In order to prepare for their final playoffs games, Tianhuan's players had been training nonstop as of late.
Captain Chi was especially dedicated to training. Obviously, he hadn't whipped out the Holy Knight in an official game on a whim. He had trained with this hero for a very long time. The lineup they ran in the deciding game was also one they'd practiced again and again.
So, when did Chi Shuo find time to privately contact Xiao Bai? And how was he already so sure that Xiao Bai would join Tianhuan?
Coach Lin's face was full of bewilderment as he looked at Chi Shuo. "When did you contact him?"
Chi Shuo solemnly said, "I sent him gifts in his streaming room first, then added him as a friend. During the Jingzhe vs Huowen game at Star City's Esports Center, I invited him to the venue. I met him in the audience, then took him for the skill trials that same day. I also put on the guise of a coach from Tianhuan, but… ahem, he saw through my cover very quickly."
Coach Lin was speechless.
No wonder Chi Shuo hadn't been watching the game with the rest of the team that day. Someone had asked Cheng Xing about it, and Little Xing had said that his master was feeling unwell and had decided to wait at the hotel—
Unwell my ass! Your master was meeting someone under the false pretenses of being a coach! And he even rushed to drag that someone off to undergo the industry skill trials!
Coach Lin wasn't sure if he should laugh or cry. "Your hand speed really is godly. I was originally thinking we could get in touch with Xiao Bai and see how things go after the playoffs. I didn't think you would get ahead of me."
Chi Shuo calmly said, "I knew you wouldn't mind, Coach Lin. These days, you've been busy figuring out tactics that could help us break through in the playoffs. I just so happened to have time, so I made the decision to reach out to Xiao Bai, to avoid having him stolen away by some other team."
Lin Feng was one of Tianhuan's first-generation players. He had even more history with the team than Chi Shuo's master. He was just like Tianhuan's parent, carefully devoting himself to taking care of the players. As long as it was for Tianhuan, Lin Feng wouldn't get angry at Chi Shuo for taking the initiative to act on his own, without permission. That was exactly why Chi Shuo had dared to reach out to Xiao Bai on his own.
Lin Feng lowered his head and looked at Xiao Bai's skill trial results again.
Every professional esports player had to undergo these trials. Among Tianhuan's current players, Chi Shuo received 5 S-ranked scores. Cheng Xing had 1 A-ranked score and 4 S-ranked ones. Qu Jiang and Qin Yizhu each had 2 A-ranked and 3 S-ranked scores.
Truth be told, according to the regulations, even 5 A-ranked scores would have been good enough to play professionally. Hand speed, reaction speed, and so on were all natural talents; in games, things like game sense and an awareness of timing were also very important. So, Coach Lin wasn't actually too enthralled by Xiao Bai's results alone. Lots of players who only got 5 A-ranked scores could still go on to become world-class players.
But if someone with 5 S-ranked scores also had an outstanding understanding of the game—then that person would be truly terrifying! That would be like a computer with the most powerful hardware in the world, paired with the best software in the world!
This was the sort of talent that no one could ask for. But once such a talent emerged, every single major team would fight fiercely for that player. It was a good thing Chi Shuo had been quick enough. Other teams probably didn't yet know that Xiao Bai's test results were this extraordinary.
Coach Lin excitedly looked towards Chi Shuo. "Hurry, hurry. Tell me what his situation is? How old is this kid this year?"
Chi Shuo was silent for a moment before he said, "He isn't a kid. He's twenty-one this year."
A question mark popped up in Coach Lin's head.
Chi Shuo immediately added, "He only plays mid laner, and he wants to debut as a starting player right away."
Several more question marks popped up.
The training room fell into an awkward silence.
Chi Shuo had already predicted Coach Lin's reaction a long time ago. If Xiao Bai had been a seventeen- or eighteen-year-old prodigy, Coach Lin might have booked a ticket out to Star City as soon as tomorrow to talk to him about a contract. However, this age of twenty-one… it was undeniably an awkward detail. It was too late to start training Xiao Bai like a complete newbie. Allowing him to debut right away was also too much of a risk.
