The assistant delivered dinner to the practice room, and they ate there.
Although they had just won two BO1 matches today, there wasn’t much of a celebratory atmosphere in the practice room. Everyone stared attentively at the game on their computer monitor, and even Xiao Bai didn’t secretly slack off to eat snacks.
Lu Boyuan practiced until his wrist felt somewhat sore. With his previous experience, he knew that meant he needed to rest for a while.
He AFKed in the lobby and turned to glance at Jian Rong’s game. The chat in the bottom left corner of the screen was in the middle of an argument.
It was true that this started off as a dispute between their team and HT, but in the middle, some unidentified creatures who wanted to watch the show and fan the flames too joined in on the fun. At last, the players from both regions completely shed any and all pretense of friendliness.
Xiao Bai was also observing the flame war going on in Jian Rong’s game. On the enemy team, a Korean player was using especially obscene language that even Xiao Bai couldn’t tolerate. “You’re still not gonna fire back?”
Jian Rong said, “There’s nothing really to fire back, it’s not like he can understand.”
“Use English! A translator!”
“The things I want to say can’t be conveyed in English.” Jian Rong solo killed the opposing mid laner and pressed “B” to recall to base. “Also, these dumbasses are all keeping their eye on me right now… I’ll be banned the moment I let out a single insult.”
Xiao Bai: “Damn, so you’re just gonna take it then? These grandsons… I guess I’ll have to play on the Korean server for the next few days.”
Jian Rong sneered, mostly expressionless.
These people didn’t even want their high-ranked accounts anymore; they just wanted to humiliate him until he went back to the Chinese server.
Right now, he was only about a hundred LP away from Master. There was no way he was going to leave.
What’s more, in this game, flaming someone wasn’t actually the best way to screw with their state of mind.
As he pulled out the item “Dark Seal” and stormed back to the mid lane, someone suddenly pinched his ear.
“Want me to make you a cup of coffee?” Lu Boyuan traced the edge of his ear.
The murderous look on Jian Rong’s face lightened a little. “…mn.”
Jian Rong hadn’t eaten much at any meal today, maybe because he had been angered quite a bit by Rish. Lu Boyuan knew that Jian Rong was going to practice until the middle of the night. Worried that he was going to get low blood sugar again, Lu Boyuan opened a drawer and took out a lollipop, which he then unwrapped and held next to Jian Rong’s lips.
Jian Rong paused before he tilted his head and stuffed the entire candy into his mouth.
When Lu Boyuan went to the break room next door to make coffee, a sigh came from behind him.
“Do you think they’re a little too tense?” Ding-ge spoke in a low voice, “Did I put too much pressure on them with what I said today?”
Lu Boyuan didn’t bother turning around. He said calmly, “What’s the point of competing if there isn’t any pressure.”
Ding-ge was taken aback for a moment before a smile spread across his face. “That’s also true. The only thing is—we have an extremely important duty to fulfill at MSI this time.”
“During which international competition did we not have an important duty to fulfill?”
As Lu Boyuan picked up the coffee, a ringtone sounded from his pocket. He pulled out his phone and glanced at the caller ID before he started walking out of the room. Upon looking up, he saw that Ding-ge was typing away on his phone with a serious expression on his face.
Apart from the team members, Ding-ge was the person under the most pressure, since he was the one who had allowed Jian Rong to go on stage. Though it had felt extremely good listening to Jian Rong say the things he had, if something really did happen in the future, Ding-ge was definitely going to bear the brunt of the scolding. Moreover… they still hadn’t played against HT yet, but Ding-ge was already feeling guilty because he hadn’t stopped Jian Rong back then.
Jian Rong was still young. If they lost this time, his trash talk would undoubtedly become a meme that would accompany him until retirement.
However, Ding-ge certainly wasn’t going to reveal these emotions in front of the younger members. Even with Lu Boyuan, Ding-ge was trying hard to keep it together.
