Stands were erected in a half circle around the main stage. Two soundproof booths stood on it, each equipped with five computers, and there was a small area between the soundproof booths. This was where the evening’s host stood with a microphone held in his hand. He waited for the audience to quiet down and then announced, “The first game tonight is Zhejiang University versus Team Shanghai!” Boisterous roars rang out throughout the venue in response, forcing the host to pause. He clapped and smiled, and then when the audience had calmed down again continued, “Zhejiang University needs no introduction. Joined by former professional player AyDeeCe—”
The audience lost it. They went absolutely wild, screaming and shouting Shi Hang’s name. And in response Shi Hang waved to the audience and led his team up the stage. He nodded at the host with an apologetic smile and then had his teammates line up in front of the soundproof booth. They bowed towards the audience and then turned their attention to the host.
“This year is a little special for the Collegiate Cup,” the host said into his microphone. “Not only is this the first Winter edition, this is also the first time that high school teams have been invited. One of those high school teams is playing here tonight. They are the representatives of the Shanghai Esports Association! Let’s give them a warm welcome! Here is Team Shanghai!”
A small section of the audience cheered and shouted words of support, but most remained silent. That, however, quickly changed when Shi Hang started applauding for Team Shanghai as they made their way up the stage. The crowd went wild in a second round of feet stomping and screaming! The venue rocked and even the voice booming through the speakers couldn’t get a word in.
Team Shanghai lined up in front of the other soundproof booth. They looked out at the crowd and bowed in respect to thank everyone for coming out and supporting them. Then everyone turned their attention back towards the host, except for Lin Feng and Shi Hang. The two old friends, while turning their heads to look at the host, noticed each other. Their gazes locked. Lin Feng grinned and waved. There was a short delay, but then Shi Hang’s lips parted into a smile that reached from one ear to the other and he nodded in reply.
Zhejiang University’s Support noticed Lin Feng waving and then Shi Hang grinning and nodding. He scrunched his eyebrows in confusion and whispered to Sun Ruinian, “Does Shi Hang know that kid?”
Sun Ruinian glanced at his Support and raised his eyebrows a bit, just enough to get the message across. Shh! Not now! He then smiled and looked back at the host. This is not the time. But, but, damn! I also want to know! Why wouldn’t Shi Hang tell me? I suppose he has a good reason for that. Yeah, we’ll find out eventually. Now we have to focus on the game. We’re going to have to beat Team Shanghai. And Shi Hang made it sound like that’s not going to be easy… I wonder why…
Shi Hang heard the whispers next to him and felt the many eyes staring at him. Everyone knows me. I’m the former pro who’s come to help his team win the tournament. If only they knew… He glanced back at Lin Feng, who was now talking with his teammates. If only they knew how ridiculous Team Shanghai’s lineup is. Between their Jungler and Maple alone, they’ve got a team that can win this entire tournament! And then people say I’m the bully! He laughed and shook his head.
The host finished announcing the match and instructed the two teams to enter the soundproof booths and get ready for the games. Shi Hang nodded and walked his team into the booth. He sat down behind the middle computer, which was where the Midlaner always sat. He looked at his Jungler and Toplaner to his right and Sun Ruinian and his Support to his left. They all look happy and relaxed, even Sun Ruinian doesn’t look all that worried. I told him this wasn’t going to be easy! I should’ve told them about Lin Feng, about Maple. Should I have? I don’t know. But this definitely isn’t the time to scare the ever living shit out of them. He sighed loudly and then nodded at Sun Ruinian and said, “You’re in charge here. Go with whatever plan you had in mind, I’ll adjust to it.”
Sun Ruinian looked at Shi Hang and chewed on the inside of his cheeks. He’s not looking chill, or calm. He was worried from the start. Shit. Shit! A knot twisted in his stomach and pulled tight. We’re overlooking something here! Why won’t he tell us what it is? Could it be…? He turned his head to look across the stage at Team Shanghai’s soundproof booth. Does it have to do with Lin Feng? Shit, worrying now isn’t going to do us any good! He shook his head and turned back to look at his teammates. He said, “Alright, let’s go with our original plan. Time to win this series!”
Shi Hang left Sun Ruinian and closed his eyes to block everything out for a couple of seconds. I finally get to duke it out with Maple again! I’ve had to wait for four years, but here we are again. I’m getting a chance to play against him again! He hasn’t played in years and he probably isn’t the same player he was back then, but he’s still Maple! He wouldn’t dare to disappoint me! His eyes flashed open! The uninterested bordering lazy expression was gone. He grabbed his mouse with one hand and placed the other gently on his keyboard. Show me the real Maple!
