They had practice matches later in the day, so Lu Boyuan stopped streaming after less than three hours.
But that didn’t stop his stream replay from being downloaded by countless people who edited and compiled together his conversation with Jian Rong, along with all of his responses to the “partner”-related questions. Then, they uploaded and shared the videos with their brothers and sisters on the internet. It didn’t take long before it ended up on the hot search.
Ding-ge didn’t take any measures to address this. At this point, it was too hypocritical of them to suppress the hot search or deny anything. In the first place, they were simply an esports team, and he also had more pressing issues at hand to deal with.
They had three practice matches scheduled in the afternoon. By the time they were done, it was already dark outside, and the streetlights were just beginning to flicker on.
Lu Boyuan was treating them to takeout tonight. The delivery driver’s call came in, and Lu Boyuan answered it briefly before he went downstairs to retrieve the food. Ding-ge was afraid that his hand couldn’t lift something that heavy, and since he had business to discuss with Lu Boyuan as well, he went down to help him before Jian Rong could.
Xiao Bai stood up and gave a huge stretch. “I can’t, I can’t. I’m so hungry that I don’t even know how to throw out my hook anymore.”
Jian Rong closed the match overview. “Do you think that can excuse you from the fact that you only landed two hooks this entire game?”
Xiao Bai wasn’t ashamed in the slightest about his innumerable foolish plays in the last game. “My ge said before that you can’t blame your teammates for losing a game… but does my ge only listen to you now?”
As they were talking, Jian Rong unplugged his and Lu Boyuan’s peripherals before he gathered them up in his arms and got ready to return to the practice room.
Xiao Bai assessed his behavior and questioned curiously, “Or are you the one who listens to my ge?”
At the end of his patience, Jian Rong set down the peripherals and tugged up his short sleeves, revealing his skinny arms. “Why don’t you ask my fist that question.”
In the end, the fight didn’t erupt, because Xiao Bai bolted and vanished.
That evening, everyone ate dinner while watching MSI’s play-in stage1.
Although the Spring Split champion of every competitive region could participate in the “League of Legends’ Mid-Season Invitational,” not every league’s champion could directly enter the group stage.
There were twelve professional leagues and twelve spring champions. Only six teams could participate in the main event.
Of those six spots, four were fixed: the LPL, the professional league for mainland China; the LCK, the professional league for Korea; the LEC, the professional league for Europe; and the LCS, the professional league for North America.
Because of their outstanding performance at last year’s Worlds, these four professional leagues were qualified to immediately enter MSI’s group stage.
The other eight “wildcard teams” would need to fight for the last two remaining places via the play-in stage.
Wildcard teams referred to teams from professional leagues that didn’t have a mature LoL competitive system yet. As a whole, the competitive regions that these teams belonged to weren’t very strong, so they weren’t allocated much in terms of the prize pool. For example, these leagues included VCS, the professional region for Vietnam; LJL, the professional region for Japan; and the TCL, the professional region for Turkey.
To put it simply: the weaker teams competed first.
In order to participate in the play-in stage, these teams had arrived in Korea earlier. The play-in stage had already advanced to the second match, in which Japan was playing against Turkey.
Before this, Jian Rong didn’t even really watch the LPL’s tournaments, much less those of the wildcard regions. So he had only ever heard other people say that these teams were quite weak; this was still his first time watching them compete in an official tournament.
He watched as three players from Japan’s team surrounded Turkey’s top laner.
Turkey’s jungler seemed to have a premonition that something was about to happen, and he instantly relinquished the monster at hand and hurried towards the top lane.
Yuan Qian swallowed a bite of his chicken drumstick. “This jungler has pretty decent awareness…”
Before he could finish, there was a whoosh—Turkey’s jungler flashed in an attempt to save his encircled teammate and collided into the wall.
Jian Rong: “…”
Xiao Bai ducked his head and shoveled some rice into his mouth. “Damn, brilliant move!”
