High School 13’s esports team was full of energy. It didn’t matter who they had to play against in the qualifiers for the Shanghai 16 School Tournament. They would beat everyone who came at them! They would welcome any and every challenge! With this mindset, they practiced the rest of the day until the sun set. They made the plays they were too afraid to make before, and endured Lin Feng’s biting criticism. All that mattered was that they got better, even if that meant getting yelled at by Lin Feng every now and then.
“Alright guys, that’s all for today. Let’s gather around,” Lin Feng said after the esports team had won another game. Once everyone huddled around him, he continued, “I really liked what I saw at the end there. You were all trying. It doesn’t matter that you don’t always succeed. You can’t always succeed. The important thing is that you try. So good job on that! Beyond that, you guys really need to keep working hard. Try and play a game or two tonight and I’ll see you all tomorrow. Goodnight guys!”
Everyone grabbed their stuff and left the NetCow Cafe. Lin Feng and Tang Bingyao waved the others goodbye and then started walking home together. The streets were quiet. Under the soft yellow glow of the street lights, Tang Bingyao hopped around the pavement tiles. She played a little game called ‘evade the cracks’. Her feet would occasionally land on a crack and she would lose her balance, rocking unsteadily before quickly stabilizing herself again.
Lin Feng followed half a step behind Tang Bingyao. He laughed as she hopped around and said, “You kind of look like Kalista, hopping around like that.”
Tang Bingyao spun around and looked up at Lin Feng while walking backwards. “That pep talk you gave today really worked. Everyone was super motivated by it.”
“Of course they were!” Lin Feng chuckled. “I’m really good at giving pep talks too!”
“That last part really made it. ‘You still have me’. It sounded really cool, and you even looked cool! You never look cool!” Tang Bingyao smiled. Then her expression turned serious again. She stopped walking and held her hand up to Lin Feng’s chest to stop him. “So, what about your old teammate? Are you going to help Roundy too?”
High School 13’s esports team had a support pillar in Lin Feng. When they started worrying, he would reassure them. When they started freaking out, he would slap some sense into them. And when they gave up and lost their motivation, he would help remind them why they were doing this. He was always there to help them, not just by being a good player or coach, but also by being a good friend. Tian Tian had none of this in KG. He didn’t have a teammate he could rely on. They were all mentally broken, just like him. And they expected him to be their mental support! He was supposed to be their pillar! But Tian Tian was no pillar. If anything, he needed the mental support more than anyone else in KG!
Lin Feng smiled. For the first time in days, when Fatty was mentioned, he didn’t hide. He balled his fist and looked Tang Bingyao right in the eyes. “Hehe. Don’t worry. I know how I can help him. I finally figured it out!”
Lin Feng turned his key in the lock and opened the front door. He pushed the door open and yelled through the opening, “I’m home!”
“Sheesh! I get it, you’re back! Do you want a medal or something?” Su Xue snapped. She was wearing an apron and oven mitts as she came walking out of the kitchen with a large, piping-hot casserole dish. “Don’t be so noisy! And take your shoes off! We’re not animals!”
Su Xue put the casserole dish down on the dining table, and then wiped the sweat from her forehead. Dinner was ready. The bowls and chopsticks were set on the table, together with a wide variety of food. She had really worked hard on it over the last couple of hours. But it smells delicious! I’ve really outdone myself today! She smiled, proud and happy of her culinary skills. Then she turned to Lin Feng and said, “You’re home early. Everything ok?”
“Yeah! I’m good! Just really hungry!” Lin Feng replied. He brushed past her, throwing his bag on the ground, and sat down at the table. His mouth started salivating as the smell of pork reached his nose. He leaned forward and gave the casserole dish a big sniff. “Hmmm! Smells great!”
“What do you mean, it smells great? Of course it smells great! I made it!” Su Xue said. She was really happy with how this pork dish had come out of the oven. Then she pointed at the kitchen sink and added, “Now go and wash your hands! Then we can eat.”
Lin Feng didn’t need to be told twice. When there was food in the picture, he would do anything. He rushed to the sink and put his hands under the faucet. It could barely be considered washing them. He didn’t even bother drying them off as he ran back to the dining table and let himself fall on his chair, nearly toppling it over. Then he grabbed his bowl and filled it with pork. His stomach was rumbling and his mouth salivating. He grabbed his chopsticks and dug in.
