“Net Cafe Battle Bonanza?” Lin Feng scratched his head. “I didn’t think we’d be playing in a tournament the moment we started. And we have to go around to different internet cafes, challenging them? That sounds like a pain, especially when it’s so cold outside. Why can’t they all just come to us? That’ll be so much easier, and it’ll be more fun that way!”
Zeng Rui, An Xin, and the others all nodded in agreement.
Qian Lu looked confused at first, and then shocked. Lin Feng watched as the expressions raced across Qian Lu’s face. Eventually Qian Lu composed himself and yelped. “Nononono! You guys don’t have to go anywhere! All you have to do is stay here and defend our precious NetCow Cafe!” He shook his head frantically to underscore his statement. Then he took a deep breath and calmed down enough to explain the situation to everyone. “You see, there are several prizes available in the Battle Bonanza. The main prize, and the biggest one, is the Conqueror Award. This is given out to the team who goes out to battle other internet cafe teams and dominates all of them. But there is another prize, and that’s the one that I have my eye on, the Immovable Mt. Tai Award! As the name implies, the award is given out for defense. The internet cafe that successfully defends itself from challengers wins. There’s no need for you guys to go anywhere for us to win the Immovable Mt. Tai award. All you guys have to do is stay here and make sure that none of the roaming teams win! You just need to stay here, don’t go anywhere!”
“Oh, got it!” Lin Feng said. His eyes lit up. “That makes things way easier! Whenever one of them comes to pick a fight with us, we’ll just crush them! It’s that simple, right guys?”
Zeng Rui noticed something shifty in Qian Lu’s eyes during the whole talk about the defense award. He thought through all of the information, and realized that there was indeed something fishy going on. He glared at Qian Lu with an expression of doubt. “Hm… If my guess is on the mark here, a lot of the other internet cafes signed up for the Conqueror Award, correct?”
Qian Lu nodded and smiled. ‘Correct you are, sir! The last time I checked, I believe there were 28 other internet cafes that signed up to compete for the Conqueror Award. But there may be more now.”
Zeng Rui did some quick math in his head and then said, “Alright. Let’s assume that some of the people who signed up dropped out because they couldn’t put a team together. We can also assume that a few more people also signed up after you saw the list. From that, the safe number to go with is 24 teams who are competing for the Conqueror Award. Now if that number holds, that’s 24 matches for us to play. And you’re paying us ¥500 for every match we win, as per the deal we just agreed to. That brings us to the question at the heart of this. Even if we win the Immovable Mt. Tai Award, how exactly are you planning on making a return on this investment in us?”
Zeng Rui’s quick and analytical mind had pierced through the fog that Qian Lu was trying to blow, and hit the problem at the very core. There was no possible way that the prize money for an internet cafe tournament could possibly exceed a five figure number. If Lin Feng’s team won every single one of their matches, the amount of money to be made was astronomical. Combined with the base stipend, they could easily make ¥25,000. Or more. Numbers like that meant that not only would Qian Lu not make a return on this investment, he’d be taking a loss.
Zhang Hao wasn’t as quick as Zeng Rui. But he was no slouch when it came to money. He figured out what Zeng Rui was hinting towards and also jumped into the conversation, “Yeah! What’s up with that? I thought a small humble business owner like you couldn’t afford to take a loss?”
Tang Bingyao never made mistakes when it came to money. She figured out something was amiss around the same time that Zeng Rui did. But he spoke up first, so she continued to watch Qian Lu for any further suspicious activity.
Qian Lu rubbed his hands and awkwardly smiled. “Oh-hohoho-hahahaha! Well… You see… It’s like this, the prize is one thing and the money that comes with it is nice. But sometimes, there are more benefits than the tangible ones in front of you. For this, well, the truth is that the real money is somewhere else entirely.”
Zeng Rui, Zhang Hao, and Tang Bingyao tried to get the truth out of Qian Lu. But he continued to deflect away from it and tried to cover up the deflections with his awkward laughter. It was clear to everyone in the room that Qian Lu had absolutely no intention of revealing his true reasons for participating in the Net Cafe Battle Bonanza. But everyone understood that Qian Lu was a businessman, and a shrewd one at that. There was no realm in which he’d accept a financial loss for no reason. He had a goal. And if it wasn’t the actual prize money, it was something else.
