This was Jian Rong’s first time traveling abroad. The flight from Shanghai to Seoul was a mere two hours long, and he only truly felt like he was in a foreign country once he got off the plane and heard the people around him speaking in a language that he couldn’t understand.
This time, Jian Rong brought a backpack and a suitcase with him. The primary purpose of the backpack was to carry his and Lu Boyuan’s keyboards, because he was worried that they would break if they were placed in the suitcase and subjected to rough handling.
At that moment, he was pushing along two suitcases with his backpack hooked over his shoulders, giving him quite the travel-worn appearance.
A few steps later, someone kneaded the back of his neck. Lu Boyuan had napped for a while on the plane, so his voice was a bit deep. “I’ll carry it.”
Jian Rong refused. “No need, it’s not heavy.”
But Lu Boyuan didn’t listen to him. He curled his fingers around the backpack strap and lifted it up with one hand. “Take it off.”
Jian Rong was afraid that he would hurt his hand if he held the backpack up like that for a long time. He hesitated briefly before he ended up shrugging the backpack off and handing it to Lu Boyuan.
After they went through customs, they were met by a representative who enthusiastically guided the team to the bus.
Since the competition was drawing closer, almost all of them had practiced until three AM last night before going to sleep. They had just napped for two hours on the plane and were even more listless now, so everyone knocked out the moment they got on the bus.
Everyone except for Jian Rong. Even though he had seemed calm and collected on the journey over, this was his first time traveling internationally; inevitably, he was still a little excited.
Right as Lu Boyuan’s head drooped down, someone nudged his shoulder gently.
Jian Rong sat up very straight as he tugged his mask down and said, “It’s not comfortable to sleep with your head hanging forward like that.”
“Mn?” The tail end of the syllable lilted upwards, filled with a bit of exhaustion.
Jian Rong said, “You can sleep on my shoulder.”
Lu Boyuan glanced at his thin shoulder and lifted an eyebrow.
That gesture offended Jian Rong, and he immediately narrowed his eyes. “You…”
He swallowed the rest of his sentence back down as Lu Boyuan shifted lower in his seat and rested his head unhesitatingly against Jian Rong’s shoulder.
Jian Rong was wearing a shirt made out of a very comfortable material, and his shoulder wasn’t as delicate as it appeared either. The aroma of milk-scented shower gel clung to him.
They were sitting in the last row. As Jian Rong heard Lu Boyuan’s breathing even out, he carefully pulled out his phone to find a video to watch.
But as soon as he opened the video app, he felt the person on his shoulder nestle a little closer to his neck. The man tilted his head upwards a bit, causing his steady, slightly heavy breathing to land solidly against Jian Rong’s neck.
The skin there swiftly started tingling, and Jian Rong’s video-searching fingers froze in midair.
A few seconds later, Lu Boyuan tilted his head to the side and pressed a kiss to his neck.
The man’s lips were somewhat dry, and when he spoke, his voice sounded quite lazy. “You’ll get dizzy watching videos in the car. If you want to watch, do it after we get to the hotel.”
Both of Jian Rong’s legs were spread wide apart like he was some powerful old master. Upon hearing that, he reached up and tugged the brim of his hat down before he stuffed his phone back into his pocket. With a red face, he said in the same tone as usual, “Got it… don’t talk anymore.”
The corners of Lu Boyuan’s mouth curled up, and he replied vaguely, “Mn.”
Although they had arrived fairly early, the competition organizers had still considerately set up their rooms for them in advance.
The hotel wasn’t small: each member received their own hotel room with a king-size bed. They brought the substitute jungler Moon with them this time, and he got his own room too. There was a buffet in the hotel, and they had even specially hired Chinese chefs; the practice rooms belonging to the various professional leagues’ teams were located on the third floor.
The conditions were so good that everyone began suspecting that Fu-ge had secretly bribed the competition officials.
After they got to the hotel and split up the rooms, they spent the afternoon catching up on more sleep. It was night when they finally met up with each other in the hotel restaurant like normal people.
In order to ensure the health of the pro players, the dishes were all relatively mild. Ding-ge wasn’t too particular about his own food since he didn’t need to compete, so he picked up the chili sauce that Xiao Bai had brought and poured a generous amount into his food. He prattled on, “I’ll take you guys to look at the practice room after we’re done eating. I just went to check it out earlier, the computers are very high-quality, and there’s no problem with the internet either. This time, the Korean organizers finally have a bit of a conscience.”
