The Boy Arrived at the Seaside

(Chinese) Original link: [LPL Player Stories] The Boy Arrived at the Seaside — SN.huanfeng

Text: 丹尼二狗

Photos: League of Legends Pro League (LPL), Suning, GuoKui

Translation: iCrystalization

After having spent a simple and quiet life of nineteen years, Tang Huan-Feng’s future has — like the sea he yearns for — countless unknown possibilities.

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SN.huanfeng (ADC)

A Quiet Child

After going pro, Tang Huan-Feng will, once in a while, want to be by himself.

As a matter of fact, if he was dragged and thrown into a crowd of people his age, he would most likely be the quietest. In high school, Teacher Pang — the home-room teacher — noticed this somewhat special child right away.

“The students of that class were very all over the place and very naughty, but he gave me the feeling of a person who mused in the corner; a very thoughtful student.”

Later on, Tang Huan-Feng left school and stepped onto the path of professional esports. IGY’s (Invictus Gaming Young) manager GuoKui also had the same impression when he first met him. “He wasn’t that good at socializing with others at first, and he didn’t speak much in-game either.”

But having gotten along with each other more, GuoKui realized this child often held back his own ideas and required emotional guidance. “Sometimes, you can see what he’s thinking, and that’s when you usually have to help him make a decision.”

At the start of the 2020 season, Tang Huan-Feng transferred to Suning. He had arrived at the LPL stage for the first time. But while the spring split had yet to finish, manager Yuan Xi gradually noticed the loneliness within this child.

Sometimes when the team had days off, Huan-Feng would randomly buy a subway ticket by himself, following the subway around and around in circles, or get off on some random station, walk around alone, and then back on the subway again.

“It was like playing Monopoly, heading to one stop and then getting off to look around.” Yuan Xi asked him why he did that. He replied that this was his way to unwind.

For Tang Huan-Feng, coming to Suning and being on the LPL stage might not have been the biggest turning point in his 19 year old life. Nevertheless, it is one of the few fruits of his own labor; a turning point in the right direction.

Before this, he had experienced utter helplessness in his childhood and youth. He had experienced the struggles, as well as the rise and fall at the lower levels of esports.

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In the middle of 2019, after the spring split had finished, Tang Huan-Feng — who was still in IGY — used his vacation to go back to his hometown, a coastal city in Guangxi.

After returning home, he arrived at the port on the south side of the city. On the shore, the summer breeze blew through his T-shirt from every direction. When he looked down from high above, fishing boats passed by on the narrow river.

In that exact moment, time stopped for him. For the first time since his professional career had begun, Tang Huan-Feng felt completely at ease.

“Did you know? It’s really hard to not think about anything at all. It was only then that it happened.”

After the vacation was over, after having returned to the team, Tang Huan-Feng had the idea of seeing the sea. He thought that, if there was a chance in the future, then he had to go to the seaside once.

Perhaps he could find that same feeling.

Small Room

As a child, Tang Huan-Feng’s mother frequently asked him an unanswerable question:

If your dad and I separated, who would you be with?

Changes in the family also emerged at that time. In Tang Huan-Feng’s childhood — forcefully cut short by reality — his parents seemed to be in an endless conflict.

“I always hid in my own room when they fought. But it wasn’t soundproof, so you could hear everything.”

There were many reasons behind the conflicts, related to the father’s other family, related to the mother’s financial difficulties.

One time, when Huan-Feng was in fourth or fifth grade of primary school, his mother picked him up on an electric bicycle. On the road, she suddenly said that they had no money to buy food; they could only buy one scallion. At that time, Huan-Feng thought, how could this be?

After that, during his parents’ fights, he often acted as a messenger for his mother to demand money from his father.

“There were also times when they fought right in front of me, saying what to do with this month’s rent, what to do with the living expenses. But my mom was also constrained. She didn’t have a job back then.”

In the first semester of middle school, his mother left their home for a short period of time. It wasn’t until the next semester when she reappeared one night, and then she packed her bags, and returned to her hometown. It was a midnight lost for words.

Sitting in front of the computer, Tang Huan-Feng watched his mother enter the house, watched her pick up her suitcase, and leave. He asked her where she was going, but he didn’t hear an answer. He just heard the sound of the door closing.

From then on, the twelve-year-old Tang Huan-Feng began his lonesome life. In that small room where he’d lived with his parents since childhood, he was suddenly left all alone.

His father gave him 200 yuan (~$29) every half a month. Occasionally, his father would come back from his other family to use the computer he had left him with. Most of the lamps were broken, and as night fell, only the glow from the computer screen acted as a source of light.

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“Sometimes when I see people rely on others, I don’t think that kind of feeling is great. I’m used to handling things by myself, being independent early on can be pretty good.”

Tang Huan-Feng lived alone in that small room for three whole years.

The broken home also affected Huan-Feng’s view on the world and its people. He started to think that his mother and father’s behavior in front of him was just “acted out for him to see” . After a life of solitude, he “didn’t really know what a truly good person was, and he didn’t really believe that such a person existed either.”

