Su Xue joined Team Shanghai in the player seating area. In person, not in mind. She chewed her lips and fidgeted with her hands, deaf to the people around her. What if I’m a terrible caster? What if I say something stupid? There are so many people here and even more watching online! All of them will see me screw up! Those people are vultures! They’ll jump on it and make fun of me for the rest of my life! I’ll have to quit streaming and move to some hamlet in the middle of nowhere! Her stomach contracted and she felt nauseous. There’s still so much I don’t know about this game. I don’t know anything!
Lin Feng patted Su Xue on her shoulder, pulling her from her spiralling thoughts, and said, “Stop worrying so much! You stream to 50,000 people all the time! This stadium can’t even hold that many people right now! This is going to be easy for you!”
Su Xue looked at Lin Feng and smiled. She replied, “I know, I know. But when I stream it often still feels like before, you know? When I had like 50 viewers? I’m still chatting with everyone and I know so many people! I don’t just know their names but I know who they are! And they know me… That connection is missing here. If I say something stupid…” She shook her head and asked, “But enough about me! Shouldn’t you also be worrying? You’re playing against Goalie! I heard he’s really good!”
“Goalie? He is?” Lin Feng asked, laughing. He shrugged and added, “There’s nothing to it. We’ll go up on stage when it’s our turn, and we’re 3-0ing them.”
“Sure, sure, mister big mouth!” Su Xue replied, rolling her eyes back. She then asked, “You do know they’re like the favourites for the entire tournament, right? I was looking into them yesterday and everyone online is talking about them!”
The large LCD screen above the two soundproof booths up on stage flashed to life. It showed the Champion Select for the first game of the first match of the Round of 16! Zeng Rui told Lin Feng to focus, but he ignored that and continued, “We will win. Easy. And it’s okay, XueXue. You will do great too! Just be yourself. Remember all those times you commentated me playing? For your videos in the beginning and also when I was just playing solo queue? Your viewers loved that! That’s all you have to do here! They will all love you! Just keep doing your thing!”
Su Xue looked into Lin Feng’s dark eyes and focused on the small brown dot just off the center in his left eye. She breathed out a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding and smiled. Just smiled. He’s right. What am I even worrying about? HuyaTV hired me because I’m good at this! They don’t want just anyone with just any type of casting. They wanted me. I just have to be me! And it’s not like I’m totally in the dark either. I know Team Shanghai better than everyone else! The only thing I don’t know… She asked, “What about my analysis of the game? I’m just not experienced with that…”
“Oh, that? Easy!” Lin Feng replied. He grinned and explained, “So here’s what you do. You tell them that Team Guangzhou is a very cocky, arrogant team who believe that relying on Korean imports will win them the game. Then you go on to say that this is a stupid conjecture made by stupid people. You tell everyone that actual skill decides the game, and that there’s nobody with more skill than me playing this tournament! Then you finish it off by saying that I’ll hard-win mid by the 10th minute and that we’ll destroy their nexus by the 20th minute.” He briefly paused before adding, “Easy, right?”
Su Xue stared at Lin Feng for nearly a minute before her mouth finally moved and a sound came out. She muttered, “You sure sound confident…” She took a long, deep breath and moved her lips around. Then she nodded and said, “Alright, alright. I’ll repeat that, word for word. But if you don’t live up to it, you can bet your tiny ass on it that I’m taking you down with me!”
Lin Feng grinned and pumped his fist into the air. He replied, “It’s fine! I’ll hard-carry these games, I promise!” He turned his head to look at Team Guangzhou’s players and continued, “I already told you. I will teach that guy a lesson he’ll never forget. After today, no one will remember him.”
Ever since entering the Tianhe Stadium earlier in the morning, Seo had been staring at Lin Feng in anger. He glowered and mumbled curses. I don’t even care about that stupid girl. She isn’t even all that pretty! I can do so much better than her! But you, you fucking asshole! How dare you mess with me like that! What you did to me yesterday… that’s unforgivable! I’ll make you regret being born!
