The high school teams were stealing the show at the Winter Collegiate Cup. But it wasn’t until Team Shanghai’s win over Team Guangzhou that the fans became really invested in finding out which high school team was the best. Or more specifically, which branch from the Chinese Esports Association had nurtured the biggest talents. They were sitting at the edges of their seats, waiting for the show to continue, waiting for Team Beijing to take to the stage and cleansweep Chongqing University in a similar fashion as Team Shanghai had done to Team Guangzhou.
The players from Team Shanghai also found their way back to the stadium after a long lunch. They’d eaten their bellies full with the Korean Barbecue and fell down on their seats, letting the after lunch dip overtake them.
Chu Fang looked at them and chuckled. He said, “You guys can relax until tomorrow morning. We’ve got a flight back to Shanghai to catch at 10 A.M.”
Lin Feng’s eyes grew round and wide when he heard Chu Fang. He looked between Zeng Rui and An Xin and complained, “Ah, why! Why do we have to spend our last day watching these games? It’s totally not gonna be worth it! Let’s go and do something else!” He got up from his seat but was pulled back down by An Xin. “Okay, okay! I get it! We’re watching!” he said, then continued grumbling while looking around, searching for something to pass the time. “Uuuh…” he mumbled, scratching the back of his head. “Where is Team Guangzhou? Are they not coming to watch these games?”
“‘Cause they got knocked out of course!” Zhang Hao replied, chuckling. “You really think they’d have the face to come back here? Even if they wanted to, they’re probably worried everyone will laugh at them when they get here!” He briefly paused, grinning, then added, “I totally would.”
Lin Feng sighed loudly and said, “I see. How boring.”
“No one likes a whinebaby,” An Xin said, smiling. She winked at Lin Feng and added, “Su Xue is casting. You can enjoy listening to her!”
Lin Feng looked at An Xin and shrugged. He replied, “She talks my ears off at home already. Why would I want to listen to her cast?”
“Right. Right. You two are living together. You’re living with a cute, beautiful, famous streamer…” An Xin said, narrowing her eyes while the corners of her lips arced up. “How lucky you are. Think of all the guys dreaming to be you! What do you think they’d be willing to pay to switch places with you for a night?”
“Who would wanna pay for that!?” Lin Feng exclaimed, throwing his hands up in frustration.
Zhang Hao looked from Lin Feng at An Xin and back at Lin Feng again, a cold shiver running up and down his spine and goosebumps spiking on his arms. She’s doing that thing again! The murdersmile! Lin Feng, you idiot! Stop looking around and look at her! She’s mad! She’s mad! Oh no, she’s mad! Why am I not looking away? I need to look away! I’m not part of this conversation! Look away Zhang Hao! Don’t look at them! Look away! He grabbed his chin with one hand and pushed, forcing himself to look up at the stage. I’m not listening! Totally not listening!
Zeng Rui was a step faster than Zhang Hao. He turned his head to look at Tang Bingyao, away from An Xin, and said, “Sooo Tang Tang! How about that pinky of yours?”
“Mhm! Yeah,” Tang Bingyao replied, looking down at her pinky and cradling it. “I think it’ll be fine. Just bruised I think. It doesn’t really hurt that much right now.”
Chu Fang watched Lin Feng and An Xin get up to their usual antics and how the other three players on the team quickly diverted their attention elsewhere. He shook his head and laughed. Just like the old times. You do something that makes BunBun go all special BunBun mode and the others don’t know how quickly they need to get away. It’s good seeing this again. I’ve missed it.
The first game of the afternoon was so incredibly boring that half the audience would’ve fallen asleep if it wasn’t for Su Xue’s fantastic and energetic casting. She managed to turn a boring game into something exciting by giving personal anecdotes and background stories about the players from the competing teams. The fans were actually on their feet, cheering loudly for Beijing International Studies University when they won their Round of 16 match 3-1.
Some people were more invested than others. But least invested of them all was Lin Feng. He yawned and said, “Su Xue was okay there.”
Tang Bingyao glanced at Lin Feng and shook her head. She said, “Mnh-mnh. She wasn’t okay. She was great!”
“She’s a natural,” Zhang Hao agreed. “The way she just keeps talking and never shuts up, it’s like she’s been casting all her life! And it’s also not just talking for the talking, but she actually has things to say! I had fun listening to her!”
Zeng Rui nodded and said, “Her analysis throughout all four games was on point too.”
“Yeah. She’s starting to look like a professional caster. The way she and Zephyr bounce off each other also helps. It’s like they were made for each other,” An Xin chimed in, smiling.
Lin Feng yawned again and mumbled, “So tired… What’s next? Oh! Team Beijing is up next, right? Maybe that game will be more fun to watch!”