But in middle school, there was a classmate — whose family ran a hotel — living opposite Huan-Feng’s home. Every morning, the two of them would bike together for half an hour to school. After learning about Huan-Feng’s family situation, that classmate would occasionally buy some breakfast for him. At first, Huan-Feng wanted to pay him back, but he replied forget it, it’s my treat.

One time, as the number of treats increased, Huan-Feng asked him on the way to school: Why are you so nice to me?

He replied: ’Cause we’re not classmates, we’re friends.

Another time, at the seaside, Tang Huan-Feng lost his footing and was swept into the sea by the tide. There were many people on the shore, but only that classmate jumped into the water, grabbing his hand.

When high school came and Huan-Feng lived on campus, there was a female classmate who often looked for him to help her with physics. Whenever she came back to school on Sundays, she would always bring some food from home to share with her classmates.

For the Huan-Feng at that time, this was seemingly “too good to be true.” He also asked that girl the same question: Why are you so nice to other people?

She replied: Isn’t that pretty normal?

“Slowly, these two instances made me view others differently.”

By day, Tang Huan-Feng went to and from school, and got along with his classmates like a normal child. After he got home from school, he sat in the room with no lights, in front of his computer, by himself. When night fell, he just slept alone on the couch.

In the past, there had still been childhood things left in that small room of his — comic books, toys, a small model dagger from an online game. But after living alone, he never once fell asleep there.

The days of youth passed by. The answer to that question in the past began to clear up bit by bit within Huan-Feng. If mom and dad separated, who would you be with?

“Myself. A computer, a school, a classmate. That’s enough, I can go on just like that.”

Promise

It started from a certain moment within Tang Huan-Feng’s heart; a promise that had to be fulfilled emerged. That was during winter vacation after the end of the third semester in middle school. Near the end of the year, Tang Huan-Feng and his father returned to the countryside to celebrate New Year’s.

As a child, Huan-Feng always had a defiant mentality towards the celebration — there were people he didn’t know on his father’s side. Once he went back, he’d inevitably be met with all kinds of ostracism and yelled at many times. A shadow was cast over him.

But at that time, his father gave him no room for discussion. “What can you do here if you don’t go back?”

Someone living in a small place, in a small city, and every family going back to the countryside to celebrate New Year’s, just finding a place to eat at would be hard if you stayed behind by yourself.

The countryside had the father’s big family. Huan-Feng ranked tenth among a group of children, everyone called him “Ten”.

On New Year’s Eve, the three brothers “Nine”, “Ten” and “Eleven” didn’t stay home to keep watch at night. Instead, they secretly escaped from the house and went straight to the Internet café for the whole night.

“Nine’s family situation was similar to mine, and we both liked playing games. And then Eleven’s mom and dad didn’t let him play with us. They even said they’d kill him if he went out with us again.”

On that night, parental discipline became like a bubble. First pricked, and then popped at the sight of the enticing Internet café.

Because of the New Year’s celebrations, there wasn’t a single person inside. So they played until early next morning. What was popular back then was the “The Bromance of Demacia”, so one played Jarvan, one played Xin Zhao and one played Garen.

At 7 o’clock in the morning on New Year’s Day, having wiped out ten yuan for the night fee, three children who had yet to eat breakfast trudged back home. While they walked and talked, one of them, Huan-Feng couldn’t remember who, spoke up: Let’s go pro in the future.

This sounded like a joke to Huan-Feng — who ranked Platinum at that time. He had already started paying attention to proplayers and esports matches, but he felt like these things were very far and away from himself. “I never thought I was the same as them.”

But that morning, on New Year’s Day, he took what his two brothers said seriously.

“As a child, when my parents fought, my mom always said that everything my dad said was bullshit; that it was just lies. And then she’d tell me, men must take responsibility for their own words.”

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In the new year, once he returned to his small room, Tang Huan-Feng started to work on himself — he spent a lot of his time on the game: Get up at five in the morning, play one game of ranked, catch up with classmates and bike to school, two hour lunch break, bike between home and school for an hour, play one or two games of ranked with the remaining hour.

Moreover, before leaving school in the afternoon, Huan-Feng would save time from class and finish his homework there. He could then go home and play the game by himself until he fell asleep at 11 o’clock. Repeat it all on the second day.

He played mid at first, but later felt it was a bit “wrong”. But once he switched to ADC, he started to feel like “this role should be mine.”

From that moment on, Huan-Feng rarely played with his former buddies again. He knew, from the bottom of his heart that, “as soon as I look for them, I feel like we just play around, nothing more. We just have fun, that’s it. It wasn’t serious at all.”

As middle school came to an end, Huan-Feng’s points already placed him in Diamond I with a high winning rate. Afterwards, he moved to the special server, hitting 200–300LP Master once more.

“Sometimes, when a person really wants to do something, they can do it well. Believe in it.”

Final Decision

After graduating from middle school, Huan-Feng got into an average class in the local average high school. He was the first group of students led by Teacher Pang, who’d just graduated to work as a teacher.

