WTG made it through.
The matchups for the semifinals would be drawn randomly. Of the four teams who made it to the top, two were LPL teams—WTG and DG. The other teams in the semifinals were SLG, who'd previously defeated BLX, and Z1 from the European division.
On the day of the draw, DG's players were all on edge. They didn't want to clash against WTG again so soon—
One reason was that they were both teams from the same region, who'd clashed in the spring and summer tournaments already. They often played practice matches against each other as well. Even though they hadn't arranged any practice games against each other since the start of the world championship tournament, they knew each other's tactics and strategies very well. They'd fought in best-of-one, best-of-three, and best-of-five style matches before, making it so that they truly knew each other inside and out.
The second reason was that if they met in the semifinals, it meant only one team from the LPL would make it to the finals. Either DG would eliminate WTG, or WTG would eliminate DG.
The loser would definitely be devastated.
DG wasn't the only team thinking this way. WTG didn't want to meet them in the semifinals either. After all, DG hadn't played well against them in the spring tournament due to Fish's unexpected condition. And in the summer tournament, Lu Zhe had been out with an injury. WTG didn't get to face off against DG at their full strength during either of those games. When DG played in their 'complete' form, as defined by all the big commentators in the industry, there were no guarantees of victory for WTG.
And it seemed a higher power heard the wishes of these two giants of the LPL—
The results of the draw came out.
DG vs SLG.
WTG vs Z1.
As soon as the official announcement came out, the domestic esports circle whipped themselves into an excited frenzy.
[Charge!!! I want to see our LPL take the finals this year!!!]
[Let my dreams come true without any suspense, okay? I want to see our LPL dominate this year!]
[WTG, go! DG, go! Fans of both sides should strike a truce right now and support both teams, to cheer on the LPL together. PS: Obviously we'll be enemies again if we meet in the finals!]
[Wolf Cub! The time has come to avenge your former teammates!]
[Let's set a small goal first, okay? I just want us to take home a biiiiiig trophy. That's totally doable, right? SlightSmile.jpg]
In addition to the voices of the fans, the official Weibo accounts of the two LPL teams also shared the official announcement of the semifinals match-ups and cheered each other on.
@DGeSportsClub: Show no fear of daunting peaks. The view from the highest mountains… I want to see it again. DG, good luck! @WTGeSportsClub Brothers, see you in the finals!
WTG shared the same message and added their team's logo, echoing DG through the comments—
Brothers, see you in the finals!
The fiery atmosphere scorched the land and sky.
Besides the fans that continued to spew hatred and vitriol in the comments of BLX's official Weibo, all the other fans of the LPL rallied around WTG and DG, cheering them on and wishing them smooth victories in the semifinals so that they could meet at the finals—the peak of their world.
The personal accounts of BLX's players were completely silent during this time. None of them wanted to stick their necks out and draw the storm of ire to themselves. At most, the braver players would host a livestream, weathering the storm of insults that inevitably came through the bullet comments.
As for DG—
Shen Qiao hadn't streamed since the start of the world championship tournament. He didn't want his state of mind to be affected, and there were still lots of practices that he needed to attend. He didn't want his strategies to be leaked at such a critical time either, so he'd decided to make up for his streaming hours after the tournament.
Lu Zhe didn't have many mandatory streaming hours in his contract anyway, so he had no concept of feeling obligated to stream. Only Old Wo and Er-Hua queued up together and logged a few hours. Even Qian Bao simply remained mired in her own training.
Shen Qiao had originally been queuing with Lu Zhe.
After spending half a year with DG, where the team culture was fairly relaxed, Shen Qiao had improved. His hands were more nimble, his play style was more aggressive, but inexplicably…
In ranked games, he couldn't do anything but lose.
Simply put, he was a beast in tournament games, and a lowly guard dog at home.
Many of their opponents weren't very tough at all, but because Shen Qiao didn't like playing conventional champions like Aatrox or Ornn in the top lane, and insisted on choosing bizarre champions like Camille Ferros, Akali, Corki, Qiyana, and so on, he ultimately spent most games as the underdog.
His other teammates might all take seven or eight kills, blossoming into capable carries, while Shen Qiao's poor 4-10-7 performance made them lose in the final battle around their base in the end.
If Lu Zhe didn't wholly devote himself to the top lane, then the enemy top laner would basically gank Shen Qiao like crazy. And if Shen Qiao was playing a fragile champion, it wouldn't be anything out of the ordinary for him to be slain three times in a row.
After dragging Lu Zhe down in the ranks until Lu Zhe was teetering on the edge of ranking down, Shen Qiao adamantly refused to queue up with Lu Zhe again.
Lu Zhe looked amused. "You really don't want to team up with me anymore?"
Shen Qiao, still wearing headphones, coldly huffed a stern affirmative.
Lu Zhe didn't pay attention to his own game for much longer, and he completely ignored all the friend requests that were streaming in for him. He shifted his chair over to Shen Qiao's desk and checked out how Shen Qiao was playing.
After one game began, Lu Zhe immediately raised his eyebrows and said, "Oh?"
Shen Qiao hadn't paid much attention to the chat or IDs of the other players. After all, as long as he could identify key icons and recognize common abbreviations in English, he would be fine. He didn't have much interest in the long strings of Korean at all.
But he followed Lu Zhe's gaze when he heard Lu Zhe's voice, seeing that Lu Zhe had taken an interest in a specific spot on his screen.
There was a very familiar ID, in English, on Shen Qiao's list of teammates.
It was SLG's mid-laner Crown.
Shen Qiao also raised his eyebrows.
Then he looked down a bit more and found another familiar ID—
The support on his team was Leee.
