“A substitute player? A substitute for whom?” Instinct drove He Xiaoxu’s gaze in the direction of Team One’s fragger, fellow colleague Banana. He mumbled, “That doesn’t seem like a good idea. No matter how you put it, Nana is also your first wife1. On top of that, he just turned twenty-two. He can still be used for another two years……”
Bu Nana watched over the lively drama with glee when unexpectedly, the tide of misfortune turned. He looked at Qi Zui with alarm. Sticking out a pair of greasy hands while he sat in his gaming chair, appearing to be paralyzed, he slowly struggled toward Qi Zui’s side, bawling in tears: “Captain, I’ve taken bullets for you. I’ve shed blood for you!”
“Get away from me.” Qi Zui, who feared Bu Nana’s greasy hands would dirty his T-shirt, moved back to avoid him, “I wasn’t talking about you.”
Missing the window of opportunity to swipe his hands, Bu Nana slid back in front of his own computer with a hehe, continuing to eat kebab.
“Then who do you want him substitute for?” Inside the training room, there were now only three people present. He Xiaoxu looked around and without realizing it, spoke under his breath, “You’re not having issues with Qianxi, right?”
“What beef could I possibly have with him? Besides, aren’t you the one experienced at guessing what other people are doing?” Qi Zui sat down, lightly rubbed his right wrist, and laughed, “Maybe he’s a substitute for me.”
He Xiaoxu tensed with a frown: “Don’t be ridiculous!”
Qi Zui laughed lightly: “I’m just messing with you.”
“Joke more appropriately, OK? This whole club is depending on you to draw in sponsors.” He Xiaoxu hand itched for a roll of newspaper to smack Qi Zui’s head, “If you don’t play for one round, do you know how much less sponsor fees we’ll receive?”
“And not only that!” Bringing up the subject of money, He Xiaoxu’s mind quickly changed directions, “Team Two’s annual base salary is 200,000 RMB2, and Team One’s annual base salary is one million RMB3. Even if he’s just a substitute, as long as he joins Team One, we’re obligated to sign him with the Team One contact. This year the payout will be at least more than 800,00 RMB4. That’s not even including the prize distribution percentage and the team benefits……”
“His current popularity is already damn high. Do you think 200,000 RMB is enough to keep him here?” Qi Zui cut into He Xiaoxu’s rant, “His skills paired……. paired with his looks, sooner or later he’ll stand out from the crowd. Are you waiting for someone else to come poach him?”
He Xiaoxu hesitated: “Well…… to be honest, when Yu Qianxi told me about him, I immediately agreed to have him join the team. The biggest reason being I saw he was good-looking. Regardless of his skills…… after being packaged properly, he can be sold off in the future. We would turn a profit from the transfer fee while he earns a signing bonus. Everyone wins. I just never expected……the flower vase5 I recruited was actually a nuke.
Qi Zui laughed.
He Xiaoxu contemplated the scene in the hallway from just now. Reconsidering Qi Zui’s sexual orientation, he reluctantly added: “But no matter how much you like him, you can’t suddenly arrange for him to be a substitute.”
“I’ve got nothing to do with him.” Qi Zui’s response drew a smile from the other man, “This deadbeat knows that. Before Youth joined the battle team last year, I had a talk with him about Team One needing a substitute, as a safeguard in case one of us four has a sudden emergency. Besides, business visas are not as easily granted these days. What if a problem comes up when we need to go abroad for a competition…… At the very least, the Squad matches will be completely screwed. If that happens, do you have a backup plan in place?”
He Xiaoxu wavered for a period of time before replying: “Even if that were the case, it still can’t be him. First, ignoring the fact that he still hasn’t passed the sports psychological assessment, the three members of Team Two haven’t even been promoted yet. How could we just let him join? How would you have me arrange it so the public is on board? Those in our Team Two joined before him and have diligently trained over ten hours every day……”
“Since when did we start putting stock in seniority?” Qi Zui smiled lightly, “In eSport, weakness is the original sin.”