Quiet and good grades, that was Teacher Pang’s first impression of Tang Huan-Feng. Yet at the same time, she also discovered he had quite the strong side to him.

“He chatted with me about my own college entrance exam results, and even made comparisons. Back then, the words I remembered the most from him were, ‘teacher, I’ll definitely surpass you in the future.’”

Teacher Pang was an ally who Huan-Feng could confide in, and also one of the few friends with whom he could pour his heart out to. “There really just wasn’t anyone to ask about certain ideological questions.”

Huan-Feng’s nightly study hall was from 6:40 to 9:10 in high school. One night at 7 o’clock, he looked for Teacher Pang to chat, and that night they kept chatting until the nightly study hall finished, until the bell rang and signalled the end of class.

“He asked me questions about which path to choose from, to play video games or to continue high school and then go to college. He felt very conflicted. He had told me he was pretty good at playing games, and that he might get a higher return from it. But at the same time, he wanted to go to college since his grades were pretty good.”

During that time, in that average class, Huan-Feng always maintained rank #1 or #2 with his results. In high school, he continued to persevere — studying on one end and improving his level of play on the other.

But as time went on, the feeling of confusion gradually built up. He started to realize, deep within his heart, that the day to make a choice would always come.

So, while chatting with Teacher Pang, he began asking questions such as “What will happen if I don’t go to school anymore? What do you think of children who don’t go to school?”

At first, Teacher Pang took a very definitive stand. “At that time, I didn’t understand to what extent his level of play was like, and I also didn’t quite understand how games could give him long-term advantages. So in my eyes, as he was such a bright and brilliant student, I still suggested that he’d walk on the path of education.”

Yet as the number of chats grew more and more frequent, Teacher Pang felt like her own scales were being tipped in secret

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It was around the first year of high school when other things happened in Tang Huan-Feng’s life.

For example, at some point, the allowance he received from his father became unstable. One time, the usual 200 yuan (~$29) every half a month became 200 yuan a month. Huan-Feng had asked his father when he could get money, but there was no response.

And then another time, Huan-Feng’s mother had suddenly told him that the house was out of money. If he didn’t pay up, it might be taken away. So Huan-Feng had no choice but to save some of his allowance just in case.

Sometimes, during the second half of the month, Huan-Feng only had one bottle of water and two steamed buns for the day.

Another example was in the second half of the semester; classes had been divided. Huan-Feng, whose grades were excellent, was transferred to the honors class. But, Teacher Pang would no longer be his home-room teacher.

She still remembered her last chat with Huan-Feng. When she faced those past topics that they had discussed over and over again, she had yet to give her own answer, one she’d always held on to. So she told him then: Whatever you do is fine. Do what you want to do.

“As long as you want to do it, that’s what she said back then.”

Teacher Pang’s words made Huan-Feng feel on top of the world. But Teacher Pang saw differently, in her eyes,“maybe there really was no one in his family who could support him then.”

Eventually, by the time these students advanced to their next year, Teacher Pang just so happened to transfer to Huan-Feng’s honors class. But at that time, she couldn’t see her own student again.

In the first year of high school, in the second half of the semester, Huan-Feng left school.

According to Tang Huan-Feng, he couldn’t get along with the students in the honors class. According to Tang Huan-Feng again, he fought with the honors students. The teacher made them shake hands and make up, but Huan-Feng didn’t care. According to Tang Huan-Feng once again, one day, he sent his father a text message in the heat of the moment, saying he didn’t want to stay in school anymore. He typed a bunch of extreme words. His father told his school about it later on, and the school authorities placed him in confinement for one night.

A group of teachers came the next morning to give him guidance. His father came to school. The principal came as well; he had him look at a picture. It showed the differences between the countryside and the city, between people from the country and people from the city. The teachers told him what would happen if he studied, and what would happen if he didn’t.

Tang Huan-Feng and his father left the school by noon. The school authorities made the decision to suspend him in order for him to sort out his feelings. After that, he asked his father, why not switch schools? His father said OK, as long as you’re willing to repeat a year. He then took him to a nearby prefecture-level city high school, on that very same day.

As they stood outside the gates, his father spoke with a stranger. Huan-Feng heard that he could attend this school, but he needed money.

“Why did my dad have to behave like that? I feel like it’s humiliating for a man to bow his head; that’s still my dad.”

On that day, Huan-Feng took the bus by himself to his former city. He had a huge fight with his father before he left. The latter had asked him, what do you want to do if you don’t go to school? Huan-Feng couldn’t retaliate. He snuck off on a bus alone, and as he sat there, he made his final decision.

“Forget it, I’m going pro.”

In the end, after leaving school, after having said all that about surpassing Teacher Pang in the college entrance exam, Tang Huan-Feng didn’t make it a reality.

Snow

After arriving at Suning, as the topic of going home during vacation first appeared, Huan-Feng told his Vietnamese teammate SofM, “There’s only a small river separating my home and Vietnam.” SofM even said he didn’t dare to believe it.

