“Yes, it’s really me. Now open that door. What are you waiting for? Come on, open it up already,” Tian Tian’s mentor said.
“O-oh, right! S-sorry,” Tian Tian replied, flustered. He pushed open the toilet stall door just enough that he could stick his head out. Then he wiped his face clean again with his sleeve before peeking through the opening. A familiar figure leaned against the wall on the other side. It really is him! His eyes went wide as he pushed the door wide open and stepped out. “Uhm.” He started playing with his fingers while looking down at the floor. “W-why are you here?”
“Because a little bird told me you had another nervous breakdown. They had a pretty compelling story. Got me curious. So, Worlds hasn’t gone your way, huh?” The man pushed himself off against the wall and looked right at Fatty. He started smiling and mocked, “Crying in bathroom stalls has become your thing, huh? Do you come and decorate the place before you move in?”
Tian Tian stepped back, his back touching the bathroom stall. He scratched his forehead and lowered his head as far as he could to hide the tears.
The man stopped smiling. He’d tried to lighten the mood with a little joke, but it hadn’t worked. How many times have I been here… He started to feel frustrated. “I keep trying to hammer this into your thick skull, but it just doesn’t seem to register. Alright, let’s try this again. Tian Tian, what is the most important quality a professional player absolutely must have?”
“Exactly! Mental fortitude, confidence, whatever you want to call it. You’ve always been a worrywort, I know that. Remember, I’m the one who’s helped you deal with it all the way up until the end of Season 3… But I don’t know what to say. The you I see right now? You look like a pathetic fat sack of tears. I’ve never seen you look this bad. What happened? How did it get this bad? Where is the best Toplaner in China? Where’d he go? Show me him.”
Tian Tian shook his head. He kept shaking it as he started tearing up again. “N-no. I’ve n-never asked for any of this! T-there is only m-me here! I-i don’t want any of this.”
“If you wanted none of this, you could’ve retired. Just walked away. But did you? No. You’re still here. So you do want to play. And when you play? You’re really good. Fans are going to cheer for you. It’s that simple. Instead of trying to get them to stop cheering for you, why don’t you try and live up to their expectations? China only has one King and no Emperors. You could easily become the second King from our region. It’s a shame you can’t see that. You could be the hero of the LPL. Have you never thought of making your fans proud? And don’t come with that bullshit excuse of not wanting this or not having asked for it or whatever it is you keep saying. You’ve had 5 years to walk away. You’re still here.”
Tian Tian wiped the tears from his face and looked up at his mentor before quickly looking back down again. He reached behind his back and searched for the edge of the stall door. Then he pulled lightly on it while also fighting the urge to jump back in. In there it was safe. In there no one could see him. In there he could be himself B-but I can’t disappoint him… He didn’t hide away, not yet at least, and instead muttered under his breath, “I-i’m not good enough. I can’t make anyone p-proud…”
“Yes, you are good enough. Yes, you can make people proud. And yes, you are really good at this game. Like, really good. But you’re so stuck in your own head that you can’t see the world around you anymore. You can’t even see what’s right in front of you.” Tian Tian’s mentor clicked his tongue. “I’ve told you this before. Quite a few times, actually. But I’ll say it one more time, just in case you’ve forgotten. You have the talent, Tian Tian. You do. If you stop fighting with yourself and set your heart to it, you can become a King, maybe even an Emperor!”
Tian Tian looked up at his mentor, for the first time meeting his eyes. His hand slipped from the door stall and balled into a fist. But then he let go. He reached almost instinctively out for the stall door again and pulled it open while his gaze fell back on the floor tiles. He took a step back, hiding half his body behind the stall door, and said, “N-no no no no! I’m not good enough. O-only… Only lin Feng could fight an Emperor! L-lin Feng…” His teeth started chattering and his lips quivering. He shut his eyes and started crying, “L-lin Feng! W-w-where are you? I miss you! I-i miss him!”
The last couple of days Tian Tian had forced his mind back to Season 1. It was the last time he really enjoyed playing League of Legends. The last time he was truly happy. He was also a nervous wreck back then. But he had real teammates who cared for him. When they saw he was down, they would help him back up. They were his rock. And Lin Feng was the person he could count on the most. Lin Feng lifted up the mood in a room just by being there. Whenever he needed to eat his stress away, Lin Feng was there with his big, goofy smile and a tray of food. But Lin Feng wasn’t here anymore, nor were any of his other teammates from Season 1. They’d all quit and had left him alone. Now, there was no one he could eat with.
“Oh, you’re talking about Maple. Funny you mention him. You know, he’s the reason I’m here. I got a message from him for you.”
Tian Tian’s eyes went wide. Tears were still streaming down his face, but he started smiling. He pushed himself out of the bathroom stall and even took a step towards his mentor. “A-a message from Lin Feng? Really? What did he say? Did you speak to him? Is he doing ok? Where is he?”
“Yes, really. I got asked to pass on a message from that kid. And for some reason, I stupidly agreed. I left my nice resort in Barcelona and flew all the way here to meet you. This morning I was still enjoying the sun, and now I’m in this land of rain. Stupid rain, reminds me of four years ago…” He looked at Tian Tian and grinned, “Now that I’m here, though… Eh, I’ve changed my mind.”
“What did Lin Feng say? Huh? W-what do you m-mean?”
“Hmm. Yup. I’m way too good to be a messenger boy. If that kid wants to say something to you, he can do it himself.” Tian Tian’s mentor took his phone from his pocket and dialed a number, grinning as he looked at Tian Tian’s face that kept alternating between fear and confusion.
