Hermes and Nightsong took a seat at Tian Tian’s table. Nightsong looked at all the plates already on the table and grabbed a small pastry from one of them. He aggressively bit a chunk of the pastry, savoring it as he chewed, and said, “Holy Cannoli! Literally! This cannoli’s so good! Good thing I was smart enough to steal it from you, eh Roundy? Don’t worry, there’s a couple more of them on the other plates. I checked.”
He wasn’t lying. There were five plates spread out on the table, all within arm’s reach of where Tian Tian was sitting. All of the plates were piled high with different kinds of pastries and sandwiches. It was honestly more than a little impressive. Each plate contained enough food to feed a family for several days, and utilized a genuinely creative organization and stacking structure to achieve this. Nightsong and Hermes both took a minute to look at all of the food on all of the plates. For different reasons. Hermes was awestruck at the volume of food and how much was packed onto each one. Nightsong was making sure there were more cannolis like the one he’d stolen. He figured there would be when he said there were, and now he wanted to make sure. Once he confirmed there were, that’s when he saw the bigger picture.
Nightsong’s eyes popped out of his head as he gasped, “Good lord! I know you like to eat Roundy, but what the hell is this? I could literally make a life-size sculpture of you from all this food! This ain’t all for you, right? The rest of your team is coming down? There’s no fucking way you can eat all of this! The UN doesn’t even give Africa this much food! Please tell me you got this for the rest of your team because you got here early! God damn! If I was into food like you were, I’d have a boner all the time!”
Hermes shook his head. Well, at least Nightsong didn’t tell him he’d be trash if he got fatter. He looked at Roundy, “Nightsong’s got a way with the words, right? But you can really pack it away, Roundy! That is so much food! How can you eat all of that!”
Tian Tian shrank into his chair and slid a little more under the table. But he didn’t fit. The table tilted and some of the plates started sliding off. He jumped back into his chair and set the table right, but his face was completely red from embarrassment. “Hahah, yeah. I’ve always been pretty big. Got a large stomach, ya know? So I need to eat a lot…” His eyes fell on the chocolate mousse cakes on one of the plates. The energy he lost a moment ago was back in full. He grabbed two cakes and gave one each to Nightsong and Hermes. “Here! You guys have to try these! They’re super delicious! Probably the best thing they have here right now!”
Nightsong looked at the chocolate mousse then at Tian Tian, amazed. He had no words. He let out a long sigh. “Damn. You’re crazy, man. Completely cuckoo for cocoa puffs. Wait! Shit! Don’t go get cereal now because I reminded you of it. But god damn! I got a big dick and everything, but I’m still freaking out about Worlds right now. Here you are stuffing your face with pastries and sausages, telling me about how good the chocolate mousse is. I gotta know. How big is your dick? Gotta be huge, right? I mean, I can barely keep food down right now! You either have a monster of a trouser snake or you’re chillin cause you’ve been here since Season 1.”
Tian Tian waved his hands and shook his head. “No no! You’re wrong. I’m really nervous too! Maybe you can’t tell, but I’m freaking out!”
“So why are you eating here all by yourself?” Hermes interjected in an attempt to bring the conversation back to a more normal vein. Then he chuckled to himself and added, “I’m sorry but I need to ask. Did you eat your teammates?”
Tian Tian rubbed his hair. “Oh, them… They went sightseeing around the city. I think I heard them say something about a theme park? I don’t really know.”
“Theme park?” Nightsong’s eyes started shining. “Hermes and I were just talking about going there! I heard they got a ton of cool rides and shit there! Also heard that it was a decent place to meet some cute girls. Why didn’t you go? You feelin’ the chocolate mousse more than the girls here?”
“No no no, no. No. No! They’re going for the rollercoasters! I hate those things. They’re terrifying! What if something goes wrong? What if the seatbelt-thingie comes loose? I don’t wanna go flying! Or what if the cart falls off the track… Nope! Just no. I’m never getting on another rollercoaster ever again!” Tian Tian frantically shook his head, his chubby face turned pale. Just the thought of a roller coaster terrified him! There was one time he got talked into getting on one and he made a solemn vow to himself that it would never happen again. That was a memory he wanted to repress!
Laughter rolled through the banquet hall. Nightsong and Hermes were talking and joking around with Tian Tian while tasting the pastries. Tian Tian, on the other hand, had a different approach. He ate like his life depended on it. Like he was worried someone would steal his food if he looked away for a second. He still looked up and replied to the two sitting across from him, though, and they eventually started talking about Worlds.
