WHEN AN ALPHA IS MARKED BY ONE OF HIS OWN KIND

Chapter 99

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[Congratulations to the LPL!!!!!!]

[No one will have a problem with it if I say this is the LPL's last chance to win worlds, right? Doge.jpg]

[DG took the title last year. Don't just listen to me, but be generous! Let WTG have it this year?]

[Yeah! Let WTG taste victory too!]

[DG, go!!! We have to wash away the shame of our spring and summer tournament losses at worlds!]

[Last year, DG was the runner-up at the spring tournament, the runner-up at the summer tournament, and the winners of the world championship tournament. This year, they went out in the semifinals in the spring, the semifinals in the summer, and now at worlds… you guys know what has to happen, right?]

[WTG players, listen to me! We lost the trophy this summer. Only the trophy from worlds will make up for it!]

[I don't even care, I'm just an LPL fan. I'm already thinking about what the championship skin will be.]

……

After WTG's victory, all esports fans were celebrating online. No one had expected the finals of the world championship to be a civil war between two teams from the LPL, after all. It would have been too high of a bar to expect something like that.

But this dream had actually come true.

This year's world championship was announcing to the whole world that the LPL was the top region in the industry!

Two of the outstanding LPL teams that had been sent to worlds had already cleared away all the tough, thorny obstacles in their path, and they were now heading towards the trophy that symbolized the ultimate honor in the game.

Compared to the two teams in the finals, all other teams were relatively relaxed. Even the special commentators invited to host the domestic stream were casually joking around. Whenever a champion they liked playing or simply liked came up, they would mention one of the teams in the finals and ask if they would choose that champion for the championship skin.

Zhao Yue and Zheng Zhizhuo were already preemptively celebrating. This was their first season with the LPL, after all, and they'd already been brought straight to the finals of the world championship. Regardless of whether DG won, and regardless of whether they stayed with DG in the future or not, their value in the industry would skyrocket.

After all, they could call themselves the jungling substitutes of the winner (or runner-up) of the world championship tournament.

They could call themselves substitutes of the FMVP of last year's world championship tournament.

Even thinking about it made them feel very dignified.

But the two kids were very well-behaved. They didn't celebrate in front of the other DG players, because they had also watched WTG's semifinals match. They knew that DG had recovered considerably since the incidents that befell them that season, but there were still no guarantees against an overwhelming team like WTG.

No one could predict the outcome.

After all, both teams had come this far. They only had one goal in mind.

The championship title.

People would only remember the champion.

There was no difference between the runner-up, the Top 4, or the Top 8.

Everyone knew this.

……

The day of the match.

Shen Qiao was sitting in the players' lounge. As usual, Lu Zhe and Coach Fang were reviewing their tactics for the day. After a while, Shen Qiao got up and started making his way out.

Lu Zhe glanced at him, thinking he was heading out to smoke. Shen Qiao had dramatically reduced the frequency of his smoking habit recently. Sometimes, Lu Zhe wouldn't see a cigarette butt in his trash bin for a few days in a row. And some days, Lu Zhe would spot two or three in there on the same day.

But since the team was getting better and better, Shen Qiao was smoking less and less.

Lu Zhe hadn't expected that he would still be so nervous at the finals.

After thinking about it for a moment, Lu Zhe got it. He could understand those nerves. This was Shen Qiao's first time at the finals of the world championship, after all.

Lu Zhe decided he had to go over and check on Shen Qiao.

After listening to Coach Fang finish what he was saying, Lu Zhe prepared to get up and head out. But it was just then that Shen Qiao suddenly returned. Lu Zhe froze for a moment, then looked up and asked, "You're back so soon?"

Shen Qiao blinked.

Lu Zhe realized after a second that his words had been a bit vague. He smiled and explained, "I just meant, I thought you were going out to smoke… hey, come here for a sec."

He interrupted himself and changed what he was saying halfway through, because he could tell that the faint scent of mint coming from Shen Qiao wasn't laced with the scent of cigarette smoke. He couldn't help but lift his brows as he beckoned Shen Qiao closer.

Shen Qiao knew what he wanted. He stuck one hand in his pocket and walked over to Lu Zhe, stopping directly in front of him and looking down to meet his gaze. The deep contours of Shen Qiao's face were backlit by the overhead lights.