“Team Two doesn’t have anyone I want. Even if there’s no Youth, I still wouldn’t agree to let them join.” Qi Zui gazed at He Xiaoxu with indifference, “How to make the arrangement is my concern. Whether he can convince the public is his problem to deal with.”
He Xiaoxu also drew a smile from the other man: “Fine then. How do you want him to win over the public?”
Qi Zui stayed silent.
“Here…… hang on a moment.”
Lai Hua pressed pause on the video player. After taking out his cell phone to peek at the time, he looked up at Yu Yang in disbelief: “You and Qi Zui…… Did you play a random squad match with him just now?”
Yu Yang had moved back to sit in a chair not too far nor too close to Lai Hua. Engrossed in taking notes on all the minute details of his mistakes, he looked up when he heard the question: “Yeah, what about it?”
“You……” Lai Hua looked at Yu Yang with pity, “Did you know he was livestreaming?”
Yu Yang stared unresponsive for many seconds. Then, his ears swiftly flushed red.
“He……” Yu Yang’s pulse started to race again as he strained to speak: “He was…… live, livestreaming?”
“He was livestreaming. Except for the webcam, everything else was visible. Your ID, both of your team chat, all of it……” Lai Hua coughed, suppressing a smile. He pulled a long face to ask, “ You two even met a German?”
“Yeah, we did.” Yu Yang sat with a puzzled expression, “Did something happen? That German did seem a little strange……
Lai Hua couldn’t keep watching and heaved a sigh: “Do you have a Weibo? You should watch a video.”
Yu Yang had a look of helplessness: “I don’t have one.”
“You don’t have one?” Lai Hua was caught off guard, but immediately nodded in approval, passing his cell phone to Yu Yang, “Good choice. If you’ve got nothing to do, don’t be like those guys wasting time reading Weibo all day long. You can have a look at mine.”
Yu Yang took the proffered Weibo. Clicking open the video……
The red flush on Yu Yang’s ears gradually spread from his cheek all the way down to his neck, heating up his pulse and accelerating it even more.
Yu Yang watched as an unruffled Qi Zui surreptitiously substituted a phrase for another in the translations. His right hand, bound in bandage, trembled faintly. Yu Yang dared not deceive himself into believing his affection was reciprocated. Taking deep breaths, he stammered quietly: “He said…… his German was so-so……”
“Bullshit.” Lai Hua said in a frosty tone, “A few years ago, Qi Zui and Bu Nana traveled to Europe for training. For the entire duration, they spent a total of eighteen months living in Germany. Since then, we’ve gone to Germany to participate in over a dozen competitions, but because we have Qi Zui, the battle team didn’t bother to hire a translator even once. Now you tell me is his German any good?”
Yu Yang’s eyes flickered. His lips parted as his heart both hurt and ached: “His…… German…… is quite good?”
“It’s not on the level of a professional, but this sort of translation……” Lai Hua took back his cell phone, and then proceeded to completely pull the rug out from under Yu Yang, “I guarantee you. It’s impossible for him to make a mistake, unless…… He did it on purpose.”
Lai Hua didn’t know the inside story. Under the impression that Qi Zui was a rotten, shameless old hoodlum, who out of boredom took liberties with the newcomer, he let out a chuckle: “How about it? Later when you start going out to accept interviews, you must not forget that it was you yourself who confessed before eight million people that you like Qi Zui.”
Subconsciously pursing his lips, Yu Yang nodded in agreement.
“Don’t let it weigh you down.” Lai Hua put away the cell phone, not bothered all that much, “Not one of this pack of virgin males has any shame. Training all the time, they don’t have any vigor. It’s all the same kind of locker room talk. You’ll be fine once you get used to it so there’s no need to overthink it.”
Yu Yang cast his eyes down, overwhelmed by his emotions. It’s not ‘no need’, or rather he didn’t have the courage to overthink.
On the third floor training room, He Xiaoxu, who was in a bind, kept drawing in sharp breaths. He then stood up to take a turn around the room. Debating for a long time, he finally said: “Fine. You want a substitute, that’s doable.”