Chi Shuo could sense the change in Coach Lin's expression. He could see that his complexion was oscillating between a bit pale and a bit green.
Coach Lin was feeling something very unpleasant right now. It was the feeling of finally discovering a hard-to-find, glittering treasure chest, only to lift the lid and find that the only thing in the chest was a message—
Thanks for playing.
Coach Lin thought silently for a long time, then let out a heavy sigh. "It's too bad. It's just too bad."
"I don't think it's too bad," Chi Shuo said.
Coach Lin twisted his head around to look at him again. "You don't think starting to play esports at twenty-one is a pity? If he was like you, starting out in this line of work when he was seventeen or eighteen, he would be a top-tier player already."
"Coach, do you remember how old I am this year?" Chi Shuo asked.
Coach Lin immediately said, "You had your twenty-first birthday at the start of the year. You'll be in your twenty-second year now."
Chi Shuo earnestly said, "So I'm twenty-two, and I'm still playing professionally. He's a year younger than me. Why can't he play?"
Coach Lin furrowed his brows with consternation. "You can't put it like that. You already have four years of experience in big games. He's still a newbie. A newbie! A twenty-one-year-old newbie has never appeared in the entire domestic league before."
"Coach, in your opinion," Chi Shuo started, "is a player's most important feature their age?"
Coach Lin instantly refuted, "Of course not. When you evaluate players, the most important thing is their talent."
"Is Xiao Bai's talent not good enough?" Chi Shuo argued. "Five S-ranked scores, and he became nationally ranked with four heroes in half a month. There are countless professional players who could never reach his level."
Coach Lin fell silent.
He couldn't win against Chi Shuo!
This guy was typically quiet by nature, but when he really got into a debate, none of the coaches could change his mind about anything. Usually, he would be the one who convinced the coaches to see things his way. For example, the matter of Cheng Xing switching over to play marksman—that was something Chi Shuo had brought up of his own volition, and ultimately the coaches had all agreed.
Chi Shuo wasn't the sort of captain who didn't care about the team's business. He brought his own ideas and understanding to many matters. However, Xiao Bai was twenty-one years old. And he wanted to debut? As the mid laner? How could any coach easily agree to something like that?
This was setting Tianhuan up for a huge change in their lineup.
Coach Lin furrowed his brow and said, "If Xiao Bai plays in the middle lane, what about Qu Jiang?"
"Qu Jiang can play support," Chi Shuo said.
Coach Lin was yet again caught between laughing and crying. "You want to sign Xiao Bai so badly that you've already laid out perfectly clear plans for Qu Jiang."
Chi Shuo calmly said, "Qu Jiang's style of play is actually more suitable for playing support. His artillery mages and crowd control mages are all very good, and he's also an extremely stable player. But assassin mages are his weak spot. When a game is going our way, Qu Jiang can perform very well. However, when a game isn't going our way, Qu Jiang has no way of finding a breakthrough point with me."
Chi Shuo met Coach Lin's gaze and earnestly continued, "Tianhuan's achievements have been declining in recent years. Our jungle is constantly targeted. In games, we're always overwhelmed. Coach, could you have forgotten how we played back when we reached the world championships stage?"
It had been their mid/jungle duo.
In Season 6, Tianhuan had fought their way to the world championships by relying on their mid/jungle duo.
Their mid laner Captain Ming and the young jungler Chi Shuo could kill anyone they ran into, wherever they went. In games that were going their way, they could snowball their advantage to a victory. In games where they had to fight an uphill battle, they could seek out a breakthrough point and silently assassinate the opposing team's core. The Tianhuan from back then was impossible to replicate.
But if… if there was an all-round mid laner with a comprehensive set of skills who could keep up with Chi Shuo's rhythm, then why should Chi Shuo continue to hide his own sharp edges? Why would he rely on his minions to push? Why would he give away all the resources on the map and act as nothing more than a tool to his teammates?!