Lin Feng listened to the back-and-forth for a while, but it was clear from his expression that he couldn’t care less about Qian Lu’s schemes. Eventually, he decided enough was enough and stepped in to say, “Hey! Guys! Why do you even care? We’re getting paid to play League! What more could you want? That’s good enough for us, let’s just be happy with it.” Lin Feng waved a hand at Zeng Rui to tell him to let it go. Whatever hidden agenda Qian Lu had in mind was not something that was of any interest to Lin Feng. He was itching for some good competition after spending the last few days relaxing with nothing to do.
Zeng Rui, Zhang Hao, and Tang Bingyao looked at each other to decide what to do. Then they looked at An Xin, who gave them a very small nod. They looked back at Lin Feng, then again at each other before slowly nodding in agreement.
Zeng Rui broke the tense silence. “Alright, yes. Perhaps the Thundering Dumbass is right. There’s no point to overthinking, which is what we’re doing. Lin Feng doesn’t care because he doesn’t think about anything, let alone overthinking them. Playing in this tournament should be more than enough for us, and we’re getting paid for it too. Why look a gift horse in the mouth? Besides, we won the Collegiate Cup! This should be easy for us! Now let’s get into it. According to Qian Lu, the official start date of the Internet Cafe Battle Bonanza is this weekend. That means we’ve got about four days to prepare.”
Everyone nodded as Zeng Rui paused to massage his temples. They knew that when he did that, he was cooking up a plan for them. “Since that’s the case, let’s get as much practice as we can right now. I want us all back in competition shape by the end of this week!”
Lin Feng wasn’t the only one who’d been getting bored over winter break after the Collegiate Cup. Zeng Rui was also itching for a fight, and everyone could see the fire blazing in his eyes now that there was a good one ahead of them.
But in an interesting turn of events, the first challengers that Lin Feng and the others had to face appeared before the start of the Net Cafe Battle Bonanza. It all started the next day, as they were preparing to start their practice session. The door of their private room opened, and Qian Lu walked in with a group of people behind him. All of them were somewhere between 22 and 25 years old. But they walked in with swagger and arrogance, and they glared at Lin Feng and the others with contempt in their eyes.
Lin Feng looked at Qian Lu and yelled, “Oh! Heya Ol’ Qian!”
Qian Lu smiled. “Ah, you’re already starting practice now? You guys are so hard working.”
Zeng Rui looked at the young men behind Qian Lu with a raised eyebrow. “Sure. And these people are…?”
Qian Lu wiped the sweat off his brow and explained, “Well, they’re also frequent customers of this internet cafe. When they heard you guys were practicing for the Battle Bonanza, they said they wanted to come in and take a look.”
Take a look? Zhang Hao looked at the group of young men and curled his lips. My ass… These guys are obviously looking for a fight.
One of the young men who was at the front of the group stepped forward. He had a toothpick in his mouth that he was playing with as he glanced around at Lin Feng and the others. Then he glared imperiously at Qian Lu and said, “These… children? Really? You recruited these guys to represent our internet cafe instead of us? You thought they could put up a better fight than we could? Really? I’m hurt.”
Another one of the young men in the group chimed in, “Right! They still look like they’re in high school. Shouldn’t they be studying hard for the college entrance exams, not fooling around playing video games? We’d be way better!”
The young man with the toothpick turned to Qian Lu and said with a smile, “You know what really hurts me, Ol’ Qian? Now this might be a misunderstanding, but what I’m understanding here is that you think these kids are better than us. That hurts me so much it makes my heart weep. Is that really what you think? Do you want to hurt me like that after everything we’ve been through Ol’ Qian?”
Qian Lu broke into an amiable smile. “Hey, how could you say it like that? It’s not about better or worse. I tried to recruit you guys! But when I came to you guys and asked you to defend our internet cafe, you weren’t happy with my offer. I’m just the humble owner of a small internet cafe business. There was no way I could afford to pay what you were asking!”
The young man with a toothpick smiled. “You have to understand. We weren’t asking you to pay us more. We just wanted fair compensation. After all, you get what you pay for. These kids accepted your offer, right?” He turned to look at Lin Feng and the others, his expression brimming with disdain. Then he turned back to Qian Lu and smiled. “Sure, it’s cheaper to recruit these kids, but can they really compare with the real deal?”