That river is called the Beilun River. With a distance of 60 kilometer in the lower reaches, it forms the boundary line between China and Vietnam, and then flows into the Gulf of Tonkin. At 107° east longitude, the Beilun River encompasses a very small city. On the other side of the river, there is the city Móng Cái of Vietnam, and on this side of the river, there is the Sino-Vietnam Friendship Park (中越人民友谊公园).

That county-level city is called Dongxing; it’s where Tang Huan-feng grew up. During high school, as soon as you leave the gates, you can see Vietnamese people in their stalls selling all kinds of odds and ends. There’s even more Vietnamese people when you go south of the Dongxing port. Huan-Feng’s school even offered Vietnamese language courses back then.

“It felt like you took one step, and you were in Vietnam.”

But on the map, if you move the meridian slightly to the west by 1° and then move 1900 kilometers upwards, you’ll reach the capital of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Yinchuan.

In 2016, Tang Huan-Feng climbed from top to bottom alongside the 106° east longitude, and started the first stage of his esports journey.

As soon as he left school, Huan-Feng sent out his resume to every esports organization he knew of. This included his age, his server, his rank, as well as his reason for going pro. Some of those messages were gone with the wind. Some others replied back with, your rank is too low, it’s not that good, try your best again.

Anxiety spread within. “Stressed, I was too stressed back then.”

But after a period of fruitless searching, someone found him. It was an organization located in Yinchuan, Ningxia. The owner ran his own Internet café and wanted to form an esports team — the salary was 3000 yuan (~$432) a month. Huan-Feng didn’t think much; he immediately made a decision.

Before he left, his father told him: If you’re going to go, then do this properly. If it doesn’t work out, come back and join the military.

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Upon his arrival at Yinchuan, Tang Huan-Feng lived in a house even worse than his home in Dongxing.

“The rent was 1000 yuan (~$145), but the shower head was broken, and there was no place to wash our clothes. We had to take our own clothes and wash them at the owner’s house.”

In that organization, Tang Huan-Feng entered a cycle of “wake up from the couch every day at 10 o’clock in the morning, play games all night until 5 or 6 o’clock, go to bed.”

His teammates had to activate bank cards at the Internet café to practice. If they got hungry, they’d order takeout. But sometimes, the owner felt kind enough to take them to his house for dinner — his parents would cook.

Tang Huan-Feng stayed in this organization for more than a year. “I only got the experience. I didn’t improve whatsoever.” He felt like he’d wasted a year.

“Living there for a whole year, it made me aware of how tiring it is to play professionally. How painful would it be if you didn’t play well? That’s all.”

One year later, Huan-Feng saved up 10,000 yuan (~$1440). He left Yinchuan and that organization. But on his way home, he’d already spent about 2000 yuan (~$289).

“Tell me, how painful isn’t that?”

His first esports journey ended in a hurry, but Tang Huan-Feng didn’t join the military. After he had stayed at home for a period of time, he decided to head out once more. But this time he went to WuDu (sister team of Snake Esports), in the municipality of Chongqing.

“It was really hot back then.”

As he recalled his past as a proplayer, Huan-Feng couldn’t quite remember the specific month. What he could remember was the temperature and the more, or less, clothes that he wore every time he left home on his path to pro, or came back again.

2018 was the first year of the secondary league, LDL. The whole nation was divided into four regions, namely Nanjing, Shenzhen, Chongqing and Beijing. There were qualification matches before the spring- and summer split in which teams competed for spots.

In May, together with his WuDu teammates, Tang Huan-Feng won a spot in the LDL Summer Split. During this split, they placed third in their group in the Chongqing region. However, since they didn’t have any wins from the spring split, they weren’t qualified for the finals.

Not too long after the regular season had finished, WuDu’s team captain called for Tang Huan-Feng, and said that he and the support were off the team. Just a few days ago, Huan-Feng felt like his rank wasn’t good enough and wanted to work harder climbing the ladder.

On the day he was dismissed, he’d just reached Challenger on the Korean server.

When he heard the news of his dismissal, Huan-Feng’s heart beat very fast. Complicated feelings surged through him. He asked the management why. They told him they wanted him to find a better platform and a better team. They didn’t say much else, and Huan-Feng didn’t have the nerve to ask for more. But he didn’t want his teammates to know that he’d left, so him and the support snuck home quietly.

It was only a few days after, as the rest of the team came back to base after vacation, they realized that two people were missing.

Huan-Feng had said some very embarrassing, very “Eighth-Grader Syndrome-esque” words to himself when he left, like, “in the future, don’t make me face you guys in the LPL.”

From 2016 to 2018, from Dongxing to Yinchuan and then to Chongqing, Tang Huan-Feng wasted two years on a meridian line only 1° away from his hometown, Dongxing.

From an “Internet café team” to the LDL, Tang Huan-Feng didn’t feel that much of a sense of achievement. He could only feel if he, himself, “did well or not.”

