The entire esports community was tuning in to watch BLX's game.
For one thing, their opponent was a strong team from the LCK. For another, this match would determine if one more LPL team could qualify for the finals. And for a third, BLX hadn't done well in recent years. They'd never brought home a world championship trophy. Their fans were all obsessed with this win. Since BLX had fought their way into the world championship tournament, all their fans naturally wanted them to take home the grand prize.
BLX hadn't done so well in the spring tournament that year, but they quickly made some additions and added the promising newcomer Xu Xiao to their ranks. From then on, they instantly brought their team back into peak condition.
Now they were up against SLG of the LCK. Their game was considered a matchup of two seasoned, strong teams. No matter who won, no one would be surprised.
"BLX's game is about to start?"
In the gaming room at DG's hotel, Lu Zhe finished a ranked match and looked over when he heard the voices of a few foreign commentators from the projector in the neighboring room. He moved over just in time to see some sponsorship ads starting to run.
Old Wo got up and stretched, then picked up his ever-present thermos and unscrewed the lid. He poured the contents into his mouth, but only a weak trickle came out. Realizing he was running on empty, he wandered over to the water cooler while saying, "Is Crown getting ready to retire? I watched his livestream the other day, and it felt like he wasn't as aggressive as he used to be."
He was talking about SLG's mid-laner, who'd sat on SLG's bench for a year before becoming famous for leading SLG to two world championship titles. For a long time, Crown was known as the ideal mid-laner in the game of LoL.
The LCK wasn't exactly like the LPL. They valued a whole team's cohesiveness and rhythm above a single player's skill. For example, in the LPL, the best top laners were Wolf Cub, Xu Xiao, and Paopao. Some of them were aggressive, some were good at handling pressure, and some were support-type players. Each person's individuality shined through, and they were all strong in their own way. But in the LCK, each player's individuality may not have been as pronounced.
In earlier seasons of the game, most teams in the LCK played by the same book of tactics. In early-game, they held off their opponents and took their time developing their own champions. Then, they played to the strengths and advantages of the champions they'd picked up in the picks and bans phase. They let their advantage snowball from a small lead to a dominating one.
From the outside, these tactics made the LCK's teams look extremely impressive. But, truth be told, the players were interchangeable parts. They could have been swapped out for any other player, who could execute the same script.
And so, even when an LCK player was playing in peak performance, they would have a substitute ready to go.
Crown's current substitute was also a fairly strong mid-laner. In non-critical games, that kid could already be seen playing once in a while.
As a fellow mid-laner who'd faced off against Crown in the past, Qian Bao heard Old Wo's words and instantly chimed in, "He really isn't as aggressive these days, but his game awareness… ai, just look at his positioning in team fights. It's sick, you know? You'll see how sick he is when he cuts into BLX's back line. Speaking of which, I learned how to lurk in the underbrush from watching him play."
"Let's watch their picks and bans," Shen Qiao said. He finished up a game of his own, then got up to fetch a bottle of water from the fridge. Afterwards, he headed over to the armchair in front of the projector that was playing the game. He was pretty interested in seeing how his old teammates would play that day.
The armchair was situated right next to the longer couch. Lu Zhe was sitting on the side closest to Shen Qiao. He looked over at Shen Qiao and noted that Shen Qiao really hadn't been smoking much as of late, but he'd suddenly developed a habit of frequently drinking iced water in the middle of winter. Lu Zhe couldn't help but study him for a while longer.
On the projected screen, both teams took the stage.
They were watching a foreign broadcast, without any subtitles. But, fortunately, DG's players had all spent plenty of time playing blind on the Korean server. A language barrier didn't stop them from identifying all the tactics and plays that went into a game, and the IDs of the two sides in today's match were familiar to all of DG's players too.
Just as the picks and bans stage was set to start—
Lu Zhe suddenly got up from the couch and walked away. Shen Qiao subconsciously glanced at him and found him walking to the water cooler. Seeing that, Shen Qiao returned his attention to the projected screen to think about possible team comps.
SLG made their first bans, but neglected to lock up the Xayah and Rakan duo.
BLX didn't ban either of those champions either, and it just so happened that they were the blue team that would choose first. So they immediately took that powerful duo, then picked up LeBlanc for their middle lane, Rek'Sai as their jungler, and Aatrox in the top lane.
SLG took Mordekaiser, Lee Sin, Lissandra, Ezreal, and Tahm Kench.
"Ezreal and Tahm won't fare well against Xayah and Rakan in the bottom lane early in the game, right? So SLG's jungler is going to have to spend a lot of time down there. Forget Mordekaiser in the top, I guess." Old Wo started to analyze the team comps as soon as they were finalized. Right away, he could tell that BLX intended to hit SLG hard right from the start.
After all, Mo Mo and Lele were a famous bottom lane duo. In the LPL, they could cut through nearly any other bottom lane pair. Even Old Wo and Er-Hua could probably only win four of ten games against them.
Of course, that was assuming everyone's champions were equally matched. If the opponents' champions were far more powerful, then naturally the opponents would have the upper hand.
"Lee Sin can start ganking from Level 2, and Rek'Sai can't do as much as him in the early stages of the game," Qian Bao said. "If Lee Sin, Ezreal, and Tahm want to take on Xayah and Rakan… man, this is seriously one interesting lineup. Anyway, both sides did pretty well in the picks and bans. The outcome is going to depend on each player's condition."
Qian Bao stroked her chin while she spoke, giving off the same vibe as a commentator narrating a live game to fill up the lulls in action.
Shen Qiao didn't speak much. He just listened to them while quietly watching the game. Most of his attention was focused on the top lane.
