“I’ve talked with the Club and we’ve agreed that you can take on greater responsibilities.” Lin Jie tells Wang Jiexi with unusual gravitas.
“Huh?” Wang Jiexi accidentally voices his confusion, not expecting the turn of the conversation.
Ignoring Fang Shiqian’s drilling stare into the side of his head, Lin Jie continues, “What do think? Do you have the confidence to take on more responsibility?”
“I still don’t quite understand. More responsibility … what do you mean?”
What does Lin Jie mean by greater responsibilities? As a new player, what could be a greater responsibility for him than to find his place in Tiny Herb and ensure that he’s carrying his own weight?
This is what Lin Jie means.
After the initial excitement and enthusiasm, Wang Jiexi gets a glimpse of Fang Shiqian's speechless look of disgust and immediately realizes that the matter isn't so simple. Cooling down his turbulent heart, Wang Jiexi seriously thinks about what accepting would mean. The ability to control this god-level account ... meant the responsibility to become Tiny Herb's core.
Even though he hadn't planned to slack off in the slightest, becoming Tiny Herb's core meant that he has a lot less room for mistakes and needs to quickly adapt to Tiny Herb's pace and style.
Vacarria is a terrifying account when pushed to its limits, so his seniors will eventually rely on him to take point as anchor in the group arena or individual matches. The team competitions are a given.
He will have to give up the account he has put time and care into these past few years. The Club hadn't notified him that he would be playing anything else. It leaves a painful ache to realize he suddenly has to let this card go.
Endless possibilities run through his mind.
Only after considering the unspoken importance of accepting this responsibility does Wang Jiexi finally respond with: "I believe I can."
Then, Lin Jie layers another responsibility atop that he doesn't believe he's ready for at all.
“Captain!?” Wang Jiexi shouts, unable to hold back his shock.
At the same time, he is nearly drowned out by Fang Shiqian jumping to his feet and shouting, “I can’t agree with this!”
Unperturbed by their exclamations, Lin Jie says, “Of course, we will respect your wishes. Still ... I hope that you can accept because I believe that this is the best decision for Tiny Herb. I’m sorry. It’s selfish of me, pushing all these responsibilities onto you.”
Wang Jiexi truly wants to say no.
Vacarria is one thing … but to be the captain is another matter entirely. To be everyone’s guiding compass, their immovable pillar, their north star … wouldn’t it be better if Lin Jie stays on for a few more years before that role is passed on? What team of seniors would accept a rookie as their captain? Even he can't accept this.
Wang Jiexi feels everyone's anticipation as an intangible pressure in the air. In Fang Shiqian’s eyes, he can see his nervous doubt and silent hope for him to refuse. In Lin Jie’s eyes, he can see the calm acceptance and the silent hope for him to accept.
Refusal … acceptance … Wang Jiexi wonders what kind of look is in his own eyes.
He wants to say no, but … to the captain who he’s admired all these years, hoping to play alongside him and everyone else, receiving his encouragement and praise day after day ... Wang Jiexi falters with his refusal. Lin Jie isn't a stranger to him and he knows that if he refuses, Lin Jie will just bury all his disappointment and sorrows with a warm and bright smile and show no sign of the burden he carries.
Between the three of them in this room ... Lin Jie, Fang Shiqian, and himself ... if he has to choose one person to disappoint ... for the future that Lin Jie envisions ... to the captain who's carried Tiny Herb all these years even though it must have been exhausting to be blasted from all sides by god-level players and the weight of a god-level account ...
Wang Jiexi can only open his mouth and say, “I … accept.”
He still has doubt within his heart, but seeing Lin Jie relax and reveal a gentle, grateful smile as bright as the sun, he feels that he’s made the right decision. “I’ve been Tiny Herb’s captain for two years. In all that time, I think this will be the most correct and wisest decision I’ve made. You guys will be my greatest pride.”
Once Lin Jie leaves, without ever revealing the expression on his face, Wang Jiexi prepares himself to face one more person. If the team captain and vice-captain are hostile to each other, that team will surely collapse. If he can’t earn at least the consideration of his future vice-captain here, then Wang Jiexi may as well call Lin Jie back and decline.
Turning to face Fang Shiqian, he ignores his unhappy grimace, and says, “He's never forced others to do anything they didn't want to do.”
“What are you trying to say? Did he force you into this?” Fang Shiqin’s unhappy grimace turns into an angry glare, hostile aura once more flickering into existence.
Wang Jiexi shakes his head. “No, I meant that he's always burdening himself.”
Caught off guard, Fang Shiqian’s expression goes blank as he stares back at Wang Jiexi with a penetrating gaze.
“So, this time, let’s take away some of that burden and do what he wishes for once?” Wang Jiexi smiles slightly, offering an olive branch.
Fang Shiqian doesn’t say a word and continues to stare at him silently, brows furrowed. Only when the spokesperson calls them into the conference room does Wang Jiexi turn away, but he only takes a few steps when he hears a sudden call.
“Hey!” Wang Jiexi turns back around and meets Fang Shiqian's ambivalent but thoughtful eyes. “You’d better succeed or I won’t let you off so easily.”
This time, with a genuine smile, Wang Jiexi replies, “Then, you have to keep working hard as well."
Their tenuous bond begins with their faith in Lin Jie’s decision before it becomes faith in each other.
The massive space that Lin Jie leaves behind isn’t one that’s easy to fill.
He had earned Tiny Herb's loyalty, trust, and respect, inspiring an entire team to follow him not through his skills in Glory, but through his kindness and charisma. In a field as competitive as the Glory scene, Lin Jie’s leadership and diplomatic skills is something acknowledged by every pro player. To be called a good guy - this is both a form of pity and respect for the man who had the skills to lead but not the skills to conquer.
Wang Jiexi can only aspire to be a captain just as reliable and trustworthy, if not more. He can sense the concern, unease, and doubt of his seniors. Even though he looks perfectly calm and composed, he's not exactly sure how to disperse the team's tension before their match with Royal Style.
Much to the despair of his teammates, Fang Shiqian takes this as a sign to lay on the heat. “Hey, this is the first battle, are you ready?”
All sharp edges and no words of kind encouragement, his callous regard and pointed pressure does a lot more to put Wang Jiexi at ease than if he had been carefully walking around glass like everyone else.
"Are all of you ready?" Wang Jiexi looks around the room.
"Eh?" Dazed, the team shares uncertain glances.
“Let’s work hard together,” Wang Jiexi announces calmly.
Anything that has to be said, anything that has to be shown - everything will be decided onstage.
“Okay.” Everyone nods emphatically.
“You have to work even harder!” Everyone turns to glare at Fang Shiqian. “You have to prove that the captain’s decision is correct!”
Whether Fang Shiqian has intentionally done so or not, he has successfully thrown off the uneasy mood by turning everyone’s ire and irritation onto him. Wang Jiexi supposes that this could be a form of fighting spirit. It’s true though that Wang Jiexi has a lot to prove. The title of Captain doesn’t yet belong to him even though it is a title he now bears.
"Are you nervous?" Lu Liang mocks when they meet in the hallway.
"I'm alright," Wang Jiexi answers evenly.
And he really is. Wang Jiexi's mind has always been the sharpest and clearest when he knows exactly what’s at stake.
He debuts with the mantle of rookie captain and carries the weight of the previous captain's faith, the expectations of a stubborn vice-captain, and the uncertainty of an entire team of seniors upon his shoulders.
The entire Glory scene watches.
