The Shanghai 16 School Tournament was incredibly important to the high school esports clubs in Shanghai. There were three reasons for this. First, this was the only official sanctioned League of Legends high school esports tournament in all of Shanghai. Some schools organized smaller events, like the Haiwan 4 School Tournament or the Pudong 8 School Cup, but those were local events for friendly competition. The 16 School Tournament was an entirely different sort of event. It was comparable to the national University tournaments in terms of scale and production value. The venue was huge! It had plenty of room for fans to come and watch, and the gaming equipment was of the highest quality. This was the stage to compete on for the high school students in Shanghai. It was a real professional tournament, nothing like their locally organized events. Victory on this stage also held meaning. Winning meant everything from further opportunities to team rewards. There was also the moment when they’d hoist a trophy up in front of hundreds of screaming fans. A trophy which would become the most valuable treasure in their club’s cabinet.
The second reason the different esports clubs put such importance on this 16 School Tournament was the prize money. The Shanghai Division of the Chinese Esports Association was the organizer for this tournament, and they sponsored a huge cash prize that would go to the teams who made it to the semifinals and finals. First place would earn a whopping ¥80,000. Even the fourth place prize was nothing to sneeze at, a respectable ¥20,000. On top of that, there was also the individual MVP award with a prize of ¥20,000 attached to it.
The third and final reason was that this tournament was the stage for any young player who dreamed of making it to the professional competitive circuit to showcase their skills. This was the tournament where they could get scouted. The tournament organizers invited famous professional analysts, players, and coaches to make guest appearances as commentators. Just last year, one of the members of the winning team had caught the eye of a top LSPL team’s coach.1The LSPL is the League of Legends Secondary Professional League with the LPL serving as the main professional league in China. That player was now part of that coach’s second team and a real professional gamer! This was THE dream for countless high school students in Shanghai.
The Shanghai 16 School Tournament was the first step on the path to glory. If they got scouted by an LSPL coach or player, an LSPL team might pick them up. From there, they could qualify for the LPL. Once they made it into the LPL, the World Championships were only a step away. That’s where they could fight on the highest stage in the world, playing at the highest level, millions of fans cheering them on. To fight for the highest glory and take home the biggest trophy, this was the dream of every avid League of Legends player!
The funny thing was the name of the tournament was a bit of a misnomer. It had grown considerably since its inception. The Shanghai 16 School Tournament currently had far more than 16 schools participating. There were roughly 200 high schools in Shanghai, and 70 of them participated in the 16 School Tournament. The sheer number of schools and teams required the introduction of a qualification series before the official tournament could begin. During the qualifiers, teams from the 70 participating schools would duke it out to earn one of the coveted 16 spots in the official tournament.
“So. What you’re saying is that we didn’t even make it out of the qualifiers last year?” Lin Feng asked, eyes wide in shock.
Ouyang awkwardly coughed. “Well… if you really wanted to be technical about it, yeah bro… you could say that.”
Yang Fan adjusted his glasses. “There is no other way to put it, Ouyang. It’s not a technicality. Correct, we were knocked out in the first round of the qualifiers.”
The first round of the qualifiers for the Shanghai 16 School Tournament was a group stage between four teams. The top two from each group would move on to the next round and the losers would go home. Last year, High School 13 only had one win and did not make it through the first round of the qualifiers.
“BRO! I know! Okay. I know. But it’s still embarrassing to admit!” Ouyang said.
Ren Rou patted Ouyang on the shoulder. “It wasn’t entirely our fault. I mean, we got really unlucky in the draws. Our group was basically impossible. First we had to play against those jackasses who sent a spy to steal our strategy. We lost that game before it even started. And the second match was even worse. We had to play against the team who went on to place 2nd in the main tournament. We had no chance against them.”
Yang Fan nodded and sighed with a complicated look on his face. “Yes. I suppose that’s just how the cookie crumbles. Those guys from Shanghai International were absurdly good.”
“Hell yeah! We had shitty luck! That’s why it’s a technicality! I read something online about something called the return of Mars causing shitty luck. That’s what probably happened. If Mars didn’t return and our luck was better, we’d have been in the main tournament!” Ouyang exclaimed. He then shot out of his seat, blazing with fighting spirit. “With you and Tang Tang joining us, it won’t matter if Mars, Venus, or even Neptune returns! We’ll wash away the stink from last year’s disgrace! This year, we’ll get that trophy! I can already taste it in my mouth, before I even kiss it!”
“How good were last year’s champions?” Tang Bingyao asked.
Ouyang froze. Tang Bingyao’s question stole all the thunder and bravado he had moments ago.