Jian Rong drank a mouthful of soup. “Isn’t that all stuff the organizers should’ve provided in the first place?”
During last year’s Worlds in Shanghai, the organizers had treated the pro players from other competitive regions very well.
“Bullshit.” Xiao Bai grew indignant at the mere mention of this topic. “When we came to compete in Korea several years ago, the internet was so laggy that we couldn’t even play the game. We were forced to go to an internet cafe, and it took them quite a few days to fix it! The living conditions weren’t great either. I weighed myself after we got back and found that I had lost three freaking kilograms!”
Jian Rong: “Then why didn’t you stay there a bit longer.”
Xiao Bai: “…is that something a human would say?”
After that short exchange, he returned to a clear-headed state.
Once they were done with dinner, Ding-ge brought them to the third-floor practice room.
Ding-ge said in the elevator, “Since we came pretty early, the other teams aren’t here yet, and it’s a little difficult to schedule practice matches. I contacted PUD, Fighting Tiger, and a few Korean teams, but they’re all on their post-competition breaks, so I’m not sure they’re free. I’ll do what I can. For tonight, just play ranked.”
The assistant coach said, “Maybe we should try reaching out to HT?”
Ding-ge shook his head without even considering it. “We don’t have the kind of relationship with them where we can peacefully play in a practice match together… also, HT never schedules practice matches with teams from other competitive regions.”
Jian Rong sneered coldly, “Who cares.”
“Honestly.” Xiao Bai stretched. “They make it seem like people actually want to practice with them.”
Their allotted practice room was indeed fairly nice. Every team’s room was separated, and the soundproofing was excellent. Though the computers weren’t as good as their equipment back at the base, it was sufficient enough.
Jian Rong played a few ranked games. He was currently rank three on the Korean server; second place reportedly belonged to a booster studio’s account, and above that was Master.
The higher the tier, the fewer actors he encountered. At this point, all the people in his tier were somewhat well-known, and they didn’t want to stir up trouble for themselves over something like this.
He was about to start the next game when Ding-ge pushed open the door and entered the room. He said that PUD happened to be free right at that moment for a practice match.
Xiao Bai glanced at the clock. “Isn’t it almost midnight in China? Are they not resting?”
Ding-ge said, “They have group training in a few days to prepare for the summer season, so they’re all back at the base now. They’ve had enough fun, and they just happen to have time for a few games.”
Jian Rong didn’t say anything as he shifted his mouse and joined the custom lobby.
PUD’s entire team was present, including XIU, who had returned from his injury. Back during the spring season, TTC and PUD didn’t have many practice matches with each other, because both sides were afraid of revealing their strategies. Now that the season was over, they could schedule matches with each other again.
Since all of PUD’s starters were playing, there was actually some back and forth in the practice matches that night. Both sides won two out of four games, with the shortest lasting twenty-two minutes and the longest lasting fifty-two.
After the four matches concluded, both sides unanimously agreed to stop there for the night.
But the team members weren’t in any rush to leave the lobby—
[PUD, XIU: So freaking mad, if my waist hadn’t acted up that day, we would be the ones in Korea today T-T]
[TTC ་ Road: Don’t stay up too late.]
[PUD, 98k: Qian]
[PUD, 98k: Their top laner is a support-style player just like you, so don’t be afraid]
[TTC ་ Qian: …who’s a support-style player? Am I not the world’s number one Irelia?]
[PUD, 98k: The number one Irelia? Solo?]
[TTC ་ Qian: Come at me!!]
The two top laners simultaneously left the lobby.
Xiao Bai and PUD’s support, Dundun, roasted their ADCs earlier trash plays together in the chat. While they were doing so, they also trampled over HT’s support.
Jian Rong was chewing gum to keep up his energy. His cursor wavered around a few times before he finally moved it to Savior’s avatar picture and privately messaged him.
[TTC ་ Soft: 1]
[PUD, Savior: Here~]
Jian Rong rested his hands on his keyboard. A long moment passed before he finally typed: [Have you ever laned against Master before?]
[PUD, Savior: I have, back when I was still in the LCK. A few games, didn’t win]
[PUD, Savior: Have you not? Your ranks are very close.]
Strictly speaking, he had laned against Master one time.
Approximately a year and a half ago, Jian Rong had crashed cars with Master on the Korean server. Master had solo killed him once, and adding on the fact that Jian Rong’s teammates weren’t of any help, they had surrendered that game after twenty minutes.
