DG's opponents in the knockout round would be Team OW—a North American team.
That team had already won the spring and summer tournaments in the North American division that year, and they had been a very strong contender at worlds last year as well. If they won the world championship as well, they would complete a grand slam that year.
Of course, there was also a strong team from the LCK that was in the exact same position.
The competition from the LPL, relatively speaking, was the fiercest. All three of the seeded teams at worlds were extremely powerful. WTG was a strong team with great momentum; they'd won the spring tournament that year, and they'd been the runner-ups at the summer tournament. BLX was an old, seasoned team from their division, and they were the summer champions of the year. Meanwhile, DG was the first team in the LPL to have won the world championship.
Everyone knew about DG's misfortunes that year. First there had been Fish's condition during the spring tournament, and then the incident with Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao during the summer tournament. Whenever the team seemed to build up some momentum, something happened to cause trouble for them. Ultimately, they'd had to duke it out to fight for that third qualifying spot for worlds.
No one could deny they'd struggled.
Now, they were up against a powerhouse team from North America in the knockout stage. Their fans couldn't help but sweat for them. They'd seen the way DG obliterated that wildcard team earlier in the group stage of the tournament, and now they feared an extremely abrupt fate would befall DG as well.
[DG seems to be especially fierce when they go up against teams from other divisions, but I don't know if they can live up to their reputation this time. I'm a bit worried.]
[I'm more worried about BLX. They've won plenty of spring and summer tournaments in the past, but… it's like they strike hard against their compatriots, but mellow out against foreign teams.]
[WTG, chaaarge! DG has already won worlds once. Isn't it our turn, as WTG fans? Doge.jpg]
[I can forget about the last two incidents, but if something happens to DG at this tournament, I'm going to start thinking you guys are playing us! Doge.jpg]
[Can BLX please have a world championship trophy? Can we please? Please please please please please?]
Before the match even began, the bullet comments in the livestreaming room were already flooding the screen. Fans from each team in the division were excitedly chatting, because the honor of winning a world championship was an honor the whole division shared. All the reasonable fans of the division came together in harmony during this time, hoping that a team from their own division could go far.
Now wasn't the time to tear each other down. It was a time when they should present a united front.
DG's players took the stage as the host announced their entrance. They gazed at the opposing team, dressed in fiery red uniforms, before all players took their respective seats.
The knockout stage consisted of best-of-five matches. Three points to win.
In these matches, the first team to win a round often got a morale boost that led them to steam through the rest of the matches, winning three in a row to claim victory. However, the team who lost first wouldn't be put under a huge amount of pressure either. They would get a chance to calmly regroup with their coaches and plan out their tactics. Best-of-five matches were long, drawn-out battles that tested each team's ability to remain stable.
Both sides cordially started out by banning each other's favored champions.
Qian Bao's LeBlanc, Lu Zhe's Elise, and Shen Qiao's Renekton were all banned. These bans clearly declared that OW had carefully studied up on Team DG, and they were ready to counter all of DG's tactics.
DG, on the other hand, didn't go out of their way to target their opponents' favorite champions. They gave more consideration to dismantling powerful team comps, first banning Xayah, Yuumi, and Pantheon.
The combination of Xayah and Rakan, as well as Ezreal and Yuumi, was especially powerful that season. Left unchecked, those duos could easily gain the advantage in the bottom lane and play a huge role in future team fights. Coach Fang's decisions were extremely quick and to-the-point.
He wanted his players to be able to set their own pace and develop comfortably in the early stages of the game, establishing advantages for themselves in their own lanes. That went for the bottom laners, as well as the top and middle laners.
Finally, the two teams were set—
DG would be running Aatrox, Lee Sin, Syndra, Arus, and Thresh.
OW would have Jayce, Jarvan IV, Zoe, Ezreal, and Tahm Kench.
Both sides were running fairly orthodox teams, without any bizarre elements. DG's side had Lee Sin and Thresh for initiating fights, and Aatrox was fairly tanky. OW would clearly be relying on their top laner, mid-laner, and jungler to work together. Ezreal could get going quickly, and Tahm was capable of protecting him in the early stages. That left Jarvan IV available to work with Jayce in the top lane. Once they powered up, they would be especially formidable in team fights.
Jarvan IV's skills and Jayce's damage output could carry them through.
In OW's team comp, Jarvan IV and Jayce could both be pretty tanky. If they built Tahm with a lot of HP as well, then DG would have to have a lot of DPS to crack them. Shen Qiao had originally wanted to take a champion who could deal more damage, to see if his own damage output could devastate the enemy tanks…
But he had been shot down by Coach Fang and pressured into choosing the more 'conventional' Aatrox.