As a result, Lu Boyuan lifted his hand and patted Ding-ge’s shoulder as he passed him by. His voice was light but unusually resolute. “We will win.”
After that, without waiting for Ding-ge’s reaction, he answered the call with a “Mom” and left the break room.
In the practice room, Xiao Bai finished another duo queue game and stretched lazily. He turned to peer at Jian Rong’s screen and furrowed his brows in confusion.
“Didn’t your team have a major advantage…” Xiao Bai saw his score. “You have 21 kills and you’re still not pushing the base?! And why are your teammates choosing to surrender?”
“I’m not done killing yet.”
Right as Jian Rong said that, he cleanly and efficiently crushed the mass-flaming dumbass from earlier to death next to the inhibitor.
All of Jian Rong’s teammates were Korean. They wanted to push the enemy’s base, but they couldn’t defeat the opposing team without Jian Rong there. It just so happened that there were three Chinese people on the other team who weren’t willing to surrender and would rather die defending their base. Consequently, that dumbass had no choice but to stay in the game and get thrashed.
This was Xiao Bai’s first time seeing something like this occur. He thought to himself, Just how many freaking times did I escape by the skin of my teeth before this? “That dumbass hasn’t stopped flaming this entire time. Why haven’t you muted him yet?”
“Why should I mute him?” Jian Rong parted his lips and shifted the lollipop to the other side of his mouth. “I like watching him rage helplessly.”
When Lu Boyuan came back with the aroma of coffee clinging to him, Jian Rong was in the middle of concentratedly killing that dumbass for the sixteenth time.
Bloodthirst was written all over Jian Rong’s face, and he sucked on his lollipop like he was smoking a cigar.
A man’s hand sunk into his hair. The rough pads of his fingers created a comfortable sensation.
From the corner of his eye, Jian Rong glimpsed something entering the lower right part of his vision. Before he could spare the attention to see what it was, he heard Lu Boyuan ask, “Still not finished yet?”
Jian Rong let out a vague hum. “Almost. The other team said that this dumbass went offline.”
Lu Boyuan nodded and drew back the phone that he had stretched in front of Jian Rong. He said to the screen, “Did you see? He’s doing pretty well… practice has been busy these days, we don’t really have any free time.”
Jian Rong was finally satisfied with his killing spree, and he went to tear down the enemy’s base. “What?”
“It’s nothing,” Lu Boyuan said. “I’m talking to my mom.”
Jian Rong left the post-game lobby and entered the queue again. “Oh.”
A few seconds later, Jian Rong bit through the candy in his mouth with a crack.
He whipped around just in time to see Lu Boyuan hang up a video call and slip his phone into his pocket.
Jian Rong was briefly stunned. “You hung up?”
“Mn.” Lu Boyuan explained, “My mom watched the interview… and read some of the comments. She wanted to know how you were doing.”
Jian Rong: “So when you held your phone near me a moment ago…”
Lu Boyuan: “I said that you were busy, but she didn’t believe me and thought I was shielding you. That’s why I let her see for herself.”
Jian Rong: “…”
He reached up and raked a hand through his hair, which he had tousled into a complete mess over the course of playing ranked. His expression transformed from shock to bewilderment.
Actually, Jian Rong’s features were still somewhat youthful. If he didn’t open his mouth, he looked about the same as other graduating high school students or incoming college freshmen. Of course, he was a bit more handsome than most people.
So when Lu Boyuan saw that look on Jian Rong’s face, he couldn’t help but lift up Jian Rong’s chin with his hand. Since they were surrounded by people, he couldn’t really do much; in the end, he could only casually knead Jian Rong’s chin a few times to satisfy his craving.
Jian Rong swallowed the fragments of candy. “Just hanging up like that… isn’t very appropriate, is it.”
Lu Boyuan set the coffee down on the desk and said quietly, “It’s fine, she doesn’t care about this sort of thing. After the tournament’s over, I’ll take you to visit her, if you’re willing. You don’t have to if you don’t want to, it’s not a big deal.”
