The first day of the group stage of the world championships.
The world championship tournament was split into five stages—the qualifying stage, the group stage, the knockout stage, the semifinals, and the finals. Because the LPL was a powerful division, their teams didn't need to play in the qualifying stage. They went straight into the group stage.
A total of sixteen teams would participate in the group stage. They would be divided into four groups, in which teams were split up from other teams from the same division.
Which was to say that DG, WTG, and BLX wouldn't meet up in that stage of the tournament.
After the separate groups were drawn, DG fell into Group A. Their three opponents were a wildcard team, an LCK team, and a team from North America.
BLX ended up in Group C, while WTG was assigned to Group D.
Group D had the strongest opponents; WTG would be in for one hell of a ride.
Worst of all, for WTG, the group stage was played as best-of-one matches in a double-round robin structure, meaning each team would play each of the other three teams twice. The rankings in their group would ultimately be decided by points. This was a structure that WTG didn't typically fare well with.
Once they saw the group assignments and schedule for the group stage, Coach Fang and Manager Zhou flew the players out to Europe right away, so that they could get there early and get over their jet lag. They wanted the players to have plenty of time to adjust to the rhythm and diet of life over there, in order to make sure the change in scenery didn't negatively impact their performance during the tournament.
If all other teams showed up feeling perfectly fine, and Team DG showed up yawning their faces off, their fans would definitely cuss them into an early retirement.
Manager Zhou had also brought along a cook that could make the players Chinese cuisine. He didn't want the players going out and eating random things all day, every day. After all, the esports industry frequently saw reports of players missing out on important games due to upset stomachs or food poisoning—ultimately leading to retirement. DG had already been unlucky enough that year. Manager Zhou didn't even want to take the smallest risks now.
Not only did he bring along a cook, he also reminded the players every single day—
"Report to me when you go out. Don't sneak out to eat. Your salary will be deducted if and when I catch you. Also, don't drink too much coffee. It's not good for you. And…"
Old Wo pointedly covered his ears with his hands. Er-Hua put on his own headphones as well. Qian Bao started to hum under her breath. Zhao Yue and Zheng Zhizhuo shrank into one corner, watching clips from tournament games; they even turned up the volume.
Shen Qiao was starting to furrow his brows as well, and it was Lu Zhe who simply said, "Stop."
Manager Zhou assumed there was something Lu Zhe wanted to say. He paused his own rambling speech and looked over, only to see Lu Zhe cross his arms and smile serenely.
"Can you stop nagging, Big Mouth? I'll watch them for you, alright?"
Then, Lu Zhe said to everyone else, "All of you be good. Or else all your wages will be mine."
Old Wo, Er-Hua, and Qian Bao all stared at him in disbelief.
Was that really a perk of being the captain?
When Old Wo was sure Manager Zhou wouldn't continue prattling, he dropped his hands from his ears and grinned at Lu Zhe. "Captain, using your power for personal gain is inappropriate, isn't it?"
Lu Zhe's serene smile didn't change at all. He only calmly looked at Old Wo and said, "I have no choice. I have a family to raise, after all. Of course I have to think of ways to earn a little more money."
Old Wo's eyes widened, and he immediately turned to Shen Qiao. "You're really not going to do anything about this?"
Qian Bao and Er-Hua instantly chimed in, doing their best imitation of an echo. They both repeated Old Wo's words.
Shen Qiao had just been playing Teamfight Tactics to unwind. When he realized Manager Zhou's nagging had stopped, he pulled off his headphones and glanced at the other players. "What?"
Lu Zhe was just about to tell him that it was nothing, but Old Wo quickly interjected, "Captain Lu was just saying he wanted to 'get a room' with you. We were all scolding him on your behalf."
Lu Zhe blinked.
Shen Qiao gave Lu Zhe a suspicious look, wondering why he was suddenly behaving like a complete deviant in public again.
Lu Zhe's expression remained unchanging. He stayed calm even after being inexplicably dissed by Old Wo. He simply met Shen Qiao's gaze with a faint smile and said, "He's making shit up—
"The sound insulation at our hotel is impeccable. Why should I go anywhere else to 'get a room'?"
Shen Qiao was silent.
He gave Lu Zhe a look, then looked over at Old Wo, and ultimately decided that he had no interest in participating in this conversation. He continued to play his own game. He managed to get a card to level up his Rumble, then switched up the positions of his champions and instantly sent his characters over to the other side to engage in a brawl.
Old Wo had been thoroughly scandalized by Lu Zhe's shameless comments. He hadn't expected that his own ears would be assaulted. He made a grossed out noise, then went to focus on his own game to cleanse his soul.
Er-Hua and Qian Bao both took in the entertaining show.
When Lu Zhe opened his mouth, they'd all completely forgotten about Manager Zhou's existence.
Manager Zhou gave Lu Zhe a thoroughly bewildered and perplexed look. Then he looked at Shen Qiao. After a few seconds, he turned back to Lu Zhe and said, "Captain Lu, step outside with me for a moment."
How did Lu Zhe know the hotel's soundproofing was good?
Could it be that, over the days since their arrival, he'd been…?
Manager Zhou didn't dare pursue that line of thinking too far, but he decided he had to have a serious talk with Lu Zhe about the matter.
Old Wo watched Lu Zhe tug off his headphones and head out the door. He turned to Er-Hua and prodded him, proudly starting, "What's that saying? About flowers and a willow tree?"
Er-Hua was silent for a moment.