The host walked up on stage and waited for the audience to quiet down a bit. He then raised his microphone to his lips and said, “After a fantastic game earlier today between Team Shanghai and Team Guangzhou, it is now time for the third high school team to make their appearance! Give a round of applause for Team Beijing!” He waited, allowing the crowd to cheer, before he continued, “Their opponent is a veteran of the scene! A team we’ve seen much of in the previous editions! Five guys looking to make it all the way to finals! Let’s give them a warm welcome! Here is Chongqing University!”
In the player seating area, Zeng Rui narrowed his eyes when he saw the five from Team Beijing making their way to the soundproof booth. He said, “They’re playing with their main roster.”
Zhang Hao glanced at Zeng Rui and then looked back at Team Beijing. He asked, “So the guy at the front is their real Toplaner and the one in the middle their Midlaner? What’s his name again? Yu Ping, right?”
An Xin nodded and said, “Yea—”
“Sweet!” Lin Feng exclaimed. He clenched his fist, pumped it into the air and said, “Now we can finally see how good they really are!”
Tang Bingyao nodded and chimed in, “Mhm! I wanna see it.”
Chu Fang took a long, deep breath before turning his head to look for Team Beijing’s manager. Fan Yuan… You couldn’t sit still any longer, huh? Team Shanghai finally woke you up a bit. You’re going to show that Team Beijing is at least as good. Or you’re going to try too. Tough luck. We’ve got Maple. Who’ve you got? That’s right. Nobody.
Yu Ping sat down behind his computer. It stood in the middle of a row of five computers. His Jungler and top sat to his left and his Support and ad-carry to his right. He smiled and breathed out, calm. Over the rim of his monitor he could see the crowd cheering. This is my stage. We’ve played around long enough. It’s time to show everyone what we’ve been holding back.
Team Beijing’s Jungler put on his headset and said over the team’s voice chat, “We can’t let those guys from Team Shanghai hog the spotlight! That’s our place! Let’s show them what we’re really all about!” He glanced at Yu Ping before adding, “Do your best, Yu Ping! I’ll do my best to Support you!”
Yu Ping took a deep, long breath before he replied, “Don’t worry.”
“Of course we won’t worry! There’s nothing to worry about!” Zhang Hongyi exclaimed. He narrowed his eyes, then chuckled and said, “Everyone is so focused on Team Shanghai’s Midlaner… both of them… that they forgot to look at the rest of the team. Team Shanghai is a one man team! We’re a five man team! We’ll show everyone what a real team looks like! And in the process hopefully kick Zeng Rui’s ass out of this tournament. That’d be the best–”
“Focus,” Yu Ping interrupted. He looked at Zhang Hongyi and added, “One game at a time. We’re going to beat Chongqing University first and then we’ll see who we have to play next.”
“Of course, of course!” Zhang Hongyi replied, nodding. “I’m focused! Look!” He leaned in towards his monitor and put his hands on his mouse and keyboard. “See? Ready!”
Team Beijing’s Jungler laughed and said, “Alright, let’s play then! For the win!”
“For the win!” The other four from Team Beijing replied in unison.
“Holy what!?” Zhang Hao exclaimed. He looked at the time on his phone and shook his head, incredulous. “How does this work? How are they up 2-0 already? It hasn’t even been an hour yet!”
Zeng Rui nodded and analysed, “That change in top and mid actually made a big difference. They always looked strong. But with their main roster? They look stronger than Team Guangzhou to me. Yeah, I think they’re better than Team Guangzhou, quite visibly.”
An Xin smiled and said, “Team Guangzhou was all about Goalie and to an extent Seo. Looks like Team Beijing is more about being a team. But not only are they more like a team, Yu Ping is even just as good as Goalie! Maybe, just maybe, even better.”
It was difficult to compare Goalie and Yu Ping because their playstyles differed so much. Where Goalie was the attack specialist, the player who always made the plays, Yu Ping was the all-round player. There wasn’t anything he was clearly the best at, but every facet of his game was at such a high level that it was incredibly difficult to catch him making mistakes, or even to force him into making mistakes.
Lin Feng yawned again and said, “He’s worse than I expected… Eh, whatever.” He shrugged and then turned to look at Zeng Rui. A smile appeared on his face and he asked, “So ZengZeng… I seem to remember you and that Support… What was it again… He looked dirty at you, right? Right! What was his name? I could swear you told me at some point… And his playstyle, his playstyle is like yours! It’s like you two are twins! Tell me more about him! I need to hear the gossip!”
Zeng Rui felt his eyelid twitch. He glanced at Lin Feng and said, “I don’t know him. Stop asking.”