Thinking of that, Coach Lin suddenly felt his nose starting to ache. He was actually very clear on one thing—it wasn't that Chi Shuo's skill had declined. It was that the current Tianhuan had no way of allowing Chi Shuo, as their jungler and their core, to show his true strength.
The enemy always targeted Chi Shuo specifically. Tianhuan only had this one strong point; what could Chi Shuo do all alone?
When a team only had one core, that core would always be tied up by the enemy.
The only solution was to have a second core who could help Chi Shuo withstand the pressure from the other team. For example, Captain Ming in S6. Everyone's eyes had been on the mid lane back then. That was why Chi Shuo had been able to flourish and develop as the glorious core in the jungle!
Coach Lin fell into a deep silence.
Chi Shuo knew that the coach was giving serious thought to the possibility of Xiao Bai joining their team. He didn't interrupt Coach Lin's thoughts. Instead, he turned to his computer and loaded up a spreadsheet he'd created earlier.
A second later, Coach Lin came back to his senses and noticed the spreadsheet. He couldn't help but feel surprised. "Xiao Bai's battle power?"
Chi Shuo nodded. "Mm, you can take a look. He currently has four #1 national titles—the Abyssal Lord, the Illusionist, the Frost Goddess, and the Destiny Goddess. Do you notice something interesting about that?"
Coach Lin stroked his chin and analyzed this information. "The Abyssal Lord is an assassin mage, requiring a lot of careful, detail-oriented control to operate his shadows. The Illusionist is also an assassin mage, and he's relatively easy to operate, but to play him well, you would need a great deal of game sense and big-picture thinking skills.
"The Frost Goddess is a crowd control mage. Her power depends on your precision with her freezing skills. The Destiny Goddess is an artillery mage, but she's the most difficult of all the artillery mages to play…"
At that point, Coach Lin's eyes flashed with light. "A high difficulty assassin mage, an assassin mage who requires a great deal of game sense, a control-type mid laner, and the most difficult artillery mage to play—he chose to become nationally ranked with these four heroes as a sign to the coaches of all major teams, didn't he?!"
A faint hint of a smile appeared in Chi Shuo's eyes. "That's right. He's proving himself—he can play every single type of mid lane hero well."
Coach Lin fell silent again.
Four national rankings, with one hero fitting each of the typical mid laner molds.
Most players liked to pick one mold and learn how to play all the heroes fitting that mold. For example, if a player liked playing control-type mages, they would train with the Frost Goddess, then the Tidal Goddess and Storm Goddess, fleshing out their arsenal of control-type mages. Players like Xiao Bai, who just happened to pick one hero per type, were truly rare.
Unless Xiao Bai had done this on purpose.
The speed at which he'd claimed these national titles was indeed subtly telling everyone—
I know all to play all mages. I can take as many national titles as I want!
Coach Lin drew a sharp breath. "Are you sure he isn't the alt account of some player who's returned from an international team? If he's really a newbie, how could he possibly learn to play new heroes this quickly!"
Chi Shuo calmly said, "In this world, there are always people who are naturally gifted. By spending just a little time, they can accomplish what others could never accomplish in a lifetime."
Years ago, when Chi Shuo became nationally ranked with the Bloodstained Assassin, it had also taken him just a week.
Coach Xu from Star City's rookie training camp had been silently ambushed and assassinated by Chi Shuo three times in one game. That was when he discovered this extremely talented youth, and that was when he invited Chi Shuo to the training camp. Later, Captain Ming of Team Tianhuan set his sights on Chi Shuo and took him in as his apprentice, giving him the chance to properly embark on his professional career.
Some people truly did have a natural gift which far surpassed the hard work and diligence of others.
If Xiao Bai was this kind of natural prodigy… even at twenty-one years of age, it might not be too late for him.
After all, he learned how to play new heroes at an extremely swift rate. That proved that he would also be quick to learn how to work with the team! Even if he only knew how to play four heroes right now, he would be able to grasp the others very quickly.
