and focus on the game, because his team was losing. But from the corner of his eye he caught a few keywords. He scrunched his nose and scratched his neck. Shi Hang is playing where? What? He glanced at his monitor, which was a dull grey and would be for another couple of seconds, and then reached out for his phone and read the string of text messages. Shi Hang is playing in the Collegiate Cup? Wut? Did he lose it? He looked at his screen again. His team was losing across the board. The game was still winnable, but it would take a lot of effort and even that might not be enough. He shrugged and mumbled, “Screw this game.” Then he hit the Enter key and typed /surrender. The vote went four against one. The game camera panned to his Nexus and he watched it explode.
Aurous barely noticed the Defeat message on his screen. His eyes were trained on his phone as he was scrolling through his list of contacts, searching for a name he hadn’t thought about for quite a while. He finally found it and pressed the call button. Then he placed the phone to his ear and waited for the call to connect.
Shi Hang accepted the call shortly after and said, “Yo—”
“What the hell, dude!” Aurous exclaimed. “The hell? You’re actually playing in the Collegiate Cup!?”
“Yeah,” Shi Hang replied. Then he casually added, “I’m at the venue right now. Playing in a bit.”
Aurous fell silent for a brief moment, caught off-guard by the calm reply from Shi Hang. He finally shook his head and shouted, “The hell are you doing!? You’re a former pro! What the hell are you doing at that stupid tourney? Are you drunk? Is that it? Did you wanna bully some noobs because you drank too much? Seriously, wake the hell up! You’re a former pro! Just, just don’t.”
Shi Hang chuckled and replied, “So what if I’m playing again? Whatcha you gonna do about it? Hey, I know! How about you go and play for Fudan! You’re still studying there, right? It can be like old times again! But if you’re not up for it, I’ll just bully your little noobs! It’ll be fun!”
“Fuck off! Seriously, what’s going on? Why are you doing this?” Aurous asked through gritted teeth. Shi Hang is one of the laziest bastards I know! There’s no way he’d play just because. What the hell is he thinking? He breathed in and closed his eyes. What could possibly have him join the uni team to play at that tournament? He breathed out and said, “We’re friends, right? Be straight with me. Why are you playing?”
There was another silence. Aurous even checked his phone after a couple of seconds to make sure the call was still connected. But then Shi Hang’s voice finally came through the small speaker. “Sorry, I can’t say. I’m helping someone keep a secret. Well, I think I am. Anyway, I can tell you this. Come and watch, or even sub in for Fudan University, because you’re not going to want to miss this. It’s gonna be good.”
There were 20 minutes to go before the East China Regional Quarterfinals would officially start. The tournament staff was running around backstage, double and triple checking everything. Chu Fang watched them move about, a clipboard in his hand. And everytime someone came up to him, he checked the next thing off his list.
“Stream is live!”
“Internet is stable!”
“All four teams playing tonight are backstage!”
“First two teams will go up on stage in five minutes!”
Chu Fang looked down at his list. We’re good to go. The guys have done a great job! He looked down at a monitor to his side that showed the livestream. It gave a good view of the crowd, sometimes zooming in on someone who’d dressed up as a League of Legends Champion. Two casters were talking in the background, hyping on the audience by telling them about the match-ups. This is all looking great! Even that guy is doing good right now! He grabbed his walkie-talkie and said, “Good work, everyone! I’ll treat y’all to dinner after the games are over tonight!”
“Boss, you’re the best!”
“Free dinner! Awesome!”
“Can we go to the sushi bar around the corner?”
Chu Fang smiled as he looked back down at his clipboard. In big bold letters at the top of page two it read the first series of the day. Zhejiang University versus Team Shanghai. Shi Hang versus Lin Feng. I wonder if Fang Hao is right. Is Shi Hang really going to make a comeback because of Lin Feng? His eyes glazed over as he recalled his conversation with Fang Hao a couple of hours earlier.
Chu Fang walked into Fang Hao’s office to report on the developments at the Winter Collegiate Cup. He looked at his boss, who was working on one of many piles of documents on his desk, and said, “The only big thing to report is that Zhejiang University sent in the paperwork for Shi Hang. Looks like he’s going to play for them. He knows Lin Feng is playing for Team Shanghai.”
Fang Hao looked up from his work and asked, “Shi Hang is actually going to play again? That’s a surprise.”
Chu Fang nodded and continued, “He is. I seriously started to believe he was done with League. It’s been three years since he retired from competitive play. I really thought he was throwing everything he had into his studies. But it looks like he couldn’t stop himself from coming back after he learned about Lin Feng.”
Fang Hao laughed and said, “Graduating school isn’t a bad choice for most people. It gives them a career path and is far more secure than trying to become a professional player in any sport, really. But…” He briefly paused to turn his head and look out of the window. He then continued, “But there’ll always be some who dare to abandon the safe route to chase their dreams. Shi Hang is just like Lin Feng in that regard.”
“Wait,” Chu Fang said. He looked at his boss, searching for the meaning behind the words. Just like Lin Feng? The only thing that can mean is… His eyes widened and he asked, “Do you really think… Are you really saying—”
“Yep!” Fang Hao replied, laughing. He looked at the sun high up in the sky and continued, “AyDeeCee is just like Lin Feng. They’ll both be looking to make their comeback. The LPL is going to become a lot of fun very soon.”