He doesn’t have the luxury of hesitancy or doubt, even if they simmer just beneath the decisiveness of his unpredictable and timely cast spells, his unexpected and elegant strikes. His words are delivered assuredly and composedly, even though there are times when he wants to rage or cry.
With deft hands and misdirection, Wang Jiexi eventually completely adapts to Tiny Herb, to the point that he seals away not only his magic but also the meaning of falter and fear.
This sets the tone for his entire gaming career.
[Watch my sword! Watch my sword! Watch my sword!]
Swift movements flow from Troubling Rain’s sword, blades moving nearly too fast for the eyes to keep up with. Flawless is flawlessly beaten senseless by combos after combos before he can distance himself to ready his bullets.
[Thinking of becoming two-time champions with such half-heartedness? Do us all a favor and resign so that you don’t shame yourself any further! If you’re going to be trash, at least carry yourself to the dumpster where you belong!]
In that split second of hesitation, a grenade lands in between Bamboo Leopard and Flying Sword and splits them apart. Their screens blacken with fire and ash - blood, once a rain of bullets tear at them through the smoke.
[Downward slash! Upward slash! Right slash! Left slash! Sideways slash! Hahaha, can you keep up? Can you keep up? Can you keep up?What’s this? Can it be that all the nervous sweat is making you slip around?]
Upward slash followed by strikes from every direction with unexpected skills thrown in - one Troubling Rain splits into six and surrounds Vacarria, blocking his view of the field when everything is suddenly lit in purple light.
[Hey, hey, hey! How come no one told me that this is competitive running? Wow! Look how fast you move, don’t tell me you’re the God of Running as well? Or the God of Fast Escapes? Keep running, I'll think of more while I chase you.]
Aweto dies with one last hit, unable to make it to his allies or launch his usual offensive in such a disadvantaged position.
[Do you have shit for brains? Are all your brain cells rotting away or are they just pinging around uselessly?]
[Lol sorry, my hands move faster than my brain sometimes, but at least that’s better than having both slow hands and brains.]
Mass of text after text fills the global channel, creating a literal wall that hinders Tiny Herb from picking out anything relevant or anything at all. Their eyes burn from being bombarded by the spew of nonsense and their pent up frustration.
By no means is Tiny Herb beaten without being able to fight back on equal grounds, but their fan’s expectations and their shaken mentalities haven left them bereft and hollow in the face of Blue Rain’s onslaught.
That year, Blue Rain snatches away Tiny Herb's Glory.
"Congratulations," Wang Jiexi says, standing face to face with the captain of Blue Rain.
“Thank you. That was a good match, you almost outplayed me in the end. I look forward to facing Tiny Herb again in the next season." Yu Wenzhou smiles gently as he and Wang Jiexi shake hands, not a hint of haughtiness written in any of his actions.
Wang Jiexi inclines his head. “Next year won’t be the same result.”
“We’ll see,” Yu Wenzhou replies, nodding in acknowledgement before heading off the stage.
When Huang Shaotian moves down the line and steps in front of Wang Jiexi, he has none of the expected propriety and grace. “If I have to keep things short, there’s two things I have to say. One, that was a great match! Two, it would have been even better if the team competition didn’t become a verbal smackdown.”
For the first time, Wang Jiexi reveals a trace of agitation in his expression. With burning resolve, he answers, “Your advice is noted but not needed. Tiny Herb isn’t a team that will fall just from this. Next season, don’t be surprised when we sweep you off your throne.”
In front of the cameras, Tiny Herb can only glare at Huang Shaotian with stiff smiles on their face, but when they hear Wang Jiexi's words they all straighten from their defeated slumps and turn to gaze at their captain with awe and astonishment.
Fang Shiqian nods approvingly from besides Wang Jiexi and with a decidedly vicious grin, he speaks just loudly enough through his teeth for only those nearby to hear. “You heard our captain. Now move along, Shaotian.”
Unperturbed, Huang Shaotian ignores the waves of determination and bitter frustration radiating from Tiny Herb and gives them a challenging grin in response. Without another word, he waves at the camera with a practiced smile and walks off-stage.
In previous years, Tiny Herb and Blue Rain weren't teams that would take special notice of each other. Lin Jie hadn’t been a captain with an aggressive aura and teams had a tendency to carry the style of their captains. Until the debut of Wang Jiexi, their team had been a hibernating bear among the wolves. In this era, Tiny Herb finally has he ability to bare their claws and Blue Rain chose to bare their fangs back in response.
The finals of Season 6 marks the beginning of a legendary rivalry, one that would pull each team towards each other with the force of an undertow and pit them against each other with the devastation of raging tsunamis.
True to their promise, Tiny Herb conquers Season 7. True to Fang Shiqian’s promise, he retires.
In the tearful and boisterous aftermath of the victory and farewell party, Fang Shiqian and Wang Jiexi end up being the ones responsible for packing everyone in taxis and sending them off. Neither of them make a move to leave as they lean against the pedestrian railings though they are the only ones left.
With the ambient noise of city life in the background, Wang Jiexi spends a moment to simply admire being present, being here. He looks up and sees the worn, antiquated buildings intermixing with the modern sky-rises. Beijing is a beautiful city full of history with many hidden stories stored away in its hutongs, a lively city constantly moving at a never-ending pace towards the future. Time is an eternal force that keep its people moving and only at night does the flow slow down enough to allow room to breathe.
Amidst his reminiscence, Wang Jiexi hears a sigh besides him. “What?”
“I didn’t expect everyone to be so … emotional about me leaving. It makes it hard to just casually leave.”
“Is it really surprising that you would be missed? You could have stayed, if you really wanted.”
“Yeah, I could have but nah. The best time to leave is once you've established a championship under your name,” Fang Shiqian jokes before his smile fades away. “Well, I say that, but it’s not enough anymore to just send money back home. My older sister’s condition is getting worse and I really should be around more to help out.”
"I understand." Wang Jiexi replies with a solemn nod.
There isn’t anything else to say. The two have gotten close enough over the years that they have a good understanding of each other’s background and family situations. Even if Wang Jiexi wanted to, there isn’t much he can do. With younger siblings of his own to care for, Wang Jiexi can only offer his sympathies. Anything more and Wang Jiexi knows he would only be stepping on Fang Shiqian's pride.
In the game, it is easy to talk about dreams, friendship, and victory - temporarily disconnect from reality - but a game is still a game and no one can run away from their own lives. Even though Wang Jiexi’s job is to play games, he has always been present in his own reality and cognizant of the weight of each of his decisions.
“Don’t you think it’s ironic how things have a tendency to end up full circle?" Fang Shiqian suddenly says.
"I think I can finally understand the things that were going through Lin Jie's mind back then, how hard it must have been for him to let go and do the right thing," Fang Shiqian elaborates.
A stretch of pensive silence and then, "He had always been someone who put others before himself."
“You two aren’t too different in that regard.”
In surprise, Wang Jiexi turns his head to face Fang Shiqian, opening his mouth to respond when Fang Shiqian silences him with a look. "At that time, you wanted to say no to being captain, didn't you?"
"Thank you. Even though you wanted to say no, you still accepted."
Unbidden, Wang Jiexi's mind flashes back to the memory of Lin Jie's last words and his content and proud smile. Now, years later, the person before him isn’t Lin Jie but Fang Shiqian.
“... It doesn’t matter what I wanted. Back then or now. I only act in a way that is best for the team,” Wang Jiexi eventually replies with an undercurrent of some unidentifiable emotion.