Jian Rong was a little conflicted inside.
He felt like he should go visit her, but it was also true that he didn’t know how to properly handle relationships with elders.
He ended up a bit lost in thought, to the point where he didn’t even realize he had matched into a game. Lu Boyuan had to help him click “accept.”
“Don’t think about it.” Lu Boyuan rubbed the back of Jian Rong’s neck, as if he was giving him a massage. “Concentrate on playing. After you reach rank one on the Korean server, don’t play on this account anymore. I’m still waiting for you to carry me up the ranks on your side account.”
What the hell?!
Xiao Bai, who was eavesdropping for quite a while nearby, instantly coughed out loud.
It was impossible for him to hide the smirk on his face, and he couldn’t resist turning his head to joke, “Ge, so this is your position in the relationship? The freeloader?”
Before Jian Rong could come up with a retort, Lu Boyuan happily replied, “That’s right.”
Jian Rong: “…”
Yuan Qian burst out laughing. Once his laughter subsided, he said, puzzled, “Hey, wait a minute, I just don’t understand people these days. What’s wrong with carrying your boyfriend or girlfriend up the ranks? Who doesn’t want to play games together when you’re dating? Does that automatically make the weaker person the freeloader? It’s not like laozi can’t carry… what kind of accepted norm is this?”
Lu Boyuan reopened his game and agreed lazily, “Exactly, God Jian is able to carry me.”
Jian Rong: “………”
“I don’t care about couples duo queuing and climbing together. I’m more disgusted by those people who hire boosters. Is it not fun playing in your own tier?” Xiao Bai clicked his tongue. “And those people who specially seek out backup players to help them climb, they’re also extremely revolting.”
Pine: “Take a look at yourself first before you start talking about other people.”
“What’s wrong with me? I’ve only ever asked you, I never look for backup players!” Xiao Bai paused briefly. “Well, fine, it’s true that I used to seek out a certain blue-haired player, but that person’s dating now, so he doesn’t wanna queue with me anymore.”
Jian Rong: “………………get lost.”
The five of them practiced until six in the morning and went to sleep after eating breakfast. When they woke up, it was time for their first match against HT.
Judging from the two teams’ current strength levels, it didn’t actually matter whether they won or lost these two group stage matches. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, they would both be able to enter the knockout stage.
[Don’t lose a single game! TTC, you better crush HT!!!]
[Damn, I’ve been squatting here for half an hour for this match… the last match was Europe vs Japan, and it felt like I was watching a grandpa beat his grandson. It wasn’t compelling at all.]
[I’m here I’m here. May I please ask, is this the finals for this year’s MSI?]
[Once upon a time, I had a bluenette dumbass right in front of me who used to stream for thirteen hours a day, but I didn’t treasure him back then. It was only after he joined the LPL and started streaming for less than thirteen hours a month that I realized it was too late for regrets. Nothing could possibly be more painful in this mortal life than this. If the heavens could give me a chance to do it over, I have five words I want to say to him—if you lose, swim back.]
[This viewer count? Is this the work of TTC’s marketing team? A popularity of over 100 million for a group stage match? Is there an entire freaking water army in this stream?!]
[Living person here, PUD fan.]
[Living person here, Fighting Tiger fan.]
[Living person here… Doufu fan.]
[Never mind never mind, for this MSI, we’re all TTC passerby fans and Soft limited edition dad fans.]
[Stop spamming!!! The players are taking the stage!!!!]
“Maybe it’s because I exhausted all my nerves yesterday.” Xiao Bai sat down and drank some coffee. “But I’m feeling super calm right now.”
Jian Rong: “It’s just a group stage match, how excited do you want to be?”
“Mn. Thanks to you, we’re about to fight in the Sino-Korean war of the century,” Xiao Bai paused, “Or rather, the first battle.”
Jian Rong: “.”
“Check your peripherals,” Lu Boyuan said mildly. “Don’t talk nonsense, there are people listening.”
