ALL-ROUND MID LANER

Chapter 39

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In the soundproofed room on stage, Ole Nie and Song Yu'ning hugged each other and held back their tears. The two of them had already turned in their resignation letters. This match was the final match they would play before leaving the professional league.

Unfortunately, they'd lost.

During the final critical fight around the grand dragon in the deciding game, they had been slain instantly by the opposing fighters. It was impossible for them to express in words how miserable they felt now. Old Nie was usually so merry and joyful, but in that moment he couldn't control his feelings of despair. He was about to leave the battlefield he loved so ardently. His condition was no longer good enough to continue playing in these high-stress games… he didn't want to accept it, but he had no other choice.

Chi Shuo stood up. He took the initiative to walk up to Ole Nie and A-Ning, lightly hugging his two teammates and whispering in a low voice, "Don't blame yourselves. We didn't lose because of the two of you. When the Zhao twins flash into the back line like that, no other marksman in the league could have escaped."

Old Nie bit back his tears and tightly hugged Chi Shuo back. "Next season, you guys play hard."

Chi Shuo nodded. "We will."

The five players all grouped up and hugged one another. Old Nie and Song Yu'ning came away with reddened eyes, but Chi Shuo's expression was still clear and calm. No matter how immense the pressure on his shoulders, he was used to burying those feelings deep in his heart.

Players weren't permitted to take their cell phones into those soundproofed rooms with them. Chi Shuo wouldn't see the messages Ye Shaoyang had sent until after the match.

Team Beimu, led by Zhao Xinping, crossed the stage to shake hands with Tianhuan's players.

Chi Shuo turned and politely shook their hands. Zhao Xinping didn't say a single word, but Zhao Xin'an actually ran up to comfort Old Nie.

"Sorry," he started. "We only beat you guys in that last game because of coincidence. Are you going to keep streaming after you retire? When you have time, let's play ranked together!"

Old Nie didn't know if he wanted to cry or laugh. "Has your streaming room been unbanned?"

Zhao Xin'an scratched his head. "Oh, not yet. Fuck, I just won't swear in my streaming rooms anymore."

Old Nie's mood started to stabilize. He gave Zhao Xin'an's shoulder a light pat, and his expression didn't carry any trace of offense.

After collecting themselves, Tianhuan's players approached the front of the stage and bowed before taking their leave.

For the players Nie Cheng and Song Yu'ning, this would be the last time they stood on that professional stage.

Ye Shaoyang watched their backs as they departed, feeling a melancholic ache in his heart.

Retirement was something every esports player had to face in the end. Old Nie and A-Ning couldn't be said to have retired in success, but after playing so many years with Tianhuan, they still took their final leave from this stage with their heads held up high.

These years… to them, it would be an experience that would be difficult to forget, right?

During the post-game review, the commentators gave the match their highest praises.

"Today's games were extremely exciting! The victorious Team Beimu gave us an outstanding performance, coming out with a ferocious dual-lane team comp. The Zhao twins were at the top of their game with their tacit understanding. However, we should also give a huge round of applause to Team Tianhuan."

"Tianhuan persevered in the face of adversity. That's truly worthy of our admiration. Their journey in this season ends here, but we hope this team will use their off-season to make any necessary adjustments, so that they can return next season and show us even more impressive games!"

"Friends in the audience, the S9 playoffs match between Team Tianhuan and Team Beimu has concluded. Our livestream will be ending here. We'll see you all next Saturday."

The big screens at the venue and the livestream of the game all started to replay some highlights, and the audience at the stadium started to file out.

Ye Shaoyang swiftly  led his didi out through the VIP walkway.

Star City's subways stopped running at midnight. It was currently half past eleven; they could still catch a train home.

The two of them didn't speak as they walked. Once they got home, Qin Rui changed his shoes and said, "Ge, Captain Chi invited you to join Tianhuan before, right? Have you thought about it? Do you want to go help them out?"

Little Rui was still a creature of emotion. Perhaps after seeing Tianhuan lose, he felt so sorry for them that he wanted to urge his gege to help them.

Ye Shaoyang leaned down and changed out of his shoes as well. He smiled slightly and patted his didi's shoulder. "Joining a team isn't a children's game. When I join Tianhuan, it won't be to act as their savior… it'll be because Tianhuan and I can lead each other to success."

Qin Rui lifted his head and looked at Ye Shaoyang, like he didn't quite understand what his gege was saying.