The players from Zhejiang University and Team Shanghai were preparing for their best of five series, which created a brief moment in which the audience wasn’t cheering until their lungs gave out. They looked through the thick glass windows into the soundproof booths and watched Shi Hang. Someone suddenly shouted, “Damn! Never thought I’d get to see Shi Hang play again! I still remember his games from four years ago! Yep, that’s right! I started getting into League because of Shi Hang! There were posters all around campus about the Finals, so I went to watch. Let me tell you guys something. His ad-carry was freaking ah-mazing!”
“Wasn’t his ad-carry only pretty decent?” someone else in the audience asked. “I heard he got way better after switching to the mid lane. And he’s playing in the mid lane today too, right?”
The student from Zhejiang University nodded and replied, “He got way better! And now we also have Sun Ruinian who is an A- ad-carry! We’ve basically got two freaking pro level players on our team! This Winter Collegiate Cup is ours! We’re unbeatable!”
Team Shanghai’s friends and classmates from Shanghai High School and High School 13 were also at the venue to watch the series between Zhejiang University and Team Shanghai. They looked in the direction of the two people talking and grimaced. It was a rare moment where all of them were linked together by the Broforce through their shared emotional state of horror.
Ouyang finally couldn’t keep his mouth shut any longer. He rapped his hands on his knees and complained, “Ahh, CrapCrapCrap! Why did AyDeeCee have to sub in? We’re fucked! It’s over! This is so unfair for Lin Feng and the gang! They’re getting cheated here! How are we supposed to beat AyDeeCee? This, this i—”
“Stop freaking out!” Ren Rou admonished Ouyang, slapping her palm against the back of his head. She glared at him and said, “The game hasn’t even started yet! Stop being so negative…” She turned to look at the others before continuing, “That goes for all of you! Let’s give them some positive vibes!”
Yang Fan adjusted his glasses and said, “I’ll root for them. But winning? They might have stood a chance if Shi Hang didn’t sub in. But with him playing…?”
Ren Rou wanted to argue and fight back against what Yang Fan was clearly implying, but the strong sense of defeat coming from all around her made her pause. She looked at the three from Shanghai High School. Their heads hung low and they were biting on their lips and clenching their fists. She leaned in a bit closer and could hear them repeat the same few words. “So unfair. This is so unfair.” She looked at the others from High School 13. They’re all down. They’ve all given up. She looked at the stage and into Team Shanghai’s soundproof booth. I hope they haven’t given up. You guys have to fight!
Loud laughter rang out from a different section of the stage. Ren Rou turned her head to look at where it came from and spotted a familiar face. Zuo Cheng? The previous Midlaner from Zhejiang? What’s he laughing abou—
“We’ve got this! We’re going to the main tournament!” Zuo Cheng exclaimed for everyone to hear. He looked around the stands and continued, “Shi Hang never stopped being a monster at the game! We’re finally going to get to watch him play! This is so cool! We’re going to see the team captain crush Team Shanghai!”
The game moved to Champion Select. Zeng Rui’s gaze was locked on his screen, grimacing. We’re going to have to play against AyDeeCee! He actually, he actually stepped in! This was outside of my calculations. It’s ridiculous! They shouldn’t allow a former professional player in a university level tournament! But they have. We’re going to have to play against him. Lin Feng will have to play against him. And the thundering dumbass has apparently played against him before. He should know how to play against him. He turned his head to look at Lin Feng and asked, “Are there any specific bans you want?”
Lin Feng shook his head and answered, “It’s fine. You can stick to the original plan you and BunBun came up with. Just leave Shi Hang to me.”
Zeng Rui stared at Lin Feng for a couple of seconds, but eventually nodded. Maybe this is the only way to do this. If Lin Feng can really beat AyDeeCee… I don’t see another way, except for trusting… Zeng Rui closed his eyes and shook his head. It’s the only way. I have to trust him. Why is this so difficult for me to trust him? He grimaced and then turned his attention back to the Champion Select, instructing over the team’s voice chat, “Alright, here’s what we’re going to do. Ban Jinx, Yasuo and Thresh…”
The two casters for the Quarterfinals of the East China Regionals were Silent Reed and Rollfire. The Shanghai Esports Organization initially didn’t invite Rollfire back after his embarrassing performance during the Fuzhou Tech versus Team Shanghai series in the Round of 16, but were forced to call him at the last minute. Their first choice got sick 30 minutes before the start of the series and Rollfire was the only caster available in such a short timeframe. So he found himself back at the caster desk together with the inexperienced Silent Reed.