Fang Shiqian scoffs in exasperation. “You two really are too damn similar. Whatever. I don’t have to hide my thoughts anymore now that the season is over and I'm retired.”
Wang Jiexi blinks, leaning away to avoid being poked in the eye when Fang Shiqian jabs a finger at him. “I've never learned how to play nice, and communicating with words is a struggle, but even so, listen to this senior's last words."
“Alright,” Wang Jiexi answers, lips curling in amusement. Perhaps, he should have stopped Fang Shiqian from taking those last few shots.
“Speak your mind more. Not everyone can follow what you mean with 'let's go'. You keep dragging everyone around without explaining a single thing.”
“Okay.” Does he really not say what he’s thinking that often?
“The team wants to feel reliable too, you know? Stop being such a workaholic and let everyone else do some legwork.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” To call it legwork is a bit much though …
“You can’t cut Fusheng any slack either. Even if he’s new to the position, he’s still representing a championship team, so he has to play the part and support his captain.”
“Of course,” Wang Jiexi nods.
“And…” Fang Shiqian draws out the word for emphasis, the lights of passing cars casting his face into dramatic shadows. “Don’t miss me too much once I'm gone.”
“I won’t,” Wang Jiexi solemnly declares.
“Rude," Fang Shiqian scoffs. "After all these years, this is the treatment I get. I see how it is.”
“After all these years, I learned from you everything not to do.”
Wang Jiexi laughs when Fang Shiqian scowls and raises a threatening first before he lowers it. With a fond smile, he says with great benevolence, “Just this once, I'll let that burn pass."
As their laughter subsides, the two stand there caught between a moment stretching into eternity. For the first time since they’ve met, neither know what to say. Hello is easy. Hello accompanies the sight of seeing someone once more. Goodbye is difficult once there are ties to be snapped.
Goodbye has always been the most painful when you know it’ll be the last.
“This may be the end of the road for me, but it’s far from the end for you and Tiny Herb,” Fang Shiqian finally says, voice heavy with suppressed emotions. “I won’t be there, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be watching.”
“Should I prove myself one last time?” Wang Jiexi jokes to alleviate the sorrowful mood.
“Don’t be stupid,” Fang Shiqian punches him lightly on the arm. “Captain is captain. What else left is there to prove?”
“...Thank you, vice-captain, Fang Shiqian," Wang Jiexi replies with a sincere and bright smile upon his face.
“Okay, okay." Feeling his throat tighten up, Fang Shiqian immediately waves away his words. "No need for thanks. You’re making me feel disgustingly itchy. Now call me a taxi before I actually throw up or pass out. I'm pretty sure some of my blood has become alcohol.”
A few taps on the DiDi app and an awkward handshake-hug later, Wang Jiexi waves for the last time as the taxi disappears around the corner.
Taking a deep breath, Wang Jiexi idles on the sidewalk for a bit before he pulls out his own phone to hail a taxi. It has been a while since he has visited his family. It wouldn’t hurt to stop by and say hello before preparing for the new season.
Deng Fusheng doesn't stand out as a vice-captain, not in the same way that Fang Shiqian did. Where Fang Shiqian would have been loud, Deng Fusheng is quiet. Where Fang Shiqian would have burst out with his thoughts, Deng Fusheng is contemplative. Where Fang Shiqian would have responded to him, Deng Fusheng defers to him. These differences don't make Deng Fusheng any less reliable. His strengths lay not in any forceful maneuvers or obvious sentiments, but his steadfast diligence and keen observations.
One area which Wang Jiexi struggled in at times is understanding his team members' moods. That isn't to say that he doesn't pay attention to them, but when it comes to events or comments that upset Liu Fei, saddened Liu Xiaobie, angered Zhou Yebai, flustered, Xiao Yuan, confused Yuan Baiqing, pressured Li Yihui, pushed Liang Fang, or hurt Li Ji, Wang Jiexi has to admit that he's usually at a loss.
"It's because logic comes naturally to you," Deng Fusheng tells him one day. "You have a tendency to immediately analyze the situation and categorize whether what you experience matches what you should be feeling or doing. That's why you can see where they're coming from, but it's also why you don't always understand them."
"Is that so?" Wang Jiexi frowns. "I suppose that's true. Last time, Liu Fei lost a charm that her friend gave her. I told her that she can just buy a new one and she told me that it was irreplaceable. There was another time that Xiaobie was working hard at trying to surpass Shaotian, but he walked off after I mentioned the statistics of doing so."
"Captain ..." Deng Fusheng sweats. "Let me explain why they probably reacted the way they did."
As Wang Jiexi listens to Deng Fusheng's words, he realizes that there is more to support and comfort than just understanding the situation. In matters like these, Deng Fusheng is really the best person to go to.
"Thanks, that makes sense."
Ye Qiu’s retirement is completely unexpected.
Except for rare, unforeseen circumstances, like Sun Zheping's hand injury, players don't typically retire without warning at some random point in the season. In the last match that Wang Jiexi played with Excellent Era, Ye Qiu hadn't shown any signs of planning to retire. Not to mention, Sun Xiang's sudden takeover of his account and position ... could there really be some internal struggle in Excellent Era?
[You're really retiring?]
Wang Jiexi doesn't expect a response, but he still messages Ye Qiu anyway. Soon, the announcement slips from his mind as Tiny Herb picks up its pace in the regular season until Huang Shaotian spams him with bizarre messages of him being right about Liu Hao’s wolfish face. With some confusion and concern, he sets the matter aside to consider when he isn't so busy with Tiny Herb matters.
Until it becomes a Tiny Herb matter.
When an expert appears in the 10th server, causing waves of disturbance among the guilds - so much disturbance that Herb Garden’s guild leader, Plantago Seed, has no choice but to come desperately to him for help, Wang Jiexi knows that it can only be one person.
“I say, looking to use me as a training partner, is this okay?” Ye Qiu says with a trace of mocking amusement.
“It’s a rare opportunity,” Wang Jiexi evenly replies.
“You’re not afraid of leaving a psychological shadow on these children?” Ye Qiu questions loftily.
Wang Jiexi ignores the way that everyone in Tiny Herb bristles around him aside from Gao Yingjie and Qiao Yifan. "Aren't you a bit too confident?"
With a confident laugh in response, Ye Qiu says, "Let me ask you this. Including you, has anyone here ever played against a true unspecialized character?"
A true unspecialized character? Staring blankly at the screen, Wang Jiexi furrows his eyebrows as he ponders the meaning of those words. It has been several years since he has last heard the words 'unspecialized’, something he only knows about because a senior had lamented the wasted potential of the class.
If only there isn't a level restriction. If only there is a single weapon that could utilize the skills of all 24 sub-classes. If only there exists someone experienced and knowledgeable enough in all the classes to truly show the might of an unspecialized.
If these conditional statements became a reality, then such an existence may as well be treated as a bug.
Even now, Wang Jiexi still carries the unspecialized account card gifted to him by that senior, a memento of the inside joke shared between them of a lost but terrifying fantasy.
A joke that has become reality before him.
The greatest boss in the history of Glory. Wang Jiexi hadn’t been exaggerating when he uttered those words, and the immense psychological pressure emitted by Lord Grim just casually standing before them couldn’t be described. No one can even feel a trace of superiority even though there's nine of them and Lord Grim looks like a confused rainbow peacock.