Lu Boyuan sat cross-legged, with his knee pressed firmly against Jian Rong’s thigh.
Seeing the bemused “how did these teams even make it into the international competition” written across Jian Rong’s face, Lu Boyuan said in amusement, “The LPL has never lost a single match in the play-in stages before.”
He paused briefly before adding, “That’s including Squid. They also won all their games against wildcard teams.”
Jian Rong raised an eyebrow and immediately understood the strength level of the wildcard regions.
Originally, it seemed like the Turkish jungler’s terrible play would be enough to blow up the early game, but unexpectedly, both teams’ junglers encountered each other again in the jungle two minutes later. Despite being a level higher, the Japanese jungler was solo killed.
Yuan Qian: “As long as there’s a little mistake, this skill will be able to land on someone.”
Pine lowered his eyes and took a sip of coffee. “After a year, they’re still staying true to themselves.”
“You know, I really do want to play against them.” Xiao Bai grinned. “Look how cheerful they are.”
“Don’t worry, there’ll be plenty of opportunities for you guys to play.” Ding-ge walked into the room, holding his phone. “The visas are settled, I’m planning on booking the flight for next Wednesday.”
Jian Rong paused in the middle of eating. “Next Wednesday? So soon?”
“Yeah, of course we have to go over early to prepare for international competitions.” Ding-ge noticed that something was off about his expression. “What’s wrong? Do you have plans?”
Jian Rong swiftly opened the calendar on his phone and glanced at it before he let out an almost imperceptible sigh of relief and shook his head. “No, I don’t.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Lu Boyuan spotted the note written on Jian Rong’s phone calendar. It consisted of merely a few words that he wasn’t able to read clearly due to their small size; he was only certain that the note was for the 6th, or next Tuesday.
By the time Jian Rong locked his phone and looked over, Lu Boyuan had already focused his gaze back on the low-level match being broadcasted in front of them.
The team members had all gone wild on their days off: they could keep their room doors shut for two whole days, and they could cover an entire table with Ace of Spades champagne.
But as soon as their break was over, every person calmed down and holed up in the practice room. Even Lu Boyuan was constantly on the verge of ignoring the doctor’s advice as he repeatedly tested his limits. He would only smile helplessly and turn off his computer once Jian Rong sent him a message and started observing his games.
This lasted until the day before they were set to depart for Korea—in other words, May 6th.
At eight in the morning, Jian Rong quietly opened his bedroom door. He tugged down the hat on his head and tiptoed downstairs, wanting to grab some cookies and milk for the road. The moment he entered the kitchen, he smelled the aroma of coffee.
When Jian Rong pushed open the door and saw the man fiddling with the coffee machine, his sleepy eyes gradually brightened, though they were also somewhat stunned.
Lu Boyuan was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and long pants, and his hair was still a bit messy. At the noise, he cast a light look over from the corner of his eye and said, “You’re up early.”
Jian Rong snapped out of it. “Mn, I have to go out to take care of something.”
Lu Boyuan had just woken up as well, and his voice was a little raspy. “Where are you going?”
Jian Rong was silent for quite a few seconds before he finally said, “To visit my parents. It’s the anniversary of their death today.”
Lu Boyuan had already guessed as much, so he wasn’t surprised to hear that.
He nodded. “Come drink some coffee, I brewed you a cup. After you finish it, I’ll drive you over.”
Jian Rong subconsciously said, “It’s a three hour round trip there and back. You don’t have to, I called a taxi…”
“I’ll drive you.” Lu Boyuan interrupted him, “I should make a trip to see them.”
Because of his serious illness, Jian Rong’s grandpa couldn’t leave the hospital back when he was still here. After so many years, this was the first time someone was accompanying Jian Rong to pay respects.
On the way there, Lu Boyuan pulled the car over to the side of the road and parked before he got out and bought a bundle of white lilies.
