In one fell swoop, SLG practically knocked BLX out.
The gap between their teams grew even wider.
SLG also took advantage of their win in the group fight to destroy BLX's mid-lane inner tower.
BLX knew where they stood. They knew they had to turn things around. But SLG had positioned their wards very cleverly, giving themselves a good view of the jungle. When the third dragon spawned, their champions were ready to engage. They swapped lanes amongst themselves and made good use of the increased damage they got from new gear. They were absolutely ready for the next fight over a dragon.
It would be Baron Nashor.
During this time, BLX couldn't find a good opportunity to initiate a fight. At most, Xu Xiao and their mid-laner could group up to try to gank Mordekaiser in the bottom lane. But Mordekaiser had a lot of HP at this point. When he was badly wounded, a teammate teleported in to assist. BLX's attempt at a gank failed, and they had to swiftly retreat before they gave up any more of their own lives.
Currently, SLG's equipment was nearing the third tier, while BLX's was still lagging behind on the second. If things continued like this, BLX would need a miracle. Otherwise, SLG would snowball their way straight to BLX's base.
"BLX has to be trying to figure out where they should start their next fight, right? SLG's wards are all near Baron Nashor. How about trying to go for a team fight there?" Old Wo mused. He stroked his chin as he tried to put himself in BLX's shoes.
"SLG has a visual on that area, BLX definitely won't be able to steal Baron Nashor. They'll have to duke it out. But… Lee Sin would be quick to arrive. It would be pretty risky, wouldn't it? SLG could take Baron Nashor instead," Er-Hua said, checking the position of the wards on the map. Judging by BLX's equipment, and their speed of slaying dragons, he couldn't help but worry that BLX wouldn't get much—not out of trying to kill Baron Nashor, and not out of trying to force a team fight.
Unless everyone on SLG suddenly got drunk, they wouldn't give BLX a chance to come back.
"BLX took the cloud dragon, huh…"
That season, the cloud dragon's buff increased movement speed. It wasn't much help against Baron Nashor. At best, it could help BLX flee faster or chase after people.
Zheng Zhizhuo raised his eyebrows. "Baron Nashor is out. SLG is heading in that direction."
"They want to force a fight with BLX? That works. BLX could go up and get into that fight when Baron Nashor is at sixty or seventy percent HP. If SLG are around at that time, BLX can take a stand. Rek'Sai carries, Aatrox does some damage… Xayah will have to chip in. SLG will be taking damage from Baron Nashor too, after all," Zhao Yue said, thinking of the best case scenario for BLX.
But was this something BLX could actually execute in reality?
Shen Qiao subconsciously squeezed the plastic cup in his hands. He'd already finished the water inside. The cup made a crinkling sound, but even that didn't draw Shen Qiao's gaze away from the screen. He watched as SLG got ready to engage Baron Nashor.
Mordekaiser only landed a few hits with his teammates before he wandered off to wait by the river. When Aatrox arrived, Mordekaiser reeled him in right away.
And when Xayah and Rakan rushed up, Mordekaiser sealed Xayah away in the blink of an eye.
BLX were caught off-guard.
Aatrox hesitated for a moment. He wasn't sure if he should wait for Xayah to get out of Mordekaiser's prison, so that they could take care of Mordekaiser together, or if he should charge into battle against the rest of SLG's champions.
LeBlanc was much more straightforward. She instantly charged in and dealt a few blows to the people grouped up around Baron Nashor—
Then turned and tried to run.
Lee Sin went after her and kicked her down in an instant. At the same time, SLG's support healed everyone up. As all their champions restored some HP, they saw Rek'Sai rushing in and immediately shaved off some of his health.
"This fight…" Old Wo trailed off, like he no longer knew what he could say.
Shen Qiao squeezed the cup in his hands again and mumbled, "Targeting the enemy one by one, only to be picked off one by one. This round is over."
BLX couldn't place their ults around SLG's carry. They were led around on wild goose chases by SLG's champions, while SLG kept Baron Nashor engaged as well, refusing to let the Baron's HP go back to full. SLG had already taken two lives from BLX. By the time they hacked away the Baron's last two thousand hit points, it was very possible that SLG could take the rest of BLX's champions down as well.
Luckily, BLX's Xayah managed to slay Mordekaiser with Aatrox after being released from Mordekaiser's prison. After that, they flung some more attacks at the SLG champions in the pit, but they couldn't ultimately change their fate.
BLX took two lives and handed over three, and they lost Baron Nashor.
That team fight could only be called a loss.
BLX also failed to take the Elder Dragon. Soon enough, SLG pushed up to their base with Baron Nashor's buff. BLX's carry was killed again and again, and SLG quickly secured the first win in the match.
Shen Qiao tossed his crumpled cup into the trash bin.
Lu Zhe glanced at him and smiled. "BLX should be pulling out all their secret tricks in the second round. Don't worry. That was only one game."
