End of the First Challenge

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A thick silence blanketed the NetCow Cafe. No one made a peep. It was so quiet that the customers could hear the whistling from someone’s breathing. They were all too busy staring at the LCD screens, too shocked to speak. Or cheer. Or even question what happened as the Victory crest floated over Moonlight Cafe’s ruined Nexus. But without a word spoken, everyone had the same thought. Th-they won! NetCow Cafe’s team won! They beat Moonlight Cafe’s team in a best-of-three in under an hour! 

Qian Lu was just as surprised. He was more than confident in Lin Feng’s team, but the victory happening that quickly was outside of his expectations too. He stood there with his mouth completely open, alternating between staring at the LCD screens and at the team he hired. The sight was almost comical, because of the dazed look on his chubby face. Qian Lu was a calculating individual and shrewd businessman, but this was still well beyond anything he could’ve predicted. Even with all he knew about how strong Lin Feng and the others were, and even if he’d watched them practice with his own eyes for the last few days. It was still shocking to see how easily and quickly they’d defended the NetCow Cafe from the Moonlight Cafe’s challenge. 

The reaction was no different on the stage. Moonlight NetCafe’s entire team sat petrified in their seats with pale faces. They were so shocked by what just went down that they had no concept of how to process it properly, or understand what to think about the whole ordeal. They had lost, that much was clear. But it wasn’t just that they had lost. They’d been completely and utterly crushed. 

The opponent they’d just gone up against, the NetCow Cafe’s team, was so unbelievably strong that they had no chance to fight back at all. They were utterly helpless! There was nothing they could do, no way to prepare for the tidal wave that just crashed into them. Before they could even strategize properly and mount a counter-offensive, they were swept away by the frightening strength of NetCow Cafe’s team. It was beyond belief how badly the games had gone for them. They’d lost all three lanes in both games, and NetCow’s Jungler had managed to shut down any attempt at a comeback. That wasn’t even the worst of it. The team fights were another level of tragedy, where they got instantly stomped on. The only thing that was clear about both games was that there was nothing they could do. 

The Midlaner on Moonlight Cafe’s team was the most level-headed and analytical out of all of them. But right now, he was slumped back in his seat. His face was lifeless, but the disbelief was clear in his eyes. The games had gone particularly bad for him, because he was also the best player on the team. He was currently ranked at Master on the Zuan server. Despite this, his lane was the one that lost the fastest in both games. 

The lane situation was especially bad for him in the second game. His Yasuo was up against NetCow’s Fizz. Things turned south within minutes, when NetCow’s Jungler game in to gank him. After that, his lane completely collapsed and he ended up being solo-killed twice by Fizz. There was simply no way for him to come back or defend his lane.

As he sat there, ruminating on what happened, he thought about what happened when he first walked in and saw NetCow Cafe’s team playing their warm-up game. He’d initially assumed that NetCow Cafe’s team was playing a weak opponent, one who completely gave up and became helpless to fight back after only falling behind a little bit. Because of that, he’d also assumed that the opposing team was only ranked Gold or Platinum. That was the only thing that made sense to him. But now, after playing against NetCow Cafe’s team, he’d realized something. Up against their team, he played just as badly as the supposed noobs he saw during that practice game. Moonlight Cafe’s Midlaner had figured out one thing. It wasn’t that the players from earlier were bad at all. It was just that NetCow Cafe’s team was too strong! 

With the best-of-three series done and over with, the first victory went to NetCow Cafe. And it was a flawless victory. Qian Lu was the first to snap back to reality and fight back against the gravity pulling his knees to the ground. The corners of his mouth turned up into a smug grin, and he immediately turned around to shake the hand of the Moonlight Cafe’s owner. “Oh-hohohoho-hahahaaha! That was spectacular, wasn’t it? Thank you so much for going easy on us. Your team, they’re pretty good too! Oh-hohohoho-haha! It’s just… well, ah… what a shame they lost so quickly, right? But hey, there’s no reason to give up, right? The Battle Bonanza has only just started, right? Do your best!” 

Qian Lu’s tone was polite, but the words were sugarcoated sharp needles that plunged deep into the Moonlight Cafe’s owner’s soul. According to the rules of the Battle Bonanza, each participant could only challenge another internet cafe to a single match. That meant that since the Moonlight Cafe lost to the NetCow Cafe, those results were set in stone. There was no way for the Moonlight Cafe to challenge the NetCow Cafe again and reclaim their honor. 

The face of Moonlight Cafe’s owner flushed red. He  looked up at his players up on the stage and hollered, “What the hell are you guys still sitting there for!? The match is over, let’s leave! Don’t tell me you’re waiting for them to give us drinks and snacks!?”

The Moonlight Cafe’s players got up from their seats and descended from the stage with downcast eyes and shame on their faces. They said nothing to anyone else or each other as they quickly followed the Moonlight Cafe’s owner out of the NetCow Cafe. 