In the summer of 2018, in the LDL Chongqing region, there were many players of different origins. Players who had been to the LPL, even the World Championship, and new stars soon to shine brilliantly on the LPL stage a year later. But Huan-Feng hadn’t ever paid much attention to those famous or powerful opponents.

Later on, when he joined IGY, someone told him straight to his face: How do you not know anything? Are you that arrogant?

He replied: “No, I just focus on myself, that’s all.”

Now, turn back time to August, 2017. Huan-Feng — who was still in the Yinchuan Internet café team — passed through several cities with his teammates until they finally won a spot in the 2018 LDL Spring Split.

After they got a spot, the owner moved the team to a villa. They moved out of that house with the “1000 yuan (~$145) rent”. Huan-Feng had no idea what a spot in the LDL meant back then. He just thought “it’s fine as long as you can compete.”

A former LPL player joined their team later on. He shared his own version of the LDL and the LPL — the significance between the two — with Huan-Feng. He even said to him:

“You can’t make it to the LPL. Only a dozen or so people in this world can make it there, so just why would it be you?”

But the comfortable and joyous lifestyle in the villa didn’t last long. The team’s support told them the truth later — the owner chose to exchange their LDL spot for a place with a better training environment. Hearing the news, Huan-Feng felt like he couldn’t stay there any longer. He had his father help him make up an excuse, that there was something wrong at home and that his child had to return at once.

Huan-Feng left Yinchuan soon after, before the year 2018. But before his departure, the owner took him to the train station, and while they were there, withdrew around 2000 yuan in cash. He told him that it was for him to use during the New Year’s celebration.

“If that thing with the LDL spot hadn’t happened, if he’d just told us everything, then he really was a good boss.”

The difference between dreams and reality is something every proplayer has to face. But, in the process of wandering between the two, Huan-Feng still wanted to aim for even higher places.

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Yinchuan is a city where it snows in October.

In the first ten days of October 2017, the region had its earliest snowfall since 1961. But it wasn’t until December when the heavy snow truly fell.

One day near noon, Huan-Feng had just woken up, and suddenly, someone told him, come quickly, it’s snowing outside. That was not long before they moved to their villa. Huan-Feng gazed down from the sixth floor where, below, the whole park had become a white sheet of paper.

Even as the whole team moved into another villa, that snow cover still hadn’t melted.

On that day, Tang Huan-Feng and his teammates ran downstairs. They played in the snow, they took a lot of pictures, and afterwards, they went for lunch together.

Snow was a novelty for Tang Huan-Feng back then. As he looked with curious eyes at the snow-covered world, he felt the intense coldness of the snow itself. He thought: Turns out snow in real life was just like the one in movies.

Nearly 1900 kilometers away from the hometown where he grew up, where snow didn’t fall, Tang Huan-Feng saw snow for the first time in his life.

Seize the Crown

On the last day of 2018, Tang Huan-Feng — who’d been dismissed from WuDu and stuck at home for more than three months — hurriedly boarded a flight to Shanghai for IGY.

At that time, IGY was brand new. They focused on building a team centered around their core, the jungler Leyan. As the recruiting process went underway, Leyan thought of Tang Huan-Feng.

So just like he had brought Huan-Feng from the Ningxia Internet café team to Chongqing WuDu a year ago, he called his former teammate over to his side once again.

On IGY, the manager GuoKui met Huan-Feng for the first time. In the spring split, IGY had a 17–7 performance in the regular season, but were eliminated by BLGJ in the quarterfinals.

GuoKui originally wanted to go back home and start a business. But in the end, he decided to stay for the sake of these young players.

As they were making team adjustments before the summer split began, GuoKui pulled the players into a small room for a meeting; what to do in the future. He told them about his past experiences, about his many ideas and choices, about the future plans for the team. He spoke about many, many things.

“I told them, each one of you gave up so much at such a young age. All of what you’ve experienced and sacrificed can be seen in your eyes. But since you’ve chosen this path, you must walk on it till the end.”

During the spring split, IGY’s management had been strict and militarized — goals were strictly enforced on each person. But when summer came, GuoKui tried to change this kind of atmosphere.

“I wanted to pass on a feeling to them that was like, none of you went pro because of the management, the coach, the organization and the fans. It was for yourself. The one you should truly face; it should be yourself.”

During the summer split, GuoKui had them set their own goals. He even focused on specific players, asking them to read books on improving one’s communication skills or cultivating one’s values.

When everyone had time off, they would do all kinds of escape rooms in Shanghai to relax. One time, the whole team did a particularly scary escape room. As soon as everyone entered, they were scared stiff. The coach Along felt like it wasn’t too good, worried that playing in such a dark space would lead to bumps and bruises. Nearly half of the players thought about giving up, but GuoKui said:

“It’s okay, this is a team game. You have to believe in your teammates. We can do this.”

Thus, with GuoKui’s leadership, not a single person dropped out of the team.

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Group Photo of Team IGY at an Escape Room

AD Carry is a role where you must maintain mechanical prowess at all times.

GuoKui said that Tang Huan-Feng was “the person who worked the hardest in the team, no one else could compare.”