Qi Zui waited for the other shoe to drop. He Xiaoxu could not possibly relent this easily.
“Next weekend, our collaborative livestream platform and sponsors are hosting an online tournament. The prize pool is altogether only 200,000 RMB. We can’t possibly have Team One go. Instead, I’ll immediately contact the platform and request a spot on behalf of Team Two and Yu Yang.” He Xiaoxu watched Qi Zui. “For the Solo portion of the tournament, if someone can place first, they can directly join Team One as a substitute.
Qi Zui sneered: “If we’re not going, are the first teams from the other battle teams also not going? How is he going compete against those sly old foxes……”
“If he can’t handle them, then it just proves he doesn’t have the ability,” He Xiaoxu interrupted Qi Zui, “You can treat my words as bullshit. You can choose not to listen to me. You can even give him a leg up right now. I can’t control you, but…… You don’t want him to be isolated by the entire battle team, right?”
Qi Zui’s lips moved without a response verbalizing.
He Xiaoxu drew in deep calming breaths, his tone softening, “By giving those on Team Two a chance, we’re also giving everyone a justification. I like Youth as well. His commercial value is immense, but rules are rules. We need to treat the entire battle team responsibly.”
Qi Zui looked up: “Even though you clearly know Youth is stronger than anyone on Team Two.”
“The strength of a professional isn’t determined by whoever shoots their mouth off.” He Xiaoxu glanced at Qi Zui, adding: “What Drunk says doesn’t count as well.”
Wearing a deadpan expression, Qi Zui reached out to snatch a pack of napkins and hurled it at He Xiaoxu.
“Pfff.” He Xiaoxu caught the napkins that struck him in the stomach and tossed it right back at Qi Zui, smiling: “You said it yourself, ‘In eSport, weakness is the original sin’. Whether he’s strong or not or if he can convince the public, only the competition results can offer proof.”
Qi Zui held onto the bag of napkins. A moment later he gave his tacit agreement.
“That’s right!” Seeing that the two were done arguing, Bu Nana chuckled, “Fine. Everything’s fine now. I called in for some takeout. Let’s eat! Eat! Eat! Eat well, sleep well.
“Fuck eating.” By He Xiaoxu’s authority, Yu Yang had basically been persuaded to resign from the team, which left Qi Zui in a sullen mood. “I’m turning in.”
Qi Zui lifted his jacket, and a thought crossed his mind, looking back: “Have Xie Chen make a trip out here tomorrow. I have something to ask him.”
Xie Chen was the HOG battle team’s mental health counselor, ranked second in the country. Since his expertise was not needed outside of competition periods, he didn’t stay at the base most of the time.
He Xiaoxu nodded in response. Qi Zui walked out a few steps before turning back again. He eyed He Xiaoxu: “This is Youth’s first official competition since he joined. You’re dangling this kind of temptation in front of him, insisting that he participate in a tournament with this many top tier battle teams. After he loses, you better make the preparations for a post-competition psychological adjustment counseling……”
“They can choose not to participate in the competition. In any case, I originally wasn’t planning to give our battle team any notice of this competition. Leaving that aside, a ‘rising to the challenge’ mindset should be a basic quality every professional should have. If they can’t withstand all this pressure, then later how can we even send them out to the frontline in Japan-Korea, Europe, and North America? Well……” He Xiaoxu met with Qi Zui’s stormy face. Laughing dryly, he walked back his words, “You can be at ease. This is your Captain Lai’s dear son. How could I have the nerve to ruin him. I’ll definitely explain beforehand the situation. Is that agreeable?”
Qi Zui coldly replied: “You had better.”
The next day at noon, after Qi Zui washed his face and rinsed his mouth, he rubbed away the light ache in his eyes. Carrying his jacket in one hand, he walked in the direction of the third floor training room.
“Qi-Ge.” He Xiaoxu was already in the training room. He held a registration document, shaking it, “I’ve explained all the ins and outs of the situation to Youth.”
Qi Zui frowned: “How did he respond?”
“Youth didn’t hesitate at all.” He Xiaoxu laughed, “He said, he’ll go.”