Zeng Rui stared at the victory emblem floating on his screen. We won. We’ve won! His eyes were wide and he shook his head, slowly, steadily. We did it! We actually did! He massaged his temples and chuckled. We won! We beat Zhejiang University! He turned his head to look at his teammates. Oh shit! We reverse swept Zhejiang! We won! Holy shit! Oh my god! We won! We beat them! WE BEAT THEM! He continued shaking his head again, slowly, steadily, incredulous. I’m actually tired! This was so exhausting… like a real tennis match! We fought them for several hours and they almost knocked us out multiple times, but we fought! WE FUCKING FOUGHT FOR IT! He clenched his fists and moved them up and down. AND WE FUCKING DID IT!
When Zeng Rui finally realised that his team had won the best of five series against Zhejiang University, he calmed down a bit. He stopped shaking his head and took a couple long, deep breaths. He then looked at his teammates and smiled. We did it! All of us, as a team! It just took us two games to warm up. But then, Tang Tang and I did great in the bot lane. Zhang Hao held his own in the top lane. And then… He looked at An Xin and nodded. And then you carried us like I know you can! But I know you could do this at the solo queue level. To pull it off against a team with a former professional player on it… When he thought about Shi Hang, his focus was unconsciously drawn to Lin Feng.
Zeng Rui watched Lin Feng jump up and down and try to hug An Xin and Tang Bingyao. He listened to An Xin saying something about the Shanghai 16 School Tournament and that Lin Feng was still an idiot. Zeng Rui grinned. And you… You… You thundering dumbass. What the actual fuck, dude! What in the world possessed you this series? You played against a former professional player! And not only did you not lose, you went even with him in the first two games when we lost you the game. He briefly hesitated. Then he exhaled loudly. And you fucking stomped him in the last three games! You beat a professional player! Without you… Without you, we would’ve lost this series in Game 3!
“I’m the best!” Lin Feng exclaimed, laughing. He patted himself on the back and continued, “See? What did I tell you guys? Leave mid to me, I’ll carry! And that’s what I did! I carried so hard on my Zed!”
The smile disappeared from Zeng Rui’s face. He narrowed his eyes. Fuck! I forgot he’s the thundering dumbass for a moment there! We didn’t win because of him! We won despite him! Stupid thundering dumbass and the stupid shit he always yells! Thank god we’ve got BunBun! At least she knows how to knock some sense into that hopeless… He grimaced and shook his head. No! Not right now. He can celebrate however he wants. He deserves it. We all do. He clenched his fists and smiled. We won! We actually beat Zhejiang University and won!
“Oh!” Lin Feng said. He pointed at An Xin and continued, “Your Lee ult in that last fight was really damn good too!”
An Xin smiled and replied, “Oh? A compliment from the one and only goldfish? I feel honoured!” She briefly paused before adding, “Then again, I suppose I was pretty good compared to whatever it was you were doing in the early game. All those deaths! They just kept getting the jump on you under your tower and killing you…”
“That only happened like one time!” Lin Feng complained. He narrowed his eyes and shouted, “And I’m not a goldfish!” He then started grinning again and looked across the stage at Zhejiang University’s soundproof booth. He continued, “I only care that we won! Because I wanted to win and because Shi Hang must be so super pissed right now! We reverse swept him!” He laughed for a few seconds before he fell silent. He looked at An Xin and said, “BunBun. Thank you.”
An Xin raised an eyebrow, but then smiled. She said, “I’ve always got your back. Always. Which reminds me! I’ve been cleaning up your mess for so long now. You owe me. A ton!”
“I do?” Lin Feng asked, scratching the back of his head, confused.
An Xin smirked and said, “That’s why you’re the goldfish! Yeah, you do. And I’ll be collecting one of those favours very soon. Remember to cover for me.”
“Cover for you? Soon? What?” Lin Feng asked. What’s she on about…?
Zhejiang University and Team Shanghai shook hands under the wild applause of the audience. There was far too much noise to have any kind of conversation. And the players from Zhejiang University weren’t at all in the mood to have a friendly chat either. They quickly turned around and left, with the exception of Shi Hang. He told his teammates that he’d catch up with them later and then walked off the stage with Team Shanghai. He nodded at An Xin and said, “Jeez, BunBun! Wouldn’t have hurt if you showed us some mercy! That Lee ult kicked us straight out of the tourney!”
An Xin giggled and replied, “Of course I couldn’t show you mercy! It’s a tournament! And I distinctly recall you almost 3-0ing us! If I didn’t make that great play, you would’ve won!” She turned to look at Lin Feng and asked, “Isn’t that right?”
