There were 3,000 League of Legends fans at the Hongkou Stadium. Many more had called in sick from work and school and were sitting at home glued to their televisions. They felt their hearts slamming against their chests from a combination of excitement and expectation. Today was the day. It was the faceoff between AyDeeCee and Hermes! Two of China’s best Midlaners were going head to head and they both had something to prove! AyDeeCee wanted to announce his return to the competitive scene by beating then King Hermes. And Hermes was looking to solidify his position as the undisputed number 1 Midlaner from China!
The offseason had gone well for Team Rapids. They went from a bottom team to an expected title contender by upgrading their roster. But after the first few games, they found themselves back where they’d spent so much time in Season 5. At the bottom of the LPL. It wasn’t unexpected. They played KG and were outclassed by God Roundy. But the fickle fans only cared about the team’s ranking, and they were already starting to put pressure on Team Rapids through a social media outrage.
Team Rapids’ coach looked at his team. They were sitting in a small room backstage, making their final preparations for their game against HoG. He chewed on his lips and got up from his seat, then started walking from one end of the room to the other and back again. Management is already putting pressure on me! They know we need time and they promised me time, but it’s only the second week and they’re already forgetting all their promises! We just need some more time! It takes time to make a new… He grimaced and turned his attention to Shi Hang. He’s got it. He’s still got it. But the team needs to adjust to that, dammit! He sighed loudly and shook his head. I can’t imagine the pressure he must be feeling. The posts online alone… He walked up to Shi Hang and put a hand on his shoulder. “You alright?” he asked. “Your nerves I mean. I hope it’s not too bad?”
Shi Hang looked up at the coach and smiled. He replied, “You coached me back in Season 2 and now again. Do I look that nervous to you?”
Team Rapids’ coach looked at Shi Hang, pierced the calm look in his eyes, and said, “You don’t fool me, Shi Hang. You might fool the others with that perfectly calm smile, but not me. I’ve seen how you get when you play… You know who. I know how you get when you’re serious.”
Maple. The name appeared in Shi Hang’s mind and he looked at his phone. That kid’s playing his own finals. I really can’t wait to see him up on this stage again. He nodded at his coach and said, “Well, it is King Hermes I’m up against today. But don’t worry, I’m alright.”
“Good,” Team Rapids’ coach said. He then paused, chewing on his lips. Hesitating. He finally asked, “Do you think you can beat him? He is a King…”
Shi Hang laughed loud enough for his teammates to look at him. He looked back at them before turning his attention back to his coach and said, “I’m AyDee–fucking–CEE! That King ain’t got shit on me! What? Huh? You sayin’ you don’t trust me?”
Team Rapids’ coach looked at Shi Hang, stunned. He looked past his old friend at the other players on the team. They were all staring at Shi Hang. He shook his head and said, “Sometimes, you really are an idiot. You know that, right? But yeah. Yeah. I trust you.”
“Good. That’s all I needed to hear,” Shi Hang replied. He got up from his chair and waved for his teammates to gather around him. They made a small circle and put their hands in the middle. He looked at them, one at a time, and gave them each a nod. He then said, “We’ve all seen HoG kicking ass at Worlds. We’ve seen them do well in their scrims and they won their first rounds in the LPL. They’re a team in form. But we’ve got a team just as strong as them! We’re title contenders just like them! It’s about time we show that to the fans and, more importantly, to ourselves! FOR THE TEAM!”
“FOR THE TEAM!” Shi Hang’s teammates echoed.
An Xin sat on the sofa in her hotel room, cradling her hand. She wasn’t currently experiencing any real pain or problems with it, but there was this voice at the back of her mind trying to convince her she was. She pinched the areas that were especially sensitive whenever it flared and grimaced in pain. They’re going to need me on my best game. I can’t screw up. This might be my last tournament with Lin Feng… Every game could be the last. I have to enjoy this. I need to create memories now before it’s too late. She closed her eyes, tears rolling down her cheeks and dropping on her hands.
A knocking sound came from the hotel room door, followed by Chu Fang reminding her that it was already 1:30 P.M. and that they were going to the stadium soon. An Xin wiped her eyes and looked around the room. I can’t let it happen again. Not today. I can’t. She got up and walked over towards her backpack, dreadfully slow. I need to be prepared. Just like last time. Yeah. She got a few pill bottles from her bag and carefully divided the medication in plastic cups, counting how many more days worth of medicine she had.
“Just like last time. It worked fine last time,” An Xin mumbled to herself as she stared at the little plastic cups. There was enough medicine to last her well beyond the end of the week. She grimaced and poured it all in the same cup. She then walked to the bathroom and filled another cup with water. Just this once. This should work. I won’t have problems if I do it like this. She put the pills in her mouth and hesitated. Her stomach contracted. She knew this was a bad decision. But it was a decision she was willing to take if it meant playing at least one more time with Lin Feng. She closed her eyes and forced the pills down her throat with the help of some water.