“Hey hey! Don’t only eat the meat! I also made a really nice chicken soup! You have to try it. It took me several hours to make!” Su Xue protested as she watched Lin Feng wolf down the food.
Lin Feng didn’t even look up from his bowl. He shoveled more food into his mouth as he said, “Fanks, yur da besht!”
Su Xue rolled her eyes, then grabbed a napkin and cleaned the bits and pieces of food Lin Feng had spit out on the table. “Stop talking with your mouth full! It’s disgusting!” she complained. “And stop giving all these empty compliments! If you really want to show how thankful you are, stop being such a massive pain in the ass!”
Lin Feng completely ignored her. He filled his now empty bowl with the chicken soup, then put it to his mouth and started slurping. “Ah! Hot hot hot!” he yelped as he quickly put the bowl down. He grabbed his glass of coke and took a swig. “Aahhhh! That’s better. Wow, that was really hot! But it was also really delicious! You really went all out tonight!”
Su Xue grinned and shook her head. Idiot, is what she wanted to say. But she didn’t. He liked her food. She’d been working really hard on it for a good portion of the day and it just felt really satisfying to hear him say that he liked it. “Good! Drink it up! I better not see a single drop go to waste!”
Lin Feng looked up for a moment and said, “I’ll drink it all! And then I’ll eat the rest of the food too! Don’t worry, I’ll eat it all!” Then his full attention went back to the food on the table. He took a bite of pork and then another swig from the chicken soup, though only after blowing on it to cool it down a little.
Mhm, that’s right. Su Xue watched Lin Feng eat for a bit, resting her chin on her hands. Haha! I’ve never met anyone who can eat like that. He really is something else. But at least he does look a bit happier again. I really started worrying after the last few days. She smiled and asked, “Are you feeling a little better now?”
Lin Feng raised his head, a piece of pork hanging from his mouth, and asked, “Ghuh? Wha dju meen?”
Su Xue harrumphed. “What? You think I’m blind? Or do you think you were really good at hiding how absolutely miserable you’ve been looking the past few days? It looked like your pet had died or something. Just that you don’t have a pet, right? Anyway, I didn’t want to bother you. I figured it was best to let you figure this out on your own. But man, you kids these days really make a big deal out of every little thing! What can possibly have happened in your short life that was so bad?”
Lin Feng scratched the back of his head. He laughed, awkwardly. So that’s why she hasn’t been bothering me the last two days. I should’ve probably noticed it… “Uhm, ah… You see, it’s li–”
“It’s fine. Whatever. You don’t have to tell me,” Su Xue waved her hand and cut him off. Then she looked at him. She really looked at him. He had worried her. She wanted him to be happy and had to really hold herself back these last two days from acting like a concerned mother. “Did you deal with whatever has been on your mind? Are you all good again? There is nothing wrong with you, right? If there’s something I can do…”
Lin Feng nodded, but he still took an extra moment to think before answering her. He looked at her and said, “Yes. I’m all good again!”
Lin Feng went back to his room after dinner to do some homework. The teachers loved to swamp them with extra assignments to keep them busy during the holidays. He opened his book and started reading. It was a dull textbook with 200 pages he had to read before the end of the week. His eyelids felt heavy after the third page, and he couldn’t remember what he had read at all after the fifth. Realizing this wasn’t productive, he put the book aside, and after some thinking, grabbed his laptop. He pulled up his browser and started browsing League of Legends forums. Most posts were about Worlds and the less than stellar performance of the Chinese teams. As could be expected, KG got torn a new asshole, but even Hand of God who ended the first week with two wins and one loss wasn’t spared. The Chinese fans flamed them like it was their civic duty.
「lmao beat fate in msi and lose to them in worlds. just lpl things」
「Like seriously. HoG played like a bunch of fucking monkeys! They deserved to lose! I hope Dust isn’t going to be such a pile of steaming shit like KG and HoG!!!」
「They probably got cocky after winning the mid seasonal invitational tournament but didn’t realize that fate was sandbagging.」
The Chinese League of Legends fans made fun of Hand of God and complained about them, but most didn’t go beyond that. It was completely different for KG. There was no making fun of them, only complaints and harsh insults. But it could still be worse. Tian Tian could attest to that. His “fans” didn’t hold back one bit when it came to him. They’d revoked his status as the Uncrowned Eighth and he certainly wasn’t God Roundy anymore. But more painful than any of that were the insults they threw at him. They called him a waste of human life and much worse.