The staff member in the back who was in charge of monitoring them: “…”
There weren’t many formalities to be had during the group stage. After they indicated to the referee standing behind them that their equipment was good to go, their computer screens immediately switched to the pick/ban interface.
Both mid laners had deep champion pools, and it was evident that neither coach intended to target the mid lane. It all depended on which team got first pick; the other team would inevitably have to ban LeBlanc.
Since this was Jian Rong’s first time truly playing against Master, it was hard to predict what would happen during the laning phase. Based on the conclusions they had reached from their recent meetings, they decided to focus on the top and mid lanes this game.
TTC’s first pick went to Irelia for Yuan Qian. Meanwhile, HT locked in a standard Jhin ADC. As the second round of selections rolled around, before the commentators could start analyzing the situation, a champion’s portrait popped up and was instantly locked in!
The live audience was momentarily startled. Then, it erupted in cheers—
“Lucian?” Yuan Qian was astonished. “Is… this Lucian meant for the top lane or mid lane?”
Lu Boyuan swept a look at Master’s champion. “Mid lane. Their top laner doesn’t know how to play this sort of flashy thing.”
Ding-ge: “I’ve seen Master play Lucian in ranked before. I didn’t think that he would actually pull out this champion in a match…”
Actually, Lucian was originally an ADC champion, but all the commonly used mid champions in the current meta were weak in lane and tended to scale slowly. As a result, this champion—which was bursty in the early game, had movement skills, and sliced through tanks like vegetables in the early-mid game—was brought into the mid lane to disgust people.
The three LPL commentators also frowned heavily when they saw this Lucian.
As the Korean spectators applauded and shouted behind him, Commentator A spoke. “Lucian… is an extremely troublesome champion who can suppress most mid laners in the early game. This really was an unexpected move.”
Commentator B nodded. “But he isn’t too hard to deal with either. Lucian isn’t useful beyond the early-mid game, so as long as TTC drags things out, it’ll be okay. Soft can choose a team fight champion, such as Azir or Orianna. Kassadin’s okay too…”
Right as he said that, TTC’s mid champion lit up.
It was a mask-wearing ninja.
The Master of Shadows—Zed.
“Team fight champion?!” Commentator C almost slapped the table and imitated Jian Rong’s response. “Are you looking down on me, Soft? Maybe if the opponent chickens out and picks a late game champion, I’d consider going late game too. But you’re gonna pull out Lucian? In that case, my apologies—let’s fight.”
Commentator A snapped out of his shock. “Well… it’s not impossible to lane against Lucian with Zed! But Soft still hasn’t locked it in yet, so it’s not guaranteed that he’s going to pick Zed in the end!”
Zed was locked in.
The small number of Chinese fans present cheered loudly—HT’s goading yesterday was too unexpected, and the Chinese fans who wanted to come watch couldn’t get tickets for today’s match. There still wasn’t much support for TTC in the arena.
With the two mid champions solidified, this match was destined to be full of conflict.
Both teams headed to their lanes simultaneously. In the first ten minutes of the game, the camera was almost always on the mid lane—the two people in the mid lane were truly too freaking good at stirring up trouble!
While the top laners were peacefully farming, they were fighting.
While the junglers were killing monsters, they were fighting.
While the bot laners were testing each other out, they were fighting.
Commentator A: “Master dashed over and directly unleashed all his damage! Soft’s health is very low—nice, Soft beautifully escaped using his Shadow!”
Commentator B: “While Master’s skills are on cooldown from clearing minions, Soft rushed straight to him and used his ult! He landed every skill in his combo!! Master’s health is disappearing, can Soft get a solo kill—ai, Master flashed and dodged the last skill, so close!”
Commentator C: “They’re both driving each other up the wall. They’ve stopped waveclearing, are they about to start trading again—no! They’re gonna fight! They can’t hold it back any longer…… again, so close! Both sides are getting a little anxious!!!”