Lin Feng looked at An Xin, confused. Why would she ask me? I would’ve carried the game with or without her ult– His eyes lit up! OhOhOh! She needs me to back her up right now! I’ll do that! Yeah! He nodded and said, “Yep! Yep! What she says! Exactly!”
Shi Hang exhaled loudly and complained, “Such crappy luck though. I can’t believe we had to play you guys in the quarterfinals! Why couldn’t it be the semis? Now we didn’t even qualify for the main tournament…”
An Xin giggled and said, “But you wouldn’t have played if it wasn’t for this idiot here, right?”
Shi Hang scratched the back of his head and smiled. He replied, “Yeah, you’re right. I guess. Damn, BunBun! You’re still the same! No one can win an argument against you!” He then turned his head to look at Lin Feng and asked, “So, you’re back? You’re finally back, eh?”
Lin Feng scratched his nose and replied, “Yep! I’m back!” He chuckled and added, “Good to see you again! You played okay!”
“What!?” Zhang Hao interrupted. He’d walked behind Shi Hang, An Xin and Lin Feng, listening to them talk. He now looked at Lin Feng, incredulous, and asked, “You two really know each other?”
Zeng Rui stood next to Zhang Hao. He didn’t say anything, but he leaned forward a bit and looked at Shi Hang for a reply. Shi Hang came to us! He might really know the thundering dumbass! He might really know…
Shi Hang raised his eyebrows in surprise and asked, “What, you don’t know? Didn’t he tell you?”
“Tell me what?” Zhang Hao blurted, confused.
Shi Hang looked at An Xin, who slowly shook her head. He then turned back to look at Lin Feng and exclaimed, “Dude! Don’t tell me you didn’t even tell your teammates that you’re Maple!”
Lin Feng scratched the back of his head and laughed. He mumbled, “Right. Guess I never did tell them…”
Maple? Zeng Rui looked at Lin Feng and moved his lips around. It sounds familiar, somewhere… Somewhat… Hmm… I did always find it strange how he plays, and BunBun told me he was the best Midlaner at the Collegiate Cup! That was before Shi Hang joined, but he just beat Shi Hang! And they’re talking like they’re good friends! He glanced at Shi Hang. So they met each other before? That was three or four years ago. Season one and two… Solo queue?
Zeng Rui felt in his pockets for his smartphone and pulled it out before shaking his head. Nah. Can’t be solo queue. You don’t become best friends just because you play a couple of games together in a solo queue! And those games don’t matter anyway. It doesn’t add up with how they’re talking. It’s far too friendly! That just leaves the real tournament stage… Maple, Maple… The name… He unlocked his phone and searched for ‘Maple’ and ‘League of Legends’ to help jog his memory.
The thundering dumbass was in middle school in Season 1. So he was 16 in Season 2? Maybe they played against each other then? Zeng Rui shook his head. It’s just so unlikely. I know everything about Season 2 and I don’t remember there being a Maple in Season 2! But still, that name… Why does it sound so, so… Zeng Rui looked at his phone. There weren’t many results. He changed his searchterms to add ‘Season 1’ to it and clicked on search. A single entry popped up. His eyes went wide. Maple. Maple! He turned his head to look at Lin Feng and shouted, “MAPLE!? The, the, the…”
Lin Feng looked at Zeng Rui in surprise and asked, “You’ve heard about me?” He then grinned and added, “That’s great! Then I don’t have to explain everything! That saves me a ton of work!”
Shock turned to rage for Zeng Rui. The vein on his forehead bulged and he narrowed his eyes. You asshole! You fucking asshole! You’re Maple? THE MAPLE? And you didn’t think that was important information to tell us!? You didn’t think that information could’ve saved me many hours of headaches!? You think that it doesn’t matter that you didn’t tell us? We’re teammates! We should have each others’ backs! You keep talking about trust! How can we do that when we don’t even know who you are! And now you just want to brush it off? FUCK YOU! YOU SON OF A BITCH! He raised his fist, then shouted out in frustration! He pulled on his hair and shook his head. He’s fucking Maple! The wonderkid from Season 1! The best player from China! Everyone knows the wonderkid! The one who fucking quit after only a season! The one whose identity was never fucking revealed! And now. You fucking shithead!
Zeng Rui took a deep breath and mumbled, “Oh my god.” He looked down at his feet and shook his head. I’ve watched the replay of his game against Phoenix in the semifinals of Worlds so many times! The way he played that… Oh my god, he’s Maple. Lin Feng. Thundering dumbass. This guy was the best Midlaner in China! He went even with Rake! He’s the only player who managed to challenge Rake!