Combined with the knowledge that behind this flamboyant character is the Glory textbook, the former #1 player of the Alliance, the first generation expert, Ye Qiu, everyone can only remain frozen in their seats, face numb, hands stiff, and neck cold with sweat.
Wang Jiexi is considered a god-level player, but he had started playing Glory when Ye Qiu had already proclaimed Excellent Era’s three-year era. From Ye Qiu’s brutal beatdown of Liu Xiabie and Liang Fang just now, Wang Jiexi can tell that his skills really haven't gotten rusty in the slightest.
Before Ye Qiu, Wang Jiexi can only be considered a king, and what is a king before a true god? When he is no non-believer?
Looking at the dismayed and downtrodden faces of everyone around him, Wang Jiexi realizes that he has made a grave miscalculation. Even so, he will never let the team see him falter or question himself. He has done more for Tiny Herb's sake than simply seal off the Magician. Even if he couldn’t carry them in the game, he can still carry the burden of their fear and anxiety.
"All of us, together!" Wang Jiexi controls Vacarria to raise his broomstick and shamelessly point at Lord Grim. Feeling everyone's dazed and uncertain looks, he shouts, "Pay attention, let's go!"
"Oh? Is this okay?" Instead of contempt, Ye Qiu sounds even more amused at the prospect of a 9 v 1.
"A team competition, just as you wished,” Wang Jiexi replies without a hint of embarrassment, hoping this ploy would raise his team’s trampled morale.
"That's not what I mean.” Even without seeing the person behind Lord Grim, everyone can hear his smirk. “I mean, if your entire team comes all at once and gets wiped out, the blow will be great. Is this ... okay?"
“Fuck your sister!”
Several curses fill the air, echoing both inside and outside the game.
This guy … Wang Jiexi smiles as everyone in the practice room straightens up in their seats and glares at their screen. Some of them have even started cracking their knuckles. Any trace of nervousness or doubt has been wiped away by offended rage and the desire to pummel.
"Thank you, your words came at the perfect time.”
Trash talk. Techniques. Skills. Habits. Temperament. Weaknesses. Strengths. No information is too much information when it comes to preparation. Wang Jiexi has no idea what Ye Qiu is doing in the 10th server after retiring, but he has no qualms about using Ye Qiu and his free time to Tiny Herb's advantage and letting them experience fighting a god-level player.
The best training partner for all-around experience? Absolutely, the unspecialized. This type of experience is well worth the deathly list of materials that Ye Qiu sends over for his 'training sessions'.
Everyone in the Glory scene knows who the best battle mage in the Alliance is. A class that's easy to learn but difficult to master, few can even come close to emulating his skill, but when Wang Jiexi plays against Tang Rou, he detects traces of Ye Qiu's crude but fearless play style in her movements.
At first, he's simply intrigued. When he notices how quickly she's adapting to his attacks, making up for her openings with even faster hand speed, he's amazed. Only when he realizes that she hasn't become flustered at all despite her non-stop defeats, continuously advancing with non-stop attacks that scream 'again, again, again', does Wang Jiexi finally become invested.
There's no lack of skilled players in Tiny Herb and they wouldn't turn down a battle mage user trained by Ye Qiu, but they are lacking in players with tough mentalities, someone who can maintain an inexhaustible fighting spirit but retain their inner calm. Tang Rou is a player who would thrive in Tiny Herb's environment. Tiny Herb would benefit from having someone unyielding and collected in their strange mix of players with gentle, fiery, or cautious personalities. Taking a page from Blue Rain’s opportunistic tendencies, Wang Jiexi doesn’t even hesitate.
Once their match is finished, Wang Jiexi attempts to recruit Tang Rou. “Are you interested in the Professional Alliance?"
"Yes, the Professional Alliance."
"Oh, you're all professional players!"
Wang Jiexi blinks at the computer screen. What kind of players did she think she was playing against this entire time? Shaking away this stray thought, he says, "Yes, we're Team Tiny Herb. If possible, I'd like to send you a serious invitation to come to our club for trial training."
Thoughtful silence - then, a gentle but firm voice answers, "Thank you, but I don't think it's necessary."
"What?" The last thing that Wang Jiexi expects is a calm, clear refusal.
"I'm satisfied with my current life and I don't want to change it."
Satisfied with her current life ... to be offered a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity like this and turn it down, what kind of satisfying life must she be living?"
Too curious to be polite, he hesitantly asks, "You are now ... living what kind of life?"
"I'm a little sister at an internet cafe."
Wang Jiexi can hear the laughter in her words and he's utterly speechless. Internet cafe sister? How does that compare to becoming a professional player? He can't make sense of such unconventional thinking, unable to comprehend why she'd choose to stay as an internet cafe sister even though it's apparent that she enjoys challenges and competitions.
"Fighting with us like this ... what are you fighting for?" Wang Jiexi tries to understand.
"To improve and become a better player!"
"And then what? That's it. What else is there?"
Wang Jiexi has no response to this. Indeed, what else is there for someone who just wants to improve and become a better player? This way of thinking isn't something that Wang Jiexi can understand. His earliest memories of playing Glory in the training camp was to become a professional player. To improve and become better meant to become that much closer to his goal. Then, he was contracted to be a core player and captain and his goals from that moment on became abstract and faraway things that always seemed just out of reach.
He has no concept of what it means to just become a better player and nothing more. Wouldn't it feel like it's not enough when there's higher grounds to be reached? Yet, with this young internet cafe worker … even if that is her wish, Wang Jiexi still feels like it would be too much of a loss if her talents are wasted here.
"You ... think about it again. If you change your mind, you can call me at any time."
With nothing more to say, Wang Jiexi remains silent once she agrees. Once Team Tiny Herb’s training session ends though, he takes the time to chat with Ye Qiu.
"You have a good eye for talents." He turns Vacarria to face Lord Grim.
"Oh? Here to poach?" Lord Grim continues to mindlessly grind as he cuts down monsters.
"Can it really be called poaching if you're retired?"
"I'm only retired for now, but you're welcome to try."
Wang Jiexi pauses, wondering if he should prod about that topic. Before he can say anything, Ye Qiu continues, "How about it? Want to meet Steamed Bun?"
"Thank you ... but no." Wang Jiexi won't deny that Steamed Bun has talent ... in something ... but he understands even less about Steamed Bun than Ye Qiu and no one completely understands Ye Qiu. Seriously, thank you, but no.
Ignoring Ye Qiu's laughter, he says, "Have you been drawing all these talented players in with aggro?"
"Is that something you have to ask? No one can draw in aggro better than me. Obviously, some of the aggro I draw has to be from talented players. Aren't you included among them?"
Resisting the urge to sigh, Wang Jiexi replies, "I'm used to it."
"You're no fun." Ye Qiu controls Lord Grim to shake his head before he continues to cut down more monsters.
"No, but you're having fun." Perhaps, a bit too much fun if the disastrous state of the 10th server and Plantago Seed's ramped up paranoia and terror is any indication.
"I am," Ye Qiu doesn't deny it at all. "Aren't you?"
At Ye Qiu's unexpected question, Wang Jiexi goes silent.
He's played Glory before he joined the training camp. That's how he knew that he wanted to become a professional Glory player. Even so ... he can't remember the last time he played in the servers without some event, exhibition, or competition going on. Before he left for the training camp, he remembers a time when he played Glory with his friends in the 4th server and enthusiastically showed his younger siblings how to play.
Is he having fun?
"That's not why I'm here, but yes."