Chu Fang was pulled back to the present by his walkie-talkie. A member of staff had a question. He answered and then let his mind drift again. Fang Hao thinks AyDeeCee is going to make a comeback… I really want to see that! Him and Lin Feng were so talented! There just wasn’t as much money in the scene when they were crushing it, not to mention that they were still really young back then. But they’re a bit older now! Even if they haven’t played competitively for years, they’ve got the talent to make it back to the top!
Another thought struck Chu Fang. He furrowed his brows and looked up at the ceiling. So many people quit the competitive scene after Lin Feng left. AyDeeCee is just one of them. But there’s also Silent and Autumn just to name two. What if they’d come back? And we have Eleven who’s doing random stuff in the LSPL, but what if he came back to his old form? What if all the talented players from then came back for a second round? Just thinking about it! A smile blossomed on his face before crumpling again. It’s such a shame AyDeeCee and Maple are playing each other right now. This could’ve been the Championship game! They shouldn’t have played each other until the very end! What are the other games going to look like— Wait! Lin Feng will have to show off just how good he is if he wants to win this! Everyone will finally get to see just how good he is! If he makes it to the next round, no one can underestimate him anymore! The other teams are only going to try harder and maybe we’ll see a few more familiar names step up! This could become very interesting! He grinned and mumbled, “This is gonna be good!”
Team Shanghai was waiting backstage for the tournament officials to send them up on stage. But when the tournament official walked up to them, it wasn’t to tell them about the start of the game but about a change in Zhejiang University’s lineup. He told them that Shi Hang was replacing Zuo Cheng in the mid lane. This elicited a strong response from Team Shanghai.
Zeng Rui slumped back in his chair, staring at the tournament official in disbelief. Is that why I got that uneasy feeling the other day? Because of AyDeeCee filling in? Why is this happening? This isn’t fair! He was a professional player! How do they expect us to beat him!?
Zhang Hao’s reaction was fiercer. He jumped to his feet and shouted at the tournament official, “What the shit! This is stupid! How can we beat a former professional player?” He then shook his head and fell back in his seat, mumbling, “We’re fucked. It’s over. Shi Hang is playing… We were going to lose anyway. Zhejiang University was the better team, and now they’re like a professional team. What do they think we are? We’re just high schoolers! Playing at the university level is enough to push us! But winning against a real pro? That’s just impossible! It’s over. It’s over… We haven’t even started playing, but it’s over. It’s so over! This is so unfair!”
Tang Bingyao bit on her lips and glanced at Lin Feng. AyDeeCee is a mid main. Lin Feng is going to have to face him. She nodded at herself. Mhm! I promised that I was going to stand shoulder to shoulder with him! He wasn’t going to carry me, we’re supposed to carry together! Now I can prove that to him! I have to beat Sun Ruinian and help him beat AyDeeCee!
A giggle sounded, breaking the tense atmosphere. The players from Team Shanghai turned to look at An Xin. She covered her mouth with her hand and winked at Lin Feng. She said, “Well, this is all your fault. It only seems fair you have to deal with it.”
“His fault?” Zhang Hao blurted out. This sentiment was shared by Tang Bingyao and Zeng Rui, their expressions of confusion saying more than words ever could.
But Lin Feng didn’t look surprised or confused. He grinned in his excited way and said, “So he came out of retirement just for me?” He started laughing before adding, “Wow! I never expected he would actually do that! He’s giving me a ton of face! I’ll make sure to thank him!”
“Are you crazy?” Zeng Rui asked, his eyelids twitching. What is wrong with him? This is even crazy for him! Doesn’t he realise how absolutely fucked we are? Shi Hang played in the LPL! He was the best Midlaner from China in the early seasons! Everyone knows how good he is! Why doesn’t the thundering dumbass realise how fucked we are!? He glared at Lin Feng and gritted his teeth. So what if you beat him a couple of games in solo queue way back in Season 1? That doesn’t make you the better player!
An Xin stopped giggling. She looked at Lin Feng, waiting for his eyes to meet hers, and asked, “Do you think you can win against him? Are you up there yet?”
Lin Feng pursed his lips but then shook his head and replied, “I’m not up there yet.” He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. I’m far from it. But this is the best test I could dream of! He is exactly the kind opponent I need to be playing against! His eyes flashed open and blazed with determination! He nodded at An Xin and said confidently, “But I’m going to play against him and give it my all! You guys worry about the rest, leave him to me!”
Shanks goes down the Flat Earth Rabbit Hole?
Shanks Thought: The YouTube homepage feed is wild. You watch one remotely interesting 2 minute clip about the life of a Flat Earther. Then all of a sudden your feed gets flooded with Flat Earth conspiracy videos. And normally, that’d be the end of the story. I’d right click onto these videos and click “Do not recommend”, and forget about it. But not this time. I decided to dive into the rabbit hole, and boy was I not prepared for it. I discovered there are dozens if not hundreds of YouTube channels dedicated to the topic, with active subscriber bases of tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands. It’s crazy. Mind-blowing even. The fact that you can build up a large community around this topic. That there are entire worlds, social bubbles that exist out there that are completely foreign to you and me.
Then the realization hit me. The Rise community is based around an English adaptation of Chinese League of Legends fanfic, on an obscure (relative to other internet platforms) and already niche community that spun off the forums of another website. So, yeah… I suppose I don’t have any room to talk. I guess the lesson is that if you put something out there, people will come. Bonus points if it’s actually good. Legit, I still cannot understand the YouTube channels based on reacting to other people’s content. Maybe we need to do a Rise Team reacts. That’ll get us popular!