Shen Qiao hummed. His gaze swept over the advertisement playing on the screen, absently watching as he waited for the second game to begin.
Zheng Zhizhuo went and fetched a pack of potato chips. As he crunched noisily on his snack, he offered the bag to all his gege and jiejie as well. When he finally offered the bag to Shen Qiao, he prompted, "Wolfy-ge, want some?"
Shen Qiao shook his head, already watching the picks and bans stage on the screen.
SLG were playing the red side again, leaving BLX with blue.
Neither team changed up their bans much, and BLX chose their champions first.
"Lucian?" Old Wo muttered, raising his eyebrows. "Has Mo Mo practiced with this champion lately? This season's Graves…"
He rambled for a while, having assumed Mo Mo would take Ezreal. Mo Mo was BLX's carry, after all. He was the one who was expected to dole out the most damage, so it was common to see him take Ezreal.
Seeing BLX take Lucian, SLG instantly took Braum and Kai'Sa.
Next, BLX banned Lee Sin and locked in Renekton.
SLG immediately banned Renekton's most compatible partner, Elise. Then they took Mordekaiser for the top lane.
BLX chose Varus and Thresh.
All of Team DG's players sat up straighter.
"Holy shit, Lucian's a wildcard? Pulling that trick now… they've got guts."
"Coach, isn't this exactly what our Wolfy-ge wants to play the most? AD in the top lane?"
"No, Lucian won't necessarily be at an advantage against Mordekaiser. They might be planning on running him in the middle lane. AD in the middle lane… that's totally something BLX could have been practicing."
"Look at this lineup! I just knew BLX would have something up their sleeve!"
"Kai'Sa and Braum are pretty powerful together too. SLG has plenty of tricks too."
As the viewers chattered, SLG made their final picks to counter BLX. All the bans were basically in place, and seeing as Lucian was a sort of wildcard on BLX's side, SLG had no way of knowing where Lucian and Renekton would be played.
In the end, they decided not to guess. They took Rumble and Jarvan IV.
And so, SLG's final team comp was set as Mordekaiser, Jarvan IV, Rumble, Kai'Sa, and Braum.
BLX had gone for Renekton, Gragas, Lucian, Varus, and Thresh.
Lucian's range was better than Rumble's, and Renekton hit harder than Mordekaiser. Both sides had tanks, and BLX had the advantage of being able to initiate fights. Judging by their full team compositions, BLX would start off in a superior position.
Plus, champions like Renekton massively improved their team's margin for error in team fights. As long as Braum first exhausted his ult, a powered-up Renekton could charge in blindly and hack away at the enemy. Rumble, Kai'Sa, whoever—regardless of whether the enemy was brittle or tanky, Renekton could easily hack them to death.
And Rumble didn't have many displacement skills.
Even when Renekton didn't have much of an advantage in early-game, he could still act as a tank and protect Varus and Lucian. In this double AD lineup, they would be able to do a considerable amount of damage in team fights.
With Thresh around, Varus and Lucian would also have a rather high survivability rate.
Once the lineups were finalized, DG's players began watching the screen even more intently. Both teams had deviated somewhat from the norm. The results would depend on whether SLG played extremely well in their bottom lane, and whether BLX could make good use of the natural advantages of their team comp.
Thirty-five minutes into the game—
BLX had built up a gold advantage of eight thousand. But in one inexplicable bout, SLG managed to take three of their lives. SLG used that opportunity to push up to their base, but BLX was able to regroup in time and fend them off.
SLG engaged Baron Nashor and forced BLX into a team fight.
The two sides clashed fiercely, flinging attacks back and forth. It was just then that the footage zoomed in on BLX's base, where SLG's minions had already arrived to begin their attack. Suddenly, a red teleportation beam appeared next to the Nexus.
It was SLG's mid-laner, Rumble. He'd teleported straight over to join the minions in their assault on the second Nexus turret.
BLX tried to rush back to their base, but they were disrupted by SLG's remaining champions, Renekton managed to break away and return, trying to save their Nexus.
A blue light also lit up at the BLX base.
Rumble had SLG's one and only mountain dragon buff on him. Because he had already hit Level 16, he clashed with Renekton, leading him around on a chase while finding an opportunity every now and then to strike the Nexus.
The blue side's Nexus was down to 50% HP.
Renekton cleared away as many of SLG's minions as he could, while closing in on Rumble in the process. This battle had all the spectators holding their breath—
One after another, the other SLG and BLX champions rushed in.
The low-health Braum came in and deployed his shield, blocking Lucian's moves and Varus's skills. Kai'Sa worked with Rumble to attack the Nexus nonstop. Braum died; Jarvan IV and Mordekaiser had already gone down in the earlier team fight.
BLX only had Renekton, Lucian, and Varus left on their side, trying to fend off Kai'Sa and Rumble. Both teams were badly bloodied; no one knew who would emerge victorious in the end.
BLX's Nexus had 20% HP left.