"OW's picks… they'll be relying heavily on Jarvan IV in the early stages. If Jarvan IV can help Zoe, Jayce, or Ezreal get going early on, their team fights starting in the middle of the game will be a breeze."
The Chinese commentators were analyzing the game as it unfolded. Both teams were loading up the map now. At the same time, images of the two sides entering the rift appeared on the monitors, and a statistical analysis of the two team comps appeared at the center of the screen.
OW, surprisingly, had a predicted advantage in the early, middle, and late stages of the game, with their greatest forecasted advantage being in the middle stages—at which point they had a win-probability of 55%.
The bullet comments turned into a sea of laughter.
[Here it is, here it is! Colonel KI is talking trash again.]
[Are these stats broken? DG will clearly have the advantage in late-game, you know? Ordinary people can't make good use of Lee Sin late in the game, they just throw out a kick every now and then, but this is Captain Lu. Has this stupid AI not read the story of Lu Zhe going 10-0 with Lee Sin?]
[I'm a bit worried.]
[Qian Bao's Syndra is pretty good too, although not as wicked as her skills with LeBlanc. Still pretty good, though. As long as she can beat Zoe early on, she'll be fine! Let's make sure we establish dominance first.]
[I'm a DG fan, but I'm already hiding in my casket. I'll come back out when DG wins.]
At that time—
DG all got into position. They were the blue team. Lu Zhe moved into the lower half of the jungle, going after the red buff. He did some farming there, preparing to sweep the jungle from bottom to top.
"Looks like Captain Lu is planning to help Wolf Cub gank in the early stages. As long as Jayce doesn't get going, OW's damage output definitely won't be enough to get them through team fights. After all, this season… everyone knows the AD is a little didi," one of the commentators said.
"Actually, if you look at each lane individually…" The other commentator trailed off for a moment. He was just about to analyze each of DG's lanes separately when he had to cut himself off. The camera had panned up to the top lane, where Aatrox and Jayce were already exchanging blows like crazy. Shen Qiao had even led his minions ahead to the red team's tower.
"Wait, dude, this Aatrox… why is he so aggressive?"
"If I remember correctly, Jayce's range isn't bad, right? How on earth did this Aatrox hack away so much of his HP, and even bring his minions that far forward?"
"…all I can say is, leave it to Wolf Cub? I do believe Wolf Cub has played Aatrox more this season, and his damage output has been on the higher end."
"Jarvan IV has gone over—oh, wait, Jarvan IV has gone to the middle lane to help Zoe first. Zoe made a trip back to their base, and Jarvan IV helped keep an eye on their tower. Now he's cutting through the jungle to get to Jayce in the top lane. OW's bottom lane seems to have been completely suppressed."
"It seems Woow and Flower have taken advantage of the fact that Ezreal is still weak, and that OW's jungler isn't coming down to help. They're letting loose and pushing forward, and—oh? Thresh has hit Level 6, he's starting to wander around. He went over to deal with the enemy jungler, and…"
The other commentator nodded. "That's right. If OW doesn't come down to harass DG's bottom laners in this round, Woow and Flower will have a very comfortable time. They haven't just pulled ahead in creep score, they've given themselves enough of an advantage to help out in the other lanes. Money is already holding her own in the middle lane. If Thresh goes up to lend a hand, OW's middle lane is going to be torn apart.
The second commentator stared at the screen for a while before continuing, "But Jayce is being held back by Wolf Cub in the top lane, he needs help. OW clearly chose a team that would allow them to hold DG off until they were ready for a team fight, but DG isn't letting them play out that plan. They're playing aggressively, and just Jarvan IV alone… well, you can't expect him to do everything for a team, right?"
OW was thoroughly swept away by DG's rhythm.
Jarvan IV had to give up some of his resources in the jungle when he rushed to help his teammates. After helping, but failing to get any kills to make up for his lagging resources, the difference between him and Lu Zhe became more and more pronounced.
Although Qian Bao didn't succeed in killing Zoe in the early stages of the game, her creep score was over twenty above Zoe's. The situation in the bottom lane was the same; Varus and Thresh were dominating.
In the top lane, Aatrox was slightly behind Jayce in terms of creep score because of a shorter range, but it wasn't a big gap—
And this gap.
It only grew smaller when Lu Zhe went up to the top lane to help gank Jayce.
The top lane became the deciding point for both teams. OW wanted to use this gap in the top lane to create more of an advantage for themselves. Zoe went up from the middle lane, along with Jarvan IV. They intended to turn this fight into a 3v2.