He smiled faintly and said, "Didn't smoke."

The two of them had been together for a while now, and they'd already done very intimate things together. But now, seeing Shen Qiao like this, Lu Zhe felt like they were just starting to flirt all over again.

He kept gazing up at Shen Qiao as he asked, "Why didn't you smoke?"

Shen Qiao casually answered, "Quit."

Lu Zhe blinked.

He'd clearly seen a cigarette butt in Shen Qiao's room just a few days ago.

Shen Qiao seemed to know what he was thinking. He amended, "I'm quitting, starting from today. I'll never smoke again, for the rest of my life, in exchange for the championship title today."

Lu Zhe couldn't help but laugh out loud.

For once, their teammates didn't complain about them dishing out unwanted dog food. The other players were all engaged in their own pre-game rituals. Old Wo was trying to get the water in his thermos to be the perfect balance between hot and cold. Er-Hua was watching some videos from instructional streamers. Qian Bao was chatting with Zhao Yue and Zheng Zhizhuo, making plans with them to all have their hair done over New Year's, so that she could take advantage of a discount at her usual salon.

The two kids didn't say much about the tournament, but they were happy to chat with Qian Bao, and they were great at making conversation. They excitedly starting talking about what kind of colors they would consider for their hair.

"How about red? Red is happy, right?"

"I think gold is pretty good too."

"Wouldn't a slate blue be nice too?"

The corners of Coach Fang's lips twitched as he listened from one side, wondering where they got their eccentric aesthetics from. He interjected, "How about all of the above? Then when the feather duster at the HQ sheds all its feathers, your hair will be a great replacement."

Qian Bao, Zhao Yue, and Zheng Zhizhuo all fell silent.

Just then, Old Wo checked the time and screwed the cap of his thermos on. He turned to face the exit, just in time to hear a staff member call out to them—

"The game is about to start.

"Players, please get ready."

……

"Welcome one and all to the finals of the world championship in Berlin! You're about to witness a clash between the top two teams from the LPL. They are… DG! WTG!"

"On one side, we have last year's world champions. On the other side, we have a team who's appearing at worlds for the first time. Who will take home the grand prize this year?"

"Will the old kings defend their title? Or will a new king take the throne?"

"Let's wait and see!"

Shen Qiao, Lu Zhe, and the others took the stage with the commentators' rousing voices stirring up the crowd. They stood on the stage, opposite WTG's players, and listened as the crowd roared along with their introductions.

Shen Qiao had long since grown accustomed to being surrounded by spectators at both small and large events, so his expression didn't change much, and his mental state didn't fluctuate. Once the introductions were over, he made his way over to his computer and allowed the staff to check his equipment.

After everyone put on their headsets, Old Wo was the first to speak, just like when Shen Qiao first joined the team.

"Hey, hey. Captain. Wanna say a little something, as per tradition?"

Lu Zhe shook his head helplessly, but he didn't leave everyone waiting for long. He soon said, "I just have one simple thing to say to you all today. We're already here, so…"

He trailed off.

"Wow," Qian Bao and Er-Hua said in unison.

Shen Qiao picked up where Lu Zhe left off and continued, "So we may as well take a big trophy home with us?"

Lu Zhe smiled.

"Sure."

Old Wo grinned and said, "I like the sound of that."

Coach Fang checked the time and interrupted, "Alright. Wrap it up. Get ready for the picks and bans."

……

As usual, both teams were very careful with their bans. Shen Qiao's Renekton, Lu Zhe's Elise, and Qian Bao's LeBlanc were all sent to the ban list right away. As for DG, they banned Camille Ferros, Kai'Sa, and Aatrox, generally focusing more on WTG's bottom lane.

DG had the blue side for the first game.

And the first champion they chose was Syndra.

WTG took Thresh and Ezreal.

They clearly planned on duking it out in the bottom lane.

DG showed their hand as well—

They took Ezreal's typical partner, Yuumi, and paired her with Olaf.

Olaf and Yuumi were a somewhat unique duo, but Yuumi wasn't exactly weak in the bottom lane regardless of who she was paired with. After all, once Yuumi attached herself to the ADC, their enemy could only hit one of them while they could focus on two targets. Old Wo and Er-Hua had been trying this sort of combo in ranked matches lately, and they'd done pretty well with them. Well enough that Coach Fang had allowed the team to spend a few days practicing this duo.