Rollfire glared at the large LCD screen, steaming with rage. If I didn’t need the money and exposure, I would’ve never accepted this! Those idiots from the Shanghai Esports Organization only had me as a back up? I deserve so much more than this! I’m a second rate caster! They should’ve invited me first! Not that other idiot! And now I have to fucking cast their stupid representative team again with this stupid bitch who wouldn’t even talk to me! Arrghhh! He looked at the names of the players up on the screen. At least I get to cast AyDeeCee. That’s the only positive take away from this! Casting a real professional player does fit my status as a second rate caster! I hope he crushes Team Shanghai! Fuck the Shanghai Esports Organization!
Silent Reed glanced at the caster sitting next to her. Why him again? I thought they said I didn’t have to cast with him again! He was so useless! She bit on her lips and then turned her head to look up at the large LCD screen. I’ll just ignore him. That’s what I should’ve done last time. I’m just going to cast the game and make it fun for the audience! Just like Westwind would’ve! She smiled and said into the microphone, “Both teams have picked their Champions! We’re moving into the loading screen. Let’s take a closer look at which Champions are on the Rift in this first game of the best of five series between Zhejiang University and Team Shanghai!”
Game 1 of the East China Regional Qualifier
Team Shanghai (Blue) vs. Zhejiang University (Red)
Top: Lissandra vs. Rumble
Jungle: Jarvan IV vs. Rek’Sai
Mid: Varus vs. Ahri
Ad-Carry: Ezreal vs. Vayne
Support: Alistar vs. Leona
Rollfire grabbed his microphone and said, “The lane we all care about is clearly the mid lane! This game is the return of a real former pro! AyDeeCee is playing Ahri on the Red team! She’s a Magic assassin with a ton of mobility! There is so much potential to outplay your opponent with a Champion like that. It’s gonna be good. Varus on the other hand…—”
“Varus is also a really good Champion!” Silent Reed interrupted. She’d quickly opened a search on Baidu on the Champion and read from that, “He was initially meant to be played as an ad-carry in the bot lane. But we’ve seen him being played more and more in the mid lane! He isn’t an S-tier Champion, like Fizz or LeBlanc, but he’s still a solid pick with strong poke and great wave clear! What Lin Feng wants to do is farm up and scale in the early game. Then, when the mid game hits, he wants to use the long range on Piercing Arrow to snipe down enemy health bars from far away!” She quickly scrolled down the Baidu page before continuing, “If he gets fed, Varus can two shot frail targets with Piercing Arrow! And on top of that, he also has one of the most powerful crowd control ultimates in the game! It’s called Chains of Corruption! He fires the chains at one Champion, and then they jump to nearby Champions, chaining all of them to the ground!”
“You’re correct, very correct,” Rollfired agreed. Then he grinned, though his eyes were spitting fire, and added, “Those are indeed all the strong points for Varus! But you can’t forget to mention his one big weakness! He has zero movement abilities! That makes him very vulnerable, especially to ganks! And when you’re up against a former pro that might bite you in the back, that’s a dumb choice of Champion. AyDeeCee just has to shut Varus down early and this game will be a 5vs4! Varus won’t be a threat. He won’t have the attack damage to snipe down any health bars!”
Silent Reed nodded and said, “That’s what I wanted to end with. Varus is weak against early ganks and he’s also not great against high mobility targets. His arrows shoot in a straight line. Ahri can jump around them with her ultimate skill, and also use her ultimate to jump on him. It looks like AyDeeCee has the clear Champion advantage in this matchup.”
Rollfire glanced at Silent Reed and smirked. I didn’t even have to say it. She knows. Varus sucks in this matchup! Which means I’ll finally get to see these stupid kids lose a game! This is sweet justice! That Lin Feng kid carried his team through the Round of 16, which was completely ridiculous! Fuzhou Tech should’ve beaten him! But now he has to face a former professional player. He’s going to get destroyed! The green flames of misfortune blazed in his eyes. Lin Feng might be a good Midlaner, but he’s no match for Shi Hang! He’s going to lose this so badly! And I get to cast it! I get to tell everyone that the Shanghai Esports Association’s representatives are getting stomped! This is just perfect!