“The pressure’s starting to get to me. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t.” Nightsong sighed. “I mean, we’ve had our fun in the LPL and those teams were good. But you know, they were only LPL good. We knew everyone we played against from solo queue or from scrims against them. Worlds is a completely different animal! We don’t know half the teams. I mean, not like we know all the LPL teams, and we’re going to be up against many of the Seven Kings and Four Emperors. And yeah yeah, before you guys start about it, I know. It sounds cringy as fuck. Can barely believe hearing myself say it. But it’s still true that those guys are really fucking good. They’re way better than what we have in the LPL!”
Hermes nodded. “You’re right. Every team that qualified for Worlds this year is really good.”
Nightsong suddenly jerked his head to look at Tian Tian. “But you…” He waved at all the food spread out before him. “I don’t know how you do it man. But you don’t look nervous at all. Like not one bit. How do you do it?”
Hermes patted on Nightsong’s shoulder. “Stay frosty, man. Roundy over here has been playing at Worlds since Season 1. He’s been around the block way too many times. It doesn’t freak him out as much as it did in the beginning. It’ll be the same for us in a couple of years.”
Hermes hadn’t started playing League of Legends until Season 3. Then it took him a little over a year to climb up high enough to get noticed and sign with a professional team. His team managed to qualify for Worlds in Season 4. So this was only his second time at Worlds.
Hermes was a baby compared to Tian Tian when it came to Worlds. Tian Tian’s first Worlds was in Season 1, and he even made it all the way to the finals that time. Every year after that, with the exception of season three, his team had made it to Worlds and he’d played in all of them. This year would be his fourth time around the block. Tian Tian was the most experienced player in China and among the most veteran players in the entire world.
“No no, guys, you got it all wrong! It’s nothing like that. I’m really not immune to the stress or anything. I’m also super freaked out!” Tian Tian tried explaining to them. He hated being complimented like this. It made him feel incredibly uncomfortable. Especially since it was the furthest thing from the truth. He wasn’t calm. He was so far from calm that calm disappeared over the horizon. But he stumbled over his words when he tried to explain, and then eventually gave up and slouched in his chair.
Both Nightsong and Hermes noticed that Tian Tian was getting uncomfortable with the conversation. They changed the subject to the most recent game of League they’d played. Hermes made fun of Nightsong and the strange things he did and said. That was just what Tian Tian needed. His breathing calmed and he looked a lot more relaxed. He even sat up straight and chewed his food like a normal person instead of swallowing it whole.
Nightsong and Hermes spent the next 20 minutes eating and talking, enjoying the pastries they picked up from the buffet. They also tasted several that Tian Tian highly recommended. By the end of it, they’d eaten more than they could handle. Their stomachs bulged out and their eyelids felt heavy. The early signs of an impending food coma. Tian Tian, on the other hand, still had several plates to go and was busy stuffing his face with no signs of slowing down.
“Mghmmm?” Tian Tian attempted to ask when Nightsong and Hermes stood up. They looked at him, confused. He gulped down whatever was in his mouth and tried again, “Are you guys done eating? Already? Are you leaving?”
“Nope! No more! I’m not eating another bite! I feel like I’m about to blow up, and not in the good way!” Nightsong yelled while frantically waving his hands around. “You’re something else. I don’t even know why you got into playing League! You should’ve gone into competitive eating. You’re already an Emperor in that sport. Respect man. Respect!”
Hermes picked his plate up and cut Nightsong off, “We’ll let you enjoy your afternoon snack. Nightsong and I are going back up to our rooms. Gotta let all this food digest. We’ll probably chill out on the couch or something for a bit and then get back to playing some more ranked games to warm up for Worlds.”
“Oh, alright then! Thanks for sitting down with me for a bit, it was fun. Good luck in your games!” Tian Tian waved goodbye while the other two walked away. Then he looked back down at the food on his plate. “This isn’t going to eat itself,” he mumbled before shoveling it into his mouth again. It was a continuous fluid motion. Food went up from the plate, into his mouth, and down his throat. But it happened so quickly that it was impossible to figure out when he actually did all of those things. Food disappeared from the plate and his hands blurred while moving up and down. He did this while sitting completely alone in that large banquet hall. The only other people with him were the wait staff who occasionally walked by. In that large banquet hall, he looked all the more lonely.