Even though he's using this as special training for his team and all he's doing is giving Tang Rou in-game experience and supplying Ye Qiu with materials, he's still a gamer at heart.
Wang Jiexi has always known that he’s currently living a short-lived dream. In the next few years, it will also be his time to leave the stage, just like all his seniors before him.
(No matter how much he wants to stay.)
He doesn’t even want to consider letting go of Glory, but he knows that for there to be glory, there has to be a downhill path after reaching the peak. At the very least, he can plant the seeds for Tiny Herb’s future prosperity and set the foundations for the next wave of Tiny Herb players.
“Yingjie, I want you to sign up for the Rookie Challenge and challenge me,” Wang Jiexi informs Gao Yingjie one day after practice.
“H-huh? Me? Challenge who?” Gao Yingjie stutters, clutching onto the water bottle in his hands like a lifeline.
“Captain?” Gao Yingjie repeats numbly in a daze. At Wang Jiexi's helpless look, Gao Yingjie hastily says, “Sorry, I just - this is … this is one of those things I must do, right?”
“What are your thoughts?” Instead of answering, Wang Jiexi returns his question with another question.
“I … I want to do the challenge, but I’m not sure if I’m ready …" He stiffens when Wang Jiexi places a steady hand on his shoulder, only raising his eyes high enough to meet Wang Jiexi's chest.
With an encouraging and gentle tone, Wang Jiexi says, “You are a member of a championship team, the future successor of Vaccaria. Don’t forget that you are a professional player who made it onto Tiny Herb with your own abilities.”
Struck by these words, Gao Yingjie finally loosens up from the tense hunch he had been in and his nervous gaze finally settles into something more self-assured and clear.
“Since it’s just All-Stars, there’s no need to be so worked up about the match, but I still want you to play as if you’re in the finals. This season is your debut. Make your name known to the Glory scene.”
Make my name known to the Glory scene, Wang Jiexi can see Gao Yingjie mouth these words before he raises his eyes to meet Wang Jiexi's own and confidently declares, "Yes, captain. I will!"
A glimpse of the future captain and player he would be can be seen as he stands tall, expression determined and resolute.
"You're crushing the water bottle."
All of Gao Yingjie's confidence hides itself once more the moment he steps onto the All-Stars stage a week later.
“Hi, my name is Gao Yingjie.” As if he's pressing the ‘lower volume’ button on his own voice, his words get softer and softer. “The player I want to challenge is Captain Wang Jiexi from our own Team Tiny Herb. I want to challenge captain because …”
He practically becomes mute when he states his reason for challenging Wang Jiexi. All the audience can see is his mouth moving with indecipherable mumbles slipping through. With a stiff smile on his face, the MC turns to look for Wang Jiexi and screams ‘come up here!’ with his eyes.
Wang Jiexi was already moving before the MC even turned to look for him. Not knowing whether he should laugh or cry, he takes faster strides and speaks practiced words into the mic, taking control of the situation before he and Gao Yingjie leave for their respective booths.
Once he's taken a seat, Wang Jiexi reaches for his mouse and lets his cursor hover over the familiar interface. With unreadable eyes, Wang Jiexi stares at his stats and available skill points. After a moment of hesitation, Wang Jiexi begins to swiftly distribute his points. Leaving just enough skill points leftover for two skills to be a level lower, he closes the gap between him and Gao Yingjie.
For professional players such as them, everything is decided on the stage.
Wang Jiexi can raise his confidence but only Gao Yingjie can decide if he has the ability to surpass this challenge. He wouldn’t simply let his successor win. Even so, he still ensures that Gao Yingjie has every opportunity to overcome his insecurity and doubt. Purposefully forcing Gao Yingjie's instincts and skills to the forefront, Wang Jiexi fights himself into a corner. The two meet in a brilliant stand-off, lava flasks and acid flasks painting the ground in vivid and acrid colors, skills intertwining in a fantastic array of stardust and magic until bright light fills their screens.
The entire stadium holds their breaths -
And then, the last of the skills animation disappears. Wang Jiexi watches with a trembling heart as his avatar falls for the last time. Gao Yingjie's avatar stands before him and sweeps his broomstick over his shoulder, as if giving a final sign that he is the victor of this battle. Applause and cheers erupt in the audience.
Well done, Yingjie, Wang Jiexi thinks with sincerity.
Wang Jiexi leaves his player booth and walks back to the center of the stadium to meet Gao Yingjie. Seeing Gao Yingjie shuffle towards him with his head lowered, shoulders hunched, Wang Jiexi can’t help but sigh internally in his heart.
This kid … Wang Jiexi can only think of one other person whose weakness is his soft and kind heart. Yet, Wang Jiexi knows better than anyone that a captain with such a heart, once tempered with self-confidence, experience, and resolve, will have the strength and charisma to unify the team and earn their loyalty. That is why Wang Jiexi has no doubt in Gao Yingjie’s future capabilities as the next captain of Tiny Herb and successor of Vacarria.
Decisively, he strides forward, grabs Gao Yingjie’s hand, and raises their arms up to the air amidst the thunderous applause.
“You played very well,” Wang Jiexi turns to meet Gao Yingjie’s startled eyes. With a trace of a smile upon his lips, faith in his eyes, Wang Jiexi declares to the entire Glory scene, “You are the one who will shoulder Tiny Herb’s future, Yingjie!”
Smile widening at Gao Yinjgie’s wide-eyed, open-mouthed amazement, Wang Jiexi lets go and turns to leave the stage.
After the end of the 8th season, Deng Fusheng refuses all offers from the other teams and announces his retirement.
Undoubtedly, Deng Fusheng is a lucky player to have received an invitation from Tiny Herb in season 6, but there is no such thing as persevering simply through luck. Having worked together for two years, Wang Jiexi is intimately aware of Deng Fusheng's limited talent and skills. He is even more aware of Deng Fusheng's tireless dedication, quiet hard work, and unspoken sacrifice.
Deng Fusheng is someone who doesn't need the limelight himself to be proud and content at allowing his team to shine.
Seeing all the jealous commentary ridiculing Deng Fusheng's position, calling him a lucky man who managed to ride his way to becoming a vice-captain, an all-star player, and a member of a championship team, Wang Jiexi thinks back to a conversation he once had with Deng Fusheng.
"There are times when emotions outweigh logic, but that doesn't mean that there isn't any reason behind people's emotions."
Following his whims for once, Wang Jiexi returns fire and silences the anti-fans with a single comment: if being lucky is a bad thing, then I'd love to be lucky.
Player contracts typically start on July 1st and end on June 30th of some year, depending on if it's a one-year, two-year, or three-year contract. Nearing the end of each season, the Club would notify their players if they plan on renewing their contract or not. The Club would defer to the team manager for these decisions and the team manager would defer to the captain.
In a meeting with the team manager, he and Wang Jiexi discuss the roster for Season 9. Xu Bin and Gao Yingjie get approved by default. There isn’t much to discuss, considering Xu Bin is a transfer directly handled by the Club and Gao Yingjie is self-explanatory.
For the rest, the team manager listens to Wang Jiexi’s commentary and provides his own input before he places the player profiles into the approved pile or rejected pile.
Zhou Yebai, Liu Xiaobie, Liu Fei, Xiao Yun, Yuan Baiqing, Liang Fang, and Li Ji eventually get approved. Li Yihui gets transferred to 301 Degrees as part of their transfer deal with the team. Then, the team manager flips to the next profile and rubs his chin in contemplation before he shows it to Wang Jiexi.