As expected, those picks were enough to stun WTG. But they didn't panic. After banning a few ADs, they took Lee Sin as their jungler.

The two sides went back and forth, already battling in the picks and bans stage. Finally, the lineups were set—

DG had Ornn, Olaf, Syndra, Miss Fortune, and Yuumi.

WTG had Gangplank, Lee Sin, Lissandra, Ezreal, and Thresh.

Both sides had tanks, and both sides had champions who could engage. It would all depend on whose carries were stronger.

……

When the game began—

DG tried to counter-jungle, but they were quickly discovered. Four of WTG's champions came over, and the two sides duked it out while fighting over the blue buff in WTG's jungle. Ultimately, DG gave up on it and let WTG's jungler take it.

Both sides lost a bit of HP, but they held their own very well. No one carelessly gave away a kill.

After that, the champions clashed in their lanes. Ornn and Gangplank were both fairly tanky and not easy to gank. Rationally speaking, this game should have been focused more on the middle and bottom lanes. But WTG didn't play it by the book; they came up to gank Ornn at Level 4.

Shen Qiao's counter-gank skills had shown a lot of improvement throughout that season. This was the final match of the world championship, so naturally Shen Qiao kept plenty of wards around him for visibility. He took stock of his situation and estimated his chances of winning this fight, as well as how many minions and how much tower HP he would lose…

Then he retreated before Lee Sin could arrive.

Lee Sin tried to gank him once, but failed. He switched positions and waited for another chance. Shen Qiao had just emerged from under DG's tower when he saw Lee Sin leap over with a Q, sticking to one of his minions. Shen Qiao didn't want to face him yet, but he saw Lu Zhe taking on a dragon in the lower half of the jungle, so—

He may as well keep them busy.

Lee Sin and Gangplank were both thrilled to see him stick his neck out. They latched on to him right away, but in the end—Shen Qiao only casually threw out some skills, checked how long Lu Zhe would still need with the dragon, and decisively used his flash to get away.

He didn't want to stick around at all.

Lee Sin saw that Shen Qiao still had two-fifths of his HP left. Somehow, like his hand was moving faster than his brain, he used his flash as well.

Shen Qiao blinked. "Huh?"

Originally, Shen Qiao had felt he was taking a bit of a loss by using up his flash, but he'd managed to buy Lu Zhe some time to get more resources in the jungle, so it was fine. But now Lee Sin had used his flash as well. If Lee Sin didn't at least kill Shen Qiao, wouldn't he be the one taking a big loss now?

Shen Qiao reported the time of Lee Sin's flash in the chat channel, then said, "We can take the Rift Herald."

"Alright," Lu Zhe answered.

Then he made his way up to the top lane.

Qian Bao and her middle lane opponent were fighting tooth and nail. They looked like they would knock each other out at any second now. Both were looking for a way to break their opponent down while hiding behind their minions. They were clearly very hungry for that solo kill.

Lu Zhe passed by, squatting in the underbrush. He wanted to help Qian Bao take a kill, but the enemy Lissandra already knew that Lu Zhe had taken the first dragon. She'd preemptively guessed that Lu Zhe may come around to stalk her, and so she'd planted a ward—and did in fact spot Lu Zhe there.

Lu Zhe realized now that the other side was playing very cautiously. He stayed there for a short while, then decided to give up on that kill and head up to the top lane.

By then, Shen Qiao had hit Level 6.

When Lu Zhe was about to arrive, Shen Qiao and Gangplank were still exchanging blows. They were both down to half health. Since Shen Qiao could see that Lu Zhe was nearly there, he very casually used up his ult, summoning his elementals and sending them at Gangplank, who took every hit—

Lu Zhe's Olaf was capable of getting kills, fast. He immediately met up with Shen Qiao and turned on Gangplank, ready to take his head.

Although the top laner Gangplank had teleportation, he still used up his ult and flash before his death. By the end of that bout, he was basically running on empty.

Before his skills returned, he was basically a sitting duck that anyone could kill.

Qian Bao saw that there was a fight brewing in the top lane. She signaled to Shen Qiao and hurriedly brought her minions up to the top. WTG had lost a bit of their starting advantage. They knew DG's strengths, and they knew DG wouldn't let go of this chance to get the Rift Herald. The bottom laners were heading up as well, all eager to grab as many resources from the map as they could get.