There were still a few months between now and the start of the next season. If they signed Xiao Bai now and allowed Xiao Bai to enter their ranks, there would be ample time to give him a test run on a trial basis! Old Nie was retiring, after all, and Cheng Xing would be a new marksman among them. Tianhuan's lineup would have to change in the next season. If they had to change anyway, then why not make sure they fixed all their problems?
Qu Jiang, playing support? Coach Lin stroked his chin and thought some more—although Qu Jiang wasn't the sort of mid laner who would get all fired up after taking a triple kill or pentakill, he was the player who let Coach Lin feel the most at ease. Out of all of Tianhuan's players, Qu Jiang made the fewest mistakes.
It was just that… Qu Jiang, whose hand speed and disturbance resistance test scores had only been A-ranked, couldn't react quickly enough at critical moments. So he was more well-suited for playing control-type heroes, not assassin mages who were good at launching surprise attacks.
A control-type support was also a very important component of any team. A powerful support who could charge into a team fight and immobilize two to three of the enemy heroes, or even one who could flash into the enemy's back line and stun the two enemy carries, could help their teammates snatch a swift victory in the fight.
Coach Lin tightly folded a hand over his fist. He felt like his pulse had been speeding up, going faster and faster—because he was realizing that Chi Shuo was right about everything! If they let Qu Jiang play support, Little Xing's problem of not being too stable could be resolved by Qu Jiang. A new marksman, paired with a support who understood the team very well… even if their bottom lane duo couldn't defeat the enemy, they wouldn't completely collapse!
As for their mid laner, if they chose a player with an outstanding sense of game awareness, a player who could become a mid lane core along with Chi Shuo, then the pressure on Chi Shuo would be greatly reduced.
That meant in the following season, Tianhuan would have their mid/jungle duo again. And in their top lane, they would have a powerful anti-pressure top laner. In the bottom lane, they would have an extremely reliable support and a gifted new marksman!
Although their lineup would undergo huge changes, it was very possible that they would finally break free from their current predicament.
It would be possible for them to break through to the world stage!
So what if he was twenty-one? Xiao Bai's natural gift could be seen even by the naked eye. His 5 S-ranked scores proved that his reaction speed and hand speed weren't at all worse than that of a seventeen- or eighteen-year-old!
Coach Lin was so excited that his eyes were tinged with a bit of red. He hurriedly said, "You hurry up and contact Xiao Bai, tell him I want to talk to him in person! I'm guessing we're not the only team with our eyes on him. Other teams must have also realized the deeper meaning in these four national titles that he claimed. Especially Beimu! Beimu's middle lane is their weak spot. I don't even want to imagine how horrible the result will be if Beimu poaches Xiao Bai!"
Beimu's most formidable players were the Zhao twins on the top and bottom lanes. Their mid laner was average. If Xiao Bai joined Beimu, how were other teams even supposed to play? They wouldn't be able to beat Beimu on the top lane, bottom lane, or middle lane.
Chi Shuo had considered this possibility a long time ago. That was why he'd acted as soon as possible to get on Xiao Bai's good side. As a result, hadn't he successfully won Xiao Bai over to their side?
Chi Shuo took out his cell phone and showed Coach Lin the conversation log between him and Xiao Bai—
[Since I've agreed to join Tianhuan, I won't go to any other team.]
Seeing those words from Xiao Bai, Coach Lin smiled so wide that his eyes crinkled into crescents. He patted Chi Shuo's shoulder and said, "You really are worthy of being known as our responsible captain. You've already done half of my job for me! How about I split my salary with you next month?"
"There's no need for that," Chi Shuo said. "When the time comes, just help Xiao Bai negotiate a better contract."
Coach Lin nodded. "Of course. When we sign Xiao Bai, we won't be signing him as a newbie. We'll be giving him a reception fit for any of our regular players."
After pausing for a moment, Coach Lin concernedly asked, "Oh, that's right. Is Xiao Bai an alpha, or…?"
Chi Shuo remembered the familiar scent of the alpha pheromone masking spray he'd detected from Xiao Bai when they met at the live venue. He nodded confidently and said, "That's right. He's an alpha."
Ye Shaoyang: ??? Am I an alpha? How come I didn't know…