Jian Rong sat in the passenger seat, holding the heady and fragrant flowers. His nose twitched, and he couldn’t help but glance at Lu Boyuan.
Lu Boyuan held the steering wheel with one hand. He asked him lazily, “What is it.”
“Nothing.” Jian Rong withdrew his gaze and said softly, “I’ve never bought them flowers before.”
Lu Boyuan gave an “en.” “I’ll buy it for them from now on.”
Caught off guard, Jian Rong replied with an indistinct “okay” before he turned his head to look out the window.
The perfect amount of sunlight was out today. It pierced through the window and landed in the depths of Jian Rong’s eyes, reflecting an expanse of brightness.
Although Jian Rong didn’t buy flowers, he did purchase offerings from outside.
At the grave, he silently laid out the offerings. Then, he greeted, “Mom, Dad.”
Every time Jian Rong came to pay his respects, he was very quiet and hardly ever said anything. But today, he hesitated briefly before continuing, “I brought someone with me today…”
The bundle of white lilies was placed in front of the tombstone. Lu Boyuan gave a simple bow and introduced himself even more seriously than he ever did when he was on stage in front of a worldwide audience. “Hello, Uncle and Auntie. My name is Lu Boyuan, and I’m Jian Rong’s boyfriend.”
Jian Rong was in the middle of pouring rice wine for his dad. Upon hearing that, his hand tilted to the side, and he spilled a little bit of alcohol.
Lu Boyuan took the bottle of rice wine from him and steadily filled the cup to the brim.
The tombstone was cleaned periodically, so all they had to do was wipe down the tombstone once; it didn’t take much effort.
Jian Rong sat on the ground and stared at the photos on the tombstone for a long time before he stood up and said, “Let’s go back.”
It was getting quite late in the morning, which was enough torment in and of itself.
Moreover, Jian Rong believed that he didn’t have to rely entirely on a tombstone to maintain his relationship with his parents. If he kept the people he missed inside of his heart, they would exist there forever.
They still had a lot of time left after they returned to the car, so they held a quick discussion and decided to check in on Little Orange on their way back.
Now that winter had passed, Little Orange didn’t need to remain in the animal clinic every day anymore. In the first place, stray cats simply refused to stay put for very long.
The animal clinic employee told them that Little Orange had just dropped by half an hour earlier to mooch off some food and water, and that they should look for the cat nearby.
By the time Jian Rong found Little Orange, that guy was scuffling with another stray cat, taking advantage of the fat that he had gained from eating and drinking well the entire winter.
An orange cat and a white cat writhed around on the ground, tangled inextricably together in a fight. A few harsh yowls occasionally drifted out as well.
Lu Boyuan lifted his eyebrow. He was about to approach and rescue their son when Jian Rong grabbed his arm and stopped him.
Jian Rong said, “Let them fight.”
The words “if you can’t beat this white cat then you don’t need to eat this can of food I’m holding” seemed to be written across his face.
Lu Boyuan said, amused, “What if he gets hurt?”
“He’s a stray anyway.” Jian Rong said, “If he doesn’t win this time, he’ll always be bullied by this damn white cat from now on.”
As Lu Boyuan looked at those two brawling cats, his mind suddenly substituted them out for two humans, and he couldn’t help but avert his face to let out a soft huff of laughter.
Jian Rong frowned. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing.” Resisting the urge to laugh, Lu Boyuan said lightly to the orange cat, “Baby, you got this.”
Not long after, the white cat fled in defeat, leaving behind Little Orange and a bunch of cat fur scattered across the floor.
Little Orange licked his fur in satisfaction. Then, he walked over to Lu Boyuan, rubbed his tail vigorously against his legs, and strolled around him in a circle before he finally raised his head and meowed half-heartedly at Jian Rong.
Jian Rong: “…”
Jian Rong directly picked him up by the scruff of his neck and said, “You’re so fat that I can’t even lift you up anymore.”
