Shi Hang looked at Lin Feng and grinned. Where have I heard him say this before? Oh, that’s right! This is exactly what you said to me after the LPL Finals four years ago! Back when we didn’t even know if a Chinese team would qualify for Worlds! When no one thought we had the skill! Except you. You always believed in yourself and your team! He chuckled. You handpicked your team, so they were the best. Such simple logic. It sounds stupid! But man was it true. Fuck me were they amazing! Those guys… Shi Hang shook his head and sighed. They were pretty damn amazing! Almost as good as you were. He nodded at Lin Feng and asked, “I’ve been meaning to ask you. How’s Silent doing these days? Have you talked with him recently?”
Lin Feng stopped smiling. He took a step back and looked down at his shoes. He fiddled with his fingers and mumbled, “Uhm… Eh…”
Shi Hang looked at Lin Feng, confused. He asked, “Don’t tell me… Even you don’t know?” I know it’s been four years, but you guys were inseparable! You should’ve at least stayed in contact, right? You don’t just stop being best friends from one day to the next! And even if you don’t hang out all that much anymore, you still keep tabs on each other, right? Wait… If you’re planning to make a comeback, wouldn’t you want to do that with your old teammates? Yeah, why are you even playing with this team? You’ve got your old team! Those guys are way better!
Lin Feng bit his lips, his heart slamming into his ribcage. Shi Hang doesn’t know. No one told him I was the one who walked away. That I broke off all contact for four years. The reason I’m not in touch with my old teammates is because I made it impossible for them to reach me! How is Silent doing these days? I want to know that too! But even Tian Tian doesn’t really know… He took a deep breath and said, “I… I don’t know. I heard he quit League, but beyond that, I, I just don’t know.”
“Yeah, I know he quit,” Shi Hang replied. He then exhaled loudly and continued, “It’s such a shame. Silent and Autumn were absolutely phenomenal players! Even if they haven’t played the game in years, with how good they were, they’ll still be at the top of the LPL! It’s such a big loss for the LPL that you three all quit!”
Lin Feng nodded, just nodded for nearly a minute. Then he finally said, “Yeah, you’re right. I know. If I get the chance, I hope to see them again. I really want to know how they’re doing too.” He took a deep, long breath. I want to see them again! I want to see them play League again! Maybe even with me, if they forgive me… It’s just, just not the same without them! My current team is great, but my old team… The four of them… He shook his head and closed his eyes. I shouldn’t think that far ahead. What if they’re mad at me? He chewed on his lips, his stomach twisting and turning. I’d already be happy if I can just meet them in person again and apologize for the dogshit person I was! I want to apologize to them for everything I did! How I lost them the Finals! How I abandoned them! How I…
“Ah, forget it!” Shi Hang exclaimed, laughing. He patted Lin Feng’s shoulder and said, “Us old farts get stuck in the past too much! No point in doing that! Heck, you’re still in high school! Old man Feng going to high school!” He laughed a bit before continuing, “Anyway, how is this return to the pro scene going to look like for you? Jumping straight into the LPL? Or are you going to take a different route?”
Shi Hang suddenly narrowed his eyes. He wagged his finger and said, “The Collegiate Cup! That’s where you start! And you better win it! You knocked me out of this stupid tournament! Your return to the pro scene is great and all, but you knocked me out! My first competitive game in years and you knocked me straight out! If you don’t go on and win the main tournament before going back to the LPL, I’ll have your ass!”
Lin Feng stared at Shi Hang, surprised. Then he grinned and struck his victory pose. He said, “Don’t you worry! We’re going to win! That trophy is coming home with me!”
“Uh-huh,” Shi Hang replied. He smiled and continued, “Big talk coming from a little guy like you! Eh, you’re not that little anymore. Kinda tall now! But I’ll be looking forward to it! And if I don’t see you coming back with that trophy, I’ll come looking for you to smack some humility into you! Which is super easy now that you live in Shanghai! I’m in Hangzhou! That’s only 30 minutes with the train!” He grinned and suggested, “We should have some beers sometime soon! And don’t you dare say no! You’re coming and you’re getting wasted with me! For old time’s sake!” You might be the wonderkid on the Rift, but I’ll show you who the beer pong wonderkid is!
“Beers? Drinking?” Lin Feng muttered. He scratched the back of his head and replied, “I’m alright with drinking. But if you’re looking for a drinking buddy, I know someone! Tang Tang is great with alcohol! She’ll drink you under the table!”
“Tang Tang?” Shi Hang remarked in surprise. Who is… Oh! He turned his head to look at the players from team Shanghai on the other side of the hall and said, “Oh! That ad-carry girl on your team? The small one? You’re telling me she can hold her alcohol? Haha! I wanna see that!”
Lin Feng brightly smiled and turned to look at his teammates. He then waved at them and shouted, “Tang Tang! Tang Tang! Shi Hang says we should get together sometime and have a couple of drinks! What do you say? Are you in?”
