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Peaking in High School

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U-Tech Beijing were the defending champions of the Collegiate Cup. But the tournament taking place this winter was not going well for them. They qualified to the main tournament in second place behind Team Beijing, who had completely outclassed them in every part of the game. They’d made it all the way to the Semifinals, where they were up against Team Beijing again. This was supposed to be their redemption for what happened during the qualifiers. They’d spent countless hours researching Team Beijing. They hired analysts from professional teams to help them develop new strategies against Team Beijing. The entire team had even taken a semester off from their University courses to get in as many practice hours as they possibly could. They fought so hard, and got so far. But in the end, it didn’t even matter. 

The players from U-Tech Beijing got up on stage at 9 A.M. The fans in the Chaoyang Sports Center cheered in support. The five from U-Tech Beijing usually took a moment to acknowledge this support, but not this day. For on this day, their eyes were on the soundproof booths and their minds were filled with the countless hours of practice that had led to the conclusion that they simply weren’t up to the task of beating Team Beijing. They were going to lose their title. They believed that, anyway.

Fifteen excruciating minutes passed in which the players from U-Tech Beijing sat behind their computers, waiting for the host to finish announcing them. They looked at each other for moral support, but no one knew how to offer that. Because they were winners; they didn’t know how to deal with loss. When they entered the lobby, their team captain sighed and said over the team’s voice chat, “Let’s just give it our all, guys. Those kids over there…” he nodded with his head towards Team Beijing. “… They’re just kids. Maybe the pressure will get to them and we can cheese our way through this.”

“They’re basically a top LSPL team…” U-Tech Beijing’s Jungler muttered, defeated.

U-Tech Beijing’s team captain grimaced and responded, “And we’re basically an LSPL team.” He briefly paused, letting that bit of information settle in with his teammates. He then continued, “Those guys at the bottom in the LSPL, they don’t give up. Despite their odds, despite everything and oftentimes everyone being against them, they don’t give up. They go up on stage and they play their damndest! We need to do that today. Not to win this series, but to prove to ourselves that we are, in fact, an LSPL worthy team. Let’s show everyone we have that backbone. And if Team Beijing messes up? We’re winning this.”

U-Tech Beijing’s ad-carry nodded, at first slowly but then faster. He grinned and clenched his fist and said, “You’re right. We’ve been so focused on how to beat them and realising we can’t beat them when they go all out that we’ve lost the bigger picture. No one is at their best every series. Upsets do happen. When we give it our all in this series, the worst case scenario is that we give up. Not fighting at all, that would be a shame.”

“Yes!” U-Tech Beijing’s Toplaner exclaimed. He narrowed his eyes, smiled and said, “My stomach is going crazy, and not because I just had coffee! My arms are shaking and look, just look at my hands! They’re trembling like crazy! But that’s good, that’s fine. I like this feeling. We might go down, but we’ll go down fighting. FOR U-TECH!”

“FOR U-TECH!” the four other members from U-Tech Beijing echoed their Toplaner.

TheBrawnster grabbed his microphone and said, “Yo, yo yo! It’s your boy TheBrawnster here, bringing you this amazing semis with his best girl PufPuf!” He turned to look at PufPuf and continued, “Yo girl, whatcha thinkin’ ‘bout this series?”

“Only that it’s gonna be ah–mazing, of course!” PufPuf shrieked in her high pitched voice. She smiled and asked, “You must be so excited to be here! You get to cast two Beijing teams!”

TheBrawnster nodded, grinning. He said, “It’s an honour, really. I’m a proud Beijing local myself and to see two title contenders fighting it out for a spot in the finals… I can’t begin to tell you how great this feels! Just a shame it’s only the semis. I’ve seen the other two teams… Let’s just say Beijing has the most talent. This could’ve made for a great Finals!”

