Day 1 of Worlds was disastrous for China! Day 2 was a little bit better thanks to Hand of God. But KG had screwed up again! They were really testing the limits of their fans! There was now a break. Half of the games in Group A and Group B were played. The teams could use the next week to prepare for the second half, or in the case of KG to get their mess sorted out, while the fans turned their attention back to solo queue. They still kept an eye on Worlds, of course. In another two days, Group C and Group D would play their first half of the group stage. Dust was in Group D. This was a new chance for China to shine on the world stage!
One group of fans were the members of High School 13’s esports team. They kept up to date on Worlds, but their attention shifted to something more important. The Shanghai 16 School Tournament. It was approaching fast and they still had so much to do before then. Lin Feng’s Legend Bootcamp turned up to 100. Lin Feng didn’t allow any slacking. If someone repeated a mistake, he would tell them they had one more chance. Then he reminded them how stupid the mistake was, that it belonged in Silver solo queue and not in their team games. And if that didn’t help, he threatened them by saying he would kick them off the team!
“Tang Tang, you played like crap in that teamfight! You’re the ad-carry, not the tank! You don’t jump in first! How many times do I have to tell you this?”
“Wei Dong, you need to get deeper vision into the enemy jungle. Exactly! Just like that pink ward.”
“Chen Ze stop feeding! We can’t keep sending Liu Yue up top to help you. He needs to focus on other lanes too!”
“Stop AFK farming in your jungle Liu Yue! You’re giving away all map pressure in the first 10 minutes of the game! The other team doesn’t even have to worry about warding, you don’t come to gank anyway… YES! THAT MEANS GO GANK!”
“That’s an awful play.”
“What’s wrong with you…”
“Not good enough. Get better.”
The players in the esports team weren’t blind or stupid. They noticed that Lin Feng was being a lot more demanding than usual. Sometimes they felt the urge to say something about it to him. To ask him if all of this was really necessary. But then they saw his face. It was calm and serious. He had no anger, hatred, or joy in telling them off. He was earnestly trying to help them become better players. So they could only turn back around and focus on their game. Since he was putting all this effort in, they would have to at least do the same!
Lin Feng’s high intensity training was proving to be very effective. The team members didn’t just see tremendous individual growth, but they were also really starting to come together as a team. This only further motivated them to work harder. Whenever Lin Feng gave them a few minutes between games to think about everything he’d said to them, they would huddle together and discuss it as a team. Then they would go back over the match and watch replays of the important plays and talk about what went right and what went wrong. All the while, Lin Feng sat in a corner of the room, staring down at the ground. They would occasionally look over towards him.
Ouyang leaned forward, gesturing for the other team members to do the same, and whispered, “Hey, do any of you know what’s up with him?” He pointed towards Lin Feng with his head. “Seems like the dude is always in a bad mood these days.”
“Yeah! I know right!” Liu Yue exclaimed. Then his eyes went wide and he put his hand over his mouth. He looked towards Lin Feng from the corners of his eyes, but saw no response. Shit! That was close… He turned back towards the others and nodded. “I feel like he’s been way harder on us. I’m kind of scared to do anything. I don’t want him to yell at me for making a misplay. But when I don’t do anything, he also yells at me! You guys feel that way too?”
The others nodded. Liu Yue had said exactly what they felt. Then Ouyang and Ren Rou turned their heads towards Tang Bingyao. They knew the relationship she had with Lin Feng. The two still claimed it was just a friendship, but it sure looked like something more. Ren Rou nudged Tang Bingyao and asked, “Did he tell you something? Do you know why he’s been acting this way?”
Tang Bingyao did know. Lin Feng had told her. But he had told her in confidence. She wouldn’t share that with others. It wasn’t her place to do that. Lying wasn’t really her thing either, though. She felt conflicted, but decided that being Lin Feng’s friend was more important. She stared down towards the ground and shook her head a little. “No, I don’t know.”
“Maybe he’s going through a bad breakup?” Chen Ze asked.
“You idiot.” Ouyang flicked Chen Ze’s ear. “Are you blind? Bro, have you never noticed how Tang Tang here and Lin Feng are always together? You know…” He gave Chen Ze a wink. “…How they spend a lot of time together, without us? Just the two of them. For fucks sake! They even go home together all the time!” He paused for a moment, then added, “Here, if you still don’t get it, let me show you.” He hugged an imaginary person who was supposedly sitting on his lap and started making out with her, shoving his tongue into her imaginary mouth.
Tang Bingyao looked at Ouyang. She didn’t quite understand what he was doing. He was getting his spit everywhere and looked like an idiot. “Uhh, Are you having a stroke? Should we call an ambulance?”
Ren Rou smacked Ouyang in the back of the head. “Alright! That’s enough nonsense out of you! Let’s get back to something a little more serious.” She started digging in her purse before pulling out a letter. “I received a letter from the 16 School Tournament organizers. It’s about the qualifiers. The groups have been announced.” Her smile turned into a frown when she mentioned the qualifiers. She took a deep breath and said, “Alright, let’s just get this over with. We’re screwed guys. We got screwed over really hard. It’s even worse than last year.”
The Shanghai 16 School Tournament took place every year around the same time as Worlds. It would start sometime next week with the qualification round. In the qualification round, schools were placed in groups of four. If they wanted to move on to the next round, they had to win at least two of their three matches. There were a lot of schools participating, so the better teams usually didn’t have much trouble moving on to the next round. But even if High School 13 could be considered above average, their luck was definitely the worst. If last year’s group wasn’t bad enough, this one was. They were up against Tonji Aff. High, High School 3, and High School 7.