"Though the flowers you carefully cultivate wither and die, a strong willow may grow from a single fallen branch?"
In this case, it would refer to Old Wo failing miserably in his attempts to get Shen Qiao to scold Lu Zhe, yet succeeding in at least getting Manager Zhou to give Lu Zhe that scolding.
Old Wo clapped his hands and said, "Right, right, right!"
Er-Hua huffed a laugh and calmly told him, "There's another saying that I could prescribe to you too. 'Red flowers and green willows, heralding a colorful spring.'"
"Huh?" Old Wo blinked. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Er-Hua steadily explained, "It means when Captain Lu comes back later, he'll beat you so good that your face takes on all the vibrant colors of spring."
Two sounds of stifled laughter came from the other side of the room.
Old Wo turned with a sound of indignation, spotting Zhao Yue and Zheng Zhizhuo. He waved those two little brats closer and said, "Come, come, come. Gege will teach you all about the art of the 1v1."
Zhao Yue and Zheng Zhizhuo both blinked in confusion.
Then they frantically shook their heads in refusal. After all, the pool of champions they knew how to play wasn't all that deep yet.
Qian Bao, who'd stayed out of the matter so far, finally spoke up. "You can't win against Er-Hua, so you want to bully the kids? Old Wo, why are you such a coward? If you think you're hot shit, you can… challenge Wolf Cub to a 1v1."
As everyone in DG knew, their team had one member who loved to 1v1 and had an incredibly deep pool of heroes. And that was—
Shen Qiao had just finished one round of his own game. He took off his headset and only heard the second half of Qian Bao's sentence. "Who wants to 1v1 me? I'm ready."
Old Wo was silent.
Er-Hua couldn't help but laugh out loud.
Although Shen Qiao had remained completely uninvolved in the bantering match that had just gone down, he was unknowingly about to avenge Lu Zhe.
When Lu Zhe returned, the first thing he saw was Old Wo being beaten to a pulp in a custom game in the rift.
Because it just so happened that he'd been randomly assigned Soraka as his champion.
Old Wo just couldn't figure out how Shen Qiao could so accurately calculate his mana usage and equipment bonuses, and how Shen Qiao could find the perfect moments to swoop in for the kill.
Wasn't this the same champion everyone played?!
Lu Zhe stood behind Shen Qiao and watched for a while. He had already watched countless games from Shen Qiao's perspective, but it never got old. The way Shen Qiao played was simply pleasing to the eye. It made Lu Zhe suddenly remember that, some years ago, it was Shen Qiao's gameplay during his livestreams that made a scout from a professional team take notice of him.
After watching Shen Qiao kill Old Wo three times, Lu Zhe suddenly asked, "Back when you were a streamer, were you extremely popular?"
Shen Qiao thought back and said, "Not really."
After a beat, he added, "I wasn't number one on the platform, at least."
And he hadn't streamed for very long before he was noticed by Team BLX. They'd been quick to offer him a tryout.
A winner and a loser had already been determined in the match between Shen Qiao and Old Wo. They didn't go on to play another round. Shen Qiao turned back to Lu Zhe and asked, "Why are you suddenly asking that?"
Lu Zhe glanced at his other teammates and didn't pursue that topic. Instead, he changed the subject and announced—
"We have a match against that wildcard team tomorrow. We'll be starting at two in the afternoon, and we'll need to get to the venue early. Tonight, we'll take a look at recordings of their previous games and get familiar with their play style."
Er-Hua and the others all called out their acknowledgement.
[DG's game is about to start! Let's set a small goal first! World domination isn't too much to ask for, right?!]
[I'm not asking them to improve. I just want them to keep their championship title from last year, please and thank you!]
[Lu Zhe, charge!!! I want to see you be the FMVP!]
[Please show me a crushing victory!]
[Number one in your group! Then take the semifinals! Then take the finals! Got it? Please follow my instructions to the letter!]
[I'm about to go pray to Buddha that you guys don't show up with any unforeseen circumstances ever again! Your luck has been so bad that it's got to be on the rise now, right? Wahhhhh!]
[You guys do us a favor and count up how many heart attacks you nearly gave us this season. Can we just win nice and easy for once? Hmmmmmm?]
Many fans left encouraging comments under the official announcement of the tournament schedule that was posted to DG's Weibo account. And several of these fans used very convoluted logic to cheer on the team.
The next day, all these fans showed up bright and early in the streaming room, getting ready to watch the game on their screens.
The announcers at the venue spoke in the local language, but there were Chinese translators working in real time to translate the content for the simulcast stream. Domestic commentators sat in a separate booth as well, giving their assessment of DG's performance as usual.
"Let's welcome Team DG from the LPL—"
"There they are! Wolfy, Zhe, Money, Woow, and Flower."
Sparks and indoor fireworks exploded from the stage as the five members of Team DG walked out in their silver team uniforms. The camera panned over Shen Qiao, Lu Zhe, and the others.
The stadium filled up with the piercing shrieks of fans who'd bought tickets for the match. Many were sitting in the front rows, holding up banners of support.
It was an exhilarating scene. But suddenly, someone just below the stage noticed with a sharp eye—
Shen Qiao was wearing a watch.
That watch had a blue band, and the watch face was decorated with diamonds. It was a dazzling piece.
A few seconds later, inside the WolfDog supertopic—
[OMFG, Wolf Cub actually wore the same lovers' bridge watch today! After worlds… are these two planning on going official? SlightlyTremblingHandHoldingCigarette.jpg]
Is that you, Sherlock?