But Qian Bao and Thresh also went up to join them.
In the end, DG wound up going 4v3 against OW.
"Jayce has been kicked down by Lee Sin, and offed by Aatrox! Jarvan IV and Zoe are here now, it looks like Lee Sin won't be able to escape. Ah, there it is, Lee Sin has been put to sleep by Zoe, and sure enough—"
"But Aatrox has turned around to fire back at them! And Thresh is here. He's got his hook, and… he's hooked Zoe! Syndra flashes in and gets the kill on Zoe. Jarvan IV wants to escape, but Aatrox gives chase. Hey, Aatrox, look at your HP! Can you not be so aggressive?"
"One death for three kills! DG also took the Rift Herald in this bout. They've definitely come out on top."
The situation unfolded just as the two commentators predicted.
OW collapsed on all three lanes. DG determined a decisive advantage for themselves from the start, then successfully took down the two infernal dragons that spawned. With the buff to increase their attack, they managed to kill their enemies a lot quicker.
No one could have imagined—
DG won the first round in the twenty-fifth minute of the game.
And it had been a near-crushing defeat for OW.
During the break, the five players headed backstage. Coach Fang looked over at Lu Zhe and asked, "What do you think? Go with the plan, or charge ahead?"
Lu Zhe glanced at Zhao Yue and Zheng Zhizhuo. He smiled and said, "I'm fine with whatever."
After saying that, he thought for a moment longer and added, "Everyone's in pretty good shape today. A-Yue's rhythm is pretty quick. It wouldn't be bad for him to go up against the enemy jungler today."
Zhao Yue and Zheng Zhizhuo were both still very young. If they got to experience a game at this scale now, they would surely develop into outstanding players in the LPL in the future. It wouldn't be bad for them to get a feel for the atmosphere of a big tournament.
Lu Zhe was even thinking that, in a few years, when he and the others retired, DG would continue to have promising players supporting the team. They wouldn't simply fade into obscurity as a brief flash in the history of the LPL.
Coach Fang was mulling it over with a very serious expression as well.
Earlier, in the group stage, they had indeed given Zhao Yue and Zheng Zhizhuo a chance to play. But right now, when DG was doing so well, it didn't feel right to change their lineup.
If they did and gave OW a chance to get their bearings…
He quickly decided, "Let's forget it. We shouldn't give our fans heart attacks at times like this. We'll stick with you for the next round. Let's take them down with a bang."
As soon as he said that, Coach Fang looked up and saw—
Lu Zhe had already wandered away to take a seat on the couch. The couch was very spacious, but he was plastered to Shen Qiao's side. He somehow produced a piece of chocolate from his pocket.
Shen Qiao was continuing a game of minesweeper that he hadn't finished earlier. He glanced over and saw the unwrapped chocolate. Without even thinking about it, he leaned over to take a bite.
Just as he bit down on that piece of chocolate, Shen Qiao heard someone call out to him, "Um, Daddy Wolf…"
Shen Qiao glanced over and noticed the camera that was positioned in the rest area.
He froze for a second, then planned on pulling back. But Lu Zhe only laughed and casually stuffed the chocolate into Shen Qiao's mouth. He crumpled up the wrapper and tossed it into the nearby trash bin, as if he didn't care about that camera at all. He even lightly tousled Shen Qiao's hair.
At the same time—
Lu Zhe checked the time and reminded everyone, "The second round is about to start."
Old Wo and the others stood up with him. Their team's silvery winter uniforms were all neat and tidy. The five of them filed out onto the stage, with the team logo on their back almost glowing dimly in the dark. Lu Zhe, second from last in this line, looked back at Shen Qiao and found a few crumbs of chocolate clinging to his lips.
He lifted a hand and helped Shen Qiao wipe them away.
Shen Qiao guessed at his intentions right away, and he didn't try to dodge Lu Zhe's hand. He let Lu Zhe wipe the traces of chocolate from his lips, leaving behind the phantom heat of his touch.
While the teams made their way from the rest areas to the stage, the lights all dimmed. None of the cameras were inside the passageway leading to the stage.
Shen Qiao thought of the call Lu Zhe had made to him last night. He lightly licked the corner of his own lips.
He looked out at the stage ahead of them, where flickering lights were raining down from above.
Those flashes of light seemed to form a flight of stairs, beckoning the players forward.
And he and Lu Zhe, together, were taking those stairs to the top.
Nothing could separate the two of them now.
I'll tell you guys what they talked about on the phone in the next chapter, hehehe.
The unstoppable DG is the best~