In the 2019 LDL Summer Split, Huan-Feng played ranked until 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning, every day. He didn’t go outside during vacation either.

“Sometimes when we went out together for dinner, he would say, ‘I feel like my mechanics haven’t been very good lately. We’re gonna compete soon, so I’ll just play two more ranked games. You guys can just put whatever’s left in a doggy bag for me, it’s alright.’”

On August 5th, 2019, Invictus Gaming released a public announcement. IGY’s jungler Leyan would be promoted to the main team. Later on, Leyan made his debut on the LPL stage for the first time, and then joined the team on a journey to the 2019 League of Legends World Championship.

The news of Leyan’s promotion to the main team impacted Tang Huan-Feng greatly. As teammates and friends from WuDu to IGY, Huan-Feng was very envious of him.

“When he saw Leyan going to the main team, he said, ‘alright, I’ll catch up to Leyan. I’ll carry him; I can’t let him carry me all the time.’”

So during a conversation with GuoKui, Huan-Feng expressed how he wanted to help the team. Why not let the team play around him in the next matches? He would carry. Hearing Huan-Feng’s words, GuoKui felt a bit moved.

On September 8th, 2019, with a 18–6 performance, IGY placed second out of twenty-five teams in the regular season and advanced to the LDL Summer Playoffs.

Fourteen days later, on the Grand Finals stage, IGY won 3:1 against EDGY — they lifted the championship trophy. But as he stood on the podium, alongside his victorious teammates, Tang Huan-Feng didn’t feel too excited. He felt like everything had calmed down.

“The goal was finally achieved.”

Below the stage, GuoKui almost cried at the sight of the players taking home the trophy.

During the spring split, there had been too much pressure on the team’s toplaner 705. He felt distressed to the point where he wanted to buy a plane ticket just so he could run away. During the summer split, after the first game in a Bo3, their midlaner Forge cried backstage because of some mistakes, saying he couldn’t hold on anymore.

All of a sudden, in that particular moment, memories of the team sprung up in bits and pieces, jumbled and disorganized.

“No one in this team is perfect; everyone has been doubted and pressured. And when they won, each person’s improvement was as clear as day. They deserved this championship.”

Last Chance

“It’s not fair. Why have all my teammates gone to the LPL, but I haven’t? What is it that’s wrong with me?”

In early 2020, this was the question that Tang Huan-Feng kept asking himself during the transfer period. By the end of 2019, despite winning the LDL championship, he almost missed out on the LPL.

“There were organizations that looked for us at the start; they wanted our players to do tryouts. As for me, at the start of it all, I also held the belief that they should learn from it and experience it.” GuoKui described the situation at the start of the transfer period.

Apart from Leyan who was already in Invictus Gaming, and Forge who had already been signed by Vici Gaming, Tang Huan-Feng was the first player to go for a tryout. From Shanghai to Beijing, to JD Gaming.

“It was only after I’d gone there that I realized just how big the gap between the LPL and the LDL was.”

In the few days of tryouts at JDG, Tang Huan-Feng — who came in contact with LPL teams and proplayers for the first time — performed very nervously. In the end, he didn’t pass.

Tang Huan-feng had always regarded Leyan, already in the LPL, as his target to catch up to. But he realized the real gap between himself and this stage. Once the JDG tryouts ended, he felt disheartened and sent a message to GuoKui, saying he didn’t want to do any tryouts again, he felt like he was “trash”, he wanted to go home by himself and rest. As that one-time failure turned into a fuse, all his negative emotions surged through him.

When GuoKui saw Huan-Feng’s message, he got angry.

“I spoke with him for a very long time that day on WeChat; he was very agitated. I saw no problem doing tryouts and learning from the LPL. Even if you don’t pass, it’s fine. If worse comes to worst, just come back. But you can’t run away.”

Finally, GuoKui and Tang Huan-Feng reached an agreement. Let him go home and rest for two days, and then have him return to Shanghai for more tryouts.

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After the JDG tryouts ended, Tang Huan-Feng headed to other organizations, but the results were the same. At the end of it all, he went from the first player who’d done tryouts, to the last player who still hadn’t joined the LPL, and the transfer period was rapidly closing.

In the beginning, Huan-Feng thought: Why not play another six months in the LDL? Let’s just settle for a while.

But when he saw his teammates leave for the LPL one by one, he got stressed. As the transfer period was about to end, he finally told GuoKui his true feelings.

At the same time, Suning contacted IGY. GuoKui asked him: How about you try again? And this time, Tang Huan-Feng finally made up his mind. He seized this last chance.

“You play in the LDL, you win the championship, what’s next? Obviously you want to go for even bigger stages. But if things still hadn’t worked out then, I would’ve acknowledged it.”

At the end of the 2020 LPL Spring Split transfer period, Yuan Xi and the head of the organization came to IGY to pick up Tang Huan-Feng for tryouts.

Yuan Xi still remembers the scene of their first meeting, as well as the frail and reserved boy standing on the streets in the Shanghai winter, wearing a sweater with a “White Rabbit Candy” print on it.