PufPuf giggled and replied, “I sense some of that famous Beijing superiority there! But you’ve got every right to! Beijing really has two of the best teams with U-Tech Beijing and Team Beijing! Oh, oh! Enough talking!” She turned her head to look at the camera, paused briefly for dramatic effect, and then shrieked, “Let the games begin!”

The first game was full of fireworks. Team Beijing started with a Level 1 invade, catching U-Tech Beijing’s Jungler completely out of position. The kill went to Yu Ping’s Fizz. He recalled back to base and bought a second Doran’s Ring. That gave him a big edge over his lane opponent, which culminated in a kill at Level 3. A few minutes later, U-Tech Beijing tried to put a stop to Yu Ping’s Fizz. But the gank went wrong very fast when Yu Ping dashed towards a minion and used it to reach Level 6. He unlocked his ultimate skill and when megalodon jumped through the portal and knocked both Champions from U-Tech Beijing up into the air, the game was as good as played. Team Beijing was up 1-0.

Team Beijing carried their momentum from the first game into the second. Their Top- and Botlaners found a boost in confidence after watching Yu Ping carry them to an easy win, and they used that confidence to make plays they would usually hesitate on. But U-Tech Beijing didn’t let Team Beijing walk all over them. They retreated, allowed towers to fall, and used a turtle strategy to get themselves mentally into the game. Not to win the second one, that one was quickly slipping from their grasp, but to be ready to come out swinging in the third. They managed to drag the second game for nearly 50 minutes, when Yu Ping found an opening and helped Team Beijing ace U-Tech Beijing. Team Beijing went up 2-0.

U-Tech Beijing found their stride in the third game, while Team Beijing felt their nerves tickling them just enough to put them off balance. U-Tech Beijing’s Midlaner realised that there was nothing to gain in the mid lane, because Yu Ping was just too good. So he roamed bot and top and helped those lanes get the advantage they needed to beat their lane opponents. When the teamfights came around in the mid game, U-Tech Beijing was far enough ahead to beat Team Beijing to every major objective. Including at 34 minutes when they slew Baron Nashor. That boost was the final push U-Tech Beijing needed to close the game out.

The third game was a wakeup call for Team Beijing. Mistakes they usually never made had slipped in and Yu Ping was furious with his teammates over that. He admonished them in the short break between the games and warned his teammates to be ready for the next game. And ready they were. The fourth game was the strongest performance by Team Beijing up to that point in the entire tournament. They rose to a new level entirely as they deconstructed U-Tech Beijing. It only took them 27 minutes to destroy the towers, kill the Baron and ace U-Tech Beijing on top of their fountain. Team Beijing won the Semifinals against U-Tech Beijing convincingly with a 3-1 final score!

TheBrawnster shouted into his microphone, “WOOOOOO! What a performance, yo! Fuckin’ sick! These two teams, you know, LSPL WORTHY! I’M WAITING TO SEE ALL OF THEM GO PRO!”

PufPuf nodded and shrieked, “U-Tech’s team is a bit older, but Team Beijing… Oh my god! Can you believe it?  They’re high schoolers! They’re, like, BARELY LEGAL!”

TheBrawnster looked at PufPuf and laughed. He then said into his microphone, “Barely legal indeed. These 18 year old kids are throwing the Chinese esports scene upside down! I can tell you all one thing, I’M A PROUD BEIJING LOCAL! We’re gonna get some mad talent flooding the LSPL, the LPL and holy damn, we’re gonna win Worlds one of these years! I’ve said it! Beijing has the talent! WE’RE GOIN’ TO WORLDS!” He briefly paused, putting his hand to his chest to feel his heart slamming against his ribcage. The voice from a staff member sounded from his earpiece, reminding him about the second Semifinals. He scratched his head and laughed awkwardly. He coughed and continued, “Yo, yo! I almost forgot! Beijing isn’t the only talented side here! We’ve got another semifinals and another high school team! Stick around because right after lunch we’ve got another great series lined up! Fudan University and Team Shanghai from East China are going to fight for the second Finals spot! It’s gonna be sick!”