Ye Shaoyang said, "Players and teams have to choose each other. It's always been that way. Teams have to find a suitable player to add to their ranks, and players also have to find a suitable team for themselves. In the future, you'll understand."

Qin Rui scratched his head. He thought about the meaning of his gege's words for a while longer, before his eyes suddenly lit up. "Ge, what was it you just said? Did you say you'll join Tianhuan?!"

Ye Shaoyang smiled. "You heard the important part?"

"That's awesome!" Qin Rui giddily exclaimed. "Have you told Captain Chi?"

"I sent him a message," Ye Shaoyang said. "But he probably hasn't seen it yet."

 

During games, all of Tianhuan's players handed their phones over to Tang Can-jie to look after. As soon as Tang Can saw Chi Shuo after the game, she said, "Captain Chi, your phone rang a while ago. I think you have some messages, but I didn't dare take a look."

Chi Shuo took his cell phone back from her and opened up WeChat—

[You are… the best captain I have ever seen.]

[If I can be fortunate enough, next season, I want to stand at your side. I want to fight with you, shoulder-to-shoulder.]

Chi Shuo's mood, which had been enveloped in a gloomy haze, was suddenly brightened by a piercing ray of light. A faint smile appeared on Chi Shuo's typically serious face. He swiftly typed back: [I've taken a screenshot. You can't back out now.]

Ye Shaoyang had just gotten into bed after washing up. When his cell phone lit up, he saw that it was Captain Chi. He instantly responded with an earnest answer: [I'm not a person who goes back on his word. About joining Tianhuan, I've given it a lot of thought during this time.]

Chi Shuo: [You've truly made your decision?]

Ye Shaoyang: [Of course. The challenge is on your shoulders now. I don't care about my salary, but I only play mid laner. Is Qu Jiang willing to switch to playing support? Is the coach willing to let me debut? These questions still need to be answered.]

Chi Shuo answered: [Don't worry. I'll find a way to convince them.]

Ye Shaoyang wrote: [I'm a twenty-one-year-old rookie, after all. Most coaches wouldn't agree to let me debut like this. Before you go to negotiate with them, I'll do my best to get a few more nationally ranked heroes, so that you have a more convincing argument.]

Chi Shuo: [I saw that your Frost Goddess and Destiny Goddess are about to hit the national leaderboards?]

Ye Shaoyang: [Mm. If nothing out of the ordinary happens, I'll be #1 with both of them once the new leaderboards are released on Monday.]

Chi Shuo was silent for a moment before he typed: [You can relax. In terms of your salary and contract, I'll do my best to get you the best terms. Because in my eyes, you're worth nothing less than the world-class mid laners in the professional league. I don't want you to feel you're being slighted.]

Ye Shaoyang looked at that message and felt a warmth spreading in his heart.

Considering his current condition, he could forget about being treated like a world-class mid laner. If a well-known team like Tianhuan was willing to let him debut as their starting mid laner, he practically could have played without being paid a single cent. He only wanted to pursue his dream. Whether he got a lot of money or just a little, he really didn't care.

But if Tianhuan valued him greatly and allowed him to sign a contract promising a huge salary, that would obviously be for the best. That would prove his worth.

Ye Shaoyang responded: [Thank you, Captain Chi. You should get some rest first. Let your teammates recover. This thing with me isn't urgent. Since I've agreed to join Tianhuan, I won't go to any other team.]

Chi Shuo relaxed, then. He wrote: [Okay. You get some rest too. Good night.]

Ye Shaoyang sent back a waving emoji.

 

Team Tianhuan's players didn't go back to their hotel. They went out to have a late-night meal. Their coordinator Tang Can had made a reservation for them a long time ago. If they won, it would have been a celebratory dinner. If they lost, then it would be a send-off dinner for Old Nie and A-Ning.

Not everyone could have predicted the results of that night, but Chi Shuo had been anticipating it.

Tianhuan's season would end there. Forget about the world championships. They wouldn't even reach the finals of their domestic tournament playoffs. After playing for a whole season, they hadn't won any awards. Everyone was sure to be feeling down.

Coach Lin smiled and said, "We won't have any games after this anyway, so tonight I'm allowing everyone to drink!"

