The alarm buzzed next to Lin Feng’s head. He tried to open his eyes and groaned, complaining, “Too bright! Too early! Grownups crazy.”
Chu Fang walked out from the bathroom with a towel wrapped around his waist. He looked at Lin Feng and shook his head. He said, “You’re doing this to yourself trying to complete that crazy challenge from One. Everyone else is sleeping in today.”
“I know, yeah. I know,” Lin Feng croaked as he pushed himself up. He blinked a couple of times to clear the sleep from his eyes and looked around the room, searching for his laptop and the desk it stood on. When he found it, he crawled-and-walked towards it and pulled himself into the office chair.
“Lin Feng?” Chu Fang asked. He waited until Lin Feng looked at him before continuing, “There’s breakfast in the lobby. Grab something for breakfast before you start playing.”
Lin Feng nodded and got up, then stumbled to the door in his underwear. He mumbled, “Yup. Smart. Food always wakes me up.”
“Lin Feng!” Chu Fang shouted. He waited again until Lin Feng turned around, then threw a t-shirt and some shorts at him. “At least wear this if you’re going down.”
Lin Feng shook his head and blinked. He rubbed his eyes and looked at the t-shirt sticking to his chest. “Oh, yeah,” he said, scratching the back of his head and laughing awkwardly. “Thanks, Chu Fang!” He then jumped into his clothes while opening the door and bolting down the hallway to the stairs. Something about rubbing his eyes had done the trick. He was awake. And hungry. He ignored the elevator, worried it would take longer, and ran down the stairs. Four flights of stairs later, he burst into the lobby and filled three plates. When he couldn’t possibly carry anything more, he bolted out of the lobby and back up the stairs, mumbling to himself, “I’ll eat while I’m in the queue. Can’t miss a second! Can’t miss a second!”
Back in his room, Lin Feng sat down behind his laptop, the drowsiness from before completely replaced by pangs of hunger from a rumbling stomach. He booted up his laptop while stuffing two steamed buns in his mouth. BunBuns, hehe! Aaaah! So good! I need more!
The blue light of his computer illuminated the room. Lin Feng opened the League client and queued up. “Come on, come on,” he mumbled impatiently. “Find a match already! Find a match!”
Lin Feng spent the next five hours playing League of Legends. He won the first game of the day. But then he lost the next two games. His account dropped down to Rank 26, but he remained calm. Losing was part of the game. His game was the only thing that mattered in solo queue, and his game was on point. He was pitted against Korean professional players in nearly every game and he won his lane every game, even when his favourite Champions were banned and the opponent got a counter pick on him.
Calmness permeated his entire being and the conviction that he could climb to the Top 5 pulsed from his heart through his veins. Lin Feng played better and better, carrying harder and harder. Victories started stacking up and his rank went up. He checked his next target on the ladder after every game and he chased them down. From Rank 26 to 25, 24… 20, 19.
The door to Lin Feng’s room opened and An Xin poked her head around the corner. She said, “Hey, addict. We’re having lunch. You done yet?”
Lin Feng looked up from his screen, surprised. When he saw An Xin, he grinned and said, “Uh, yeah! I guess so. Just finished a game actually! I’m Rank 19 already!” He then yawned and stretched out long before adding, “Wow, I’m beat! It feels like I’ve been at this all day! How do people do it? You know, work from 9 to 5? I don’t think I could ever do that!”
An Xin giggled and replied, “Idiot. Come.”
Chu Fang joined Team Shanghai for lunch. He watched his team eat and shook his head. He groaned and moaned. He looked absolutely miserable.
Zeng Rui eventually couldn’t take it anymore. He’d gotten to know Chu Fang a lot better recently, since the two often talked tactics while Lin Feng was playing League of Legends in his hotel room. He looked up at Chu Fang and said, “Just say it.”
“That obvious, huh?” Chu Fang said, chuckling. He shrugged and explained, “Well, since I’ve got your attention. Here’s the thing. I received word from the Beijing Esports Association. I know who we’re playing in the next round and it’s not pretty. Or rather, it feels staged. But whatever. So, yeah, we’re playing against Fudan University. U-Tech Beijing and Team Beijing are going to face each other.”
An Xin looked up from her bowl and said, “That isn’t too bad? Why are you acting like it is…?”
