To go, or not to go, this isn’t a fucking question!
—the captain of This is a Respectable Team
Back when he was roaming around the second server, Fang Rui was only fifteen. At the time, he lied about his age and claimed he was a mature twenty-five-year-old guy with prickly stubble on his chin.
What little brats liked to do most was to pretend they were grown-up—as if, once older, they could solve their problems as easily as knives could split bamboo. But as soon as he opened voice chat, southern boy Fang Rui’s distinctively milky Mandarin exposed him completely.
Youth also had its advantages. With nothing much to do all day long, he was full of inexhaustible energy from head to toe. He could spend a whole day holed up in some corner; after he killed people and picked up the loot, he’d get cocky and even dance ballet in front of their corpses—so just who ya calling young with these awesome skills, huh?
His guild wasn’t that large, with about a hundred members altogether. It was impossible for them to steal a boss from the big guilds, for they’d be offering up their own heads if they went—though every once in a while they’d try their luck and pick up some measly shrimp or fish. Just like that, they hung in a state of limbo without many prospects; every day, they’d dally with newcomers in the guild channel and then do a few daily quests, beating up monsters on one hand while gossiping away on the other. And so another day would pass, just like it would at a nursing home.
One day, Fang Rui was doing guild quests and heard people from other guilds mention registration for the Challenger League, so he went to ask in the guild channel, “Why don’t we sign up and try?”
Everyone laughed at Fang Rui’s wild fantasy. “Wouldn’t we just get sent off like a bunch of noobs?”
The guild leader thought about it, and then announced to the guild, “Anyone who wants to go, sign up with me. Just consider it a round of fun. Winning, losing, we don’t care that much. Besides, saying right away that it’s impossible when we haven’t even begun—that’s not our style either, is it?”
Although he said as much, most of them weren’t very interested. They scraped together a hodgepodge of people that barely met the minimum number of players.
Then they started on the naming of this great venture.
“What do we call it?”
“Team Once We’re Done Playing We Go Home to Beg for Food?”
“Can’t it be a bit more ambitious?”
“Once We’re Done Playing We Go Back to Bathe and Sleep?”
“Once We’re Done Playing We Go Back to Dance Disco?”
“Really, is this a respectable team name?”
“Yes, that’s the name!”
“??? What’d I just say?”
“We’ll be called, This is a Respectable Team!” The guild leader, who ought now to be called their team captain and fellow comrade, brought down the hammer with his final decision.
Fang Rui: I knew this wasn’t a respectable team the moment I saw its name.
Before the start of the Challenger League, This is a Respectable Team conducted a devilish closed-door training. The concrete state of affairs could be gleaned from listening in on the guild’s voice chat:
“Where the fuck is my artillery? Fang Rui you clown, where’d you run off to?”
“Captain you dirty Cleric, do you even have the grounds to say that about me?”
“Bullshit! What I do is tactics! What would a brat like you know about tactics!”
“Captain Captain, won’t you look at your pitiful Knight, he’s almost dead! He’s at death’s door, can’t you give him a mouthful of milk?”
“Coming coming, open wide and drink your milk!”
“Why do I feel these words sound quite wretched?”
“With a face full of devotion, the captain opens up his jacket and holds the Knight, rocking him back and forth as he nurses him.”
“Combined with the captain’s physique, this scene really leaves an impression…”
“Fang Rui don’t you fucking run away!!!”
“I’m running I’m running, thbpbpthpt come fight me…”
“Fuck! The boss is enraged!”
This is a Respectable Team, dropping dead on the streets.
Boss: Did you all forget about my existence?
The opponents that This is a Respectable Team met in their first match were extremely horrific. This could be seen from their player IDs.
The Grudge (Battle Mage)
Dead Silence (Spitfire)
House of Wax (Striker)
Silent Hill (Elementalist)
Train to Busan (Cleric)
“Bro, yeah hey you, the Cleric.” Fang Rui started to chat right as the match began.
The Challenger League didn’t have as many rules as formal matches did, for it was all a crowd of low-level grassroots teams in the first place; victory or defeat in the offline matches was settled by the system without any referee on hand to watch. As the teams kept playing, they came to sympathize with each other and would begin to gossip about their own girlfriends; the sight of two people crying on each other’s shoulders and GG-ing together wasn’t unheard of.
“Huh, you’re talking to me?” The Cleric, Train to Busan, answered Fang Rui accordingly, but didn’t let it interfere with his healing.
“Are you from Fujian?” Fang Rui asked.