“Jiexi, about this player, what do you think?”
The player profile for Qiao Yifan stares back at Wang Jiexi from the team manager’s hands.
With a furrow in his brow, Wang Jiexi spends a moment deliberating before he says, “For the next season … I recommend letting this player go.”
“Alright. I don’t have much of an impression on him, so I can’t really say if it makes a difference whether he stays or not. It looks like there won't be much change in the roster this year either.” Trusting in the captain’s judgment, the team manager doesn’t say much more and continues on.
Wang Jiexi doesn’t say anything else either. Saying anything more would only add needless justification to his decision.
Even though the team captain has no decision-making powers within the Club, who else would have a better impression of all the team members than the captain? Wang Jiexi is well aware of everyone’s capabilities and short-comings, their team's strengths and weaknesses.
Tiny Herb combines elegance with hard-hitting and fast tactics to blindside their opponents. Their style is to appear where they’re least expected and besiege their opponents with clever traps and hidden strikes. Every team knows to be wary of Tiny Herb’s teamwork and their captain’s merciless strategies.To make their strategies possible, not just any professional player can join. Even a player who can proficiently play Tiny Herb's core classes can inevitably slip through the cracks if they can’t keep up with the pace or fit in with the environment. Just one person's inability to adapt within the team can cause their cohesive class combinations to become volatile. Even among the powerhouses, Tiny Herb is an especially strict team.
For a team aiming to win the championships each year, each player needed to be of championship quality, not a player who blends so well into the background that it makes no difference whether he plays onstage or not. Qiao Yifan isn’t a player without potential, but the Glory scene isn’t so simple that a player can choose to stay just because they have some skill. Temperament, personality, and adaptability also play a role, and Qiao Yifan simply doesn’t fit in Tiny Herb.
When Qiao Yifan leaves in June, at the end of Season 8 without even bothering to argue the renewal of his contract, Wang Jiexi sincerely wishes him the best. It is truly a pity that Tiny Herb picked up Qiao Yifan but couldn’t properly raise him up with care nor give him the time he needed to grow.
In response, with a somewhat self-deprecating grimace of a smile on his face, Qiao Yifan sinks into a bow and says, “Captain, even though I couldn’t be of much use to this team - or even to myself - thank you for your guidance this past year. Thank you for giving me a chance.”
Walking forward, Wang Jiexi pats him on the shoulder. “Yifan, raise your head. There’s no need to lose hope in yourself. The road is still long and you’re still young. More chances for you will come. As long as you don't give up, this doesn’t have to be the end.”
The expression on Qiao Yifan's face is much brigher once he straightens up. With surprising optimism and a genuine smile, Qiao Yifan agrees, “Yes. I’ll take a break and see where the road takes me.”
“That’s the spirit.”
Wang Jiexi has no idea what Qiao Yifan's plans are, but he knows that there's always hope at the end of the path when it leads to many more.
(He’s not even shocked later when he finds out that Qiao Yifan has joined Team Happy as a ghostblade. A phantom demon. It’s a suitable class and style for him and he shines on stage like he has never done while in Tiny Herb, eventually catching the eye of Team Void as he improves in leaps and bound.
When Team Happy in its entirety finally appear in public, their bizarre but authentic chemistry is clear for everyone to see. With one look at Team Happy's eclectic group and the boisterous but warm and friendly atmosphere, Wang Jiexi can tell that Qiao Yifan fits right in. Their fellow pro players would swallow a lemon before even considering Ye Qiu to be someone encouraging and nurturing, but perhaps they all underestimate his attention or care for the younger generations.
Qiao Yifan looks at Ye Qiu - Ye Xiu? - as if he is the sole person who found his dying embers of a wish worth igniting. He brims with a confidence that has long been stomped out of him in Tiny Herb's environment and no longer speaks as if he's expecting to be smacked with disrespect or contempt.
In any gaming circle, toxicity and negativity is to be expected. A problem in the eSports scene, it's an issue that has been addressed over the years but still too widespread and insidious to be fully erased. Wang Jiexi is a team captain first before he is a senior or even a friend. He has the demands of the Club to follow and the responsibility of being the one expected to keep his team unified and at prime competitive condition. And sometimes, unity comes at a cost of rejecting those that can’t fit in with the majority, but that doesn’t mean that Wang Jiexi takes any delight upon those decisions.
Faced with what could have been if he had the time and ability to carefully nurture every single one of his team members, to draw out their full potential and have them all get along, Wang Jiexi believes that it was right to let Qiao Yifan go.
Well done, Yifan. Wang Jiexi thinks with sincerity.)
Xu Bin is similar to Deng Fusheng in various ways and unfamiliar in others.
A patient and steadfast player, Xu Bin is similar to Deng Fusheng in this aspect, but Xu Bin didn't get his title as the Grind King for no reason. Though Deng Fusheng has a tendency to wait things out and strike at the appropriate moments, Xu Bin simply grinds and grinds, playing the long game until their opponents either dies from being grinded to death or anger from the exhausting pace of the match.
It's through Xu Bin's efforts that Tiny Herb's duo witch tactic can be properly deployed.
Where the two are dissimilar is Xu Bin's immovable optimism and free spirit. One of his favorite phrases to say when things get rough is, "As long as the game isn't over, nothing's impossible!"
"Let's go, captain!" Xu Bin declares with an encouraging slap to Wang Jiexi's shoulder before the 3rd round of the season. "Let's show Bright Green our team's indomitable spirit."
Wang Jiexi smiles. There's nothing else to say.
The youngest player to ever debut, Lu Hanwen immediately steals the attention of all media outlets with his exuberant and youthful spirit. Not that Blue Rain would allow anyone to look too closely. After allowing him to appear on stage and speak a little at the press conferences, they have carefully kept him away from prying eyes. Of course, this means that all the teams want to find out as much information as possible about this standout rookie.
"Looking for a successor already?" Wang Jiexi questions Huang Shaotian after their first match-up in Season 9.
“You’re one to talk,” Huang Shaotian shoots back. “Don’t take this is a sign that I’m done. I’m far from done! Just look at this brat, if I leave Troubling Rain to him as is, he’ll turn the Sword Saint into the Blade Smasher or Sword Swinger. Give him some time and he'll come up with even more ridiculous titles on his own.”
“Don’t worry about that. In a fight of shame, you’d win hands down,” Wang Jiexi replies, smiling slightly when Huang Shaotian throws him the middle finger.
“And? What about you?” Huang Shaotian says. “Is Tiny Herb raising the next generation of mops? Your successor looks more likely to be swept around than the one doing the actual sweeping.”
“We’ll see who will be doing the sweeping soon enough.” Too used to Huang Shaotian's ingrained tendency to trash talk, Wang Jiexi doesn't even bat an eye. This manner of speaking could even be considered casual for them.
“Right …” Huang Shaotian replies dubiously.
“Jiexi, come to scout again?”
Wang Jiexi and Huang Shaotian turn to see Yu Wenzhou walk up the steps towards where they’re standing.
“As always,” Wang Jiexi unashamedly answers.
"As expected." Unbothered by this reply, Yu Wenzhou laughs. “What do you think of this season so far?”
“Unexpectedly ...” Wang Jiexi struggles to find words. “Eventful.”
“Are you kidding me? That’s putting it lightly,” Huang Shaotian exclaims. “We’ll literally be witnessing the rampage of the rookies, the rise of the rich, and the return of the demon."
The three of them share humorously pained looks.
“It will be interesting to witness,” Wang Jiexi eventually says.