It was 2 P.M. when the players from Fudan University, under the loud applause of the audience, walked up on stage and took place in their soundproof booths. They were in a good mood, all five of them. They’d practiced with Zhejiang University, rehearsed their different tactics and analysed every game from Team Shanghai. Fudan University’s Toplaner looked at his teammates and said, “Alright, guys! We’ve got this! I’ll stomp that Zhang Hao guy just like I did in the East China Regionals Finals and then we’re going through!”

“Heck yeah!” Fudan University’s Support cheered.

Qiu Yijie nodded and was about to reply when he felt his phone vibrating in his pocket. Crap! Forgot to turn that damn thing off. He shook his head and grabbed his phone, glancing at the screen to see what the message was about.

Aurous:Yo kid. Good luck with the game. Just remember, there’s no shame in losing. Try your best and keep your head up.

Qiu Yijie scrunched his eyebrows and mumbled, “What?” He started typing a response and then paused, hesitating. Why does it sound like he thinks we’re going to lose? Why would he say this right before our game? Am I misreading this? Does he mean something

“You ready, cappie?” Fudan University’s Jungler asked over the team’s voice chat.

Qiu Yijie looked up and nodded. He turned his phone to silent and put it away, then focused on the screen. Of course there’s no shame in losing… Why would he…? He shook his head and grabbed his mouse. Don’t think about it. The games come first and then I can ask him what the hell that message was about. He glanced at his teammates and asked, “Ready?”

“Ready to rock ‘n ROLL!” the players from Fudan University replied, grinning.

Qiu Yijie laughed and shouted, “Just like the Regional Finals! We’re going to win this series!”

Across the stage in Team Shanghai’s soundproof booth, Zeng Rui was giving a few more instructions to his teammates. But it all took too long for Lin Feng. He kept glancing at the time on his monitor and shifted around in his gaming chair. “What is it?” Zeng Rui asked over the team’s voice chat, annoyed. “Is this too boring for you, Maple?”

“No, no, it’s not that!” Lin Feng replied. He scratched the back of his head and continued, “It’s just. Eh, you see… Uhm, I still need to finish climbing the Korean Ranked ladder. So the faster we get this series over, the faster I can go back to that!”

Zeng Rui looked at Lin Feng, incredulous, and muttered, “W-what?”

An Xin shook her head and said, “Idiot.”

Zhang Hao turned his head and looked at Lin Feng. He played all day yesterday, and all night! He played when we were already in bed and when we got up in the morning he was playing again! And now look at him! He’s still all fired up! He wants to play! He really wants to get going! How is he so calm? I wish I could be that excited and that… unworried? Worryfree? Shit it must be great to be the Maple! He nodded, grinning, and exclaimed, “He’s right! Lin Feng is right! LET’S GET GOIN’! WE GONNA WIN THIS SERIES! WOOOOOOO!”

Qiu Yijie slumped back in his gaming chair and pulled his phone from his pocket. He looked at the text from Aurous again and sighed loudly. What the fuck just happened? It went so fast… It all happened so fast… It’s over. We’re done. The blink of a fucking eye and we’re out. That’s how it feels. It feels like I blinked and suddenly BOOM I’M OUT! DAMMIT! How did this happ— He focused on his phone. Aurous was typing something.

Aurous:It’s okay, kid. No shame in losing to him.

Fudan University’s Toplaner put his hand on Qiu Yijie’s shoulder and said, “Come, bud. It’s okay. Shit happens. Let’s go and congratulate them.”

Qiu Yijie nodded, despondent. He held his phone in his hand and read the two messages from Aurous again and again, letting his teammates walk him up on stage. When he arrived in the middle of the stage, he bowed to the players from Team Shanghai. His teammates turned around and started walking away, but he remained where he was. Team Shanghai was already moving to thank the audience, but he reached out his hand towards Lin Feng and asked, “Do you know Aurous?”