“How’d you know???” Train to Busan was shocked.
“I’m from Guangzhou, ah~ when you come to Guangzhou in the future, I’ll treat you to tasty things, hehehehehehe…” Fang Rui’s smile slowly grew more and more sinister. “Oh, very tasty~”
Then Fang Rui added, “You’ll have to take a bath and wash up before you come.”
“Tsk tsk tsk, what a weak mentality.” Fang Rui turned around and prepared to deal with the others, but discovered that they had all distanced themselves more than a dozen body lengths from him.
“Eh, what’re you doing?”
“We’re all from Fujian!!!”
Fang Rui, dead.
After they met the team of Fujianese horror film fans in their first match, their tournament bracket seemed to have flipped on some strange switch, for all the teams they ran into were wondrously weird.
For instance, in their second match they met the One Autumn Leaf Debt Collection Group.
One Autumn Leaf Return My Boss
One Autumn Leaf Return My Materials
One Autumn Leaf Return My Equipment
One Autumn Leaf Return My Wife
One Autumn Leaf Return My Kid
One Autumn Leaf Return My Innocence
When these people were lined up in a row on the field, they were a sight so astonishing it made one weep. You could easily tell just from looking at them what sort of abysmal suffering they had lived through, to be so oppressed by the vicious power of One Autumn Leaf. It made Fang Rui and the others feel almost embarrassed about killing them all.
But the competition had to continue, and a respectable team wasn’t about to end its own career in the second round.
Once they’d seen off their last opponent, the dead players still had a cooldown period in the game, so the Striker said to them, “You’re all very strong! If you can win the championship, please tell One Autumn Leaf on our behalf—you can take away our boss, but you won’t take away our red hearts loyal to Tyranny! The men of Tyranny will never be slaves!!!”
“Then rest in peace, I’m an Excellent Era fan,” the captain said, with a cold and callous heart.
“The opponents we’re about to face are very strong. They already eliminated a team of experts formed by one of Royal Style’s branch guilds,” the captain said gravely.
Fang Rui cast a glance at the other team’s profile—not only strong, but very tidy. You see, even the name of the team was A Household Should Be Neat and Tidy.
His Eldest Uncle
His Second Uncle
His Great Aunt
His Young Aunt
Fang Rui felt that the reason why the experts from Royal Style’s branch guild couldn’t win against them was probably because they didn’t want to see the system announcement: “Congratulations [xxx] for killing [His Mom / His Great Aunt / His Eldest Uncle].”
The team was very neat and tidy; not only could this be seen from their team name and IDs, but it could also be seen from how neatly they dropped offline en masse halfway through the match.
According to the news later on, this team was made up of students who had skipped class and jumped the fence to go online. They were caught by the school dean, who seized each and every one of them by the ear and dragged them back. It really conjured up a vivid scene.
Afterwards, This is a Respectable Team went on to win without even lifting a finger.
As Fang Rui participated in this round of the Challenger League, the host of demons that he witnessed running rogue opened his eyes and widened his horizons.
The most suffocating player IDs from one team went like this:
If I’m Not Moving Then I’m Doing Business With People In the Store and Ask for Your Understanding
Are You Done Reading My Name If You’re Done It Means You’re Gonna Die
World Flirting Championship Appoints Lucky Spectators On the Spot
Don’t Kill Me Don’t Kill Me I’m an Innocent and Pitiful Weakling
I Owe Debt So If I’m Hanging Then I’ve Been Killed
I’m the Debtor’s Partner So If He’s Hanging Please Report to Police
For the first time, Fang Rui felt that he wasn’t competing at all, but was instead eradicating evil for the sake of the Alliance. If teams like these entered the Pro Alliance, the commentators would probably rather kill themselves with blocks of tofu.
Fang Rui suddenly felt that his own image had grown more majestic.
The team that almost drove them bald when they played against them was a team composed wholly of three Clerics, two Knights, and two Paladins. They’d maxed out their skill points on agility and ran all around the map, escaping at a second’s slip in attention; even if they only had a sliver of life left, they’d secretly hide in any nook or cranny and heal themselves to full health before appearing again.
Fang Rui suspected that the reason why they’d muddled along till now was actually because other teams had been annoyed to death by them and straight-up GGed.
“Fuck, can you not be so dirty! Hurry up and come out! Hero, what’s the point of hiding!” Fang Rui shouted in voice chat while he operated his character to go search.