Chu Fang shrugged and said, “I would’ve liked to see an all East China finals. That would’ve been a great show! But I guess this is fine too.”
“We have to be careful,” Zeng Rui interjected. He waited for everyone to look at him before he continued, “Fudan’s performance was on point in their game against Zhejiang just the other day. They’ve gotten better since we played them in the Finals of the East China Regionals. Let’s schedule a training session this afternoon. I want to be prepared for tomorrow.”
“Wait, what?” Lin Feng blurted. His eyes grew round and wide as he stared at Zeng Rui. He asked, “Training?” And when Zeng Rui nodded at him, he emptied his plate and shouted, “Let’s go! No time to waste! We need to hurry!”
“Aside, aside, aside
Make way, make way, make way
We are in an incredible hurry!”
The news about the Semifinals draw of the Winter Collegiate Cup also reached Aurous that same afternoon. He pushed his training with Light Dynasty aside and called Shi Hang. When the call connected, he shouted, “Hey! Yo! Did you see?”
“What did I see?” Shi Hang asked. He added slightly annoyed, “You know it’s training time right now, right? I’ve got a big game tomorrow and I need to do well. I don’t have time to shoot the shit—”
“Don’t you fucking dare to hang up on me!” Aurous shouted. He loudly breathed a few times before continuing, “Fudan drew Team Shanghai.”
Shi Hang’s attitude changed completely. He forgot all about his training and started laughing. It started with a low grin and slowly turned into a hysterical, snorting laughter. It took him a few minutes to catch his breath again. He then said, “WELP! F for Fudan! GG!”
The vein on Aurous’ forehead bulged. He gnashed his teeth and said, “You’re a jerk, you know that? Now tell me about that guy on Team Shanghai! Who is he? You’ve kept me in the dark long enough. My team is playing them now. Let me help them with info!”
“Huh? Team Shanghai? Whatever are you talking about?” Shi Hang asked in faked confusion.
Aurous snorted and barked, “Fuck off with the bullshit! I know it’s someone on Team Shanghai! OUT WITH IT!”
There was silence on the line. Aurous almost couldn’t stop himself from yelling at Shi Hang again. But just as he opened his mouth, his friend’s voice sounded in his ear. “Fine, fine. I don’t want you to try and strangle me over the phone. That’d be embarrassing for both of us. And it’s not like you knowing is going to change anything. There’s really nothing you can do. But yeah, I’ll stop hiding the truth from you. You kno—”
“ARE YOU FUCKING TELLING ME OR NOT!?” Aurous screamed into his phone.
Shi Hang chuckled and said, “Remember I told you when I joined for that one series it was because of one person?”
“Yeah, yeah. Tell me already,” Aurous replied, impatient.
Shi Hang grinned and revealed, “It’s their Midlaner. The one who beat me. He is the reason I stepped in. He is the reason I didn’t feel bad about stepping in.”
“Their Midlaner? Really?” Aurous asked, doubtful. He looked at the computer in front of him that showed the lineup of Team Shanghai. “Lin Feng? That him? What’s so special about him?”
Shi Hang laughed and said, “Yeah, I guess they did keep his name pretty well hidden back then. But maybe you’ve heard it somewhere? Doesn’t it sound just a bit familiar?”
“Familiar?” Aurous repeated. He scratched his chin and took a couple of seconds to think about it. He then shook his head and said, “No, not really, no. Just tell me, dude. Come on. Don’t be a douche! I don’t know any Lin Fengs in the competitive circle. Just tell me who he is.”
“Oh! You’re almost there!” Shi Hang said. “He did play professionally. But not this season or last. Or the one before that.”
“Fuck you, asshole!” Aurous exclaimed. He took a deep, long breath and then continued, “Alright. So not this season or last, so then what? Season 3? 2?”
“Getting there, getting there,” Shi Hang replied, laughing.
Aurous sighed loudly and said, “DUDE! I only started playing towards the end of Season 2! I don’t even remember half the things from back then! In what world do you see me remembering whatever the fuck happened in Season 1? That’s what you’re saying, right? Season 1? Who the fuck still knows that? That’s like ancient history! I don’t watch the History Channel!”