Seo glanced at the large LCD screen and watched the first series come to an end. It was one game closer to the Team Guangzhou versus Team Shanghai series. He grinned. I can’t wait to play against your arrogant ass, asshole! I’ll stomp your girl and make her cry just like she did yesterday! And then we’ll have to make sure to also teach you a valuable lesson. Namely that I’m better than you. I am better than you! He nodded at Goalie and said, “Give it everything you’ve got today. Make that asshole wish he was never born!”
Goalie snorted. He didn’t particularly care about Seo’s feelings or his desire for revenge. But he did care about the humiliation he’d suffered at Lin Feng’s hands. He turned his head to look at Lin Feng and narrowed his eyes. Who am I? I’ll show you who I am! You think you’re all that because you beat some has-been second rate idiot like AyDeeCee? Ha! What a joke! I play against Rake in solo queue all the time! That’s the difference between you and me! I play with the best and you play with noobs! Just you wait. When we play, I’ll show you exactly how far apart we are! I’m so much better than you that you can’t even see me from down there!
Su Xue looked across the row of seats at the members from Team Shanghai and said, “This series is about to end. I’m… I guess all of us are up next. I need to go backstage and prepare.” She ruffled Lin Feng’s hair and added, “Goodluck! I want to cast you guys to a win!”
Lin Feng pulled his head away from Su Xue, then smiled. He pounded his chest and said, “Leave it to me! You focus on casting and I’ll make sure we win!”
Su Xue giggled and replied, “I won’t hear any bragging until after the series! Remember, I’m going to say what you told me to! You better not make me regret it!”
“I won’t!” Lin Feng exclaimed, grinning. His teammates wished Su Xue goodluck and she turned around and walked away. He looked after until she was almost out of earshot and then shouted, “YOU GOT THIS!”
Su Xue looked over her shoulder and smiled. She mouthed, “Thanks!” Then she disappeared around a corner. She walked along the long corridors of the Tianhe Stadium and up several stairs until she arrived at a specific door in the backstage area. Behind it was the lobby for casters. I got this! You got this, Su Xue! She nodded at herself and then pushed the door open.
The room was larger and busier than Su Xue expected. There were people from the Guangzhou Esports Association walking around with clipboards, making sure everything was going according to schedule. There was a corner with different outfits and two people hard at work there, there were several visagistes and then there were the other casters. HuyaTV had hired 7 women and 1 man to cast eight games. Su Xue was the only one given two games. On top of that, there were the professional casters hired by the Guangzhou Esports Association. And all of them, except for the two casting the current series, were here.
“Wow!” Su Xue mumbled. There are so many people here! And the girls, they’re all so pretty! She looked around the room again and spotted several people looking back at her. Shit! They know I don’t belong here! I’m not a caster! They can see it! They can… She forced herself to take a deep breath and smile. I’m a caster! HuyaTV hired me. Stop being so miserable, Su Xue! You’ve got this. She nodded at herself and then walked into the room, waving at the people looking at her and saying, “Hi!”
One woman wearing a low cut dress glanced at Su Xue and replied, “Hello. You are…?”
“Su Xue! Nice to meet you!” Su Xue introduced herself. She then raised her finger and added, “Oh! EveningSnowfall I mean!”
Several women perked up and turned their heads to look at Su Xue. But they didn’t greet her, or look especially welcoming. They glared at her and started whispering with each other, making sure that all Su Xue could hear was that they were talking about her. It was the woman in the low cut dress that eventually spoke up. She raised an eyebrow and said, “Is whatever that is …” she pointed frantically at Su Xue’s clothes. “… what you’re wearing?”
“This?” Su Xue asked, confused, pointing at her own outfit. “Yes? Is something wrong with it?” She looked at the women in the caster lobby. They all snickered and she could hear them making fun of her outfit; they made sure of that. She looked down at her outfit, deflated. There’s nothing wrong with my outfit, right? Why are they making fun of it? Zuo You helped me pick it out! She said that I don’t need to wear something super revealing… that something more like me would fit me better… She felt her heart slamming into her ribcage and a prop was forcing its way up her throat. Compose yourself. Compose yourself, Su Xue! They’re just being mean! Don’t listen to them! Zuo You said I look great!