After the game began—
Xu Xiao's Aatrox hit Level 6 first. He led by around ten in terms of creep score. It wasn't a particularly big gap, but he had Mordekaiser on the ropes. He bullied him back against SLG's tower, then called Rek'Sai over.
He clearly wanted Rek'Sai to help him take Mordekaiser's head.
Mordekaiser had just reached Level 5, and Aatrox was turning up the heat. This was an opportune moment to go in for the kill. It would help Aatrox gain even more of an advantage and do more damage in team fights later on in the game.
Aatrox led his minions to the tower while Rek'Sai crouched in the underbrush near the top lane. But Mordekaiser's ward in that area had yet to expire, which gave him eyes on Rek'Sai.
However, even after seeing Rek'Sai lurking around, Mordekaiser didn't retreat. He stuck closer to the tower and continued to farm minions. At just that time, Rek'Sai broke through Mordekaiser's forces and charged into the range of the tower, getting ready to work with Aatrox's ult to take Mordekaiser down.
But who could have known that Mordekaiser would instantly use his E to pull all the minions in front of the tower to himself. He followed that up with a Q, killing off the minions that had been beaten to low health by the tower. Instantly, Mordekaiser shot up to Level 6.
With his ult up and ready, Mordekaiser took a hit from Aatrox, then used his big move. Just as Rek'Sai rushed up to join the fray, Mordekaiser used his R to seal Aatrox in another dimension.
Mordekaiser's R could seal away an opponent and steal a portion of their stats. With Aatrox's stats augmenting his own, he gave chase and started wailing on his enemy, and he never missed—
"Holy shit? It's 1v2, but is Xu Xiao actually going to die?" Old Wo was stupefied. Although he didn't really like BLX's top laner as a person, he had to admit that Xu Xiao was one of the best top laners in the LPL.
Qian Bao sighed. "Mordekaiser has really turned the tables on them in this bout."
Er-Hua crossed his arms and leaned back against the couch. He calmly mused, "Mordekaiser is going to get two kills all by himself, isn't he?"
Shen Qiao watched as Rek'Sai loitered around, waiting for Xu Xiao to be released from Mordekaiser's prison. But they had no minions on hand, and the tower was doling out hits to them as well.
Shen Qiao nodded. "Mordekaiser is going to win big."
Unsurprisingly, just as Shen Qiao finished speaking, Xu Xiao was released. Rek'Sai charged up just then to reassume his attack, but he took a hit from the tower. Just as he wanted to flash and flee, he was yanked back by an E from Mordekaiser. With another hit from the tower—
That was it. Rek'Sai was gone.
Mordekaiser offed them both and instantly powered up.
"Aatrox is strong this season, he has a chance to make a comeback. As for Rek'Sai…" Lu Zhe hummed. He didn't think this was all that big of a deal for BLX's top laner. Aatrox really was strong that season, and everyone knew it. As long as he could stabilize, he would be able to kill Mordekaiser on his own later on.
In the jungle, Lee Sin had already teamed up with Lissandra to kill LeBlanc once. If Rek'Sai didn't hurry up and get something done, his team's resources and gold would start to lag behind.
Shen Qiao understood exactly what Lu Zhe meant.
DG's players watched as Rek'Sai moved down to the bottom lane to work with Xayah and Rakan, taking a cloud dragon along the way. But at that time, Lee Sin had already taken down the Rift Herald and used it to knock down Xu Xiao's outer turret in the top lane.
BLX had started out at an advantage in all three lanes, but now only their bottom lane was holding on to that advantage.
However, Xayah took considerably more time to build than Ezreal. While Ezreal could start doing some serious damage fairly early on, Xayah and other similar AD champions like Kai'Sa needed a lot more work before they could become a true threat.
And if Ezreal did well in a team fight, he could level up his equipment even more.
Which was to say, Ezreal and Tahm couldn't match up to BLX's Xayah and Rakan yet. But as long as they geared up, SLG would be at more of an advantage in team fights. They already had the advantage in the middle and top lanes, after all.
Things went just as the DG players predicted—
When the second dragon spawned, SLG forced BLX into a group fight. Lee Sin kicked LeBlanc straight into a group of his own teammates, where she was summarily butchered. Lissandra's positioning was excellent, so when Mordekaiser sealed Xayah away, she instantly targeted Rakan. Just as Ezreal was about to be slain by Aatrox, Tahm Kench stomped up and swallowed Ezreal whole, spitting him out a safe distance away a few seconds later.
"BLX, in this bout…"
"Holy shit, SLG took four kills and didn't give up a single death? Besides Aatrox, they wiped BLX out. This is too much, isn't it? What the hell is that Rek'Sai even doing?"
"BLX sort of fell apart in this one, huh."
"What did I tell you? This guy Crown… his timing, his positioning, his damage. Sick as hell."
Shen Qiao continued to watch his former teammates play, listening to Old Wo's words with one ear. His eyes were fixed to the screen. They were both teams from the LPL, after all, and BLX had been his old home. He hoped they would win.
Perhaps because he was feeling a bit anxious, he instinctively reached out for the water he'd placed next to him.
However, before he could find his water bottle, he felt Lu Zhe reach out and bump the back of his hand with a cup of warm water that had almost completely cooled by now. When Shen Qiao looked at it, then looked up at Lu Zhe, he saw Lu Zhe raise his eyebrows and silently mouth two words—
After a moment…
Shen Qiao took the cup of water and quietly lowered his head to drink.
A flash of satisfaction crossed Lu Zhe's eyes. He deliberately moved the bottle of iced water closer to his side, and out of Shen Qiao's reach.