Later on, Jian Rong stopped really playing on the Korean server for the sake of streaming. Even though he had recently returned, he hadn’t crashed cars with Master yet.
When Jian Rong didn’t respond, Savior sent some more messages.
[PUD, Savior: He’s very strong. You have to be careful not to be solo killed in lane]
[PUD, Savior: He’s super good at creating lane pressure. When I play against him, I don’t dare to last hit]
[TTC ་ Soft: You dare to when you’re playing against me?]
[PUD, Savior: …T-T]
[PUD, Savior: In short, good luck, I hope the LPL can win T-T]
Those four practice matches were comparable to the spring season finals, and they felt physically and emotionally drained afterwards. Once the practice matches were over, half of the practice room immediately cleared out.
Jian Rong solo queued with his headphones on, all the way until he was only one LP away from surpassing rank two on the Korean server. He let out a long exhale and leaned back in his chair, removing his headphones. He glanced down at the time: it was 4:30 in the morning.
The seats next to him were empty. Sensing the hollowness in his stomach, Jian Rong rubbed his belly and stood up as he messaged Lu Boyuan. He wanted Lu Boyuan to wake him up the next day when he was going down for lunch.
Right as he started typing, someone gently grasped his arm.
Jian Rong jumped with fright and whipped his head around—
Lu Boyuan had moved over an executive chair from who knows where and was sitting behind Jian Rong the entire time. He had already mussed up his own bangs, and it looked like he had just woken up.
Lu Boyuan looked up at him. “Done?”
Jian Rong was stunned. “Didn’t… you go back to your room to sleep?”
“No, I was watching you play.”
Jian Rong’s hand was a little chilly, but Lu Boyuan didn’t really mind as he gripped it and stood up. “Come to my room first.”
We still have practice tomorrow.
Jian Rong held back and refrained from saying that. In Korea, it was still a tad cold in May, so Jian Rong carelessly slipped on his sweatshirt and hat before they left the practice room side by side.
Unexpectedly, the lights were still on in the Japanese team’s nearby practice room. At that moment, a short pro player wearing a team uniform just happened to walk out of the room.
He evidently recognized them, and he began bowing and greeting Lu Boyuan, who nodded in response. Then, Lu Boyuan led Jian Rong into the elevator, still holding his hand.
Lu Boyuan’s room was very casually messy. His suitcase was open on the floor, his hat and tablet were tossed onto the couch, and two pairs of clean socks were lying on the carpet.
Lu Boyuan took off Jian Rong’s hat and asked, “I’ll make some instant noodles for you, what flavor do you want?”
Jian Rong paused and furrowed his brows. “Noodles?”
“Mn.” Lu Boyuan said, “I asked a staff member to run to the store to buy some.”
Jian Rong blinked. “You sat behind me for that long, just so you could make me a cup of instant noodles?”
Lu Boyuan went quiet for a second. “Not entirely.”
At first, he was worried that Jian Rong would practice for too long, and he also wanted to go upstairs together with his boyfriend.
Then, he saw Jian Rong open up a search engine after everyone else was gone—
“Master spring season best plays montage”
“When do HT’s pro players play ranked?”
“What time of the day can you snipe Master in ranked?”
Only then did Lu Boyuan remember that this was Jian Rong’s first time competing in an international tournament, and that this was also his first time playing against Master in an official setting.
Rather than feeling nervous, Jian Rong more so wanted to win.
In their profession, there weren’t really any shortcuts to take. If they wanted to win, they had to practice. Your strength never lied; your performance in the competition directly reflected how powerful you were.
As a result, Lu Boyuan hadn’t interrupted his practice.
Lu Boyuan rubbed Jian Rong’s stomach through his clothing. “So? What flavor do you want?”
Jian Rong shook his head. “It’s okay, I sleep better when I’m hungry.”
Lu Boyuan reached under his shirt and pressed his warm palm against his belly. He asked, amused, “Really not gonna eat?”
In the end, the instant noodles were opened.
The sun was about to come up by the time he was done eating. Jian Rong went back to his room and showered before he peacefully fell asleep with a full stomach.
After a few days of practice in Korea, the other teams finally started arriving one after another. At the beginning, the professional leagues were willing to schedule some practice matches with each other, but as MSI approached, less and less teams wanted to do so—in the first place, everyone was just trying to figure out where they stood among the other teams. They weren’t really hoping to glean something from the practice matches. What’s more, all the teams had a lot of interviews to attend to, so none of their free periods aligned.