Tang Bingyao walked into the hotel room and said, “BunBun, are you still here? We’re—” She stopped, her eyes growing round and wide. There, right in front of her, was An Xin’s bag and several empty bottles of pills. “BunBun? BunBun!?” Tang Bingyao shouted, running into the bathroom. “BUNBUN!?”
“It’s okay, shh. Shh. It’s okay. I’m okay,” An Xin said, pushing her finger to her lips. She then brushed past Tang Bingyao and stuffed the pill bottles in her backpack. After which she looked back at Tang Bingyao and explained, “Don’t worry about it, Tang Tang. It’s nothing. I’ve just not been feeling my best self, so I went to the doctor last week. He gave me a few pills to take and I just took the last few. That’s all. But, uhm… Could you do me a tiny favour? Can you not tell the others? I… I really don’t want them to worry. You know how Lin Feng gets.” She smiled and winked.
Tang Bingyao nodded slowly, shocked. When she saw the pills, her first thought was that An Xin had taken an overdose. There were so many pill bottles that it was difficult to think of anything else. She blinked a couple of times and only then noticed how fast her heart was beating. It took another couple of breaths for the pulse of adrenaline and worry to settle. She then looked at An Xin. If she says she’s fine… She looks okay, I think? I’m not a doctor. If the doctor says she needs to take so many pills… But if it’s nothing big, then why does she need so many pills? What doctor just gives out pills like that? What kinds of pills are they? She opened her mouth, but paused. There were so many questions she wanted to ask that she didn’t know where to start.
“We’re going to be late!” An Xin said, hurried. She grabbed Tang Bingyao by the arm and dragged her out of the room and towards the elevator where Lin Feng was already waiting for them. He was waving at them, shouting at them in the way that was so recognizably ‘Lin Feng’. An Xin smiled and waved back, then leaned a bit closer to Tang Bingyao and whispered, “It’s our little secret.”
It was 2 P.M. when the doors to the Chaoyang Sports Center closed. The fans had found their seats and the teams were being introduced up on stage. Chu Fang sat right below the stage next to his rival from the Beijing Esports Association, Vice President Fan Yuan. The entire thing with high school teams joining the Winter Collegiate Cup was a play by the three branches of the Chinese Esports Association to prove who was nurturing the most talented players. That competitiveness spilled over into hostility as the two vice presidents glared at each other, instead of cheering for their teams.
“We’ll smash you!” Fan Yuan told Chu Fang through a twitch of his eyelids.
“We’re gonna wreck you!” Chu Fang replied through a small shake of the head.
The smell of gunpowder didn’t just hover around Chu Fang and Fan Yuan, but also between the two teams up on stage. They stood across from each other while the host was introducing the individual members, highlights from them playing on the large LCD screen above the two soundproof booths. But they weren’t interested in the highlights or the cheers from the crowd. Zhang Hongyi and Zeng Rui weren’t, anyway. They were glaring at each other with such hatred that it was almost palpable.
Yu Ping took a page from Zhang Hongyi’s book and looked intently at Lin Feng, narrowing his eyes and trying to draw his opponent’s attention. But Lin Feng was oblivious to it. He looked around the stage and waved and smiled at the fans until the host informed the two teams they could enter their soundproof booths. He then grinned at Yu Ping and said, “Good luck!”
Yu Ping narrowed his eyes until they were almost closed and mumbled, “Yeah.”
The two teams entered the soundproof booths and got settled behind their computers. They were given 15 minutes to get their gaming chairs just right and to configure the ingame settings so that they were exactly as they wanted them to be. The casters used this time to go over both teams again, pointing out the strong and weak points from both sides.
When the fifteen minutes were up, the audience went silent. The large LCD screen above the stage revealed Champion Select and a live feed from the two soundproof booths. The host walked up on stage one more time and said into his microphone, “The moment is finally here. These are our finalists of the Winter Collegiate Cup! TEAM SHANGHAI AND TEAM BEIJING! And they’ve already picked their Champions for Game 1!”
Collegiate Cup Finals, Game 1
Team Shanghai (Blue) vs. Team Beijing (Red)
Top: Rumble vs. Darius
Jungle: Evelynn vs. Gragas
Mid: Varus vs. Ahri
Ad-Carry: Jinx vs. Lucian
Support: Braum vs. Leona
Yu Ping narrowed his eyes. Lin Feng had picked in Varus a very immobile and vulnerable Champion. It was a Champion who didn’t see much gametime either, having only been picked once in the entire main tournament. “Gragas, camp mid,” he said over the team’s voice chat. “We’re going to shut him down.”
Across the stage in Team Shanghai’s soundproof booth, Lin Feng nodded at An Xin and said, “Counting on you here, BunBun!”
“Oh? Are you?” An Xin asked, smiling. She then winked at him and teased, “You know, it’s very unbecoming for a man to always lean on the fairer sex. But don’t worry. I’ve got you. I’ve always had you. Just leave the counter ganks to me.”
Lin Feng turned his head to look at An Xin and grinned. He then replied, “Thanks! Just help me scale and this is gonna be easy!”