An Xin giggled and said, “You know he’s right, Zeng Rui. Team Beijing’s Support is about as good as you are and your playstyles are very similar. You’re both around the A- grade? Maybe going towards A…”
“Goddammit!” Zhang Hao exclaimed. He looked at his teammates and continued, “Why is everyone this good? Why can’t it be like at the Shanghai 16 School Tournament where I was like the best Toplaner! Now I’m just trying not to be the worst… And now that guy from Team Beijing… He’s better! He just is! Did you guys see him? FUCK!”
“You’ve got me, HaoBro! I’ll carry you!” Lin Feng said, laughing. But that didn’t do much to cheer Zhang Hao up. He let his shoulders droop and kept shaking his head, mumbling, “I just need to get better. Get better before the next round and be ready for… this.”
Chu Fang grimaced and said, “It doesn’t stop there. The Beijing Esports Association hired two professional coaches to train the team. I guess we really should support you guys more. It’s…” He shook his head.
“Look!” Zeng Rui interrupted. He pointed at the large LCD screen and continued, “They picked Riven. They’re going Riven mid, I’m sure of it!”
“Riven mid?” Zhang Hao asked, stunned. He turned his head to look at Lin Feng, as was everyone else. They all stared at him, waiting to see how he’d respond.
Lin Feng scratched the back of his head and said, “Oh? He’s copying me? NICE! You know what they say! Copying is the best form of flattery! Yu Ping is totally in love with me!”
“What? No…” An Xin replied, incredulous. “How did you… No, no. Nevermind.”
Tang Bingyao leaned closer to An Xin and whispered, “He knows they’re trying to provoke him, right?”
Lin Feng jumped up to his feet with the rest of the audience who were celebrating Team Beijing’s victory. He pumped his fist in the air and shouted, “He only got a quadra! I got a penta! He sucks and I’m the best!”
“Quadra, penta, who cares?” Zeng Rui said. “Point is that they stomped all over Chongqing University. We’re going to need to watch out for them. Their main roster is much stronger than I expected it to be.”
“You know Zeng Rui is right,” An Xin said to Lin Feng. She smiled and added, “They really aren’t half bad. You might actually have to try.”
“Hey, kids, not to be rude or anything,” Chu Fang interrupted. He pointed at the exit and continued, “Let’s go now before it gets busy again…”
There was no hesitation. After what happened to Tang Bingyao, no one from Team Shanghai wanted to get caught in a busy hallway. They rushed for the exit and beat the crowd to it. When they arrived at the long walkway up to the stadium, they finally stopped. Lin Feng put his foot on the water running down the center of the walkway and An Xin told him to stop playing, while the others were debating what they were going to do next.
“If it isn’t Zeng Rui! What a coincidence running into you here!” Zhang Hongyi said.
Zeng Rui turned around to find Zhang Hongyi walking over together with his teammates. He narrowed his eyes and replied, “Zhang Hongyi.”
Chu Fang looked past the players at Fan Yuan who was the vice president of the Beijing Esports Association. He said, “Fan Yuan.”
“Chu Fang,” Fan Yuan replied.
Chu Fang hesitated but then said, “Congratulations.”
“Likewise,” Fan Yuan replied.
The awkwardness persisted and turned into the most uncomfortable silence. Both teams stood there eyeing each other, until Lin Feng finally grew bored from playing with the water and turned around. He looked a bit confused and then said, “Oh! I know you guys! You’re Team Beijing! You guys played great, but not as great as us!” He laughed and then turned to look at Chu Fang and asked, “When are we going?”
“Now,” Chu Fang said. He led the players from Team Shanghai away, glancing over his shoulder to see what Team Beijing was doing. When he was confident they were out of earshot, he turned to Lin Feng and whispered, “If you guys draw Team Beijing, please do me a favour and smash the everloving shit outta them!”
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Sietse Thought: Something fishy is going on. Something isn’t quite right. The natural balance of life, the order we all adhere to, has been disrupted. I can’t say too much yet, because the perpetrator is in our midst. He might even be reading this. He can’t know I’m onto him. And yes, him. Who he is, is not who he was. The same body but a different soul inhabiting it. It’s trying its hardest to look like him and sound like him, but I can all tell it’s really not him. Fortunately I’m not alone in this. I’ve got Devshard with me. He sees what I see. We both know the truth. He is not him.
Dev Thought: Siete’s not kidding, guys. It really is starting to seem like we’re dealing with a body snatcher/clone situation here. We’ve been watching for the last few days and wondering what was happening. But with every passing day and as more details emerge, it’s becoming clear that there’s something sinister going on. The game is afoot! Unfortunately, Sietse’s out for the next two days. So I’m just going to be monitoring the situation until he gets back.