The qualification round of the Shanghai 16 School Tournament was held at a branch of the NetCow Cafe in downtown Shanghai. The place was packed with people. More than 70 teams were looking to secure one of the 16 spots for the main tournament. Their first step was a group stage, where they would play against three other teams. To make sure everyone got through their matches before the end of the day, the Chinese Esports Association had reserved the entire internet cafe, and they had rearranged the computers so that there were islands of two rows of five computers throughout the place. This made it possible for 10 matches to be played simultaneously.
At 7 pm on the dot, the first 20 teams took their places behind the monitors. Everyone else took a step back so as to not disturb the teams. They walked around the internet cafe in search for the most interesting matches or to scout out their next opponents. A small crowd gathered around the teams from High School 13 and High School 3. They started quietly discussing the champions and team compositions, and their expert opinion on who would win the game.
Lin Feng stood with Ren Rou and Ouyang next to a gaming station. The match was already 15 minutes underway. In the first few minutes, Ren Rou was biting on her nails and Ouyang was hopping up and down on his feet as though he had to pee really bad. But both of them had calmed down as the laning phase came to an end. This was because High School 13 was playing really well. Ouyang and Ren Rou even started laughing and cheering as their team took first Dragon and destroyed two enemy towers! Then Tang Bingyao got a double kill on her Tristana. She already was 6/0/3. Ouyang and Ren Rou forgot the last of their worries as their nerves finally settled down. They had this first game in the bag!
Ren Rou and Ouyang had every reason to celebrate. High School 3 was no pushover. They had reached the second round of the qualifiers last year and were rumoured to be a strong contender again this year. But High School 13 still ran all over them with flawless teamwork. It only took them 15 minutes to build up such a big lead that it was harder to lose the game than it was to win it!
Lin Feng wasn’t celebrating with Ren Rou and Ouyang. He wasn’t even paying any attention to the game. He trusted the team, and besides, there was something more pressing on his mind. It should be just past noon in London. KG is up next game… He’d memorized the schedule. KG would play in the second match of the day against North America’s Flash. Fatty should be getting ready for his game. Why haven’t I heard anything yet? Did he not get to Fatty in time?
Just as his worries started gnawing at him, Lin Feng’s phone started buzzing. He took it out of his pocket and looked at the caller ID. It was a foreign number he didn’t recognize. Is this? His heart started racing as the crowd around him suddenly sounded incredibly loud. He searched around for somewhere quiet, but the internet cafe was packed. There was no time. He sprinted out the front door and picked up the call. “Hello? Who’s this?”
“Hey, Maple! It’s been too long. Your voice hasn’t changed a bit! Haha! Do you still remember me? Ah, doesn’t matter. Hey, I’m here at Worlds with Fatty. You wanted to say something to him, right? Here, I’ll give him the phone. You two talk.”
Lin Feng heard the voice. It sounded familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it. Before he could figure out who it was, a second voice interjected from the other side of the line. This one he did recognize instantly. He would recognize it anywhere. It was as quiet and timid as he remembered it to be. “L-lin Feng, i-is that you?”
Lin Feng froze. Fatty! It’s you! I, I… His throat felt dry and his head started spinning. He didn’t know what to say as his eyes became wet. That same voice he knew so well sounded out again, now a little more nervous. “Hey. A-are you there? P-please, say something!”
Lin Feng took a deep breath, then wiped the tears from his eyes. He swallowed down the lump in his throat and forced out a big, goofy smile. “Yo Fatty! Long time no talk! How’ve you been holding up?”
In the backstage area of the Wembley Arena in London, Fatty sat with his back against a bathroom stall. He was barely keeping it together. His hands were shaking as he held the phone to his ear. When his mentor had given him the phone, he couldn’t believe Lin Feng was really on the other side. But now that he had heard that voice. The voice he’d been longing to hear for the last four years, he knew it was Lin Feng. It all became too much for him. He started bawling his eyes out. “L-lin Feng, it’s really you! Y-you don’t know how much I missed you! I c-c-can’t take it anymore. T-the pressure is killing me! Where are you?”
Friendships and Losing Touch
Shanks Thought: I knew a guy who sort of pulled a Lin Feng on our friend group. He was a League of Legends player called Azingy. He had a brief stint as a starting player for Dignitas. But he kind of bombed his debut as a pro player. He went into a game as a jungle Vi with AP runes, and was pretty low impact in the other games he played. When he eventually did get replaced, he completely disappeared from the internet and cut contact with all of us. So, I guess this kind of thing really does happen. I recently learned down the grapevine that he’s doing pretty okay for himself and making a living boosting accounts. But it still makes me sad that he just stopped talking to all of us like that.
Sietse Thought: When I was in elementary school, a good friend of mine moved across the country. This was like group 3 or 4, when you’re about 7–8 years old. I was too young to really understand that this basically meant we would lose touch, especially since we didn’t have iphones back then. But I’ll always remember the last weekend we spent together. They moved to a farm. The walls were really thin and his brother slept in the room right above us. We were tired after running around for most of the day, so we fell asleep almost right away. The next morning at breakfast was when we got the news of the discussions my friend and I’d held in our sleep. It’d kept his brother up all night. My friend kept going on about a pet he didn’t have, while I was (apparently quite literally) screaming at my mother that I didn’t want to go to school, and that I wanted to sleep a little longer. It was so strange to hear that I apparently talk in my sleep. I’m actually still conscious about that when I sleep near other people, where I get afraid to say something stupid. Silly as that all might sound, that weekend really ended up being the last time I saw the guy. We briefly reconnected over Facebook years later, but it just wasn’t the same anymore and we ended up losing touch completely.