“It’s been boring lately anyway,” Huang Shaotian adds on.
“This is only the prequel to the true calamity that will be season 10,” Yu Wenzhou calmly observes.
Blinking in confusion, Huang Shaotian stares at Yu Wenzhou before he realizes the meaning of his words. “You think he’ll really return? Against Excellent Era?”
“Didn’t you say it yourself?”
“... Oh, I did. That slipped out without me thinking. Damn.”
“Excellent Era is no longer the team they used to be, but Team Happy is also greatly disadvantaged,” Wang Jiexi says after some thought. “We’ll see for ourselves. For now, the rest of Season 9 awaits us.”
Yu Wenzhou and Huang Shoatian nod.
Heavenly Swords and this year’s rookies aren’t things to look down on. Even though Tiny Herb is currently ranked second with Blue Rain right behind them at third, this is only the beginning of the season. Regular season rankings are often prone to sudden changes and no one can even slightly relax until they have cemented their position in the playoffs.
“About Heavenly Swords though, what do you think?” Wang Jiexi turns to Yu Wenzhou.
“For a new team, especially a team filled with RMB warriors, they're surprisingly cautious and humble, but I suppose it isn't surprising considering their experience before entering the Professional Alliance. What I think they're...”
To win the championship, nothing must remain overlooked. Anything else comes after.
Saturday night, after the 37th round of the regular season, Wang Jiexi suddenly receives several pings on his phone on his way back to his residence.
Ping. Ping. Ping.
Brows furrowed in confusion, Wang Jiexi pulls out his phone. What could everyone be so worked up about? Surely, it can’t still be commentary on Happy’s unbelievable victory in the Challenger’s League or the results of the 37th round of Season 9. Nothing unexpected had happened.
Hm? Even messages from Tiny Herb’s main reporters and the Club?
Wang Jiexi skims the previews in all his chats and is shocked speechless after he understands the gist of the contents.
What is this?
As soon as Wang Jiexi reaches his flat, he nudges his cat aside and heads towards his laptop. Pulling up Baidu, he types in: Ye Xiu Excellent Era.
EXCELLENT ERA GOES SILENT AMIDST CRITICISM
OUTRAGE AFTER REVEAL OF EXCELLENT’S ERA DUBIOUS DECISIONS
THE TRAGIC CIRCUMSTANCES BEHIND EXCELLENT ERA’S FORMER TEAM CAPTAIN’S RETIREMENT
MAJOR SPONSORS RUSH TO CUT TIES WITH EXCELLENT ERA, A FORMERLY RENOWNED TEAM IN GLORY ESPORTS
HAPPY’S ONCE-IN-A-LIFETIME CHANCE, EXCELLENT ERA’S DOWNFALL
SCRUTINY ON GLORY’S PROFESSIONAL TEAMS RISES AFTER REVEAL OF EXCELLENT ERA’S TREATMENT OF FORMER TEAM CAPTAIN
THE GLORY PROFESSIONAL ALLIANCE’S STANCE ON ACCOUNTABILITY AND RESPONSIBILITY
The top hits are reports from reputable eSports news organizations. Even news stations from outside of the eSports circle have made their own articles, focused on the business and economics side of the story. Internet celebrities who follow Glory have given the stories even more traction by voicing their opinions or sharing the news.
It's a chaotic mess.
There are already even a few videos online from hungry media wolves stationed around Hangzhou. Wang Jiexi clicks on one he knows to be from a respectable news station.
[This is Xu Liling from *** News coming to you live from the front of Happy Internet Cafe ...]
Minimizing the news into one corner, Wang Jiexi opens up the Glory Pro Players chat and watches intense discussions scroll down the screen. The group chat is abnormally serious and somber. Compared to other eSports, Glory is still relatively new to the scene. Not even ten years old. All of them are used to being face-slapped by the media once in a while or smeared with bad news, but this is the first time a truly shocking and despicable scandal has occurred in their circle.
Amidst all the concerns raised, Huang Shaotian becomes everyone’s spokesperson. @Lord_Grim, no response. @Dancing_Rain, no response. Undeterred, he @’s all the current and former Excellent Era members.
Xiao Shiqin immediately replies with: [This matter ...]
Unfortunately, the rest take it as a cue to scramble and type a litany of:
[I don’t know anything]
[I don’t know anything that goes on with management]
[How should I know?]
[This is the first time I'm hearing about this]
[It's not your business]
[Stay out of it]
Only Sun Xiang replies with something entirely different: [Fuck off]
Decidedly awkward. Everyone is speechless.
Huang Shaotian doesn’t say anything else, but Han Wenqing finally appears as moderator and mutes him anyway.
No one else says a word and the group chat remains awkwardly quiet, but they have all formed an opinion. Wang Jiexi has a clear understanding of the situation before the media even comes earnestly knocking the next morning for his opinion.
They are all professionals, so none of them - not even Huang Shaotian - would blatantly say anything too condemning or divisive in a group chat. That is simply too childish. A bad taste left behind, unable to be scrubbed away. If asked for their professional opinion though ...
“There is no doubt that Ye Xiu has been treated unfairly,” Wang Jiexi denounces Excellent Era.
After the Challenger’s League, Tiny Herb has been in the process of acquiring Qiu Fei's player contract. A player of Qiu Fei's talent, coordination, and disposition is extremely hard to come by. Even though he is still considered a rookie, he already has the qualities of an experienced professional player.
Just by witnessing the sheer strength of his resolve and the impressiveness of his impeccable shadow play, Wang Jiexi is certain that he'd be a welcome fit in Tiny Herb's roster. It's always more preferable to lean towards having more close-combat classes, especially a pure melee one, than to lean towards having more mid-range or long-range classes. He only needs to take one look at Misty Rain's growing reliance on predominantly mid-range and long-range classes in their roster to know that it's just a disaster in the making. A road he definitely wants to avoid taking Tiny Herb down.
After his initial hesitation, Qiu Fei has shown every sign of intending to sign on with Tiny Herb. His final decision leaves Tiny Herb reeling.
"Thank you for your offer, but after much consideration, I've decided to remain at Excellent Era."
The team manager had dragged Wang Jiexi along to the video call, wrongly assuming that Qiu Fei would say 'yes'. His intention to unofficially welcome and orient Qiu Fei until all the official papers are processed get thrown out the window.
The team manager opens and closes his mouth a few times before he finally says, “Are you certain? If you'd like more time to consider ...”
“I'm certain," Qiu Fei firmly asserts.
To turn down Tiny Herb to remain at a skeletal shell of a team … the manager can’t wrap his mind around Qiu Fei's decision. Wang Jiexi doesn't completely understand Qiu Fei's decision either - there's no way he would be able to understand the current feelings of those loyal to Excellent Era. Tiny Herb's CEO isn't an especially warm man, nor is he especially cold, but Wang Jiexi is certain that he has the best interests of both the players and the team in mind. Tiny Herb may be a strict team, but because of that strictness, they still have morals and standards which they abide by. It's unimaginable for Tiny Herb to ever reach such a state.
Having experienced a similar refusal before though ... Wang Jiexi acknowledges that Qiu Fei must have a slightly different peak that he is trying to reach for.
While the manager stares at Qiu Fei in utter confusion, he takes the opportunity to say, “Can I ask why you're choosing to stay?”
Looking thoughtfully off to the side, Qiu Fei remains silent for several seconds before he turns back to the screen. "Captain is gone, but I'm still here. Excellent Era is gone, but it won't die here. This is simply a new start ... for New Excellent Era."
