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Who’s That Girl With the Ponytail?

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Chu Fang led the members from Team Shanghai and Su Xue through the streets of Guangzhou to the Tianhe Stadium. Buildings rose up into the clouds around them, blocking the view ahead, until they walked past the last block. A massive sporting complex covering several blocks appeared before them. There were multiple buildings and a beautiful walkway leading towards the central structure. This was the stadium. It had more than 50,000 seats and hosted a large variety of games, from track and field to football to League of Legends.

Chu Fang pointed at the Tianhe Stadium and said, “See that there? That’s the Tianhe Stadium! We hosted the Asian Games there a few years ago! It’s really quite impressive from the Guangzhou Esports Association that they managed to rent this location. And it looks nothing like it normally does either! They retrofitted the entire inside to create the best esports experience! I’ve seen some photos and it’s quite frankly amazing what they did with the place!”

The group crossed the street and entered the Tianhe Sports Center. A long walkway led to the stadium. Lin Feng ran across the pavement, dangerously close to the pond in the middle of the walkway. He looked at a star-shaped building to his left and then at the stadium itself. He exclaimed, “This place is huge! This is so cool! We’re really gonna play there?”

Chu Fang nodded and replied, “You are.”

“This is so big!” Zhang Hao exclaimed. He shook his head, incredulous, and added, “It’s far bigger than the place we played Fudan University in! You can’t even compare the two!”

Zeng Rui looked past his teammates at the massive structure and smiled. This is the stage! I’m really going to play there! How many people can it hold? It has to be in the tens of thousands! Tingles pricked in his neck. He looked at Chu Fang and said, “The Guangzhou Esports Association really went all out here. This is crazy!”

“They did,” Chu Fang agreed. He went on, “They’ve been working on this for over a month now to create the best esports environment imaginable! From what I heard, they went well beyond their budget for this!”

An Xin mumbled, “Really impressive.”

The group reached the end of the walkway and entered the stadium. After going through several long hallways, they walked onto the field. Stands rose up all around them. More were placed where originally there was grass. And in the middle of the stadium stood a raised platform with a stage and two soundproof booths. Bright, multicoloured spotlights illuminated all of this, bringing the entire scene to live.

Lin Feng grinned and laughed. He shouted, “This is so awesome!” He then ran up on stage and looked through the polished glass screens into the soundproof booths. There were five of the highest quality gaming chairs placed behind the desk on which were five top of the line gaming computers, streamlined ergonomic mice and brand new mechanical keyboards.

“Wow!” Zhang Hao exclaimed. He shook his head and continued, “This isn’t just fancy, this is insane! I bet that gaming chair costs more than my entire gaming setup at home!”

Tang Bingyao hadn’t said a word the entire way. She just stared at everything around her, stunned by the riches of it all. This is all so expensive! All for the tournament I’m playing in! I’m going to play on that computer! Mhm! I’m good! Really good! They spent so much money for me to play on that computer! She smiled and mumbled, “So much money…”

“Right?” Lin Feng exclaimed, grinning. He clenched his fist and pumped it up into the air, shouting, “So much money! This is the perfect practice field! Imagine how good we’d be if we could always practice here! We’d be the best team in the entire world!”

Zeng Rui nodded and said, “It is far better than what we have at the NetCow Cafe. Yes. Alright, we’ve seen it. Let’s go and sign up.” He turned to look at Chu Fang and asked, “Where do we go for that?”

Chu Fang smiled and replied, “Follow me.”

The registration period for the Winter Collegiate Cup was drawing to a close. Most teams had already come in the day before when registration opened. When Team Shanghai arrived backstage, there were only six teams with their managers remaining. Chu Fang took the IDs from Team Shanghai’s members and walked up to the desk to sign them in. The team members themselves stayed back and watched the backstage area.

Lin Feng nodded at the other teams and said, “Looks like they’re about to leave.”

An Xin followed Lin Feng’s gaze and nodded. She smiled and said, “They got here before us. We might be the last team to register! Hmm, I don’t see any of the famous teams here…”

Zeng Rui nodded and said, “Yeah, most teams signed up yesterday I’m guessing.” He then looked at Lin Feng and continued, “The ones at the door are Wuhan University. Those that just left are from Southwest China University of Politics and Law. And that group right over there, they’re Guizhou Tech Institute.”

Tang Bingyao looked at Zeng Rui, surprised. She mumbled, “Wow! You recognized all of them?”

Lin Feng chimed in, “Yeah! How did you do that?”

“The official website has pictures of the teams and players competing. I memorized them,” Zeng Rui replied.

“You memorized them? Why?” Su Xue asked in shock. She shook her head, incredulous, and mumbled, “He has some crazy photographic memory or he’s just nuts like…” She pushed her lips together and smiled.