Old Nie took the initiative to crack open a bottle of liquor. He took a deep breath and forced back his tears, smiling as he lifted a cup. "A-Ning and I won't be here next season, but we'll continue to follow Tianhuan. To the rest of you, keep working hard! If one day, you're able to take the world championship trophy, you can even get me to livestream myself crossdressing!"

Song Yu'ning laughed with tears in his eyes, trying to talk Old Nie down. "You don't have to go that far, do you?"

Coach Lin joked, "In order to see Old Nie crossdress, we'll all have to work hard to make his dreams come true. Was someone recording just now? We can't let him back out later!"

Qu Jiang waved his cell phone. "Got it, got it. This way he can't deny it later. Last time he bet on something, he said he would eat his keyboard, but in the end he bought a chocolate keyboard. What a cheat!"

Everyone laughed together.

Although Chi Shuo's expression was calm, a rare sliver of warmth surfaced in his eyes.

He had fought all his battles with these people for three years. They were like family to him.

Even though they hadn't achieved a satisfying victory in the end, Chi Shuo knew—Nie Cheng and Song Yu'ning didn't regret joining Tianhuan.

In Season 6, Xie Cheng and Song Yu'ning had been in peak performance as the team's bottom lane duo. With their captain, Chi Shuo's master Captain Ming, they had fought their way to the world championships.

That was the closest Tianhuan had ever gotten to the world championship trophy.

However, they'd lost the final match—3 to 4. Everyone could only watch with wide eyes as a foreign team hoisted the championship trophy. Back then, Old Nie's eyes had filled up with an unwillingness to accept their defeat, and Song Yu'ning's eyes had been filled with tears.

Even now, those images were deeply imprinted upon Chi Shuo's mind.

That year, Chi Shuo had only been eighteen. But in that moment, he had set his own goal—

He would definitely take Tianhuan back to the finals stage of the world championships. He would win back the trophy they'd lost!

In the three years after that, Tianhuan's players changed. Their mid laner became Qu Jiang, and their top laner became Qin Yizhu. As their veteran players, Nie Cheng and Song Yu'ning stayed with the team until the S9 playoffs. Finally, they had no choice but to retire.

Chi Shuo lifted his own glass and looked towards the two veterans of the team. "This toast is for the two of you. Thank you both for placing your trust in us these past three years. You guys don't have to worry. I'll carry your unfulfilled dreams with me and continue walking down this path."

Old Nie wiped at his eyes and hoarsely rasped, "Captain Chi, you've worked hard these years."

After the S6 world championships, Captain Ming had retired too abruptly, leaving Chi Shuo with the role of Tianhuan's captain. Chi Shuo had just been an eighteen-year-old, who was left with the daunting task of clawing his way up through a league filled with powerful teams. From a starting point of zero, he'd had to learn how to command a team, he'd had to study tactics and strategies…

Only the members of Team Tianhuan knew how hard Chi Shuo had worked to make it through these years. That was exactly why his teammates all respected him so deeply.

Chi Shuo lightly patted Old Nie's shoulder. He didn't say anything else, silently draining the cup in his hand in one gulp.

Everyone refrained from talking about demoralizing things. They happily ate and drank to send Nie Cheng and Song Yu'ning off.

Old Nie drank until he was completely blitzed. He had to be carried back to the hotel by the rest of the team. Chi Shuo was very good at holding his liquor. Although he'd had a few drinks, he remained quite sober all the while.

After returning to the hotel, he checked his cell phone—

Under his personal Weibo account, lots of anti-fans had unsurprisingly left heaps of derisive remarks.

[Chi Shuo peaked when he debuted. He's been going downhill ever since!]

[Tianhuan hasn't been able to do anything since Captain Ming retired. What does that mean? It means the new captain is useless!]

[S6, made it to the finals in the world championships. S7, bronze medal in the domestic championships. S8, didn't even make it into the Top 4. S9, eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. Their records have been slipping this whole time! You guys aren't going to keep this up in S10 are you? It'll be funny if you're sent down to become a minor league team.]

[No bans in the fifth game, and Chi Shuo was too scared to use the Bloodstained Assassin. I was waiting for him to kill everything in sight, but he was a coward in the end. It was seriously such a waste for me to like him for so many years.]

Chi Shuo furrowed his brow, but didn't pay any more attention to those comments.