Tian Tian looked a little different after Nightsong and Hermes left. His hand started trembling. He made a fist, holding onto the fork more tightly. But it still trembled. The piece of cake on it vibrated off and fell in his lap. Then he dropped the fork. It fell onto the plate and the clink of steel on porcelain echoed through the empty banquet hall. His teeth started chattering. He’d been trying really hard to keep himself together in front of Nightsong and Hermes. He didn’t want them to see how absolutely petrified he was. That he was freaking out more than the two of them combined. More than the rest of his own team combined! Once they left, he completely fell apart. Just thinking about Worlds sent him into a panic attack!
The name Tian Tian was made up out of two characters. Tian (田) was his family name, and the Tian (天) in his first name was given to him by his grandfather. It represented the sky and was given to him in the hope that his accomplishments would be just as vast. But Tian Tian worried every day that he had let his Grandfather down over the past 21 years of his life. And that he’d continue to let his Grandfather down for the rest of his life.
For as long as he could remember, he was always the fat kid. But it didn’t stop there. He could’ve been the fat kid who was funny. But no, he was shy and timid. He never found the courage to stand up for himself. All he wanted to do was hide, fade into the background. But that was not particularly easy to do for a fat kid. This unfortunate combination also made him the perfect target for any bully.
From kindergarten to his final day in high school, not a single one went by without someone showing up to bully him. They took his lunch money, roughed him up every once in a while, and made fun of him until they got tired. That last one was the worst. He got used to the fat jokes fast, and they figured that out just as quickly. So they changed tactics and pinpointed the stuff that actually hurt him. That’s when their words started to hurt. Really hurt. But he never fought back. He never tried to stop them. He never even told his parents. Instead, he buried his frustration and pain underneath food. He ate and ate and ate, and then realized that he truly enjoyed eating food. Whenever he was eating, he stopped feeling sad. Stopped worrying. Only through eating could he step out of the mental prison he’d trapped himself in and enjoy life. If only for just a moment.
As the years went by, Tian Tian grew fatter and fatter. He had no real friends at school. The only people that really talked to him were the ones who wanted to bully him. He turned to gaming because it was something he could do alone. He didn’t need any friends to play games. Didn’t need to talk to anyone at all while playing games. And while he played the game, no one needed to know he was Fatso Tian Tian. So no one could bully him.
That’s when he found out about a new game that was just released. League of Legends. He decided to give it a try because he heard that every game was played with nine other real players. He could get to know people from behind a screen, maybe even make some friends. And if they wanted to bully him, they could only do so for the length of a single game. Then he’d never see them again. Picking up League of Legends, that turned out to be the best decision Tian Tian had ever made in his entire life. He was good at the game! It was the first thing in his life that he was actually good at! The truth was that he wasn’t just good at the game, he was fantastic at it. He was so talented that he managed to get noticed and signed by a professional team a few months after he started playing the game! Then he climbed with that team to the very top and played at the very first World Championships. And he’d been doing that for the last five years.
Nightsong and Hermes weren’t wrong when they assumed he wasn’t freaking out about Worlds. He’d been in the professional scene for five years now and played in four World Championships. Most people would think that he’d gotten used to the pressure by now. But that was the furthest thing from the truth. His secret was that he was always worried. More than everyone else combined. The anxiety and panic kept him awake all night. His hands trembled and his knees wobbled.
It was one thought. Just one thought that always ran through his mind and broke his spirit and sent him spiraling into panic attacks. One thought. “Don’t fuck up! Don’t let your team down! Don’t let your fans down! Don’t let your Grandfather down!” He never even thought about how well he’d do. He didn’t think about how happy he’d be if he did well. All he thought about were the countless ways he could fuck up. The things that could make him choke. How he’d let his teammates down. How he’d let all the people that believe in him down. Every second that he was alone with his thoughts, a brand new scenario in which he would fuck up and singlehandedly lose the game popped up in his mind.
It was his anxiety, his fear of failure, the idea that he might choke when people were counting on him that led to the five plates of food in front of him. He was sitting here eating all that food to try and ease his anxiety, to bury it under mountains of pastries. He wasn’t sitting in the banquet hall alone because his teammates had abandoned him. They didn’t want to go and do something without him. He was here alone because he wanted to be here. He wanted to be alone. If his teammates knew how he was feeling, what was going on inside his head, they would worry about him. They would be sad because they couldn’t do anything to help him if they knew the truth. It wouldn’t accomplish anything if everyone felt like he did. That would make things worse. That’s why he was alone.