It was only after these two people exchanged several hundred blows back and forth that the commentators abruptly realized what was going on.
Commentator A: “The amount of times these two have fought in lane is almost greater than the total number of mid laner clashes combined from all of yesterday’s matches, isn’t it?”
Commentator B: “But in terms of losses… neither side has lost anything. There’s been no solo kills, and as for the minions… it doesn’t seem like they’ve missed that many?”
Commentator C: “They’re fighting? It feels more like they’re pummeling my heart.”
The barrage was also confused—
[Do you two think this is fencing? Strike a vital point and then retreat? Are you toying with us?]
[A bunch of fierce plays, only to look up and see 0/0/0.]
[Hang on? Are we looking forward to Soft solo killing Master here?! Which mid laner has been able to solo kill Master in these past few years???]
[Forget if anyone has solo killed Master before. I counted—all the mid laners who’ve laned against Master in recent years have been solo killed by him, both in pro play and in ranked.]
[What a coincidence, the same can be said for my son. Might I ask, which LPL mid laner hasn’t been solo killed by my son before?]
[Fun fact: this is Soft’s first year competing…]
[Damn, don’t tell me a mid laner from the LPL is going to stand up at last?!]
[I’ve always thought that Soft was extremely good at laning, and this match has only further proved that fact to me. Really, this is fucking exhilarating.]
[I wanna watch them lane for ten thousand years…]
Laning for ten thousand years was impossible.
While the two mid laners were locked in a stalemate, fights had already broken out in the other lanes—
At level 3, Lu Boyuan’s Graves ganked the top lane. Just by showing up, he forced out a flash from HT’s top laner. At level 7, Yuan Qian pulled off an outplay that even he found unbelievable and smashed HT’s top laner straight into the ground, accomplishing an extremely spectacular solo kill!
After that, Lu Boyuan invaded the enemy jungle and chased the opposing jungler back home before he headed for the bot lane. He circled around from behind and helped to gang up on HT’s bot lane duo, ultimately trading one TTC member for two HT members. A solid foundation was established for TTC’s bot lane.
As Master was expressionlessly buying items to continue fighting with Jian Rong, one of his teammates spoke up in their voice chat—
“Hyung.” The jungler said in a small voice, “We’re not going for the drake, right?”
Master finally realized that Pine’s Tristana had a 20 CS edge over their ADC, as well as two kills.
Because of the disadvantage in the bot lane, HT couldn’t take the initiative at all for the drake team fight.
Master extracted himself from his heated emotions and switched camera viewpoints to check on his teammates—the top laner was being suppressed by Irelia, the jungler was trying his hardest to defend his jungle, and the bot lane was having a difficult time even clearing minions.
He frowned. Suddenly, it dawned on him that they were already in an unfavorable situation.
On the other side, Yuan Qian’s voice was full of joy. “Hahahahaha a match without Master feels way too freaking relaxed!!”
During the pick/ban phase earlier.
When Jian Rong saw Lucian’s portrait appear, it was true that his initial thoughts were exactly as Commentator C had described—pulling out a laning champion in front of him was indeed equivalent to looking down on him.
If this was his first competitive match, he would’ve probably instantly made his choice by now. But he had just drawn attention to the team yesterday, so for once, he had a bit of a conscience.
He was about to ask Ding-ge what champion to take when Lu Boyuan spoke first.
“Do you want to play Zed?”
Everyone else in the team was caught off guard. Only Ding-ge raised an eyebrow and seemed to immediately understand.
Jian Rong: “…Zed?”
Lu Boyuan: “Or Pantheon, Corki, Talon…”
Jian Rong interrupted him. “Zed.”
In a calm voice, Lu Boyuan asked him as his captain, “If you play Zed, will you be able to detain Master? I’m not requiring you to solo kill him. All you have to do is make it so that he’s unable to pay attention to the other lanes.”
Jian Rong directly locked in Zed before he asked, “Looking down on me?”