Zhang Hao patted his chest and declared, “That’s the captain for you! He has the best memory out of everyone I know! He remembers everything! When we prepare for a game, he would always know everything about our opponents! Their favourite Champions, weaknesses, the whole works!”

Chu Fang returned to the team with their IDs just in time to hear Zhang Hao. He handed the IDs back and grinned. Yep! Zeng Rui is a monster when it comes to preparation. That’s why we’ve had our eye on him. Well, that and the fact he’s a very talented Support.

Lin Feng covered his mouth with his hand and gasped in surprise. He then exclaimed, “That’s awesome! So you only have to read a textbook once and then you get a perfect score on your exams!?”

Zhang Hao nodded and replied, “Yep! He always gets the top grades!”

Lin Feng exhaled loudly through his mouth and said, “I wish I had a superpower like that! I spent so much time on my homework… Just imagine how much more time I’d have for League if I only had to read the textbook once!” He turned to look at Zeng Rui and said, “I know! ZengZeng, how about you take my exams for me!? And also do my homework! I’ll repay you by carrying you even harder ingame!”

Zeng Rui rolled his eyes back and replied, “Piss off. Do your own homework.”

Not everyone had a photographic memory like Zeng Rui. But it didn’t take one to recognize Team Shanghai. The other teams at the venue spotted them from a mile away. Team Shanghai didn’t just have the youngest members, but they were also the only team with female players on their roster.

“Those girls there, the three of them, that must be Team Shanghai, right?”
“Must be. They’re the ones with girls on the team.”
“But I thought they only had two? Why are there three? Is there another team with girls on the roster?”
“Don’t think so… Maybe it’s their coach or something?”
“Could very well be. Damn, I still can’t wrap my head around the fact they actually beat Zhejiang. And with AyDeeCee playing no less! Did you guys see that series?”
“Hot damn I did! That was such an assclencher! Had me sweating from Game 3 to the end!”
“Insane how good all these high school teams are… If you’d asked me a few weeks ago if just one of them would make it through, I would’ve called you crazy! Yet all three of them qualified and won basically everything they could win!”

It was hard to miss everyone staring at them. Tang Bingyao turned her head away from them and mumbled, “They’re all looking…”

Chu Fang smiled and said, “Of course they are! Three high school teams compete for the first time in a university tournament and all three make it all the way to the main tournament! It’d be strange if they weren’t curious about you guys.”

Lin Feng struck his victory pose and said, “Look at them! They look so scared! I bet you they’re terrified of the possibility of having to face us! They know we’re far too good!”

“Shut up,” Zeng Rui interrupted. “I don’t want to hear your bragging.”

The players from Team Guangzhou were in a separate room backstage. It had tinted glass windows, allowing them to look out but stopping others from looking in. All five of the players, their two coaches and the interpreter were there. They’d just finished a meeting and were now looking at the last few teams registering for the tournament. When one of the coaches recognized Lin Feng, he pointed and said, “See that kid over there? He’s Team Shanghai’s Midlaner. He’s the one that beat AyDeeCee.”

“Him? Seriously?”
“He defeated AyDeeCee? How?”
“Look at him jumping around! He looks like a fucking idiot!”
“You can’t judge a book by its cover, but oh boy…”
“We can’t underestimate him too much, guys. He still beat AyDeeCee, though that might’ve been because AyDeeCee was out of form or something. I really don’t get how he did it…”

Goalie didn’t listen to his interpreter trying to keep up with what the Chinese teammates were talking about. He rolled his shoulder back and frowned. Why do they care if this kid beat some former pro? Any Korean Master could’ve done the same! This isn’t anything impressive. Other than Hermes, the Chinese don’t have any Midlaner worth my time. It’s just… He shook his head, regretful. It would’ve been nice to test my skills against an old legend. AyDeeCee was once a strong Midlaner. Too bad he decided to return to the LPL. Then again, he lost to this high school kid. He ain’t worth that much anymore. Probably just a waste of my time. He smiled, mockingly, as he turned his attention to Lin Feng. I’ll just have to stomp on you a bit and prove to everyone that this AyDeeCee oldie is nothing special anymore!

Seo was the new Korean import for Team Guangzhou. He played in the ad-carry position. He pointed through the window at Tang Bingyao and asked, “Who’s that girl with the ponytail?”

The interpreter looked at Seo and replied in Korean, “She’s the ad-carry for Team Shanghai. You’ll be playing her, Seo.”

Oh? Seo’s lips curved up. He licked his finger and flicked his blond dyed hair. She’d be a nice addition to my ‘done’-list! He grinned and traced his hand down his chest and to his stomach, feeling the grooves of his abs. All the girls love my body! She’ll fall for me easily! He winked at Goalie and said, “I call dibs on her!”