Shi Hang bit a new burst of laughter back and replied, “Ah, buddy, I didn’t know you were wearing your girlfriend’s panties. You really shouldn’t do that. It gets your balls all squished up and you turn into this raging dickless-hole! Anyway, think back. We all know a little bit about Season 1 and this Lin Feng belongs to that little bit.”
“Yeah, yeah, a little bit,” Aurous mumbled, his mind working overture. He mumbled, “We all know about Season 1 Worlds. The best Chinese team ever. You had Tian Tian in top and Eleven in the Jungle. Then you had those two in the bot lane… Didn’t that one kick your ass? Right and then they, they— No. No. NoNoNo!”
Shi Hang chuckled and replied, “Yes.”
“No, no. No! NoNoNo! No. No! NO!” Aurous muttered. “No. No! It can’t be. No, that can’t be. It can’t. Don’t tell me. No, I don’t believe you!” He briefly paused before asking, “Really?”
“Yep,” Shi Hang replied.
Aurous trembled, his entire body shook. His jaw dropped to the floor, as did his phone. He sat there for a few minutes, just staring at his screen in shock. There, black on white, was that name. Lin Feng. Maple. Maple! He finally reached down and grabbed his phone. He placed it against his ear and said, “He was that young? I heard things, but… And now… Collegiate Cup? He, this, why? Why would he… Is he coming back? Is he going pro again? Are we finally…” His shock from learning who Lin Feng was and the realization that his Fudan University team hadn’t the slightest chance of beating him disappeared as quickly as it came and was replaced with a trace of hope and excitement. He smiled and asked, “Is he coming back? I want to play against him.”
Shi Hang laughed and replied, “Yeah, he’s coming back. And it’s starting to look like it won’t be much longer now.”
Sietse Thought: So over the past few hundred chapters, I’ve dealt with Shanks calling every team and their mothers dark horses. Today, I hit my limit. I said, “NO! NO MORE! We’re going to teach Shanks what a dark horse is!” Before writing this, I obviously messaged him and asked him if he knew what a dark horse is. You know, maybe he thinks it’s a horse that’s… dark? But he told me that he knows exactly what a dark horse is, which only worried me more. From his translation it’s obvious he doesn’t know. Now in my years of knowing Shanks, I know that it can be hard for him to believe me. Mainly because I’m an asshole and sometimes say things that shouldn’t be taken too seriously. So I’ll try and explain to him what a dark horse is, but at the same time I want to ask all of you to also explain to Shanks what it is. Maybe, just maybe, if enough of us try and smash it into his head, he’ll know and I won’t have to figure out why every single team in the Winter Collegiate Cup is a dark horse. Yes. About 95% of the teams have at one point or another been called a dark horse.
Dark horse: A candidate or competitor about whom little is known but who unexpectedly wins or succeeds.
At the start of the Winter Collegiate Cup, there was little known about Team Shanghai and they unexpectedly won their games. They are a dark horse in that first qualifying round. Arguably, they still are in the East China Regionals. Assuming these are different tournaments, which really they are, that makes them not much of a dark horse in the main tournament. Everyone knows East China is strong and everyone has seen how Lin Feng destroyed AyDeeCee.
Team Guangzhou hired two Korean top players and advertised their fantastic lineup. Everyone was aware of this. Everyone was super looking forward to those Koreans showing off. They are not a dark horse.
Team Beijing is a bit more iffy. They were advertised as a very strong team though, so their victories never came as a surprise to anyone. And after they tore through their Regionals, it was very evident that they were stronger than advertised. In the main tournament, they are not a dark horse.
Every other team competing in the Winter Collegiate Cup is NOT a dark horse. You know why not? Because the author ranks teams by how they played in the previous edition. There are exactly zero upsets. There are no teams that perform worse than in a previous year due to losing or gaining members. Every team performs exactly like they did in the previous edition of the tournament, and the author leaves no room for speculation about this. Which leads us to the next point. NONE OF THE OTHER TEAMS ARE DARK HORSES.
I hope this cleared some things up for you, Shanks. If it didn’t, then I trust the readers in the comments will try and explain it to you in such a way that it registers for you.
Dev Thought: Real talk, this “Dark Horse” thing has been bugging Sietse for months now. But I secretly think he loves it. Sietse’s joy is in finding trivial things to get annoyed about and then slowly blowing them out of proportion in his mind.