“Brother please wait, let me heal a bit more before I talk with you,” replied the Knight, hidden in some corner.
Before he played in the Challenger League, Fang Rui was just a little bit dirty; after he played in the Challenger League, Fang Rui took all the dirty with him.
And just like that, staggering along without realizing they’d gone down the path of unexpected success, the team that they’d formed last-minute broke into the offline competition.
No one had imagined they’d have the chance to participate in the offline competition; they’d never taken themselves seriously even when they bragged about their awesomeness. At the time, the guild was full of joy and noisy with congratulations when they saw the list of names posted on the official website. The captain rubbed his eyes and slapped his leg. “Fuck, we’re this awesome?”
Fang Rui hadn’t dared to believe either, and went along with quite a few WTF.
Then the voice chat sank into silence. After a long time, the captain spoke abruptly. “The first match is in Wuhan… are you all coming?”
“Coming, of course we’re coming…” A few people gave fragmented replies, but some of the others didn’t say anything, including Fang Rui.
He knew that his mom and dad no longer had the energy to discipline him for things such as skipping class for several days—but when it came to leaving the province for a competition with no guaranteed outcome, it was as good as saying he’d given up his studies. The obstacle he had to face was really too big.
Most of the others who were silent alongside him had their own studies or careers; there were too many things that couldn’t be tossed aside. While amusing themselves in the online matches, they’d never had hopes in the first place of qualifying for the next round of competition; and now, having miraculously qualified, they feared the miracle wrought by their fiery hands.
“Let’s forfeit, Captain, a grassroots team like us isn’t going to win,” someone said.
“That’s right—I’m away on a business trip during those days, I don’t want to lose my job.”
People began to waver.
Dreams would always yield to reality. Or perhaps, under the oppression of reality, more people might strangle their budding dreams to death; if it wasn’t possible for dreams to even bloom, then they naturally wouldn’t suffer from the withering pain.
Are you afraid that your dreams might shatter?
Then you might as well not dream.
“Captain. I’ll go,” said Fang Rui. “I’m going for sure, you all wait for me!!” He went offline after he said this, and didn’t appear online for several days.
But, right on schedule, the days-vanished Fang Rui arrived at the hotel they’d booked in Wuhan. Wearing a baseball cap, he stood at the door and smiled at them in the hazy sunlight. “I’m here.”
The captain didn’t ask Fang Rui how he’d persuaded his parents to let him rush over to this commitment that would surely come to naught, or how he could still smile at them as usual with bruises purpling his back. He just took out a pink selfie stick and scratched his head. “Don’t—don’t laugh! This is my little sister’s… all right, guys, gather round and let’s take a souvenir photo. No matter what, we’ve defeated several thousand teams to come stand here—isn’t it awesome? When I go back to my hometown I’ll have enough to gossip half a lifetime with that stubbly relative of mine.”
“Hey hey, you with the huge teeth, tuck them in a bit, don’t look like a weasel who’s stolen the chicken.”
“Also you, Fang Rui, brush back your bangs, right right you look more lively that way.”
“Now listen up, one, two, three—”
A photo was something just that magical. No matter how much time passed before he picked it up again, he’d always be able to remember the pleasantly cool breeze and the sunlit warmth of that day: as if time was, in this moment, eternal.
The teams that made it to the offline competition were the crème de la crème of players, reckoned among the best across the servers. Even if they couldn’t be compared to professional players, the gap between them and ordinary players was still very wide.
In their first match, This is a Respectable Team lost so badly they near doubted their own existence.
Those who’d dared to come in the end had already staked everything on a single gamble; even if they couldn’t win the championship, they didn’t want to lose in too unsightly a fashion, for else how embarrassing their return would be! The majority of them had quarreled with their families in order to come here, and had almost surely boasted and talked big—just like the captain, who had stood on a table in front of everyone in his factory, and declared, “If I can’t win the championship, I’ll eat a table!!”
To ease everyone’s financial burden, he’d sold off a flat in his old hometown and used the proceeds for their round-trip traveling expenses and lodging fees.
“I’m telling you all—for my sake, make sure I don’t eat a table, so you’d better not freeze up!” The captain clapped Fang Rui’s back with some force, making Fang Rui bare his teeth from the pain. “No one knows who the winner will be, not until the last minute.”
Although he spoke these words with lofty heroism, the players of This is a Respectable Team went in another direction, and carried on according to its deeper meaning.
Such as, say: if they could stay alive, who cared how ugly they looked so long as they could keep going.
