“Boom!” Lin Feng shouted, laughing. He relaxed back in his chair and breathed out. It’s almost morning already! I feel like I’ve run a marathon… But shit! Those games were great! Finally some strong opponents, especially in that third game! That was fucking awesome! He took the glass of water Su Xue had filled for him from the desk and drank it empty. “Haaaah!” he exclaimed. “So good!”
Su Xue sat next to Lin Feng, scrolling through the Korean Challenger Ladder. She hit the refresh button several times, waiting for the results from the previous game Lin Feng played to be added. It finally did. She pushed the phone in front of Lin Feng’s face and shouted, “Look! Look! You’re almost in the Top 100! If you hadn’t lost that one game…”
“Eh, losses are part of the game,” Lin Feng replied. He grinned and continued, “Can’t win everything! That’d be silly! And those two I was playing against? The Mid and Top? Those two were really good!”
Su Xue looked at Lin Feng and shook her head. She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply. Of course they were good! You’re in Korean Challenger! You’re playing against the best players in Korea! And those two specifically… She breathed out and opened her eyes again. She lectured, “Of course they were good! Those two play in the OGN! That’s the highest competition in Korea! They play against Rake!”
Lin Feng laughed awkwardly and mumbled, “I guess…”
“You guess?” Su Xue asked. I wanna punch him! She breathed in deeply and said, “You were playing against Seo! He’s a really famous Midlaner! Yet you beat him! You beat him in lane! If it wasn’t for the Lissandra, who by the way is also an insanely strong player…” She shook her head and sighed before continuing, “FAC•Ason is one of the best Toplaners in the entire world right now! He carried really hard on his Lissandra! But somehow… somehow you actually put up a fight against him! You made him tryhard!”
Lin Feng ruffled his hair and said, “Yeah, he was pretty good. But we could’ve won it! If only I got to the backline in that teamfight at the end! But Lissandra locked me down with her ultimate before I could kill them.” He stared at his screen and mumbled, “The OGN really has a lot of strong players, huh?” Just like Rake in Season 1… All these Koreans are so good! You can never underestimate them! But that’s exactly what I need right now! This is perfect! They’ll help me get good again so much faster! And all I have to do is keep queuing up for more games! Right, enough time wasting! He clenched his fist and shouted, “Again!”
The Shanghai Esports Organization announced the semi finals matchups for the East China Regionals early the next day. This game wasn’t technically part of the Winter Collegiate Cup. All four remaining teams had already qualified for the main tournament. The semi finals and finals for the East China Regionals were played purely for pride and bragging rights. And more importantly, to get some extra practice in before the main tournament.
Team Shanghai got matched up against the Shanghai University of Finance. This was the same team they’d played their first scrim match against all those weeks ago. This was the team who tried to get out of the scrimmage when they learned Team Shanghai was a team of high schoolers and girls. This was the team that got stomped in that particular scrimmage. And it was the memory of that scrimmage that lingered with the players from both teams. Team Shanghai looked forward to the semi finals, ready to repeat their earlier feats against the Shanghai University of Finance. And the Shanghai University of Finance dreaded this upcoming semi finals series.
The Shanghai University of Finance had reached the quarter finals of the main tournament in the previous edition of the Collegiate Cup. This time around, they’d qualified for Nationals again. They were one of the strongest teams competing. But the differences at the top were big. They held little hope of beating a team like Fudan University or Zhejiang University.
Luo Yu was the Midlaner and team captain of Shanghai University of Finance. He gathered his teammates and looked at them. They’re all thinking the same. We’ve lost. There’s no way we’re beating those damn steroid kids! He lightly shook his head and said, “It’s okay, guys. We’ve all seen their series against Zhejiang University. Those kids are good. Really good! But we’ve qualified for Nationals. The outcome of this series doesn’t matter. So let’s go in without any pressure and just have fun.”
The semi finals was a best of five series. Three games were all it took. Team Shanghai came in calm and relaxed. They played far below their capabilities, but it was still more than enough to deal with the Shanghai University of Finance. They qualified for the Finals, in which they would face Fudan University.
The university students who came to spectate the series between Team Shanghai and the Shanghai University of Finance were rather disappointed. There was never any real tension, nor were there phenomenal plays. It was quick and clean.
“Team Shanghai is looking unstoppable after their series against Zhejiang University. I don’t see anyone beating them right now. Fudan is going to get slam-dunked!”
“Yeah. I guess. Fucking mental how good those kids are! I couldn’t spot a single mistake in these three games against Luo Yu’s team! They made the Shanghai University of Finance look like the high school kids! Man, who would’ve thought three weeks ago…”
“Haha! If you’d asked me a few weeks ago who to bet on, I would’ve said Luo Yu had a good chance to win in East China! I really thought they improved a lot! But shit! Team Shanghai is so much better! This ain’t even funny!”
“I’m feeling for Fudan. This can’t be fun for them, knowing you have to play against a bunch of high schoolers, and knowing they’re going to kick your asses!”
Team Shanghai had won the quarterfinals to qualify for the main tournament of the Winter Collegiate Cup. They’d won the semi finals of the East China Regionals and were going to play Fudan University in the Finals! These were both things to celebrate, but Team Shanghai wasn’t celebrating. They practiced in silence at the internet cafe. The discomfort was palpable. And Lin Feng, the culprit of all this, was the only one who didn’t notice it. An Xin let it go on for a few days until she’d had enough of it. She pulled Lin Feng aside and said, “Your stupid ass screwed with our team dynamic! You’re ruining our chances of winning!”