“Varus into Ahri? What the fuck is Team Shanghai thinking?”
“They’re screwed. Screwed I tell you! Shi Hang’s going to beat him so hard!”
“I wonder if it’s a misclick? Maybe Team Shanghai wanted to play something else? Like Viktor?”
“You might be onto something there! What idiot plays Varus into an Ahri? That’s just asking for trouble! It makes way more sense if that was supposed to be Viktor!”
“He’s gonna get eaten alive… That Varus is going to get fucking eaten alive!”
Most people in the audience were just confused by the choice of Champions in the mid lane. A small section of the crowd burst out laughing. They were the members of Zhejiang University’s esports club. When they saw the lineup for the game, they turned to each other and congratulated their team for winning Game 1. They all agreed that Shi Hang was going to stomp Team Shanghai in 20 minutes or less!
And then there were the friends and classmates from Team Shanghai. They had slumped back in their seats and given up on the first game. The laughter coming from Zhejiang University’s section in combination with what the casters were saying was enough to convince them that their team was going to lose. Ren Rou looked at the long faces around her. They all look so nervous and anxious just because of what others are saying. But when has our team ever lost!? We need to have some fate! She bit on her lips and looked at the large LCD screen. I want to cheer them on, it’s just… Lin Feng has to play against AyDeeCee…
Lin Feng looked over the rim of his monitor at the stage. They’re probably talking about my Varus pick, because it’s a bit off-meta right now. But what do they know! A real pro can make any Champion work! I’ll show them how strong Varus is against Ahri! He then glanced across the stage at the other soundproof booth and grinned. Shi Hang, I’m not back where I was. I don’t even know if I’m good enough to beat you yet. But that only makes this more exciting! Show me everything you’ve got! The voice announcer sounded in his ears and he turned his attention back to his screen. It’s time to play!
《Welcome to Summoner’s Rift!》
Team Shanghai and Zhejiang University opted to go with a normal start to the game. The Botlaners moved down to the bot lane and the Toplaners to the top lane. But all attention was focused on the mid lane. Varus walked out from his base and towards his outer tower, while Ahri did the same from the other side of the map. They waited underneath the safety of their towers for the first minion waves to arrive.
At 2 minutes, six Blue and six Red minions charged into the mid lane and started exchanging blows at the exact center of the map. Lin Feng’s Varus and Shi Hang’s Ahri both learned their Q skills, respectively Piercing Arrow and Orb of Deception, then moved forward. But rather than attacking each other, they started running around the mid lane. They moved back and forth and left and right, feeling each other out and establishing their zones of control. All the while, they kept their eyes on the minions and fired auto attacks at them when they were at their last stretch of health.
Lin Feng looked at Shi Hang’s Ahri and observed every minute change in her play. He smirked. You’re playing far safer than I remembered. You’re not going easy on me, are you? He then forced the smirk back and focused on the dying minions. Just like the Ahri, he got successful last hits on all three melee minions, leaving only the three casters from both sides alive. Lin Feng had his Varus take a small step forward, feigning focus on the caster minions to get a shot off at Ahri. But Shi Hang had seen through it and had his Ahri move back.
“Piercing Arrow!” Lin Feng mumbled. The longer this skill was charged, the greater the distance the arrow could travel. But Lin Feng was very close to Shi Hang’s Ahri. He pressed the Q key and let go right away. Varus raised his bow and fired a thick, massive arrow that pierced through the caster minions and flew straight at Ahri!
Shi Hang narrowed his eyes and, rather than dodging, responded with Orb of Deception! Its range was slightly larger than the minimum range of Piercing Arrow. The orb that always floated by Ahri’s side suddenly flew forward, straight at Lin Feng’s Varus! It smacked through him, taking a bite out of his health bar! Then it continued a short distance before turning around and flying back towards Ahri. On its way back was Varus again! But Lin Feng knew this was coming and animation-canceled the recovery of his Piercing Arrow to move out of the way.
Both skillshots hit their target. Lin Feng’s Varus and Shi Hang’s Ahri lost a small chunk of health. It looked like a simple exchange that could be seen at any level of League of Legends. The two players simply exchanged skill for skill. But Lin Feng and Shi Hang sat up a little straighter in their chairs. A smile played on the corners of their lips and they gripped their mouses a little tighter. This short exchange gave them far more information than anyone else could glean from it. It confirmed to them that, even after so many years away from the professional scene, they both still possessed the instincts and senses of a top level professional player!