Ren Rou shot Ouyang a disdainful glare before turning back to Lin Feng and Tang Bingyao. She took a deep breath and then started explaining the League of Legends scene in Shanghai. Specifically the high school esports club scene.
Shanghai was known for being the heart of China’s esports scene. Most of the professional teams in the LPL and LSPL had set the city as their base of operations. Riot Games had even held a League of Legends All Star event in Shanghai. The city’s competitive environment allowed the high school esports clubs to evolve until they were better than anywhere else in China. The teams who managed to qualify for the Shanghai 16 School Tournament reflected that evolution.
“So, for example, Shanghai International had a Challenger and Master on their team. Their weakest player was Diamond 2,” Ren Rou explained. “Even with a stacked team like that, they only got second place. The champion was Shanghai High School. They had two Diamond 1s, two Masters, and a Challenger. Their best player is called Tiny Teacup. I heard he climbed all the way to the top 10 on Ionia. He’s a prodigy at the game…”
Yang Fan nodded and sighed. “Comparison really is the thief of joy.”
“Then what about our team?” Lin Feng asked.
Ren Rou’s expression turned awkward. “Well. That. Look, it’s obvious that we’re nowhere near Shanghai International or Shanghai High School.”
Ren Rou found it difficult to admit but High School 13 and the top schools in Shanghai were simply on different levels. They were so far apart you couldn’t even compare the two. Before Lin Feng and Tang Bingyao joined the team, the average skill level of High School 13 was low Platinum. Yang Fan was currently their best player. It wasn’t always like this. They used to have several Diamond rank players, but those guys either graduated or quit the esports club to focus on their studies. Only the weaker players like Ouyang and Yang Fan stuck around, refusing to let go of their dream of winning the Shanghai 16 School Tournament.
“So how are we going to win?” Tang Bingyao asked, intense as always.
Ouyang, Yang Fan, and Ren Rou looked at each other, but none of them opened their mouths. Although the tryouts a few days ago were a massive success and they’d recruited several promising players, they needed a lot more than that to beat the likes of Shanghai International or Shanghai High School.
“I think even getting into the Top 8 will be hard,” Tang Bingyao said.
Ren Rou sighed. “All we can do is try our best. I don’t want to leave any regrets behind.”
“NO!” Ouyang gnashed his teeth. “That isn’t enough! I won’t settle for just doing our best. This is our final year! Screw the Top 8, we have to get into the Top 4! At the lowest! I want to leave something behind for the club. Something they can be proud of!”
Yang Fan shook his head. His eyes betrayed the sadness he felt inside. “I understand how you feel. I feel it too, Ouyang. But statistically speaking, Top 4 is impossible. It’s so far away that you cannot even consider it a pipedream. We’ll never get that far.”
Lin Feng listened to the exchange with a puzzled expression. “Is it that hard?”
“I know you’re amazing Lin Feng. But even if you’re a Challenger, the rest of the team can’t keep up with you. And we can’t count on you to hard carry us to the Top 4, can we?” Ren Rou said.
Ouyang and Yang Fan nodded. The euphoria of finding out Lin Feng was an actual Challenger had clouded their judgement. Reality was kicking back in. At the end of the day, their team consisted of a Challenger, a Diamond, and then some random low rank players. If they got lucky, they might possibly make it to the quarter finals. But anything more was just wishful thinking. League of Legends was a team game. They didn’t have a team. They had two talented individuals. Nothing more.
In the background, the sound of other customers at the internet cafe chatting could be heard. But Ouyang, Yang Fan, and Ren Rou kept quiet. Their expressions were sombre as they stared at their hands. Lin Feng rubbed his chin, looking at his three friends, then suddenly broke the silence. “I don’t think it’s too hard!”
“I don’t mean to offend you here or sound like I doubt how good you are. I know you’re a great player. But if you think about it for a second you will understand. Think about it and tell me what it is you can do? You’re a Challenger. A Platinum player like myself would end up dragging you down once we get deep into the tournament.” Yang Fan sighed. “You know… I would really like to have the skills of a Master or Challenger and help out the club, but I don’t. I’m a Platinum player. There’s nothing I can do to change that fact.”
“Well, if you’re not good enough, just get better!” Lin Feng said as a matter-of-factly. Then he swept his gaze over Ouyang, Yang Fan, and Ren Rou. “I can help you guys come up with a training plan!” Feeling as though that didn’t sound convincing enough, he pounded his chest. “I’m really good at coaching too, you know! Isn’t that right Tang Tang?”
Tang Bingyao slightly tilted her head. Then, thinking seriously for a moment, she nodded. “Mhm.”
Yang Fan, Ouyang, and Ren Rou stared at Lin Feng, dumbfounded. A training plan? Coach Lin Feng?