At these words, Wang Jiexi can't help but smile.
Still, the next time Wang Jiexi sees Ye Xiu, he seriously wants to ask him how he's been mentoring all these youths. Surely, they couldn't have all come like pre-packaged pro players in the making? If so, he'd like a forewarning before he starts throwing more terrifying players into the Glory Professional Alliance.
Season 10 …
“It's fine to just perform in a way that you're best and most comfortable and familiar with," encourages Wang Jiexi.
"But captain, all this time, have you been performing in a way that you're best and most comfortable and familiar with?" Gao Yingjie suddenly asks in return.
... My best, most comfortable, and most familiar way of performing ...
Wang Jiexi stands there in momentary silence before he shakes his head. “That is why I hope that you can. Be more confident, don't be easily shaken. You are more suited to this team than I am. Believe in yourself!"
At this, Gao Yingjie frowns as if he wants to say more, but when he notices a reporter approaching from the side, he instead purses his lips and nods with resolve.
Wang Jiexi wonders what Gao Yingjie had been about to say as he turns to the reporter with a practiced smile.
Pan Lin, Li Yibo, Ruan Cheng, the audience - they all eye Team Happy with doubt at their bull-headed and costly determination to strike down Vaccaria, but once he falls it becomes apparent ... the team doesn’t need the Magician, but they need Wang Jiexi.
In the dead stillness that ensues after his defeat, a message suddenly appears in Tiny Herb's team chat.
[The match isn't over yet!]
Gao Yingjie shouts the battle cry and Xu Bin leads the charge. Like frozen statues, Tiny Herb roars back to life.
[Go, Yingjie! We'll follow your rhythm!]
Wang Jiexi clenches his fist, encouraging his team to keep pushing onwards without him. In a furious display of trust and desperation, the unwillingness to bow down and die, Tiny Herb pulls themselves together to attack and defend. With impressive instincts and skills worthy of a genius player, Gao Yingjie puts pressure on Happy and the Tiny Herb looks towards their future captain with anxious hope and grim resolve, but -
It still isn’t enough.
Aweto gets devoured by Ghost Feast and gets incinerated to ashes by Dancing Rain’s Satellite Beam. With their healer down, Happy chips away at Tiny Herb until they all get wiped out.
Happy defeats Tiny Herb in a victory that no one expects.
“Congratulations,” Wang Jiexi reaches out to shake Ye Xiu’s hand.
"Next time, we will win."
"Oh? You guys?" Ye Xiu smiles and looks at the downtrodden Tiny Herb members standing before him, at Gao Yingjie's lowered head as his tears fall one by one towards the ground. Only Wang Jiexi and Xu Bin manage to maintain their composure.
With a look that Wang Jiexi can't decipher, Ye Xiu turns back and continues with neither kindness nor cruelty, "Maybe if they saw you as a role model and not a crutch."
A role model and not a crutch?
Stunned speechless, Wang Jiexi doesn't even realize that Fang Rui has reached out for a handshake until Xu Bin nudges him with a look of concern. Unable to make sense of Ye Xiu's words, he spends the next few days in a pensive mood, unaware of his team's worried glances. He knows better than to disregard any of Ye Xiu's offered insights. The painful sting of his observations has always lain in the truth buried within them.
It is only when Thunderclap starts targeting Vacarria in a familiar strategy does Wang Jiexi finally understand. To take down Tiny Herb, all you need to do is take down Wang Jiexi.
Is such a strategy that viable? Happy certainly made it seem so.
Excellent Era …
Blue Rain …
301 Degrees …
Wind Howl …
Royal Style …
Hundred Blossoms …
Excellent Era’s complete reformation. Blue Rain’s careful nurture of Lu Hanwen. Tyranny’s old generals strategy and training of Qin Muyun. 301 Degrees Yang Cong’s sacrificed playstyle and rise in his twilight year. Wind Howl’s aggressive core. Royal Style’s overhaul. Hundred Blossom’s revival of Blood and Blossoms through Yu Feng. Everlasting's disbandment. Thunderclap Xiao Shiqin’s dedication to his home team after the whole Challenger League debacle…
All of them have adapted to or faded away with the times. Only he, as Tiny Herb’s captain, has been unaware of how dependent his team has become on him, how entrenched they all are in the status quo. No wonder Gao Yingjie keeps doubting himself. He's shown him that he's capable of defeating Wang Jiexi, but not that he's capable of standing in his place. This entire time, he has been carrying Tiny Herb's fears, uncertainties, and doubt, never allowing them to experience a lack of security until the match with Happy. But Wang Jiexi wouldn't always be there to be their infallible shield and support.
One day, he will also retire.
For Tiny Herb to continue growing ... they must continue to overcome trials and adversity on their own. For Gao Yingjie to surpass him ... he must learn not to follow in his footsteps and instead create a team of pillars who can rely on each other rather than only burdening himself. In order for them to fully spread their wings, his team has to eventually leave him behind. With this in mind, Wang Jiexi chooses to let them experience free fall and allows Thunderclap to divide them.
He doesn't expect to feel so free.
"With the announcement of the World Glory Competition, we've been gathering a team of talented players to represent China. After considering all the candidates, we've come to the decision to offer you the role of captain," Feng Xianjun informs Wang Jiexi after the end of Season 10.
After a period of surprised but thoughtful silence, Wang Jiexi answers, “Thank you, but I wish to decline.”
“I decline,” Wang Jiexi firmly repeats, inwardly amused at the befuddled expressions on Feng Xianjun's and the staff member's faces.
"... Can I ask why you're refusing?" Feng Xianjun questions.
"There are those much better suited to the position than I am."
In great trepidation, Feng Xianjun cautiously states, “If that’s the case … you still have a place in the team as a representative of China.”
“That’s fine. I accept," Wang Jiexi answers, wondering why they all look so relieved.
Some time later at their new training location, Wang Jiexi is taking a stroll at night when he runs into Yu Wenzhou.
“Lost?” Wang Jiexi guesses, considering how far they are from the dorms.
“Yes,” he laughs. “This building is larger than I expected. I didn’t think we’d get such nice accommodations.”
“Me neither," Wang Jiexi replies. "I heard that a big name decided to sponsor us though I’ve yet to meet them.”
"Oh? How interesting ...”
Leading the way back, Wang Jiexi notices the half-smile on Yu Wenzhou's face and shakes his head in exasperation. “You know who it is, don’t you?”
“You’ll see.” Yu Wenzhou answers mysteriously before he turns to give Wang Jiexi a curious look. "By the way, I heard that you declined the position of captain?”
Wang Jiexi nods. "You'd make a better one anyway."
"I don't know about that."
Not quite knowing how to put his thoughts into word, Wang Jiexi vaguely says, “I thought ... that just this is enough.”
Despite his vagueness, Yu Wenzhou still understands anyway. "Sometimes, all we need to do is look back to know when we've done enough."
"That's true," Wang Jiexi responds with a small smile on his face. "So? What are your thoughts, captain Yu Wenzhou?"
"I think that hearing you call me captain is the strangest thing I've heard in my life."
From the beginning of his career until now, Wang Jiexi has never understood the meaning of content. There was always something more to be done, something more to be accomplished - just something more. Now ... being able to stand alongside Tiny Herb as they rebuild their own foundations and reach for the future, to stand alongside all his fellow pro players on the world's stage and fight for their Glory ...
Yes, just this is enough.