Welcome to the LPL

Before the year 2020, the Taiwanese player Hu Shuo-Chieh (SwordArt) — who’d already been in Suning for a year — spent every day thinking about how to play out the new season.

“What I thought then was that, as a support, if I could lower the level of my own mechanics, and pay even closer attention to the map, speak up more, convey more of my thoughts to the team, then that might be the best way to bring everyone together.”

The year ended, the spring split began, and after having played a few matches, he strengthened this belief even more. Thus, 2020 more or less became the year which Hu Shuo-Chieh’s spoke the most in his entire career.

“When I was in Flash Wolves before, and even last year on Suning, I didn’t need to say much. But now we have newcomers, so a lot of things I never had to say, I have to say now, and not just say it, but say it very loudly. I have to at least give the other players a direction.”

But once frequent in-game communication with his teammates became a habit, his throat slowly started to feel sore. In the middle- and later stages of the summer split, Hu Shuo-Chieh sometimes asked the staff to buy him some cough drops to help his voice.

The “newcomers” he referred to were toplaner Chen Ze-Bin and ADC Tang Huan-Feng. At the annual players meeting held before 2020, Hu Shuo-Chieh asked Tang Huan-Feng, “will you still come back after tryouts are over?” He replied, maybe. Later, he learned that this little youngster would be his future botlane partner.

The day before Tang Huan-Feng’s official debut on Suning, Hu Shuo-Chieh told him while eating, “if you don’t know what to do in tomorrow’s match, or if we have our backs against the wall, don’t stop talking. You just tell everyone ‘there’s no problem, don’t worry, I’ll carry’ even if you don’t think you can carry, you still have to say it like that. You have to let your team feel at ease.”

After that, Suning regretfully faced defeat on the second day. Nevertheless, Hu Shuo-Chieh thought his ADC performed well. “I know how it’s like to play your first match after all.”

One from Taiwan, one from Guangxi, two people five years apart gradually formed a brotherly bond — a “big brother and a little brother”. At the end of every match, Hu Shuo-Chieh would always talk to Huan-Feng about the mistakes made. If Huan-Feng didn’t listen the first time, he’d say it sharply the next time.

“I wanted to let him know that these were habits I wished he could drop.”

In order for their newcomers to improve at a faster rate, Suning even arranged for their assistant coach Fury — their former ADC — to pull aside the botlane after every VOD review, and then hold another smaller-scale review.

As the regular season of the spring split ended, Tang Huan-Feng received eight MVPs. Tied with Smlz and Puff, he became one of the ADCs with the most MVPs in the regular season.

But in actuality, Hu Shuo-Chieh didn’t want to maintain this one-sided “instilled” form of communication with his own ADC.

“I would tell him, I wish that you could yell at me after scrims or matches, that you could tell me what I’m doing wrong and where. Or, you could make some very bold moves in-game, and have me follow you. We’d only improve like this. Because if you only listen to what one person says, then I won’t improve either, because no one will oppose me.”

However, when he was reprimanded too much, Tang Huan-Feng had times where he would explode as well. There was a day, late into the summer split, where Tang Huan-Feng and Hu Shuo-Chieh duo’d together. After one game, the two of them had a dispute in the practice room. That was the first time Huan-Feng had vehemently expressed his feelings to his own support in a practice room.

What followed was a period of time where none of them duo’d with each other, until Hu Shuo-Chieh felt like things couldn’t go on like this. But only when he took the initiative to look for Huan-Feng, did he realize why the other got so angry in the first place.

“On that day, I kept using pings to lead the players in-game, because SofM happened to be on the enemy side, so if I were to talk then he’d hear everything. And I don’t say much when I play ranked either. Instead of focusing on botlane, I think that we should communicate more around the entirety of the game, and the laning phase should be left to our synergy. But he probably felt like, ‘since we’re now duo’ing, we should properly communicate with each other.’ So if I don’t say anything, am I doing it because I don’t want to talk, because I think he’s trash?’

Looking back on the reason for Huan-Feng’s anger, both Hu Shuo-Chieh and manager Yuan Xi didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

“I only found out afterwards; turns out he felt like I didn’t take him seriously in ranked.”

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After coming to the LPL, Tang Huan-Feng still had to steel himself in many areas in anticipation of the stage. Yuan Xi told him:

“You think Hu Shuo-Chieh doesn’t talk to you, but really, he speaks a hundred times more than you do after just one game.”

As the spring split finished, Tang Huan-Feng asked Yuan Xi: Why is it that, when I was on IGY, everyone would go out to play as soon as there was a break? We’d do escape rooms together, and there were plenty of these opportunities. So why aren’t there any now?

Yuan Xi said: Every organization has different management styles, and we have some pretty good methods over here. You have to adapt, and who knows, maybe you’ll see better results.

“There are some things that he hasn’t experienced yet, so I can’t blame him. We can only take it one step at a time.”