Every time he took a bite, the rush of sugar and the joy of the flavor banished the anxiety from his mind. He could relax for a second. This was the only way he knew how to cope. The constant need to eat to escape from his crippling anxiety and the desire to not burden anyone with his problems or let them down in any way created a truly unfortunate combination that resulted in him isolating himself from everyone around him.
It wasn’t always this way. Well, the anxiety and panic attacks were always there. But there was a time when Tian Tian wasn’t completely alone. It was four years ago, right before the start of Worlds. His anxiety amped up and he was on the verge of a panic attack. Exactly like today. He couldn’t deal with his thoughts, couldn’t stop worrying and he couldn’t breathe. Before he knew it, he was in a small restaurant across from the hotel he was staying at. He didn’t even remember walking there, that’s how panicked he was. He ordered every single thing on the menu and settled into a quiet corner. All by himself. The first of his food arrived and he salivated in anticipation of both the food and the momentary reprieve from his thoughts. Just as he was about to dig in, he was interrupted by a young man. A teenager, still in middle school, holding a tray with a large plate of food in his hands.
The young guy put his food down on the table and sat down in the empty chair across from Tian Tian. He got comfortable and then grabbed his own fork and knife. Just before he started eating, he looked at Tian Tian and said, “Fatty! Did anyone tell you it was rude to go off and eat by yourself? You should’ve said something if you wanted to eat. I was hungry too! It’s rude when you don’t ask your friends to come eat with you! Haha!”
“Uhh… I, it’s uhm, just I think…” Tian Tian looked at his food and then looked at the guy sitting across from him. He wanted to eat, needed to eat. But he wanted to reply. Back and forth. But every time he tried to say something, he stumbled over his words. It always happened when he got nervous. “You know…. Um…. well, w-w-with the game… hm… err tomorrow. You know… the, uh… The Worlds thing. And I thought. N-n-no, I was thinking… uh, and I was… you know… uh. And. Well, if I eat, my nerves…”
“Oh! So you’re nervous? You got some anxiety and you’re trying to eat your feelings, huh? Bury it under whatever you can put in your mouth?” The youth laughed, “No wonder you’re so fat!”
“Uh, yeah, I guess…” Tian Tian lowered his head, embarrassed.
“Well that makes two of us! I’m also super nervous! Worlds starts tomorrow! Can you believe it? Tomorrow! I can barely keep it together! So I came down here to eat my feelings! Just like you! Haha!” The young man looked Tian Tian right in the eyes and his cheerful tone turned serious. “Fatty, listen up. This is important. Next time you get this anxious and need to eat, call me. I’ll tag along. Then we can both eat our worries away together! It won’t be so lonely!”
Tian Tian looked up and looked in the young guy’s eyes for the very first time. Met his stare for the first time. Tian Tian surprised himself. He didn’t remember the last time he’d looked up at someone, looked them in the eyes. This might have been the first time he did that in his entire life. But something about the young guy made him want to, and when he did he found eyes that were beaming with joy. But he still hesitated. He’d gotten used to eating alone, eating so fast that he could stop his own thoughts from beating him down. If someone else was there, they wouldn’t let him just eat. They’d want to talk. And then he’d be trapped in his thoughts again.
Just as he started walking down the thorny path in his mind that he’d walked so many times before, the one that spiraled into the dark place, the young guy interrupted him again, “It’s so lonely, this whole eating by yourself thing! Isn’t it way more fun to eat with someone else? Food is meant to be shared and enjoyed with friends! Let’s enjoy this meal together!”
Pain shot through Tian Tian’s head and gut at the same time, snapping him out the memory. He picked his fork up off the plate and licked it clean. Then he sat there, staring at the empty banquet hall. Dazed. He didn’t eat or move for a long time. He just sat there without blinking. Then all at once and without warning, he stabbed the fork into whatever was on the plates and started eating. He ate like his life depended on it. Like he needed to bury whatever he was feeling under as much food as his body could handle. Frosting and crumbs combined and created a crust around his mouth. He still kept eating. Some of the crumbs got pushed into his mouth, but they were quickly replaced by new crumbs and bits of food. He inhaled the food in front of him while tears ran down his face. His shoulders trembled. In between bites and the shifting of plates, he cried and mumbled, “L-lin Feng, where did you….go? You said you’d eat with me! You said to call!” But no one heard him or saw his tears in that empty banquet hall.