“That little white cat is only half your size, yet it still took you so long to beat it. How shameful is that, hah?”
“Try hissing at me one more time, and I won’t let you eat canned food ever again this year.”
Little Orange stared at him for a while before he shifted his gaze to peer at Lu Boyuan.
Lu Boyuan had crouched down as well. One hand was propped up on his knee, and there was a smile in his eyes underneath the brim of his hat. “Don’t look at me, he’s the one in charge.”
Jian Rong’s pulse quickened a little. He felt Little Orange turn to face him again before he butted his head into Jian Rong’s palm.
Jian Rong: “…grow up.”
Ding-ge called them right after they finished feeding Little Orange, urging them to return for a practice match.
Lu Boyuan drove back to the base, parked, and turned off the car. As Jian Rong was unbuckling his seatbelt, he spotted some cat fur stuck to Lu Boyuan’s arm.
When Jian Rong reached out and brushed it off, Lu Boyuan released the steering wheel and latched onto his hand, dragging him a bit closer.
Practice was too exhausting lately, so Jian Rong hadn’t gone back to Lu Boyuan’s room. They had almost no alone time together.
They kissed quietly in the car for several minutes. It wasn’t particularly passionate; they were just like two cats that had been placed into separate cages for a few days, and they rubbed against each other now, marking their scent on the other.
The next day, TTC got in their coach bus and departed for Korea.
“The competition is only two weeks long.” Ding-ge stared at Xiao Bai’s luggage in bewilderment. “Why are you bringing two suitcases?!”
“I brought a lot of sauce to mix into my food.” Xiao Bai asked the person sitting in a row ahead of him, “Qian-ge, how come your phone keeps going off?”
“Ai, it’s my wife. She and her girlfriends want me to help buy some things for them. Since the moment I woke up, the messages haven’t stopped pouring in…” Yuan Qian paused before he glanced behind him and negotiated, “Since you’re bringing two suitcases, can I borrow one to put stuff in on our way back?”
“No problem.” Xiao Bai lowered his head and browsed through Weibo. As he was scrolling, he came across an advertisement that his ge had just posted an hour ago.
He slid past it absent-mindedly. All of a sudden, he furrowed his brows and scrolled back up—
Lu Boyuan had changed the profile picture that he had been using ever since the creation of his Weibo account.
His new profile picture was of an orange cat being lifted by the scruff of its neck. The hand holding it up was thin and slender, and if you enlarged the photo, you could see a small tuft of blue hair belonging to the hand’s owner enter the shot.
Lu Boyuan’s intentions couldn’t have been any more obvious or prideful. He might as well have written out in his personal bio: “Hello everyone this is the Weibo account for TTC Soft’s boyfriend.”
Xiao Bai abruptly remembered how back when Yuan Qian and Youyou had switched to matching couple profile pictures, Youyou’s comment section had been flamed so horribly that she was forced to turn off her comments on Weibo for a very long time. It had only gotten a bit better in the past few years.
There were already over 4,000 comments underneath Lu Boyuan’s new advertisement post. Usually, this kind of post wouldn’t even reach a thousand comments.
Xiao Bai originally thought the comment section was going to be a sea of insults, but much to his surprise—
[This cat is so slender… I mean, this cat is so fat.]
[That tuft of blue cat fur isn’t too bad.]
[Road, can you help me ask this dumbass bluecat2 why he isn’t streaming?]
[Click on the profile picture to see the location of TTC’s mid laner and jungler’s date!]
[Hehehe MSI is right around the corner and you two still run out to go on a date, how disgusting. You’re going to this year’s MSI for nothing.]
[Mhm OP this dumbass is right, pro players should sit in front of their computers 24 hours a day and not go anywhere else. A date? Oh please, it’s wrong to even fart, okay!]
Xiao Bai exited out of the comment section. The number of comments refreshed: there were already 5,000 now.