That was none other than Lele.
Almost as soon as Shen Qiao noticed that name, Lele typed a message into the team chat.
Lele could only type in pinyin in this chat, which was something Shen Qiao hadn't seen in quite a while. He couldn't help but smile as he looked at that familiar text once more, responding with a string of pinyin himself.
Lu Zhe watched him play from the side.
The only two other players on DG who were relatively idle were Zhao Yue and Zheng Zhizhuo. No matter who won in the semifinals, there wouldn't be another chance for either of them to take the stage again. Their world championship run was essentially over, and neither of them had a streaming contract either, since they were both underage.
When they happened to glance over and see Shen Qiao playing with the world-famous Crown, they also scooted over to watch. Before long, a few new heads popped up behind Shen Qiao.
Shen Qiao died at one point and switched his gear back at his base. When he turned at that time, he nearly jumped at the sight of all the people gathered behind him.
"What are you all doing?"
"Checking out our enemy's state of play in advance, of course," Qian Bao self-righteously explained.
Shen Qiao was a bit speechless. "…if I didn't know better, I would've thought I was going 1v1 with Crown. What can you tell from this, anyway? His champion pool is so deep that it's a champion sea."
That was true.
Ever since he started playing in S4, Crown had set new heights and expectations for doing damage as a mid-laner. Many other players tried to learn from him and imitate him, but Crown had a unique understanding of many champions. He'd invented new plays all by himself, constantly raising the bar for all middle laners. In recent years, he had been affected by some old injuries; that was the only reason his play may not have been as sharp and hard-hitting as usual.
He was still the demon king of the middle lane.
Qian Bao glanced at Shen Qiao's team info while Shen Qiao adjusted his equipment. "Phew… your Lucian, and Crown's Ekko… that's something you'd only see from the two of you."
Zhao Yue couldn't help but sigh. "The top and middle laner are both going against the flow."
Suddenly surrounded by spectators, Shen Qiao couldn't help but feel a little ashamed. After all, he'd been schooled by the enemy top and middle laners a few times during that game already. It was only with Lu Zhe that he would sometimes try to explain himself. Now, Shen Qiao could only blush faintly and mumble, "I really am playing poorly this round. But our bottom laners are pretty strong. We should be able to win. The support is Lele."
With Shen Qiao praising Lele, Qian Bao also chimed in, "I was wondering why this Nautilus was so powerful! He even got a solo kill earlier. So it's Mo Mo's epic partner, huh? Got it, got it."
Lu Zhe noticed Shen Qiao's discomfort. He lifted a hand and shooed the others away. "If you want to study the enemy, go talk to Coach Fang. Stop crowding around here."
After that, he turned to Shen Qiao and calmly added, "Don't worry. You're not playing poorly. Crown is at 3-4 right now, and you're only 2-3. You have one less death than him."
Hearing that, Shen Qiao was helplessly silent for a few seconds, before he suddenly laughed and said, "Is that how you comfort people?"
"No," Lu Zhe deadpanned.
Shen Qiao made a curious noise.
Lu Zhe smiled and lifted his chin at the screen, indicating to the game that was being pushed to the final stages. "I'm just saying, you have at least three pro players in this game with you. And one of them is Crown. You're bold enough to drag him down with your strange champion choices, and yet you're still afraid to queue up with me?"
Shen Qiao fell silent.
He respawned at the fountain, then headed out to clear away some more minions. Calmly, he stated, "I'm not dragging him down."
"Yeah, totally. You're not," Lu Zhe said. "That fight in the bottom lane earlier? He definitely didn't rush in because you went 1v3 against the enemy."
Shen Qiao was silent again.
He had nothing to say to that.
He hadn't imagined that Lu Zhe would completely abandon his own training just because he stopped queuing with him, just to watch Shen Qiao drag others down while queuing alone.
As Shen Qiao watched his own side's Nexus be blown to bits, he quickly gave up on his resolve and said, "Fine, fine, fine. Let's queue together. Go, go. Team up."
Lu Zhe saw that Shen Qiao genuinely felt a little guilty about dragging his team down with him. He lifted a hand and tousled Shen Qiao's hair, then rested his hand on Shen Qiao's nape for a moment before giving his shoulders a squeeze. "Don't worry. There's no pressure when you're with me. I just love ranking down with you. Okay?
"I can still drop a hundred points or so in this rank. What am I afraid of? We play together in tournaments. What's so scary about playing ranked together?"
Shen Qiao quietly mumbled, "It's not the same."
"Hm?" Lu Zhe hummed.
Shen Qiao looked left and right. He saw that Zhao Yue and Zheng Zhizhuo had gone off to the snacks area to have some beef jerky, and Qian Bao had put her own headset back on to continue her training.
It was only then that Shen Qiao muttered, "I don't want to drag you down. I want to take you to victory. I want to win with you in tournaments, and I want to win with you in ranked games."
Lu Zhe was struck right in the heart by these soft words from Shen Qiao. He was typically a very shameless person, but he was always deeply affected by Shen Qiao's simple words of affection. He averted his gaze for a second, then looked back.
A beautiful smile bloomed across his lips.
Two days later—
DG vs SLG.
The game was set to go live.
Lu Zhe put on his headset and tested the mic. He glanced to the side and slowly said, "Qiaoqiao."
Shen Qiao instinctively looked over at him. "Hm?"
The light of the arena rained down on them. Lu Zhe smiled as beautifully as he had in the training room that day. His eyes looked like they were filled with countless stars, bursting and scattering stardust through the skies. His voice was soft, flowing through the mic and straight into Shen Qiao's ears—
"Take me to victory."