Tang Bingyao looked at Lin Feng, puzzled. She tilted her head and said, “Okay?” He wants to drink with me again? I thought… She shook her head and smiled. He wants to drink with me again! She nodded and said, “Mhm! Sure!”
“Uh, Lin Feng?” Shi Hang interrupted. He pointed at Zeng Rui and Zhang Hao, who both looked on in horror, and asked, “Why are those two looking at us like that?”
Lin Feng chuckled and replied, “Oh, nothing! They’re just happy that we’ll all go drinking together again!”
Shi Hang raised an eyebrow and asked, “Are you sure? It’s not that you’re trying to get one over on me here? Because that’s the feeling I’m getting here. If I knew them any better and they looked at me like that, then—”
“I’m totally serious! It’ll be fun! Trust me!” Lin Feng interrupted, grinning.
Shi Hang looked at Lin Feng and narrowed his eyes. He said, “Alright, sure…” He then looked at his watch and continued, “I should probably go look for my teammates. They’re waiting somewhere here for me.”
Lin Feng nodded and said, “Okay! I’ll see you later! We’ll go drinking together sometime!” He suddenly scratched the back of his head and asked, “Oh, uh, what about you? Are you going to play again?”
Shi Hang shrugged and said, “Who knows? I might. We’ll see what the future has in store for me.”
The two former professional players looked at each other knowingly. Season 1 was all about China versus Korea. They were the strongest two regions in the world. The LPL quickly rose to fame during that period, leaning on the legacy of Maple and the skills of AyDeeCee and several other professional players. But Season 2 didn’t become what the Chinese fans wanted for it to become. The big names, the ones that drew people to the stadium, that made people empty their schedules just to watch them play, those players quit the professional scene.
The best Chinese League of Legends players from Season 1 all quit in Season 2, with Tian Tian being the only noteworthy exception. And all of them, without exception, were in their prime when they quit. They still had long and bright careers ahead of them. But they quit. They left the scene. And they left behind a mishmash of second rate players.
Three years later, in Season 5, the LPL was one of the weaker regions in the world. It needed fresh blood. But fresh didn’t necessarily mean new. If the players of old, the real monsters, returned to the scene, then the LPL was almost certainly going to make a massive leap in the worldwide rankings!
Lin Feng smiled and said, “Good. I’ll be waiting for you in the LPL!”
Shi Hang laughed and fired back, “With your slow ass speed, I’ll be the one waiting. Don’t make me wait too long! I might get bored and quit again!”
Lin Feng walked back to his teammates waving his phone at them. He shouted, “Ouyang just texted me! They’re gonna get some barbecue skewers to celebrate our victory! Let’s go join them! You guys in for it? Ren Rou and the others are all joining!” He turned to look at Zhang Hao and Zeng Rui and added, “Even the three from your old team are tagging along! What do you say, you guys in?”
Tang Bingyao nodded and An Xin smiled, but Zeng Rui and Zhang Hao didn’t respond. They just stared at Lin Feng with their eyes wide open.
Lin Feng looked at the two and asked, “What? Do I have something on my face?” He rubbed his cheeks and lips clean, but that didn’t get a response either. Whatever’s got them all weird like this? His phone buzzed again. He checked and saw it was Ouyang asking where he was. Eh, whatever. Time for food! He grinned and said, “Let’s go celebrate already! I’m starving!” He then turned around and walked away.
Zhang Hao looked at Lin Feng, moving his head up and down. He held Zeng Rui’s phone in his hand. On it was an article about China’s best Midlaner, the mysterious individual who’d shocked the entire world with a stunning performance at the highest stage of League of Legends. The World Championships. He thought about Lin Feng and then the person described in the article. Then he looked at Lin Feng. He tried to match the two people in his head, intertwine them, and make them one. But he couldn’t. It was all too much for him. The fact that Maple stood before him. That he was on Maple’s team. That he was getting taught by the best player China, and arguably even the world had ever seen! It was all too much for him. The phone slipped from his hand and fell on the ground. But he didn’t notice it. His mind was a mess. He stared at Lin Feng with wide open eyes. Slowly, very slowly, he opened his mouth. His lips shivered. “Y-you…” he mumbled. “M-maple?”
Zeng Rui was a step further in the ‘coming to terms that Lin Feng is Maple’ process than Zhang Hao. He was finally convinced that Lin Feng was Maple. I always wondered what I was missing about the way he played. He did things I didn’t… Things I don’t understand. And they always work out! All those little things. The way he plays… There is something so strangely good about it! Him being Maple actually explains so much! But… He gritted his teeth and glared at Lin Feng. He clenched his fists until his knuckles were white. Maple or not, he’s still a thundering dumbass! He deserves no praise! He deserves a beating! BunBun was right all along!