“Huh? Me? What?” Lin Feng asked, confused. “What did I do?”
An Xin raised an eyebrow and said, “What do you think? My god you’re stupid! Think! For once in your life, use that brain of yours! You’re the one who wanted to keep his identity hidden! You didn’t even tell Zeng Rui and Zhang Hao! How do you think they feel after learning about it from Shi Hang? It didn’t even come from you! And when they were looking at you for an explanation, you brushed them off! Some friend you are.” She sighed loudly and asked, “How do you think they’re feeling?”
“How they’re feeling?” Lin Feng mumbled, rubbing his chin. He replied, “Excited to get to play with me? I would be!”
“Oh my god!” An Xin exclaimed. She punched Lin Feng against his shoulder and shouted, “Get over yourself! No! That’s not how they’re feeling!”
“No? Then what?” Lin Feng asked, scratching the back of his head.
An Xin breathed in deeply and explained, “They’re at a loss! They don’t know what to do or say to you! Before, you were just someone who was good at League to them, and a friend. Now you’re neither! You’re not just good at League, you’re Maple! And you’re not their friend, because you lied to them about who you are!”
Lin Feng raised his hand and protested, “I never lied about who I am!–”
“You kept it hidden from them. It’s the same,” An Xin cut him off. She glared and continued, “These two suddenly learn that they’re playing with not just any former professional player, they’re playing with the best one– WIPE THAT STUPID SMIRK FROM YOUR FACE! Oh my god… Ok. They don’t know how to act, okay? They don’t know what to say or what to think! It’s a combination of trying to digest the information while also trying to find their place in the team and their place as your friends! And while they’re trying to figure this all out, you’re acting like everything is normal!”
“But every—” Lin Feng started.
“NO! Not everything is normal!” An Xin interrupted. She punched him for a second time, ignoring how Lin Feng painfully rubbed his shoulder, and continued, “It’s anything but normal! You’re going to act how you should! Show some consideration to them! Let them know that you’re still just you, a raging fucking idiot goldfish! My god!” She threw her hands up in the air and walked away.
Zeng Rui sat behind a computer in the internet cafe going over the footage from Team Shanghai’s semi finals series against the Shanghai University of Finance. He played certain bits again and again, all the while scribbling down things in his notebook. Something is just off about this series. We won cleanly. And it looks clean. But there was something missing…
“ZengZeng!” Lin Feng shouted through the internet cafe.
Zeng Rui closed his eyes. Not him. Not now. Please go away. Please go awa—
“ZengZeng!” Lin Feng shouted again, running across the hall to the computer Zeng Rui sat at. He pulled up a chair and sat down next to Zeng Rui. Then he said again, “ZengZeng!”
Zeng Rui turned his head abruptly to look at Lin Feng and said, “What?”
Lin Feng scratched the back of his head and replied, “Oh, uh, nothing really. I just wanted to ask if you’re okay.”
If I’m okay…? Zeng Rui looked at Lin Feng, confused. He then turned his head further and saw An Xin standing near the entrance of the internet cafe. Oh. BunBun talked to him. Should’ve seen this coming… So he wants to know if I’m okay? Maple…– No! He’s still just the thundering dumbass! The one who deserves a good punch and… He chewed on the inside of his cheek. He’s fucking Maple! I watched his game against Phoenix at the Season 1 Worlds again… They really play the same! And it’s so good! I don’t get how… How… He shook his head.
Lin Feng looked at Zeng Rui, occasionally glancing at An Xin. Why is he so quiet? Did I say something wrong? I don’t know… He ruffled his hair and said, “Uh, are you angry with me? You know, that I didn’t tell you that I’m Maple and all.”
Zeng Rui breathed in deeply and replied, “No.”
Lin Feng grinned. He put his hand on Zeng Rui’s shoulder and said, “Good! I knew you’d understand! See, I didn’t think it was important! I mean, it was so long ago and I’m not nearly that good anymore! What’s the point in getting hung up on the past? It’s pointless! So anyway, what I’m trying to say is that I’d like it if we can be like before! Best friends and teammates!”
Best friends…? Zeng Rui stared at Lin Feng, incredulous. He opened his mouth, a million things to say coming to mind, but eventually only said, “Sure.”
“That was so easy!” Lin Feng exclaimed. He patted Zeng Rui on the back and said, “I knew you’d understand!– Wait, this is too easy. Is it?”
Zeng Rui looked Lin Feng in the eyes and asked, “What do you want me to say? What is there I can possibly say here? You tell me.”
Lin Feng rubbed his chin for a while and then said, “You could tell me how you’re actually feeling! I don’t know, tell me about how you were a big fan of mine and that since finding out that I’m Maple you suddenly feel this big pressure because you’re playing on the same team as your idol!”
Zeng Rui’s eyes grew wider and wider the more Lin Feng spoke. He finally snorted and said, “You don’t have to worry about that.”
“Really?” Lin Feng asked, confused. He added, “I thought you would! I was really famous before, you know? Like really, really famous!”
“Just shut up you thundering dumbass!” Zeng Rui exclaimed.