Yuan Xi thought that, during the spring split, if Huan-Feng could maintain his performance, perhaps he could be a candidate for the 2020 Best Newcomer by the end of the year.

In the summer split, following the overall adjustments of the team, Huan-Feng made attempts to play the role of the sacrificial pawn. Yuan Xi also saw it.

“Some players often just have one characteristic. That is, does the team play around them? Or, can they guarantee they’ll farm on their own while their teammates are somewhere else on the map? We could see both possibilities in Huan-Feng.”

On August 9th, 2020, the LPL summer split was in its final stages. Suning won 2:1 against FPX. They achieved the best results in the history of the team.

A toplaner and ADC who’d never been to Worlds, a support who’d been to Worlds, and a jungler who’d almost been to Worlds — such was the current Suning team.

One night before playoffs had begun, manager Yuan Xi told all the players: Now that we’ve come this far, remember, we’re human. We must have some ambition. There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious, especially in esports.

On the other hand, the person who knew Tang Huan-Feng for the longest time, who shared the same room, Hu Shuo-Chieh, saw shadows of his past self in this young boy who slept later than him, who woke up earlier than him, every single day.

“He really practices so much. He’s that kind of person who really puts his back into it. And every time I see this, I’ll think about myself when I just started out as a proplayer. Not wanting anything outside of the game, just thinking about playing better, and if I just went all out, just a tiny bit more, then maybe I’d have a chance.”

Epilogue: The Boy Arrived at the Seaside

It was a day at the end of 2019. Just like his school days — waking up early to play ranked — Tang Huan-Feng woke up at 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning. After getting out of bed, he packed his bags and left Shanghai, taking the first flight to Nanning.

The whole flight lasted around three and a half hours. After arriving at Nanning, Huan-Feng went on an hour and a half long train ride to the city, Fangchenggang. He then switched to a smaller bus, traveling for another hour.

At around 3 or 4 o’clock in the afternoon, he returned to Dongxing, to his past. There were only two days of vacation. Huan-Feng hadn’t told his father he was going back on his own.

On the first stop, he went to the small room where he had lived. The moment he pushed past the door, he felt, “everything’s different.”

He didn’t smell any dust in the air. In the past, he’d come back by himself during vacation, and the house would always be very dirty. You could swipe your hand over any area; it would be covered in dust. But inside the house, he discovered traces of someone cleaning.

A series of former events, all in this house, rapidly flashed before his eyes. He finally realized it. Compared to that past child who’d lived here, he had “already grown up.”

After a simple clean-up, Huan-Feng took a taxi and left the city center, on his way to the not distant Wanwei Golden Beach; a famous Dongxing seaside tourist attraction.

Ever since he was a child, Huan-Feng had been there about seven or eight times. When he was young, his mom and dad brought him there to play. Later on, he went together with his friends and classmates.

“Go once, drown once” — that’s what it was like.

But based on the Five Elements*, Tang Huan-Feng’s life lacked fire. So his name was marked with two fires** and his father had told him: Try not to be near water. Wear more red clothes.

On the way to Wanwei, Tang Huan-Feng continued to think about his past. When the taxi finally stopped at the destination, he felt a little sad; a few tears were shed. As they fell, he thought to himself: Why am I crying?

At Wanwei, after Huan-Feng had booked a hotel room, he strolled alongside the golden beach while the fiery sun slowly set in the distance. He watched the sea, deep in thought. He thought about the LDL which he played in before, about the LPL which he might go to in the future, about the classmates of his school days and what they should be doing now.

It was only until he thought about that time, the time where he wouldn’t think about anything at all, that he realized. He hadn’t eaten yet.

On the second day, he slept in the hotel until the afternoon. After waking up, Huan-Feng sat on a bench by the water, continuing to watch the sea. Yesterday evening, he had walked along the beach for thirty minutes. But in the end, Huan-Feng couldn’t find that feeling from half a year ago — of emptying one’s mind, of “thinking about nothing.”

He could never repeat that ordinary summer at Dongxing port — it became “unrepeatable” in his life.

But in any case, at the seaside of his hometown, he welcomed the long-lost peace and quiet. “After going pro, whenever I’m anxious, as long as I go to any place related to the sea, I’ll feel at ease. I won’t feel so badly shaken just because of one thing, of one problem.”

On the third day, Tang Huan-Feng packed his bags and returned to Shanghai, to his career and reality.

After having spent a simple and quiet life of 19 years, Tang Huan-Feng’s future has — like the sea he yearns for — countless unknown possibilities.

After each brief pause, he’ll still continue onward.

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Translator note:

*But based on the Five Elements…

Chinese philosophy, known as “Wuxing” — explains a broad range of phenomena through the use of Five Phases/Elements: Fire (火 huǒ), Water (水 shuǐ), Wood (木 mù), Metal (金 jīn), and Earth (土 tǔ).

**Tang Huan-Feng’s life lacked fire, so his name was marked with two flames.

Huan-Feng’s name is 焕烽. The left part in both characters is the radical 火 (huǒ) which means “fire”.

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