Shi Hang was in Team Rapids’ gaming room. Two of his teammates were playing duo queue on the computers and another teammate came walking in munching on some chips. Shi Hang watched them and sighed. We could’ve done better. I… I probably should’ve done a bit better. He took a deep, long breath and then said over his phone to Aurous, “Yeah, we played earlier today. Lost.”
“You lost?” Aurous asked, surprised. “You never lose! You’re bloody AyDeeCee! What happened? Did you fuck up? Or was it a team thing?”
Shi Hang looked at his teammates and chuckled. He shook his head and said, “Nah, the team played alright. I’ve just been out of it for too long. The new meta feels strange to me and I need a bit more time to adapt. Give it another week, two tops! Our teamwork and coordination will get up there and then we’ll be the team to watch out for!”
“So it was you who screwed up! Pity, dude. That’s a damn pity,” Aurous teased. He briefly paused, thinking about the high bar Shi Hang put up for himself and the damage fans could do to the mental fortitude of even the most talented players, and continued, “Hey, bud? Don’t let it get to you. This was your first match and it was against KG right off the bat! No one expected you to win this one. You’ll get more chances. Just chill and… You might wanna steer clear from social media for a couple of days… You know. The fans.”
Shi Hang laughed and said, “No worries. I’ll be fine.” He then cleared his throat and continued, “For you know, the heart of a fan is fickle. One moment, they love you. They want to have your babies and they worship you like a God, maybe even build a shrine in your name! But in the next moment, when you feel the spark of divinity that will grant you immortality, they tear it away from you! They strip you of every last bit of confidence you have! And then… Then they call you a steaming pile of trash and throw you in the gutter! They’ll charge you with the murder of their hopes and dreams and have you hanged it! That is the way of the fickle fan.”
Aurous snorted in laughter. He replied, “I love you, man. I fucking love you. That’s brilliant! But, for real. Don’t check your social media. I’m betting the fickle fans are already stalking you and waiting to unleash their fury on you!”
“Yeah, probably,” Shi Hang agreed, grinning. He glanced at his Toplaner who was still chewing chips and continued, “Don’t worry. I know the pressure and I wouldn’t have come back if I didn’t think I could handle it. That said… Holy damn was Roundy good. That dude hard-carried the game with his Fiora. Seriously, we couldn’t stop him. We tried, but we couldn’t.”
“Sometimes, you’re a raging idiot. You know that, right?” Aurous snapped. “Stop complimenting everyone you play against! Your fans don’t care about who you play against! They care about the high hopes they have for you. You know that they come to the stadium to watch you hard-carry a game, right? Speaking of which, who are you playing next? Ready to get a pentakill against them and show everyone that you still have what it takes to be the best Midlaner in China?”
Shi Hang laughed and replied, “You’re going to love this! Next game is the one where I get to show to everyone that I still have what it takes to be up there with the best Midlaners of China! Wanna know why? ‘Cause we’re playing Hand of God!”
“Fuck me. For real? HoG?” Aurous blurted. He breathed out loudly and continued, “I’m starting to feel nervous for you here, bud. KG first and now HoG? You’re playing against the best two teams right off the bat! And if you lose against HoG too, everyone will decide for you that you suck… The fickle fan and all that… Can’t believe that you have to play against Hermes this early. He’s a proper King! You have no luck whatsoever.”
“You worry too much,” Shi Hang said, calm as ever. “It’s not the ideal situation. I would’ve liked to ease into it a bit more. But I’m okay with this too. Let the fans doubt me and drag my name through the dirt if that’s what they want to do. I’ll show them that I still belong up there with the best Midlaners. Oh, and Aurous? You can trust me on this. I’m going to come out swinging against Hermes.”
Lin Feng’s alarm buzzed before the sun came up. He’d slept for only a few hours and he refused to give himself more rest than that. Not until he’d achieved One’s challenge, anyways. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and groaned as he pushed himself off the bed. He wasn’t a morning person in any sense of the word and usually needed the smell from Su Xue’s breakfast to fully wake up.
“Why am I doing this…” Lin Feng mumbled to himself as he squinted his eyes to the bright light from the bathroom. “Right. Top 5, Top 5, Top 5…”
Lin Feng took a quick shower, brushed his teeth and combed his hair. He then rushed down the stairs to the lobby, where breakfast was being served. On most days, breakfast was the highlight of his day, matched only by dinner. But he couldn’t care less about it right now. He only had two days left to reach the Top 5 of the Korean Challenger ladder, and in those two days he also had to practice with his team for the Winter Collegiate Cup Finals and play in the Finals. It was a lot, even for him.
The next few hours came and went. A blur of wins and losses on Lin Feng’s mind. The Top 20 on the Korean Challenger Ladder was different. Everyone there knew him, and everyone there played League of Legends at the highest level. He had to play at the best of his ability, and even that wasn’t enough in a portion of his games. But his climb didn’t stop and by the time it was lunch, he’d reached Rank 14.
Chu Fang decided to take Lin Feng out to a small restaurant a few blocks from the hotel for lunch. And some much needed fresh air. The others from Team Shanghai were already there, having spent the morning exploring the city. They laughed and joked with each other and enjoyed the food. But Lin Feng heard nothing they said or tasted anything he ate. His mind was still on the Korean Challenger Ladder.
After lunch, Zeng Rui decided that Team Shanghai needed to practice for the Finals against Team Beijing. Lin Feng grimaced but agreed. He knew Zeng Rui was right and that it would do the team good to get together one last time before the Finals and confirm their tactics and strategy. But that also cut into his time on the Korean Challenger Ladder. So when he finally got home after dinner, he sat back down behind his laptop and continued playing through most of the night.
“Hey, Lin Feng,” Chu Fang said. He put a hand on Lin Feng’s shoulder and said, “You’ve been going all day again. How about you take a break? The Finals are tomorrow and your teammates are counting on you.”
Lin Feng glanced over his shoulder at the worried look in Chu Fang’s eyes and grimaced. He knew Chu Fang was right, but he also knew that he was currently only sitting on Rank 11 of the Korean Challenger Ladder. He still had a long way to climb before he reached the Top 5. He hesitated, moving his mouse between the play again and log out buttons.
“Come on, Lin Feng,” Chu Fang repeated. “It’s bedtime.”
Lin Feng sighed and nodded. He clicked on the log out button and then turned his laptop off, saying, “Uh, okay. Fine. It’s just… I’ve only got one day left to get to the Top 5 and tomorrow we’ve got the Finals and I still need to do so—”
“It’s okay,” Chu Fang interrupted. He looked Lin Feng in the eyes and continued, “You’ve got this. You know you do. Trust in yourself.”
Lin Feng looked back at Chu Fang, stunned. His mind was briefly pulled away from the Korean Challenger Ladder. He found a brief moment in which the worries about making everyone proud and happy slipped from his mind. It brought a calming serenity. He smiled and said, “You’re right. You’re right!” He clenched his fist, grinning, and continued, “Who cares if it’s just one more day? I’m Maple! I’m going to win the Collegiate Cup tomorrow and then I’m going to hit the Top 5 on the Korean Challenger Ladder! And there’s no one who can stop me!”
The president of the Beijing Esports Association had requested the files on the four Semifinalists a few days earlier. He’d glanced at the five documents before the Semifinals. Four were about the teams and their members. None of them were of particular interest to him. They were strong teams with good players, but they lacked the flair that made something special. Except for one player. Lin Feng had his own document. The president leaned on the banister of his balcony and looked at the document again. He mumbled, “Lin Feng. It’s been a while.”