Old Wo was left alone in the bottom lane with the minions. He called out to his teammates to tell them he wouldn't be joining them; rather, he'd stay right there to brazenly damage the enemy tower.

WTG's players were all standing around while Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao started to attack the Rift Herald. They tried to kill the enemy jungler first, while darting back and forth to keep their position. Yuumi came in at just that time, attaching herself to Lu Zhe.

When the Rift Herald was down to just over a thousand HP—

Lee Sin jumped in.

Yuumi and Olaf immediately took a shot at him. Yuumi used her ult, and Olaf threw out all his skills. Lissandra tried to freeze them, while Olaf used his ult to make himself immune. Instantly, he took Lee Sin down.

Olaf was at two kills now. No deaths.

Without Lee Sin, WTG immediately retreated without allowing DG to gain even more of an advantage. They waited for their two carries to get there before starting up another fight with DG.

They played cautiously, trying to make as few mistakes as possible, but Olaf and Yuumi simply worked too well together in this round. WTG ended up not being able to gank DG much at all. In a tournament game like this, if both teams were in good shape, the winner was really just the side that made fewer mistakes.

Had WTG been wrong to try to gank in the top lane?

No.

If they could have killed Shen Qiao once or twice, Lee Sin and Gangplank would have powered up immensely.

As for the Rift Herald, if WTG's Lee Sin hadn't died, it wouldn't have been easy to guess who the Herald would have gone to. The winners of each team fight were also determined on a case-by-case basis.

DG was just too strong with Olaf in that round. After grinding out all their resources in the jungle, they took the game following a second team fight around Baron Nashor.

For now, DG had a 1-0 lead.

The commentators at the venue rattled off some statistics. "In best-of-five matches, the team who takes the first round has a 70% win-rate for the whole match."

It was a matter of momentum.

By losing the first point, a team didn't just lose morale. They could be sent into a state of panic as well. If they didn't remain stable, they could easily give up another point and send the whole match to the match point game.

But how could WTG allow match point to arrive so easily?

In the second round, WTG boldly chose Kassadin for their middle lane. They tried to drag out the game, but DG severely limited Kassadin's development in the early stages of the game. In the first twenty minutes of the second round, DG didn't allow WTG to get a single kill, and Kassadin couldn't get his best gear either.

But.

Then came the team fight around Baron Nashor, the team fight around the Elder Dragon, and so on. The more times they clashed, the more chances DG gave to WTG to take their lives. When engaged in direct combat, it was inevitable that they would fall to Kassadin every now and then.

And it was just as they expected.

WTG held on tight in the early stages of the game. They refused to let DG get too far ahead. After twenty minutes, DG took three dragons and three towers, yet they only had a gold advantage of around four thousand. When the fight around Baron Nashor began, Qian Bao was killed by Kassadin. With four champions on DG's side facing off against WTG's five, Kassadin was able to collect two more heads after that.

WTG relied on Kassadin to save the day, dragging the game out to the thirty-minute mark. Once the second Baron Nashor spawned, WTG forced a group fight with DG again. Kassadin relied on his excellent positioning to take two more lives, then went straight home to change his gear.

Once he returned and engaged DG again, DG was unable to fend him off.

The match was now tied.

1-1.

The third round—

DG managed to get Shen Qiao's Renekton for the top lane, paired with Azir in the middle lane. They had Miss Fortune and Yuumi in the bottom lane, and Trundle in the jungle. WTG had taken Jayce, Gragas, Corki, Kai'Sa, and Braum.

They outright copied SLG's previous Kai'Sa and Braum combo.

Shen Qiao was immediately targeted. WTG had their top laner, mid-laner, and jungler gang up against him, giving him special attention. Renekton was very easily ganked before Level 6. If Shen Qiao only retreated and ran, he wouldn't be able to kill a single minion, and the enemy Jayce would leave him in the dust.

But Lu Zhe and Qian Bao were just a step too late with their support. Qian Bao even wasted a teleport to get over to the top lane. By then, Gragas and Corki had already left, which basically meant Qian Bao had used her teleport for nothing.