Whenever Fang Rui saw their opponents bearing down with menace upon them in a bad situation, he’d hastily take advantage of the chaotic scene to sneak away and hide in a corner; and whenever he saw someone left with only a sliver of life, he’d go up and deal the last strike. His Qi Master was even dirtier than a Thief or Brawler, and the captain often sighed that Fang Rui had picked the wrong class. But Fang Rui objected—he’d be playing like this no matter what his class was, and didn’t care about such things. Originally, he’d picked the Qi Master because he thought the outfit looked good, and gotten too lazy to change it as he kept playing.
Fang Rui and the captain were jokingly called the Runaway Duo. Fang Rui operated skillfully and reacted quickly, so in general he was able to swiftly dodge the enemy’s attacks and flee. The captain had undergone a baptism by fire with the teams they’d played before; he didn’t hesitate to swap in a set of equipment that maxed out agility, and even reset his skill points to increase speed. The two of them firmly believed that the match wasn’t over so long as someone was alive, regardless of whether the situation was 3v5 or 1v5.
“So long as we’re alive, there’s hope for us to turn the tables,” the captain said.
In their match against Jade Dynasty, they were practically crushed.
Jade Dynasty was the team relegated last year; but although it’d been relegated from the Pro Alliance, it had more than enough to spare for oppressing a grassroots team like theirs, which lacked systematic training. The escape tactics they’d used before were simply ineffective here. Only five minutes had passed since the start of the match when the captain, also their Cleric, was taken out by the other side. The others were forced to flee in all directions, and couldn’t get into any formation.
Fang Rui relied on his hand speed to quickly shake off his pursuers, but couldn’t see which directions their enemies had gone. He had no other choice but to make his way around like a headless fly, for fear that he’d enter the range of the enemy. Then there really wouldn’t even be a glimmer of hope.
On one side, their Spitfire looked at the two people chasing him and knew that he was just about finished—but suddenly seemed to think of something, and took no notice of the trash talk pushing him to GG straightaway. He turned around and ran toward the mountain, as if he lacked all sense of self-preservation.
The opposite side was struck dumb as they watched this opponent of theirs, who’d originally lost his fighting spirit but then suddenly started running like he’d strapped on booster rockets. They’d never expected him to resist and keep running away to the mountain.
“There’s a cliff on the mountain, what’s he up to? ‘If I’m gonna die, I won’t die in enemy hands?’ Is he gonna jump off?”
“Who cares. Let’s chase him first, he can’t escape.”
They killed the Spitfire on the cliff at the summit; without the least bit of suspense, he died there at the highest peak of the map.
But he hadn’t yet given up here and now. He adjusted his field of view, and once he saw where their two opponents were headed, he typed in the team channel:
He had chosen to die at the map’s highest point in order to exploit a loophole in the rules. The result of this match seemed a foregone conclusion to outside spectators, but he’d increased their chance of victory by just a bit.
So long as I can burn, I’ll light up a little hope for my teammates.
The Spitfire’s manner of death enlightened the others. Caught in situations that they couldn’t flee, they chose as best as they could to die in places with a wide field of view, and through this provided Fang Rui more information about their enemies.
Fang Rui saw the other five players’ icons graying out; they’d already been killed and eliminated from the match. Only he was left on the field, to face three opponents including a Cleric.
But he didn’t feel alone at all, for he wasn’t the only one fighting—his five eliminated teammates hung their hopes on him.
Fang Rui didn’t even have time to calculate the probability of winning or losing. He used all the info from the team channel to roughly determine the positions of his remaining opponents in his head.
Taking advantage of the time he had before they could regroup, he waylaid and killed the Elementalist. But this simultaneously revealed his whereabouts; he had to face two opponents, yet he wasn’t the least bit afraid.
Even though a direct charge would be more dashing in times like these, and leave a final impression of unyielding heroism, Fang Rui had never wanted to be a hero—he only wanted to win. He looked at the two people hemming him in, then turned and fled without a word in a frantic attempt to escape. The dashing aura from his previous kill of the Elementalist was utterly ruined in an instant.
He dodged and hid all over; he harassed his opponents whenever he found an opportunity, and stubbornly wore down the Cleric’s mana to near nothing with his guerrilla warfare. The price he paid for this was in life, with only a sliver left.
He heard the faint sound of hissing from the audience, and knew this was due to their scorn for his slow and stalling playstyle.
He didn’t care.