Team Shanghai left the Tianhe Stadium and followed Lin Feng’s nose to the restaurant he’d mentioned earlier. They had their fill, agreeing that the food in Guangzhou did in fact taste different than what they usually had in Shanghai. And they all voiced their pleasant surprise at how good everything tasted. When everyone had had their fill, they paid the bill and returned to their hotel. Chu Fang informed them that the Guangzhou Esports Association would send them an email later to announce the brackets for the tournament. Beyond that, there wasn’t anything to do until the tournament started.

Chu Fang nodded at everyone and said, “You guys had to get up really early this morning to make it to the airport on time. If you’re tired, this is your chance to take a nap. Make sure you’re all well rested before the tournament starts! The brackets should be available when you wake up again.”

Zeng Rui nodded and replied, “That’s a good idea. Let’s gather back here before dinner. I’ll go see if there’s an internet cafe nearby we can use to practice tonight.”

Lin Feng looked at Chu Fang, confused. He scratched the back of his head and mumbled, “But I’m not tired. I’m not tired at all!”

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SHANKS CANCELS THE POSTAL SERVICE

Shanks Thought: I’m far, far away from Canada, away from my friends and family and all the other things that I grew up around. Even though I’ve been living abroad for two years now, I still sometimes find myself homesick. How could I not? I’ve spent the better half of two decades living my life there. But every now and then, I encounter something that reminds me a little of back home.

Like dealing with the customer service for Canada Post. I’m glad to report that the customer service for Royal Mail, the national postal service for the UK, is just as garbage. I’ve been trying to send Sietse a gift through the mail for almost half a year now. It started in early December with me trying to send him this gift as a Christmas present, and now it’s almost June, and I’m still trying to get it to him.

The first delivery attempt got lost in Covid-19 purgatory before it eventually got sent back to me a couple of months later. Then because of school, translating, lock-down, etc., I never got around to sending him the gift again until two weeks ago. And it still hasn’t arrived in his mail yet, which is odd because the postage I paid for read, “3-5 business days anywhere in Europe.” It’s clearly been more than 3-5 business days.

Normally, I’d chalk it up to normal Covid-19 pandemic bullshit Also, Brexit issues. But I’m really, REALLY tired of dealing with trying to get this gift to Sietse. So, I decided to call Royal Mail customer service to ask them what’s going on. First, the customer service rep asked if I paid for tracking. I didn’t. That’s an extra $10. Fuck that. Then, she told me to hold for 15 minutes while she checked on my package. After being put on hold, she comes back and says, “I see you handed us your package two weeks ago. It should’ve arrived at its destination by now.”

Yes. It should have. That’s why I’m calling…

She continues, “Well, it’s still in our system, and it says it’s in the middle of transit.”

So, I ask her, “Do you know what country it’s in? Is it in the Netherlands yet?”

“Sorry, sir. You didn’t pay for tracking, so that information isn’t available.”

“But you just told me it’s in transit. That means you can see where it is, right?”

“Yes sir, it is still in transit and should’ve already arrived at its destination.”

“Alright, but it hasn’t. I know it hasn’t. I’ve asked my friend, and he told me he still hasn’t received the package yet. So, can you tell me where it is?”

“It’s in the middle of transit.”

“Yes, can I know if it’s at least arrived in the EU?”

“Sir, you didn’t pay for tracking.”

.”..”

After going back and forth like this for another 10 minutes, I came to the realization that either she doesn’t know either, or policy dictates that she can’t tell me even if my package hasn’t been delivered by the expected delivery date. She tells me if my package still hasn’t arrived by next week, I could submit a ticket and get recouped for up to $20 on my lost item. The problem is, the gift I sent Sietse was a smartwatch worth over $200. So yeah, I spent almost an hour talking to customer service only to find out they don’t know anything either. I really wish they’d just tell me that earlier. Oh, and I was also asked to rate her customer service at the end of the call.

Sietse: “Well, miss. I will rate your service a one out of five stars. You get one star for picking up and talking to me, which seems like quite the achievement in this day and age where most companies simply don’t pick up the phone at all. But beyond that, you kept me on the line for well over 30 minutes for something you could’ve explained to me in 30 seconds or less. I get that my manly voice got you all excited, but this isn’t the way I like to spend my day. For that reason (and the fact you lost my item), I cannot give you more than 1 star. Which, again, I only give because you picked up the phone. Everything from there on out was less than helpful.

Bitch.”

Seriously though, I was looking forward to getting this watch. Stupid ass Royal Mail needs to get their act together! Gimme my gift dammit!

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