“So…” the woman in the low cut dress started. She walked up to Su Xue and looked her up and down, walking around her. She then asked, “What’s so special about you that Huya gave you two matches?”
“She must’ve slept with some higher up,” another woman chimed in.
“Sucked a big, fat cock!” a third said.
“N-no!” Su Xue yelped. She shook her head frantically and said, “I didn’t do any of that! I don’t know why! They just asked me to do two!” She bit on her lips and sucked back the tears that had appeared in her eyes. The door behind her suddenly felt very close and very safe. She took a step back. I can’t do this! Everyone’s expecting so much from me and I’m not good! I don’t know anything about League! I just sit behind my computer and stream for fun! Not because I know things!
The cheering from the crowd sounded in the distance. One of the Guangzhou Esports Association staff members walked in and announced that the series had ended. He turned to Su Xue and said that she was up next and to get ready. She just stared at him, numb. Her knees felt weak and she wanted nothing more than to walk away. She felt trapped between the vicious glares from the other girls on one side and her boss on the other side. They’re going to make me… And those girls… If I…– Her phone buzzed in the back pocket of her jeans. She took it out and looked at it and breathed.
Lin Feng (12:05 P.M.):「You can totally do this, XueXue! I believe in you!!!」
Su Xue smiled as she pictured Lin Feng’s cheerful expression. She thought about how he’d cheered her on and how he believed in her. Then she started laughing. She laughed away the ugly glares, the whispers and every other form of negativity. It felt liberating. I can do this! And I’m gonna do great! She texted Lin Feng a thank you and then said to the staff member, “Mic me up!”
Lin Feng watched the host walk up on stage, clenching his fists. The audience behind him was still cheering for the 3-1 victory from Wuhan University over Nanjing University. He ignored that. What was coming up next was the only thing he cared about. He kept focused on the host as he said, “It’s our turn! You guys ready? Everyone feeling good? Ready to shock everyone and show them that we’re the team to beat!?”
Tang Bingyao nodded and said, “Mhm! We’re going to win this one!”
The host stopped in the middle of the stage. The multicoloured lights faded away until there was only a single beam of white light illuminating the host. He held a microphone up to his mouth and said, “This edition of the Collegiate Cup is a bit special. For the first time ever, it’s taking place in winter. And much more importantly, for the first time ever, high school teams have been invited!” He paused to let the audience cheer, then continued, “There were many questions wondering if these teams were good enough to compete at the university level. I think all three teams have proven that much. Right now, I think we’re all curious to see just how far they can go! But, unfortunately, for one high school team the road ends here. Today.”
Blue and red lights suddenly flashed around the stadium until focusing on the player seating area. The blue lights illuminated Team Guangzhou and the red lights Team Shanghai. The host shouted, “This is it! We have the high schoolers representing the Guangzhou Esports Association facing off against the high schoolers representing the Shanghai Esports Association! The former esports capital of the world is looking to reclaim its place by beating the current esports capital of the world! Give it up for these 10 phenomenal players! We welcome to the stage TEAM GUANGZHOU AND TEAM SHANGHAI!”
The audience cheered, louder and louder. The players from Team Guangzhou and Team Shanghai rose from their seats and walked to opposite ends of the stage. There they ascended the steps. Each time their feet hit the ground it sounded like the audience found a new breath and screamed and shouted even louder. It carried the players up on stage as they made their way to the soundproof booths. One more moment they enjoyed the sounds, then the players from both teams started entering.
Lin Feng and Goalie were the last two outside the soundproof booths. They looked across the stage at each other. Goalie smiled, confident, and drew a line across his neck with his finger. Lin Feng burst out laughing. He shook his head and walked into the soundproof booth. He then closed the door behind him, cutting off all distracting sounds.