He had always been a very controversial player. His debut in S6 had set too high of a bar for him. He'd shot straight to the finals of the world championships. His Bloodstained Assassin also became the hero to set a record for the most pentakills any hero had ever gotten in the league. In the following years, when Tianhuan started to decline, some fans hated him for not becoming more powerful—they hated iron for not becoming steel. And some fans turned into anti-fans, flaming him endlessly.

Chi Shuo didn't pay attention to any of that.

All he had to do was persevere and stay true to his own determined heart.

He believed next season, with Xiao Bai on their roster, Tianhuan would break free from their current predicament.

Chi Shuo turned off his cell phone and went to sleep.

The next morning, he got up and watched Xiao Bai's livestream for a while.

He didn't know how Mu-jie had gotten to know Xiao Bai, but she was queueing with him bright and early in the morning.

Mu-jie's game sense wasn't bad, and her personality was also pretty good. With her as his support, Xiao Bai's win rate soared. He was the MVP in match after match, and his Destiny Goddess's battle power started to skyrocket.

With this kind of win rate and battle power, it would probably be no problem at all for Xiao Bai to get two national #1 rankings in one week.

On Saturday night, Tang Can sent a message into the team's group chat: [Tomorrow at 11AM, we'll be flying back to the capital. I've already ordered a car. Everyone remember to set your alarms. Don't oversleep.]

Tianhuan wouldn't be playing any more games, so of course there was no reason for them to continue staying in Star City. Each day they stayed at a hotel cost them money, so the club had asked that they all return to the team's HQ.

It wasn't all that appropriate for Chi Shuo to make his own travel plans, so he returned to the capital with his team.

On Sunday night, in the training room at Tianhuan's HQ—

Without any upcoming games, Tianhuan's training schedule was also a bit more relaxed. Coach Lin sat off to one side with a cup of tea. While he drank, he watched some recordings of games from overseas.

At exactly midnight, Chi Shuo suddenly sent Coach Lin a screenshot.

It was a screenshot from a livestream, which featured two messages—

Congratulations! Your hero, the Frost Goddess, has been ranked as the #1 in the country with a total battle power of 12,000. You have been awarded the title of National #1 Frost Goddess!

Congratulations! Your hero, the Destiny Goddess, has been ranked as the #1 in the country with a total battle power of 12,000. You have been awarded the title of National #1 Destiny Goddess!

Coach Lin saw the familiar little white cat in the lower right corner of the screenshot. He froze for a second, then turned around to face Chi Shuo. "The streamer Xiao Bai? He took another two national rankings?"

"That's right," Chi Shuo said. "And he took them both in one week."

Coach Lin instantly scooted over to Chi Shuo's computer. He found that Chi Shuo was in the middle of watching Xiao Bai's stream. Because Xiao Bai had gotten two national rankings at the same time, countless viewers were sending him gifts. Even Mu-jie sent over some torpedoes.

Xiao Bai was clearly smiling when his voice rang out in Chi Shuo's headset.

"Thank you Fan #1 for the torpedo, thank you Losing Ranked Every Day for the torpedo, thank you Mu-jie for the torpedo. I'll be getting ready to go to sleep now. Next week, let's try to take the Flame Goddess and Thunder Goddess up the national leaderboards."

The bullet comments in the stream went wild—

[Host, are you crazy? You've got your head in the clouds again? No, in outer space?]

[Do you think you're collecting stamps or something? You're treating these national titles as a collector's item?!]

[You already got the Frost Goddess and Destiny Goddess up the rankings, and next week you'll do Flame and Thunder. Will you do the Tidal and Storm Goddesses the week after that? You want to be nationally ranked with all six Goddesses?]

Coach Lin concernedly furrowed his brows. "Exactly who is this Xiao Bai? He's getting these national rankings way too quickly. I remember, the last time I checked out his stream, he'd just gotten the Abyssal Lord up the rankings."

Chi Shuo turned back to the coach and quietly said, "What if I said Xiao Bai had the skills to play professionally?"

As soon as he said that, he presented Coach Lin with the test results from Star City's rookie training camp.

Coach Lin looked down—

Five dazzling S-ranked results!

This was practically a once in a lifetime talent!

Coach Lin looked like the pie in the sky had crashed down on his head. His eyes were bright and gleaming as he said, "Hurry up and think of a way to contact him!"

Chi Shuo calmly said, "I've already reached out to him privately, and he's willing to join Tianhuan."

Coach Lin fell silent.

Wait. When did you reach out to Xiao Bai? You moved even faster than the coach!

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