Lu Boyuan let out a laugh and slotted in Ignite. “No, I don’t want to put any pressure on you… keep clashing with him, delay him, and we’ll win.”
The BO5 match from last year had truly instilled too much confidence in HT.
They forgot that HT was a team that had gradually risen with Master’s growth. Later on, HT had switched out their bot lane, and this new bot lane duo didn’t have much competition experience at all, nor were they naturally talented like Jian Rong. The team’s jungler was tossed around even more thoroughly by Lu Boyuan.
If they were up against another team, perhaps HT’s other lanes could’ve created an advantage. But against a veteran team like TTC and a jungler like Lu Boyuan, who was skilled at creating opportunities for his teammates—in order to win, HT needed to rely on Master’s dominance in assisting and team fighting.
Who would’ve thought that Master—someone who was always steady and unflustered—would take the bait first and pull out an utterly unloved Lucian…
Lu Boyuan hid in the brush and successfully camped the enemy jungler. Without batting an eye, he promptly swept the other jungler away with an explosive burst of damage. “Bot lane, I’m coming to summon the Rift Herald. After the first tower is down, we go for the drake. This game is set; the sooner we finish, the sooner we can eat.”
Xiao Bai: “Okey-dokey!”
At sixteen minutes, the first team fight erupted with a flash and a hook from Xiao Bai’s Thresh! Yuan Qian instantly flashed and used his ult, slowing the enemy bot lane. Pine’s Tristana charged straight into the crowd and started boldly dealing damage! HT’s support finally managed to CC Pine, but an even more terrifying damage dealer followed up—Graves leaped down into the pit and immediately began purging the battlefield.
Meanwhile, Master, the champion and reinforcement that HT needed… was currently trapped by Jian Rong in the lane.
Speaking of which, that was also odd as hell: all the way up until the team fight was over, those two glass cannons were actually still in the mid lane trading blows. They both had very low health, but neither died…
At twenty-five minutes, Master created an opportunity and solo killed Pine, who was lost in the jungle. Not one to be outdone, Jian Rong also pummeled Rish into the ground.
With that, both ADCs stopped crossing the river boundary alone. They might as well have changed their IDs to “don’t freaking drag me into your conflict.”
At twenty-seven minutes, TTC successfully caught HT’s support, who was in the middle of placing a ward. After finishing him off, they went straight for Baron.
Right away, HT’s jungler wanted to steal Baron. He hovered around the pit for quite a while before rushing in, only to be killed by Lu Boyuan.
By now, TTC was at a huge advantage. Calm and composed, they went back to base to stock up. Then, they got the Dragon Soul and unanimously set out for HT’s base.
—At thirty-two minutes, when HT’s base was destroyed, the LCK commentators and audience members were still in a state of shock.
Jian Rong removed his headphones. Even though the stage was quite far from the commentators, he could hear the LPL commentators’ enthusiastic shouting.
The MVP for this match went to Lu Boyuan.
Yesterday, the anchor had furiously stirred up trouble during the interview segment. Today, he became a yes-man who didn’t even want to voice some of the questions that he was required to ask.
The anchor wore a forced smile. “How did today’s match feel?”
Lu Boyuan: “Very relaxed.”
The anchor pursed his lips. “Did your team arrange today’s strategy beforehand? A strategy targeting Master? Using Zed to pin him down?”
“Of course we’ve looked into various tactics before.” Lu Boyuan paused. “Choosing Zed… pinning him down was one reason. Another reason was that we felt like our mid laner could create an advantage.”
“But he didn’t really have the advantage, both sides were evenly matched…” The anchor trailed off.
Lu Boyuan smiled lazily. “Right.”
By that point, the barrage in the domestic stream was already screaming and roaring with laughter.
Yes, that was right—our LPL’s new mid laner Soft, who had gone pro for less than half a year, was indeed evenly matched with your LCK’s Master, who had been developing for six or seven years now and was considered to be the world’s best mid laner.