Lucian tried to get the jump on Kai'Sa, but Kai'Sa instantly opened up a distance between them. She rushed over to the other side and charged directly at Varus and Renekton, like she was eager to die.
At that point, SLG's next wave of minions arrived at the base. Rumble continued to attack the lower, one A after another after another. Renekton and the others made short work of Kai'Sa, ending her life in a matter of seconds. They then turned to target Rumble, only to have Rumble turn and spew fire at them.
The minions got closer, cutting the Nexus down to its last sliver of health.
Lucian took the time to clear them away.
The fallen minions littered the ground with corpses.
Rumble suddenly chose exactly the right second to go into stasis, and when he emerged from that state—
He hit the Nexus with one more A.
"Oh my god!"
"Fuck! SLG was really…"
"This Rumble… I'm scared."
Inside DG's hotel, everyone watched on in shock as BLX's lead of eight thousand gold was overturned. They couldn't have imagined that BLX, with such a huge advantage and such a powerful lineup, could be successfully demolished by SLG.
BLX didn't just lose another point in this round. They lost their momentum. Victory had been in sight when they had the tables turned on them.
Qian Bao sighed. "Crown is really… too strong."
Shen Qiao couldn't say anything. He was starting to get a not-so-good feeling. Under these circumstances, if BLX couldn't collect themselves and forge ahead, it would be very possible for SLG to take three wins in a row and sweep BLX in this best-of-five.
Lu Zhe didn't have much to say either. It was clear that both sides had given their all in this round. Sometimes, in games like these, it wasn't necessarily the strongest lineup or strongest players who won.
In these games, any outcome was possible.
He took a breath, then slowly said, "Let's see if BLX has anything new to bring to the table in the third game."
SLG had fallen to a huge disadvantage in this game. In the next round, they should definitely ban Renekton and Lucian, right?
If BLX could come up with something new to work around those bans, there was a chance they could continue to fight.
Or if they went with a standard team comp and played well, they would be able to survive.
The most fearsome thing was the death of their momentum.
Thirty minutes into the third round—
Shen Qiao got up and headed towards the restroom. He hadn't smoked in several days. Shortly after he lit a cigarette by the door to the restroom, he felt his phone vibrate.
He heard footsteps coming from around the corner as well.
He took a deep, long drag from his cigarette, letting the smoke circulate in his lungs before breathing it out again. He took out his phone, expecting to see a message from Lu Zhe, but—it was from Lele.
There was just one line.
Qiao-ge, good luck at your next game.
Shen Qiao's heart stuttered.
At the same time, Lu Zhe rounded the corner. He lifted a hand and pressed it to the wall, gazing at the cigarette between Shen Qiao's fingers. He raised his eyebrows, but didn't say much.
He just asked, "Let me take a drag?"
It didn't matter how many times they saw it. It didn't matter how cold Lu Zhe's heart could be. Whenever they saw teams from their division being cut down, they couldn't remain indifferent.
Fans would never know how harshly players blamed themselves after a loss, and they would never know how much sweat BLX had poured into this season.
They only knew that BLX lost. Their fond sentiments for the team would be sharpened into blades by this defeat. They would turn on the team, stabbing wildly at the tender hearts of Mo Mo, Lele, and Xu Xiao. Even if no one looked, it would be easy to guess that the comments on BLX's official Weibo would have turned into a sea of ridicule by now.
When a team won, their fans praised them more than anyone else. And when they lose, their fans would cuss at them more fiercely than anyone else.
That was the nature of the esports world.
Shen Qiao lifted his hand and brought his cigarette to Lu Zhe's lips. Lu Zhe lowered his head and sealed his lips over the spot where Shen Qiao's mouth had just been. He tasted the sting of mint and smoke as he breathed in. After a long while, he let out a breath of smoke.
He breathed out all of those emotions that he had suppressed while watching BLX's match.
"Let's go back. Training is about to start."
Shen Qiao stubbed out the cigarette in the sink next to him, then opened the tap to wash away the ash. He tossed the butt into a nearby trash bin and started following Lu Zhe back.
After a few steps, he stopped and very seriously, very earnestly said, "Lu Zhe. We have to win."
"Mm." Lu Zhe turned and looked at him. His eyes were still soft and gentle, and he stopped in his step as well. He waited for Shen Qiao to catch up, and then the two of them walked back into the training room, side by side, shoulder to shoulder.
When they reached the door—
Shen Qiao saw that all their teammates, who had been slumped around the couches, had returned to their computers and loaded up the game.
Qian Bao was calling out for Zhao Yue to queue with her.
Old Wo was wailing after Er-Hua kicked him off his team.
Zheng Zhizhuo was next to Zhao Yue, pulling up the rankings on the Korean server to see how close he was to ranking up.
Lu Zhe saw their screens and cocked his head slightly. He didn't turn to look directly at Shen Qiao, and he only lightly uttered two words—
We'll definitely win.
Only victories and trophies could make all the blood and sweat they'd shed worthwhile.