WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 72

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In the final game of the regular season, DG and BLX each took one round. During their third and final round against each other, the five players of BLX played a very tight formation, refusing to let DG disrupt their flow in team fights. They did an excellent job of holding their positions, and they even managed to reverse gank DG a few times.

Shen Qiao, Zhao Yue, and Old Wo all fell to BLX's tactics a few times. After that, BLX made good use of their mountain dragon buffs from earlier in the game and charged onwards to claim Baron Nashor as well. Then, they pushed their way to DG's base.

DG took a stand at their base and fought valiantly. They did manage to wipe BLX out in that bout, but unfortunately… DG had racked up more small mistakes throughout that match than BLX. Ultimately, in the thirty-eighth minute of the third round, they lost to BLX.

However, this outcome didn't affect either team—

Regardless of whether or not BLX won this match, they would be the top ranked team in Group A, while DG would be in second place.

Although there shouldn't have been much pressure on either team in this match, both teams gave it their all. This wasn't a competition for tournament points, but a competition of skill and strength. DG may have lost, but their fans weren't riled up enough to curse them to hell and back.

It was just that these fans were used to blaming the jungler for everything that went wrong.

[When is Daddy Lu coming back? DG's junglers are really… they aren't the worst, but they really can't carry.]

[We can't blame Moon, right? We can only say that BLX played way too well.]

[You can't deny that under the same circumstances, Lu Zhe would have set a much stronger rhythm than Moon. I feel like DG was just a tiny bit weaker!]

[Why are you all comparing these junglers to Captain Lu? Captain Lu is the jungler who led DG to win the world championship, you know. I'm begging you to give these kids a chance to grow up, alright? Are you all unsatisfied with anyone who's worse than the world's #1 jungler these days?]

[The real question is, are the LoL's standards this low these days? Are you all fans of the game, or fans of these players' good looks? It's because DG is so powerful that their shortcomings are obvious when they show weakness. Their true strength isn't determined when they're playing their best. It's determined by how they overcome these shortcomings. Right now, their weaknesses are more obvious than ever. When a weakest link shows up, that link needs to be replaced, got it? If you keep telling me to stop picking on their junglers, I'll start picking on you, how's that?]

[Wolf Cub wasn't all that great in this game either. He and Old Wo slipped up when they got ganked, didn't they?]

……

"The first round of the playoffs will be between the third- and fourth-ranked teams of each group. We won't be playing until a victor is determined between them. Based on the current schedule, our first game of the playoffs will be in thirteen days—"

On the way back from the stadium, Manager Zhou raised his voice and started to tell everyone their upcoming plans.

Old Wo and the others didn't seem very bothered by the results of their game against BLX. They went about their business. But Er-Hua did take in the information about the playoffs and ask, "Will we get a chance to play BLX again?"

Qian Bao grinned and answered, "Hard to say. BLX ranked first in Group A, and we were second. In Group B, WTG came in first, and COCO was in second. If nothing unexpected happens, we'll first be playing against Group A's third team or Group B's fourth team. After that, we'll be up against Group B's top-ranked WTG—

"BLX, on the other hand, has to win against COCO in order for us to meet in the finals."

"These tournament games will be best-of-five. That's the structure WTG is best at."

Er-Hua was quite satisfied with the answer he received. "WTG, then BLX. Not bad. Two chances for revenge at once. I'm pretty happy with that."

Old Wo nodded. "Mm… if we don't play well, we'll be bullied by those two teams again. They'll be the happy ones, then. They'll get to say they defeated the world champions in the spring and summer tournaments. Guess that'll prove the only ones who can defeat the LPL are the others in the LPL."

Manager Zhou sucked in a sharp breath. "Old Wo, you were sent over as an undercover agent by some other team, weren't you? This kind of negative thinking is pretty potent."

Coach Fang had originally been sitting up ahead with his arms crossed and his eyes closed, resting during the ride. When he heard Old Wo's words, he opened his eyes and calmly stated, "Then, in order to avoid Old Wo's prediction of the future, starting from tomorrow—Old Wo, you can train for two extra hours. That way, if you lose, you can explain that you're the most hard-working member of the whole team. No one will be able to blame you then."

Old Wo was silent.

He couldn't say another word.

Meanwhile, Qian Bao and Er-Hua started to snicker, one after the other.