The players from Zhejiang University watched this all happen from their seats in the player seating area. Zhejiang’s Jungler turned his head to look at his teammates, worried, and asked, “Do you think they can win?”
Zuo Cheng laughed. He replied, “Yes, of course I think Team Shanghai can win. I think they will win! That Lin Feng? He’s the real deal. There is no way that that shitty Goalie can beat Lin Feng!”
Sun Ruinian slowly nodded and mumbled, “Whatever happens, this is gonna be a special match.”
The caster desk was separated from the stands, unlike those at the Shanghai 16 School Tournament and the East China Regionals. Su Xue looked through the glass window down at the stage, smiling. Zephyr, her professional co-caster, sat behind her at the caster desk and kept reminding her that there was nothing to worry about and that he’d casted with girls from HuyaTV before and that he knew how to best help her. She didn’t care. All worries about casting were gone. Now she just felt tingles and excitement for what was to come. She was going to cast Lin Feng!
Su Xue walked around the table and sat down next to Zephyr. I’m feeling great! No, better even! I’m feeling better than I ever have! This is exactly what I’ve wanted! Who would’ve guessed! A few months ago I only had a dozen viewers and now I’m going to cast a game for like a hundred thousand people! This is everything I’ve been working so hard towards! And it’s amazing! She took a long, deep breath and then said, “Thanks, but it’s okay. I’m ready for this. Let’s cast the shit out of this series!”
Zephyr glanced at Su Xue and nodded slowly. He replied, “Alright. We’re up in a few. The players are getting in the lobby. Another minute and they’ll be in Champion Select. When that appears on the LCD screen–you can see that on this screen over here–that’s when we start.”
“Right now it is!” Su Xue exclaimed a couple of seconds later. She leaned in towards the microphone and said, “We’re getting ready for Game 1! This is the Champion Select!” She briefly paused, watching the screen, stunned. Team Guangzhou and Team Shanghai fired bans in rapid succession. More surprisingly, they left open several coveted picks. She continued, “That’s odd. Lin Feng and Goalie are both known for their LeBlancs. How come she isn’t banned?”
Zephyr grinned. He grabbed his microphone and shouted, “Obviously because Team Guangzhou is looking to pick her! First pick is for them and they… LOCK HER IN! Goalie is going to play LeBlanc the Deceiver!”
SHANKS GETS SHIPPED OFF
Shanks Thought: Guys, I almost got shipped off to work at an Indian restaurant… Unbeknownst to me, my family decided I was wasting my time with Rise and didn’t want me sitting in front of the computer the whole summer. So, they went around and did a job hunt on my behalf. And it just so happened that a family friend in Oxford needs waiting staff for his Indian restaurant. My family negotiated my pay, hours, and even my accommodations. The plan was to ship me off and have me work there from 9 AM to 10 PM 7 days a week. As for my accommodations, I was lucky enough to be provided a room right above the restaurant.
Obviously, I outright refused. I’d have zero time to do Rise! Also, I don’t want to work and live in a restaurant, especially not an Indian one, where the cuisine they serve has especially strong aromas that seep into your clothes. Also, if I’m gonna be living upstairs to one, I imagine my room is going to be filled with that smell too.
I told Devshard about it, and he was convinced that this was going to be our new lucrative venture. I could drop Rise, and he could go coach me in coaxing all the Indian uncles and aunties into giving me big tips. But he doesn’t understand. People in the UK don’t tip. In North America, you might get paid shit, but you can make it up because people are kind of obligated to tip you at least 15% as long as you aren’t complete shit at your job. But it’s not a thing here! NO AUNTIES AND UNCLES WILL TIP ME, EVEN IF I DO THE BOOGIE WOOGIE AND DANCE FOR THEM!
The most important part is that I’ve never had proper experience as a waiter before! In all likelihood, I’d have all the Indian aunties and uncles beat my ass for ruining their food instead!