「number 1 top in the lpl? HA! What a fucking joke!!! and how the fuck does he dare to call himself the uncrowned eighth? he better hopes i don’t find him irl or ill give him more than a piece of my mind!!!1!!」
「fucking useless fatso. if he spent the time he eats practicing, he might actually be half decent」
「kg better see what a fucking waste of space he is! replace him! GET SOMEONE ELSE IN PLACE OF THIS PIECE OF SHIT!!!!!1!1!」
「anyone in london can go kick his ass? ill pay ¥10,000」
Everyone seemed to have conveniently forgotten that Tian Tian never called himself the Uncrowned Eighth. This was a title the fans had given him. It was even worse. Tian Tian had repeatedly said in interviewers he didn’t believe he was good enough to be considered the Uncrowned Eighth. He’d always said there were other players better and more deserving of such a title. But no one cared about that back then, and they certainly didn’t care about it right now.
Lin Feng gripped his mouse, the plastic of it creaking. He bit down on his lips as his eye started twitching. Page after page. Post after post. He read everything. His eyes turned bloodshot. That’s not true! That’s a lie! He closed his browser and lowered his head. I get why they’re upset. But this is completely unfair! Fatty did nothing wrong! He didn’t raise your expectations! He never asked for all this attention! He didn’t betray you. Your own hyped up hopes betrayed you!
This was the internet. A message was easily and anonymously posted. People would often forget that they were talking to or about real people. And that those people had feelings, just like anyone else. It didn’t matter how upset the Chinese fans were. Abusing Fatty like this just wasn’t right. Their feelings of disappointment were of their own doing! Then there were the haters and trolls, adding fuel to the fire. They had no filter and Lin Feng found it hard to read some of the messages they posted.
Lin Feng clenched his fist. His nails sunk into his flesh, but the pain didn’t register in his head. He smashed down on his bed, the soft recoil of the mattress only making him angrier. The Chinese fans were disappointed, he understood that! But that didn’t mean they had the right to write these things about Fatty! Fatty is probably alone and terrified of the world right now. They’ve always talked him up and up and up. Every little thing he did right, they exaggerated a thousand times over! And now he screws up one time and they all come down on him. This just isn’t right! They can’t do this to Fatty! Not after everything he’s done!
However, it didn’t matter what was right and wrong. Tian Tian had stepped into the limelight. He was one of the most, if not the most recognizable Chinese League of Legends player. Strangers were going to have their opinion, and the internet was an easy way to share that opinion with the world. There were millions of fans who counted on him to show up when it really mattered. They watched him with bated breath. But they never considered the pressure they put on him. All they saw was the halo of glory over his head. They were ignorant to the sweat on his face and the deep footprints he left behind.
Back in season 1, after losing in the finals of Worlds, a mentor Lin Feng deeply respected had told him, “A professional player will get criticized more than they get complimented. You better learn how to deal with that as early as possible.” He didn’t understand what these words meant, or even really listened to his mentor. He had already sunk into a spiral of guilt and self-blame. But now that same sentence played in his mind again. It started to make sense. He began to understand what his mentor had tried to tell him. Unfortunately, he had no way of contacting Fatty in London. No way to text him, call him, or send a private message. But he did have someone who could help him with that.
Lin Feng dialed the number of an old mentor who he last spoke to several years ago. He wasn’t even sure the number still belonged to him. The phone was ringing, so at least the number was still in use. It took a few more rings, but then a man picked up. A familiar voice rang out from the other side of the line, “Hmm? Who’s this?”
Lin Feng was quiet as he scratched his hair. He’d found the courage to call this number, but he hadn’t thought of what he would say. This brief moment of hesitation brought the emotions he’d been repressing for the past four years creeping back to the front of his mind. They hit him like a truck. His eyes felt wet and a lump appeared in his throat. He coughed and wiped away the tears with his sleeve. Then he weakly said, “H-hey… it’s me.”
There was no response, just silence. Then, the man started chuckling, a bit bemused. “Oh? Wow, It’s you! Here I thought you’d walked away for good. I never thought you’d call this number again.”