Zhao Yue and Zheng Zhizhuo were sitting in the middle of the van, huddled up together to watch highlights from the game they'd just played. They had both grown a lot during the regular season. Now, regardless of whether they won or lost a game, they would never go online to check comments from their fans. Their first order of business was always to review the game.

Because even if they played well, even if they maintained a good state, even if the team's tactics were solid, even if they cooperated well with their teammates—if they lost, none of that would matter. There wouldn't be many fair comments online, but there would always be some fans of the team trying to put the blame on them.

So there was no point in reading those comments.

Nothing was better than improving their skills.

Seeing all the players were in good shape, Coach Fang decided, "Let's review the game when we get back today, and tomorrow we'll continue with practice as usual."

His coaching style had always been the same. If the team fought hard to earn a victory, he would give the kids a break after they got back to the HQ so that they could take the time to be happy. Similarly, if they suffered a devastating loss, he would give them time off to adjust their mental state.

And if the team was in a stable state, not much different from usual, then it would be appropriate for them to continue with their regular training. They had to seize the opportunity to review the game while it was fresh in their minds. Strike while the iron was hot and all.

In the last row of seats, Shen Qiao had taken out his phone to play minesweeper. He didn't participate in their conversation, only concentrating on marking mines on his game board. He didn't listen in until Lu Zhe suddenly said—

"Manager Zhou, I need to head back to school tomorrow. I've already postponed my thesis defense long enough."

"Sure." Manager Zhou had no problem with that.

"It's that soon?"

Shen Qiao had looked up from his cell phone as soon as Lu Zhe started speaking. He glanced over and saw Lu Zhe nod. It was then that he suddenly remembered Lu Zhe mentioning this before.

During the international tournament, when they had been staying at a hotel overseas, Lu Zhe had whined and pleaded for Shen Qiao to attend his graduation ceremony.

And now…

Due to his injury, Lu Zhe couldn't stop watching over their two new players. He helped Coach Fang and the others devise training plans, and he also helped the new kids get accustomed to life with the first-string team. Although Lu Zhe wasn't able to personally take the field, he still carried out all of the captain's responsibilities.

Lu Zhe devoted all his time to DG. Naturally, he wouldn't have had any time to finish his schoolwork. Shen Qiao had never attended college, but even he knew that most college students would have already graduated by that time of year.

It was really as Lu Zhe had said—

Other kids had parents who would attend their graduation ceremony.

But Lu Zhe had missed his own ceremony entirely.

In that case, at the very least, he shouldn't have to return to school alone.

Due to Shen Qiao's inactivity, his cell phone screen went dark. But Shen Qiao didn't pay any more attention to his minesweeper game anyway. He looked over at Manager Zhou and said, "I want to take time off too."

Manager Zhou instinctively asked, "What do you need to do?"

Before Shen Qiao could answer, Lu Zhe lightly nudged him with an elbow and shook his head. Lu Zhe had clearly been the one who'd insisted on having Shen Qiao watch him graduate, and now—for the sake of the team's performance—it was also Lu Zhe who was telling Shen Qiao not to go.

Lu Zhe even added, "He doesn't have anything going on, he's just trying to hop on the bandwagon."

Shen Qiao blinked.

Manager Zhou felt that was a pretty weird answer. He looked at Shen Qiao and asked, "Is that right, Wolf Cub?"

Shen Qiao looked back at Lu Zhe. The two of them had some sort of exchange using only their eyes. Just as Lu Zhe was about to lift a hand to cover Shen Qiao's mouth, Shen Qiao grabbed his wrist and held his hand away. He firmly answered, "No. I have a personal matter. It's very important."

Manager Zhou thought about the backgrounds of these two players, which were still shrouded in mystery. Ultimately, he nodded. "That's fine. You don't have a practice match scheduled for tomorrow anyway. That goes for all of you—if you have something important to take care of, try to get it done in these next two days. Coach Fang has scheduled practice matches for you starting the day after tomorrow."

No one else had any problems with that. However, Old Wo—who had been schooled into silence just a few minutes ago—couldn't keep his mouth shut yet again. He cheekily ventured, "I'm really curious. Daddy Wolf, what personal matter could you have that's more important than Captain Lu?"

Shen Qiao didn't entertain him with an answer. He only curtly responded, "Guess?"

Lu Zhe smiled and added, "Old Wo, would you like me to craft a special personal training regimen for you and only you tomorrow?"