Dirty play had never been about making himself look good, and it went without saying that this wasn’t the tough and hardline boxing face-off that the audience wanted to see. It was normal for people to find it unattractive; whether they had any respect for it was their own business. What he wanted to achieve was to pay the least and gain the most in return; and so, whether it wasted time or not, whether it looked good or not, these simply weren’t things he cared about.
So what if he only had a sliver of life left? It wasn’t yet time for him to give up.
He didn’t fear defeat, nor would he admit defeat.
In the end they still lost. Fang Rui relied on his last shred of life to take an enemy down with himself, but the Cleric still remained, though they didn’t have any mana left.
But to be able to hold on like this throughout what should’ve been a one-sided match—no one could call this an unsightly ending.
They’d already done all they could do; but this was all that they could do, and they couldn’t demand too much of themselves.
The moment the captain left the bench, he called back home. “Hey? Dear wife? Prep a table for me, uh… best to get one that’s a little softer, lately my teeth haven’t been good.”
Fang Rui looked at him. “Sorry, Captain, we made you lose your bet.”
The captain still threw an arm over his shoulders with giddy joy. “Bullshit, we managed to get this far, we damn fucking well are champions, and I won’t hear otherwise!”
“Let’s go go go, time to drink, let’s celebrate our championship team!”
Because Fang Rui was the only minor, the captain wouldn’t let him drink. The captain hugged the bottles as he downed his beer, and as he sang “Song of Heroes” with the others he began to tear up.
“Howl when you see unjust ways wah! If you should fight then you must fight wah! Charge like fiery wind into Jiuzhou wah! ...... wah, for this I fucking slapped my boss in the face with my resignation, dunno if it’s too late now to make a formal apology.”
Another guy began to bawl, but as he went on and on he began to laugh as well. “I’m telling you all, I’ve never felt that amazing before, really.”
“I’ve fucking loved playing games ever since I was a kid, and wished I could make it my career. Today’s the closest I’ve ever gotten to my dream.”
“No matter if we’d won or lost, I still think it was worth it to come here!”
That day, Fang Rui watched them drinking and laughing and talking about their pasts and their dreams; and in the quiet night, the small barbecue stall grew as lively as it would in the daytime.
They were not resigned, but they were still full of true joy. Even though they’d lost, they were still happy, because at least they’d dared to go all out for their dreams; even though they’d fallen, this shouldn’t become a disgrace, but simply an experience in one’s life.
In fact, from their childhoods all the way up to now, the experience they lacked the least was that of failure.
So what if they’d failed again? They’d once come close to their dream, just as stars might illuminate the moon in that moment when they sparkled at their brightest.
Every star shone with the light of its dream.
Fang Rui said his goodbyes to them. From then on, afterwards, he didn’t see them again for many years.
Just as Fang Rui headed into the railway station, getting ready to go home, he saw a boorish young man in his twenties in the waiting room. In his hands he held an esports magazine, which happened to have something on its cover about the match Fang Rui’s team had just played. Its criticism had flayed the skin right off of them, but they hadn’t cared about what drivel other people might say.
The young man suddenly fished out a cigarette and passed it to Fang Rui, but Fang Rui waved it away. He let out a laugh and put it in his own mouth.
“So what? You’re going back like this?” the man asked him.
“Ah, I don’t know, I’ll just go back for now,” said Fang Rui.
“What a waste of your talent! If you practice another year or so, you could definitely hurl that Zhang Jian a few streets away.” Zhang Jian was the captain of Jade Dynasty.
“You sound so certain, huh, who are you? Or could it be you’re Ye Qiu?” Fang Rui was suspicious.
“I’m way more awesome than Ye Qiu—I’m afraid you’d die from shock if I said, so I won’t.” The man laughed. “Have you heard of Blue Rain, boy?” he said.
“I’ve seen a few matches,” Fang Rui said.
“Want to go try out Blue Rain’s training camp?”
“Eh?” Fang Rui raised his head and looked at him.
“Got a pen?” The man pulled out a paper napkin and grabbed Fang Rui’s pen, scrawling on the napkin in a bold and flamboyant style. “Take this and go find Fang Shijing—I tell you now, you’ll stand out for sure.
“Me, I’ve got good eyes. You see that Yu… never mind, no point in talking about this stuff. I’m off!” The young man ground out his cigarette butt, stuffed the paper napkin into Fang Rui’s hands, and shuffled away.
Fang Rui was carrying this tattered guarantee with him when he entered Blue Rain’s training camp. As for what belonged to Fang Rui’s story, this was just the beginning.