Lin Feng looked at Qiu Yijie in confusion and asked, “Who?”

Qiu Yijie shook his head and replied, “No, no one. Sorry. Congratulations.”

Lin Feng grinned and clenched his fist. He said, “You played really well! With a bit more practice, you can make it pro! Keep at it!”

“Qiu Yijie, come,” Fudan University’s Toplaner said, pulling his team captain away from the stage.

“Yeah, yeah,” Qiu Yijie replied to his teammate. He followed them off the stage, but then paused. He turned around and looked at Lin Feng again, at the kid grinning brightly and waving at the crowd as if he’d done it a thousand times before. Everyone else looks uncomfortable and nervous. What is it about him…? He read the messages from Aurous again and shook his head. We lost 3-1, but I lost 4-0 to him… How did he do that? I got stomped!

Aurous looked at his chat with Qiu Yijie, waiting for a reply from his student. Come on, kid. I’m watching the stream. I know you’re looking at my messages. Just say you’re okay. You got wrecked by Maple. And I would’ve got wrecked by him too. Just like Shi Hang got wrecked. He breathed out loudly and called Shi Hang. When the line connected, he said, “3-1. Could’ve— Would’ve been 3-0 if his teammates didn’t screw up that second game. Knowing who he is and watching him play… I really wanted to see Fudan win this year…”

“Ah, cheer up!” Shi Hang answered, laughing. “Don’t be such a downer! It was a great show Maple put on! Isn’t it something else when you watch him play? I’ll tell you, it’s a real experience to play against him! You should try it!”

Aurous clicked his tongue in annoyance and said, “Hey, jackass! Can you let me sulk for a minute here? My team just got knocked out! We lost because of one damn player who shouldn’t even be playing on a high school team!”

“Well, technically…” Shi Hang started, chuckling. He then continued, “It’s okay, bud. I’m here. You can vent to me for a bit and I’ll pretend to listen.”

“Jackass,” Aurous replied. “Why do you sound so relaxed anyway? Don’t you have a big game today? Or did you play already? Shit. You did, didn’t you? How did it go? Did you beat KG?”

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Sietse Thought: You guys wanna know something? Devshard is a jerk. A little child who enjoys bullying people and kicking them when they’re down! Last night my electricity went kaboom and I was left without my computer and unsure how long I could use my phone before the battery would run out. So I put my phone on airplane mode when I went to bed and checked it early today to see if anything happened. If something required my attention.

That’s when it happened. Last night I warned the guys I might not have time to do the chapter because of my lack of electricity. And Devs decided, in that moment where he knew I was in a dark place (literally), to send me a goddamn clownface-Devshard. I hate clowns. I’ve been terrified of them ever since they came to my hospital bed and wouldn’t fucking leave when I told them to piss off. Those fucking monsters with their ugly ass smiles just hovering over you while you’re stuck to some stupid ass machine and they’re making jokes and… Just fuck them. And fuck Devshard. Asshole thinks it’s funny to joke about that.

#CANCELCLOWNSHARD

Dev Thought: In my defense, I didn’t exactly plan on trolling Sietse. He told me his power was out, so I was looking at the chapter and trying to figure out if/when we should call it and make an announcement about the chapter being delayed. And then I started goofing around on Snapchat, where it suggested this terribly creepy clown filter. I figured I should just take a picture with it and then I could mess with people on the Discord server with it. Or use it in a chapter release notification. But then! Inspiration struck me. See, Sietse uses WhatsApp for messaging all his IRL friends, family, and girlfriend. I’ve had Sietse on WhatsApp for years now, but we don’t really use it to talk to each other unless there’s something going on with Discord. Now, knowing that the first thing Sietse does every morning is to wake up and check his WhatsApp messages and that he’d never be expecting a WhatsApp message from me, I decided to use that to send him this creepy picture of myself with a clown filter.

It worked perfectly. I am very proud of myself.

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