Even after they left, the atmosphere in the NetCow Cafe remained heavy and silent. Until Lin Feng, still up on the stage, scratched his head and said, “Wow! Those guys kinda sucked. They folded like a bad hand before I got warmed up and started to really hit my groove.”

Tang Bingyao nodded in agreement. “Mhm! They were about the same as the team we played before in the warm-up game.” 

Indeed, this was also the feeling that all the spectators around the stage got too.  That best of three series just now was no different from the warm-up games that Lin Feng and the others played before. Just another one-sided beatdown from the NetCow Cafe team. 

Previously the spectators believed Lin Feng and the others were only picking on noobs to make themselves look good to the crowd. But now, they realized that the ‘noobs’ from the warm-up game were actually high Diamond players. If that was the case, the real question was where Lin Feng and the rest of the team ranked. Finally, the people in the audience recovered from their shock and started staring at NetCow Cafe’s players with heated gazes. Their passion had been ignited!

“The girls were awesome too! That Jungle was something else!”
“That Immovable Mt. Tai prize is as good as ours!”

Lin Feng and the others on the team were much less excited. They lounged around on the stage, still very relaxed. The truth was that the level of opponent that was found in the Moonlight Cafe’s team didn’t mean much to them at all. It wasn’t really a challenge, nor was it any different from their usual practice games. Actually. There was one significant difference. Lin Feng and the rest of the gang had made ¥500 for playing this best-of-three series. And that was enough to make Tang Bingyao’s eyes sparkle. “One more match, and we’ll have ¥1000!”

Lin Feng’s mind was in a different place. “Guys! Where should we eat tonight to celebrate? Wait! First! What kind of food do we want to eat to celebrate? That’s what we need to be thinking about right now.”

Zhang Hao was still riding high from being able to stomp on his lane opponent, and his face was flushed with excitement. “If the other internet cafe teams are as weak as these guys, we’re going to have that Immovable Mt. Tai prize for sure!” 

Zeng Rui massaged his temples, then gave everyone a stern look to silence them. “Don’t start celebrating just yet! That was only our first opponent. We have no idea who is going to walk through that door next, or when a team that’s actually good is going to come at us. Let’s just keep practicing.”

An Xin nodded in agreement with Zeng Rui’s plan. “Yup. Zeng Rui is right. Let’s get into another practice game before the next challenger comes. This was an easy first win for us, but let’s not forget that this tournament isn’t like any of the others we’ve been in. Challengers are going to come in the whole day, and we need to keep our guard up before we end up losing to someone out of carelessness!”

Dev Experiences Some Odd Social Anxiety

Dev Thought: Alright, so I like to take a walk around my apartment complex a few times a day. Especially when I’m stuck at home. I put on a podcast or some music, sometimes I just listen to the bird and the wind. Helps get the blood pumping and clears my thoughts. Plus, it’s nice to breath in some fresh air and see trees and stuff. It’s a good time. And something that I’ve been doing a lot for the last few years. This all started when I went on my walk, like I always do. I had my mask on out of sheer habit, mostly. There’s also some concern about COVID case counts going up where I live, but I usually only wear the mask because it’s just turned into a thing I do when I go out.

I started walking around my building like I always do. There were a bunch of other people walking around too. Some were just taking a stroll, other people were walking their dogs, there was a dude who was jogging very seriously. Everyone was doing their own thing. But there was one difference between them and me. I had a mask on, and no one else did. I walked around the entire building once and ran into like 12 people, none of whom had a mask on their face. Just me. And it started nagging at me in the back of my head. As I started my second walk around the complex, that voice got a lot louder. Reality and whatever version of reality that exists in my own head diverged, and I could FEEL everyone looking at me with my mask. The dude walking his tiny poodle, I could hear him going, “Hey libtard! Got a mask on, eh? Too scared to breath in COVID, eh libtard?”

To be clear, he was not saying anything. Dude said hello to me and continued to walk his dog. But I could hear him saying it in my head. Then I ran into some Chinese woman on her stroll, and she went, “Oh! Another libtard scared of me because I’m Chinese? You think I’m going to give you that Wuhan Virus, libtard?” Once again, she wasn’t saying anything to me. To be honest with you guys, I don’t even know if she spoke English. But in my head, I could hear it. And my heart rate jacked up from the sheer amount of anxiety I was feeling about having a mask on.

So I caved and took the mask off. I put it in my pocket and continued to walk. But I had this weird inner monologue going on with myself. I wanted to tell everyone that I wasn’t a libtard, and that I was vaccinated. I was just wearing the mask out of habit. And then I started to yell at myself for being such a little coward and folding to peer pressure. I told myself I didn’t care about what anyone else thought, and that I do what I think is right. I started putting my hand into my pocket to pull out my mask. And then I saw someone else with their dog and no mask. I immediately pulled my hand out of my pocket and walked on.

Then I came home and threw my mask on the counter, went into the bathroom and stared at myself in disgust.

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