“WHAT THE FUCK!” Ouyang screamed. “How the fuck is our luck worse than last year? HOW THE FUCK IS THIS EVEN POSSIBLE?” All the hard work they’d put in suddenly seemed pointless. Worst case scenarios flashed through his mind. He pulled at his hair and whined, “Why? Why is our luck so bad? Why is it always us? It’s always us! Why? Tell me! Why is our luck so bad! We’re fucked! We might as well give up now and just enjoy Worlds!”
Yang Fan, Chen Ze, and Wei Dong weren’t looking any better than Ouyang. They’d played in the Shanghai 16 School Tournament last year. What happened back then was still fresh in their minds. They knew how strong those opponents were. This year would be worse. The thought alone destroyed all confidence they’d built up training under Lin Feng.
High School 3 was the easiest of the three teams High School 13 would be up against. They failed to qualify for the main tournament and got kicked out in the Top 32 last year. But they got knocked out by a school that made it all the way to the quarterfinals! Who knew how far High School 3 could’ve gone if they’d had a little bit more luck! As for High School 7 and Tonji Aff. High, both of them had made it to the main tournament. High School 7 went out in the first round, while Tonji Aff. High lost in the quarterfinals. They were two of the best schools for esports in Shanghai!
“Tonji Aff. High is a loss. No point in talking about them.” Chen Ze looked at the others. His heartbeat went up as he started hyperventilating. He placed his hands on his stomach and forced deep breaths. Then he continued, “And I doubt we stand much of a chance against High School 7…”
Yang Fan adjusted his glasses. He forced a smile and said, “We really have our work cut out for us.”
Everyone fell silent. No one knew what to say. They had worked so hard for a shot at making it to the main tournament, yet now all of that seemed like it’d been for nothing. All their hard work, all the progress they’d made, it was pointless in the face of absolute skill. They weren’t preparing for some random school, they had to prepare for some of the best schools! One of which even made it all the way to the quarterfinals last year! A few weeks of training couldn’t possibly be enough to suddenly beat these schools. They were screwed! All their self-confidence was gone. Their morale sank through the floor.
“Oh, the groups were announced?” a voice broke the silence. Everyone turned their heads towards Lin Feng, who’d been sitting in a corner. He raised his head and stared at them, puzzled. “Huh? What’s wrong with you guys? Did you all eat something funny?”
“You don’t understand,” Chen Ze started. He sighed. “Our luck is dogshit. We have a harder group than last year…”
Wei Dong added, “He’s right, you know? You’ve really helped us and we’ve gotten a lot better, but these guys are way better than us. I can see us winning a game against High School 3, if we’re lucky. But when have we ever been lucky? Look at our group! And well, High School 7 would have to really play poorly if we want to have a shot at beating them. Let’s not even talk about Tonji Aff. High. It’ll just depress me more.”
Lin Feng looked around the room. Everyone was agreeing with Chen Ze and Wei Dong. No one seemed to have any faith in themselves. “What is this?” he asked, confused. “I thought we were going for first place?”
No one replied. Lin Feng looked at everyone, one at a time, but none of them said anything. Instead, they turned their heads away or looked down at the floor. They didn’t want to look him in the eyes. And he didn’t understand why. So he asked, “I thought we agreed on going for first place? You guys didn’t forget, right?”
The group was looking for someone to reply. They didn’t want to be the one to say what they all thought. Lin Feng had been in a poor mood all day and they felt more than a little ashamed right now. Wei Dong was finally the one to speak up, “I– We didn’t think you were serious. We kinda figured you were just trying to motivate us.” And the others nodded to his words.
Lin Feng looked at Wei Dong. He looked him in the eyes and said, “No. I meant every word I said. We’re going to win the trophy.” He then looked at the others, one at a time. They tried to evade his gaze, but he wouldn’t let them. “What have you guys been training for? Why have we all been working so hard if you guys are just going to give up before the tournament even starts? What is this for a shit attitude? A little setback and you just give up? You think just because we don’t have the easiest road to the finals that we’re doomed? We’re going for the win here guys! If we want to win, we have to beat the best teams! It doesn’t matter who they are, we beat them all!” He paused for a moment, frustrated. “Why have I been putting in all this effort if you guys are just going to give up? I should just go home and let you guys figure it out yourselves.”
The group listened to Lin Feng, but it wasn’t until his last sentence that it struck them. He was right! Everyone had put in a lot of effort. They had all worked hard. Lin Feng especially had created a great training schedule that saw even better results! But instead of thanking him by making it to the finals and taking home the trophy, they were ready to give up before the tournament had even started! They were ready to give up because a team that made it to the quarterfinals last year scared them! Lin Feng had every right to be upset! It would’ve been weird if he wasn’t!
“Bro, that’s exactly what I needed to hear. You’re completely and totally 1000% right. We can’t just give up like this!” Ouyang exclaimed.
Yang Fan adjusted his glasses. “I agree. So what if our opponent is stronger than we expected? That only makes it more interesting!”
“Yeah! We’re not giving up!”
“No way in hell! We’re going to kick their asses!”
“We’ll bring home the trophy!”
“WOOT WOOT! High School 13 for the win!”
Lin Feng got the response he was looking for. The confidence was back and the morale was high again. He said, “You guys shouldn’t worry so much about how good you are and how good your opponent is. All those what ifs in your mind are a waste of your time. Just have faith in me and my training and do your best. Besides, even if the opponent is really strong…” His lips curved up, revealing that smile that had disappeared in the past few days. “…You still have me!”