Zeng Rui loved League of Legends. He spent every free minute of the day theorycrafting or working on his game. He’d watched thousands of professional games! A part of him was absolutely furious with Lin Feng right now for hiding this information. But then there was another part of him that realised he was standing next to a true great of the game! Someone he’d idolized for years! He felt his heart slamming into his ribcage. The thundering dumbass is Maple! He’s the wonderkid! Of course AyDeeCee knows him! Maple beat AyDeeCee multiple times! They played each other in the LPL finals of Season 1! He turned his head to look at BunBun and nodded. No wonder she was so confident. No wonder Zhejiang University didn’t feel bad about fielding Shi Hang! We have a far bigger monster on our team! This Collegiate Cup probably means nothing to him! We, we’re the cheaters…
“U-umm… Zeng Rui?” Zhang Hao said. He briefly hesitated before asking, “Who’s Maple?”
Zeng Rui shook his head. He was in no state to respond, so he just shoved his phone in Zhang Hao’s hands and said, “Here. Look. Read.”
An Xin looked at Zeng Rui and Zhang Hao and shook her head. He should’ve told them. Oh well, his choice. She smiled and said, “You two, come with me. Let’s go. Give these two guys here some time to catch up.” She then pulled them away from Shi Hang and Lin Feng.
Shi Hang looked at Lin Feng and grinned. He asked, “So, what happened there? After Game 2, I mean. You suddenly started playing way better!”
Lin Feng ruffled his hair and replied, “Oh, yeah, right. I’m still just getting back into form. Every game a bit better, you know?”
Shi Hang started laughing. He said, “You little punk! Beating me is ‘just getting back into form’ for you? That… That’s exactly the kind of thing I’d expect you to say!” He paused for a brief moment and shook his head. Then he continued, “I asked you this four years ago when you beat me and I’ll ask it again now. Where in the world did a freak like you come from? I couldn’t beat you back then, and I can’t even beat you right now!”
Lin Feng smiled and replied, “Yeah, I’m getting good again!”
Shi Hang continued, “But it’s not enough yet. You’ve got a way to go.”
Lin Feng nodded. That’s what everyone keeps telling me. That’s what I can see myself too! If I want to beat Rake, I have to get so much better first! I’m nowhere near that level! I’m not even at the level of some other Midlaners here in China! I need to get better! He replied, “Yeah, I know.”
Shi Hang looked at Lin Feng and frowned. If he returns, when he returns, he’ll have a big bull’s eye on his back. Everyone will want to beat the wonderkid! They’ll all want their shot at beating Maple! And an LPL with him will be so much more competitive than one without him… He sighed and asked, “What are you gonna do about the name? Sticking to Maple? Or are you going to go with something new and hope people won’t remember you?”
“What?” Lin Feng asked, confused. He exclaimed, “Of course I’m going to keep my old name!”
Shi Hang smirked. Thought so. There’s no way you were going to ditch your old name. But that’s not going to be easy. There won’t just be the people looking to challenge you. There are going to be so many fans who expect you to win everything! They’re going to bombard you with attention and in the current scene, fan interaction is so important! There will be so much pressure on you from every direction! And right now, you’re not anywhere near the level required to hold your own ingame, let alone whatever happens outside of the games! He shook his head and said, “Just be sure to take care of yourself.”
Lin Feng rubbed his face and smiled. He said, “Don’t worry! I’ll be far better than I’m right now when I do return. Uh, no! Wait! I’ll be better than I was four years ago! I’ll be the new and improved Maple 2.0!”
Shi Hang laughed. He put his arm on Lin Feng’s shoulder and said, “Alright! I’ll be looking forward to your glorious return to fame!”
“Uhm, sorry, by the way,” Lin Feng said, rubbing his nose. He scratched the back of his head and continued, “You guys got knocked out because of me. If I didn’t play, you might’ve made it all the way to the Finals…”
Shi Hang rolled his eyes and replied, “Oh please! With me on the team, we would’ve won the entire damn tournament if it wasn’t for you!”
Lin Feng laughed awkwardly and asked, “The rest of your team, they’re not too upset, are they?”
Shi Hang clicked his tongue and said, “Don’t worry about them. I personally taught them! If they can’t get over this series, then I haven’t done my job well. And if that’s the case, they’ll never amount to anything in League of Legends! Setbacks are normal. You take them in stride. Just like your team did after the first two games today!” He grinned and continued, “Speaking of which, you’ve got a pretty nice team. BunBun is obviously very good. But that Support looked promising too. And the ad-carry wasn’t half bad either. She’s got potential!”
“Of course she does!” Lin Feng replied, laughing. “I picked her! I picked all of them!”