Old Wo panickedly blurted out, "Daddy, please forgive me! Love me again!"

……

"Good morning, professors. My name is Lu Zhe, a business major of the School of Management's Class of 2015…"

Out in the hallway, Shen Qiao heard a familiar voice drifting out from inside a small conference room. He lifted his head and gazed up at the lights on the ceiling, then looked towards a window not too far away.

It was strange. He'd clearly attended school before. Although he'd never gone to school in this place, he still felt an inordinate amount of restlessness there. It was like he couldn't let down his guard.

This was a world from which he'd always been far removed.

And so he was nervous for no reason, like he was the one in that conference room, presenting his research to a bunch of unfamiliar teachers. He was anxious, even though he couldn't understand any of the things Lu Zhe said.

Whenever Shen Qiao was nervous, he wanted to smoke. But he only brushed his fingers together for a while. In the end, he didn't even take out his cigarette pack.

He didn't even dare pace around the hall, for fear of being caught by a professor he didn't know and questioned about who he was and what he was doing there. He felt like a stray cat who'd accidentally wandered into a human's territory. Carefully, practically tiptoeing, he slipped towards the stairwell and made his way down to the lobby on the ground floor.

His unease only started to dissipate once he was outside, breathing in fresh air again.

Lu Zhe's university campus wasn't small at all. It was summer break now. Students who had come back early to continue their studies, or students who hadn't gone home for the break at all, occasionally passed by.

Once again, Shen Qiao drew a lot of attention to himself with his inordinately good looks.

Shen Qiao was almost always calm and reserved, but in this place, he felt so uneasy that he couldn't even reach for his cigarettes. He didn't know what to do with his hands. Luckily, he soon received a cell phone call that snapped him out of his anxious state.

He picked up the phone and took a few steps away from the building to look back and check the building's name, before answering the person on the other end of the line.

……

After receiving his final scores from the professors judging his defense, Lu Zhe let out a breath of relief. He politely thanked each professor, as was customary, and offered to treat them to lunch. However, the professors still had other matters to attend to that day, so no lunch plans were made. They sent Lu Zhe off with their blessings and congratulations.

"We know you won't be making a living in this field in the future, but I hope you won't lose your way or get too far ahead of yourself in life."

"Gaming is a pretty good industry. Reaching the top of any industry makes you an elite. In many ways, you've already accomplished more than I did when I was your age."

"I've taken a look at the websites you young people use, and phew! People get really worked up, don't they? When games are lost, they really spew all sorts of vitriolic nonsense on those forums. Now, listen to me. You only live once. In the end, as long as you're satisfied with yourself, that's all that matters. Let those other people say whatever they want."

Lu Zhe smiled faintly as he listened to each professor's advice. He earnestly thanked them one by one, for their words and their guidance throughout the years. By the time he finished all the necessary procedures for his graduation and received his important documents, nearly an hour had passed.

When he stepped out of the office, he kept an eye out for Shen Qiao all the while. But when he didn't see Shen Qiao anywhere, he had to wonder—

Didn't that guy take time off yesterday?

Was his reason for taking time off really unrelated to me?

Lu Zhe was starting to feel a little sour. The smile on his face even faded away as he made his way out of the building. But as soon as he took one step outside, he heard a voice from next to him—

"Did it go well?"

Lu Zhe froze for just a second. In an instant, it was like all the clouds in his heart parted, letting the sun shine through again. He smiled brightly and stopped, turning to the person next to him. "Of course."

As soon as he turned—

Shen Qiao stepped towards him, holding out a large bouquet of flowers.

"Here," he said. "Congratulations on your graduation."

Lu Zhe stared at the flowers for a moment, then burst out laughing. "Which little fan gave these to you?"

He just couldn't imagine Shen Qiao buying flowers, after all.

Shen Qiao was quiet for a few seconds before he slowly lifted his gaze to look at Lu Zhe. "Are… are you not supposed to give flowers at a graduation?"

Lu Zhe instantly realized his mistake. He quickly changed his tune and said, "Of course you're supposed to! Ah, I just didn't imagine I would receive this treatment today."

Shen Qiao smiled. It was a radiantly bright, honest smile.

"I had to," he said, speaking each word slowly and deliberately. "Didn't I promise you? What everyone else has, you'll have as well."

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