Xiao Bai couldn’t help but glance over to the right, where their team’s mid laner and jungler were sitting shoulder to shoulder, watching a match recording together. He retracted his gaze and peeked at Pine, who was in the seat next to him.
Pine was wearing earphones in one ear. Without lifting his head, he said, “What is it?”
“P-baby.” Xiao Bai leaned in towards him and proposed quietly, “Should we also switch to matching profile pictures?”
Pine paused and turned to look at him.
Xiao Bai: “Look at my ge. His comments on Weibo immediately skyrocketed after he changed his profile picture. What financier daddy could resist that?”
Pine lowered his gaze and faced away from him. “No.”
“If I change it, how am I supposed to find a partner?”
“Find…” Xiao Bai trailed off and blinked a few times. “You want to find a partner now?”
Pine didn’t answer him.
Xiao Bai clicked his tongue and sat back in his seat as he thought, Fine, don’t change it then.
He gazed at the headrest in front of him for a while before he turned his head again. “Why do you want to find a partner all of a sudden? Has someone caught your eye? Who? Tell me, I can help you go after…”
Pine said, “You can’t help.”
Xiao Bai stared at Pine’s downcast eyelashes for several seconds. Then, he let out an “oh” and silently shifted back into his original position.
The instant Jian Rong got out of the car at the airport, he saw fans holding signs with their team name or team members’ IDs printed on them.
When the fans spotted TTC, they suppressed their screams and called out the members’ names softly. The fans were extremely organized and maintained a small distance from the team.
The other members’ fans were all saying things like “ahhh God Lu,” “Pine look at me look at me,” “Xiao Bai you got skinnier again,” and “Qian good luck at the competition.”
As for Jian Rong’s fans—
“Dumbass, you better play well.”
“If you really can’t beat them, it’s okay. Whatever you do, don’t get into a fight. You’re in a foreign country, so you should just admit defeat.”
Upon hearing that, the other team members and their fans kept snickering and laughing.
“Son, take care of yourself overseas. If you have nothing better to do, you can stream—it can be that kind of daily lifestyle stream. Your dads will keep you company and chat with you.”
It really did freaking seem like they were seeing their son off at the airport.
Jian Rong stopped in place with a glower on his face. He turned his head and asked, “It’s a weekday… do none of you have work or school?”
“We do.” The male fan at the front clicked his tongue. “This is just because all the other members’ fans said that they had to send you guys off at the airport. We thought about it and decided that we couldn’t let you lose too much face, so we came to shout some things for the heck of it. We’ll leave after we see you go through security.”
Jian Rong: “…”
The male fan said: “How about you sign an autograph for the heck of it too? That way, I can let my brothers on Tieba know that you departed smoothly.”
“…” Jian Rong swallowed down his profanity and sucked in a deep breath. “Pen.”
The male fan handed him a pen. Out of the corner of his eye, the fan saw Xiao Bai scribble out a very long line of text in an autograph, filled with phrases like “to my babies,” “thank you,” and “love you all.”
The male fan pondered briefly and said, “Sign an autograph like Bye’s. To whoever whoever, and then write something.”
“Anything.” The fan contemplated for a moment. “Whatever you want to say to the friends in SoftBar, it can just be a few words.”
Jian Rong scrawled out something on the sign. After that, he handed back the pen, put on his mask, and turned around to go through the security check.
The fans who had gathered from SoftBar warmly called out “goodbye, dumbass.” Then they flipped over the sign to look at the autograph—
[To SoftBar’s netizens: Mind your own business, I’m your dad—Soft]
- I will be going off of the old MSI format (2019 and earlier), since JZB probably did as well, considering that there was no MSI held the year ICDI was written. (MSI’s format changed in 2021) ^
- Play on words with ‘bluenette’ (蓝毛 vs 蓝猫) – both are pronounced ‘mao’, but one is referring to fur/hair and the other is referring to a cat ^
Yan: JZB’s limited autograph for the ICDI physical book release is in fact… Soft’s autograph :^)