From then on, WTG started to snowball to a greater and greater advantage—

This season, Jayce's Q did a lot of damage. If he got going early on, he would be extremely hard to deal with later in the game. Renekton could cut into the back line, but Trundle was hulking around in front of him, and Corki's E had a wide range. If Jayce hit him from behind with just one shot, Renekton would be crippled without taking any heads. There just wasn't any good place where Renekton could start to do his damage.

Sometimes, Shen Qiao even needed to rely on Azir's ult from Qian Bao in order to escape certain doom.

Shen Qiao took every opportunity he could find to strengthen his champion, but WTG seemed to know his every move. They kept the pressure on with Jayce, forcing DG into team fights again and again. By the time Kai'Sa had her gear, Jayce had already become the daddy of the field, doing consistent damage. Braum's shield could take damage for Kai'Sa as well, so it was basically smooth sailing in team fights for WTG from there.

WTG started to push towards DG's inner tower with their minions. Old Wo stood guard, helpless to do anything except use up Miss Fortune's ult. Before his ult was even fully unleashed, the other side had started to attack Baron Nashor. Shen Qiao, Qian Bao, Lu Zhe, and Yuumi all rushed over to make it a 4v5 bout—

They intended to stall WTG until Baron Nashor was nearly down, so that Old Wo could come over and take the Baron with another ult.

But WTG didn't fall for it.

They simply gave up on Baron Nashor and focused on their fight against DG. Shen Qiao's Renekton couldn't do too much damage, and Qian Bao didn't have a headcount advantage either. Ultimately, Qian Bao had to use Azir's ult to save them again, but they still lost Er-Hua's Yuumi in the end.

Lu Zhe was also critically wounded.

They had to return to their base after that.

Seeing that they wouldn't be able to take Baron Nashor, Old Wo could only crouch in the underbrush nearby and grind his teeth. "They can't see me on this side. If we really can't make this work, I'll go in once my ult is ready and—"

But WTG had already anticipated that as well. Their jungler was as experienced as Lu Zhe. They didn't rush to take down Baron Nashor just because they feared DG would charge in against them again. Instead, they waited until the very last second, and took down Baron Nashor after making Old Wo waste Miss Fortune's ult.

DG's players—

"Fuck!"

"What the—"

"Ai, goddamn!"

"Just missed it by a bit!"

"Defense, defense! We still have a chance! Defense!"

They couldn't waste any time lamenting over missed opportunities. They instantly rushed back to defend their base, but WTG didn't rush out to them. Instead, WTG unhurriedly took a fourth dragon, then slowly started to hack away at DG's towers on all three lanes.

They guarded their cannons well, and bombarded DG.

The inner tower on the top lane, the inner tower on the bottom lane, middle lane… the base tower on the bottom lane, an inhibitor turret…

WTG reaped the rewards of that fierce push.

DG had lost visual on their own jungle now, but they couldn't just stand around and guard their base either, because the Elder Dragon was due to spawn. But there were still a few minutes left, which was plenty of time for WTG to return to their base and upgrade their equipment.

A few minutes. Was that enough for DG to get back on the right track?

No one knew.

But what everyone did know was that the next fight would be their last hope in this round.

If they let WTG get the Elder Dragon, they would be swept away.

Qian Bao took Er-Hua with her and started to traverse the jungle, hoping to kill the enemy jungler before the Elder Dragon fight began. That would at least create an opportunity for her team. However, as soon as she caught her target, the enemy's support rushed over as well, and their top and middle laners soon teleported in too.

Lu Zhe and Shen Qiao did take this chance to get a few hits in on the Elder Dragon, but they couldn't do enough damage. Qian Bao had strayed a little too far from them, so it was too late for them to go over there—

WTG wiped out one of DG's carries in one fell swoop.

Without Qian Bao, DG was left fighting in a 4v5. They were behind in equipment and experience to begin with, so they were helpless to stop the other side from wiping them out. Then they could only watch as WTG took the Elder Dragon and started to attack their base.

"Congratulations to Team WTG for taking a 2-1 lead over Team DG! They've reached match point first!"

After the first round, no one had imagined this moment coming to pass.

DG's players took off their headsets and got up from their seats. It didn't show on their faces, but a thin haze had descended upon all their hearts.

The opponent now had two more chances to win.

While DG would have to win two in a row.

Could they do it?

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