In the blink of an eye, it was the day before the start of MSI.
On that day, a picture caused quite a stir in the esports circle.
The instigator was a certain pro player from Japan, who posted a photo on social media with the caption: [Inspired by Road and Soft _(\’-\’_) even the strong players are working this hard, so I also should double my efforts!]
The picture was of Lu Boyuan and Jian Rong, and it was a shot of them from behind, taken the night they arrived in Korea.
It was originally a very ordinary caption, but unfortunately, modern-day netizens were all Sherlock Holmes.
They scrutinized the photo using the magnifying glasses passed down from their ancestors. Then, they discovered that not only were these two walking shoulder to shoulder, even their hands were laced together under the cover of their sleeves!!
That was whatever, but when a netizen commented “hhh they seem to be holding hands” underneath this pro player’s post, he responded with—
[Really? No wonder I saw Soft come out of Road’s room on my way back… ahh… ≡ ( ॱ-ॱ ) it looks like their team members truly are very close. I really should learn from TTC in all respects!]
When Ding-ge read that reply out loud in the practice room, everyone glanced at Jian Rong with a weird expression in their eyes.
Jian Rong: “…I only went in to eat a bowl of instant noodles.”
With “like hell I believe you” written across his face, Xiao Bai nodded. “It must’ve been an extremely exhausting meal.”
Jian Rong reached out and hit the “F” key on Xiao Bai’s keyboard.
Xiao Bai, who was forced to flash into the midst of the opposing team: “Hey what the fuck—what the fuck! What the fuck!!!”
“It’s fine if we were seen, nothing happened anyway.” Lu Boyuan was in the middle of eating an enemy monster. “What team are we up against tomorrow?”
Only six teams competed in MSI’s main event. The group stage consisted of single matches in a double round robin format. Since each team had to play two BO1 matches with every other team, the four teams with the highest total accumulated points would advance to the semifinals.
MSI’s competition schedule was very tightly packed. Every team had two matches per day, and the group stage finished within five days.
“We’re playing against Turkey and North America tomorrow.” Ding-ge took out his notebook. “North America’s second seed from last year is participating this time. They won’t be a huge problem, just don’t let their jungler and support roam around all over the place…”
Ding-ge had already completely written off the couple as a lost cause. The online public opinion concerning the hand-holding incident wasn’t particularly bad either. On the contrary, the two of them had even been solidly praised for practicing until five AM.
Originally, Ding-ge was planning to ignore it and let it calm down on its own in a few days. But he would’ve never expected for this incident to ultimately end up becoming a fuse.
That night, HT’s ADC Rish posted on his social media side account—[I found the reason why the LPL is so weak. Their players are all dating, so of course they can only rely on the LCK’s players to compete ^^]
Because it was his side account, not many people saw it, and the post didn’t give rise to a lot of waves at first. The comments underneath all consisted of a bunch of people who were also mocking the LPL.
Out of over two hundred comments, only a few were relatively clear-headed. They expressed arguments like “even if TTC’s mid laner and jungler truly are dating, it hasn’t affected their performance”; “HT are the real slackers, aren’t they? I heard the top laner went on vacation after the spring season and just returned recently”; “you should focus on practicing, are you not afraid of losing to TTC in a few days.” But those remarks were quickly drowned out by the rest of the ridicule.
However, the majority of people were precisely capable of unearthing the opinions they wanted to see the least among hundreds of other comments.
At three AM the day MSI was set to kick off, Rish appeared on social media again and posted a question—[Lose to TTC? Do you mean losing like this? [gif]]
The gif was clipped from one of TTC’s matches against HT during last year’s S10 semifinals. In the image, HT stood outside of TTC’s fountain, spawn camping1 them.
The relationship between both professional leagues was already strained to begin with, and Rish’s tanky engage essentially set off the explosion.
Over the course of one night, China’s pro players stormed into Rish’s social media account and started unleashing their insults. Both leagues’ netizens were locked in fierce arguments with each other, and from that point on, the curtain of an interregional war was lifted—
- I didn’t know what this was in Chinese back when I first started translating ICDI, so I’ll go back and fix it, but essentially HT spawn camped TTC really bad in the last game of the semifinals. (Spawn camping is when you stand next to the respawn point and kill players over and over as they respawn. It’s kinda toxic/BM.) ^