One word appeared on Wi Chang-Min's screen, written in shining gold signs: "Victory!"
He sighed relieved, flipped his hair to the side and took a few seconds to look at those seven letters. "Oof, I almost lost my winning streak. 120 games in a row, I guess they call me the king of Solo Queue for a reason. Sadly it's just a matter of time until this account will be banned by Y&Y as well. I guess it's time to rest now."
The viewers of his livestream were spamming messages like "Pls play one more" and "So early?" in the chat. Also, the girl he co-streamed with was surprised about him leaving. She texted him via social media "OMG You can't just go now!... I never had this many viewers... And subscriptions... Please stay... I can send you pics... Or we can meet... You can do everything you want with me... I can be your pet..." But Chang-Min was used to it and just turned off his webcam. "That's it for today. I thank everyone who joined in or donated. Have a nice evening."
He stood up from his gaming chair and enjoyed the view through the glass front of his apartment, that he bought for a sum most people could not even earn in their entire lifetime.
Chang-Min looked down to the streets of Pudong and saw innumerable dots wandering over the rain-soaked pavement, which glowed in all colors due to the illumination of nocturnal Shanghai.
"They are even busy now. For what? They look down on us playing video games, but they are just the same, chasing needless items and made-up achievements. There is nothing real these days..."
Chang-Min asked himself if he also would have ended up as another dot if he had not discovered his exceptional talent in the video game Era of Eternals. He was able to remember exactly how he came to play Era of Eternals for the first time. Staring out of the water-sprinkled window with an empty glance his thoughts threw him back in time.
Chang-Min first saw the light of day in a small Korean town, literally at the end of the world.
His family life was harmonious until one day Chang-Min's dad unexpectedly lost his job and started drinking. Then everything changed. His father became irascible and unpredictable and caused his mother to make a momentous decision: When Chang-Min was a preschooler, she stole her husband's car and fled with her son to Seoul to start over.
For years, she worked from 5 in the morning to 8 in the evening to pay the rent for her one-room apartment, food and school fees for Chang-Min.
Chang-Min's starting conditions were far from optimal, so he often jokingly said he had gone through a pretty rough early game.
When he was twelve years old, his mother found a job in a gaming cafe, a so-called PC Bang in downtown Seoul. The name Invoker's Inn could be seen on a neon sign above the entrance. The Invoker's Inn became a major breakpoint in Chang-Min's life.
Initially, he spent most of his free time there helping his mother with her chores and meeting some classmates who would gather every afternoon to play a newly released 4v4 Battle Arena Game called Era of Eternals by Yin & Yang Games.
From time to time, the Invoker's Inn hosted LAN tournaments with small prizes and Chang-Min's classmates had great ambitions to participate in those.
Kim Yeon-Soo, who was Chang-Min's neighbor and furthermore the exact definition of a gamer girl asked him one day, "Why aren't you joining our team, Minnie? We are only three by now, and you spend all day here anyway." She raked her fingers through her long coal-black hair and looked hopefully at Chang-Min with her mesmerizing big eyes.
Chang-Min was surprised by the girl's sudden invitation, especially since he would have liked to spend more time with her and she even called him by his nickname. But still, he was a bit overwhelmed as there were many reasons not to come.
"You mean," he stuttered "you want a guy who never played this game to participate in one of those semi-professional tournaments? And besides, I have to study for my midterm exams in the next few weeks. So I don't think I'd be very helpful anyway. I'm sure you can find someone with more time."
"Got it" she turned away from him. "You have better things to do. But even then you could probably not play worse than me."
"Listen, I'm sure you'll be a great asset to your team. If it helps, I can come here on tournament night and root for you."
"That would be cute."
When she said that, Chang-Min blushed. "Then I give you my word that I'll be there."
"But don't expect too much. We're all just Aspirant or Virtuoso."
"Aspirant? Virtuoso? Sounds pretty good to me."
"Oops, I already forgot that I was talking to the uncultured Wi Chang-Min. You don't know anything about games, right?" Yeon-Soo laughed.
"Actually I don't pay much attention to it when I am here. But I had a Nintendo DS when I was a small child, so maybe I am less uncultured than you might think."
"Oh, is that so? Then name three Pokemon and you will pass the test."
"That's easy." He made a dramatic pause between listing them, "Pikachu, Raichu, Pichu"
"No, this is cheating! You can't just name three of the same evolutionary line."
"You did not tell me that…" he said provocatively.
"Anyways, back to EoE. I will explain the rank system to you. Aspirant is the second-lowest division. Only Contender is even lower. Aspirant is followed by Virtuoso, then Elder and Master. The top 500 players on the Korean server are Grandmasters, and the top 200 are Ascendants."
"Interesting. Is that what you are studying while failing almost every test in school?"
"Shut up. Not everyone can be an overachiever like you." She frowned her face angrily, which amused Chang-Min and gently punched him against his arm.
"Are there also better players in the tournament?" he asked.
"There are rumors that there will be an Ascendant team. I wonder what an Ascendant is like," Yeon-Soo enthused. "I'm sure they are super smart and born winners."
"Or just a bunch of aimless boys who have decided that they don't want to endure reality any longer and now have plenty of time," Chang-Min said quietly to himself.
Several weeks passed and Chang-Min had long forgotten the tournament when he found an entry in his calendar.
Saturday 26th of June: Invoker's Inn (cheer on Yeon-Soo)
"That is already today ?!" That night, Chang-Min interrupted his exam prep to do a favor for his friend. After dinner with his mother, he wanted to go to the gaming cafe two street corners away.
"It will be good for you to do something with the other children", Chang-Min's mother said and gave him a kiss on the forehead.
"In fact, I don't do anything with them, but just watch them."
His mother looked at Chang-Min and laughed out loud. "You are something special, my boy, that's for sure."
On June 26 seven years ago was a balmy summer evening in South Korea's capital. Chang-Min recognized many strangers and a few familiar faces in front of the Invoker's Inn. In total, about four dozens people were waiting in front of and inside the cafe for the tournament to start.
Even in the turmoil Chang-Min immediately spotted Yeon-Soo.
"A nice evening, isn't it?" he asked Yeon-Soo elatedly.
"Not really," she replied and sat down dejectedly on the entrance stairs of the cafe. "Our team is only consisting of three again. San Yong-Sun canceled at short notice."
"That means you won't be participating, right?"
"Unless some kind of miracle happens..."
Chang-Min couldn't bear to see Yeon-Soo so disappointed "What if there is a chance for a miracle? After all, I'm here now and what do we have to lose?"
Yeon-Soo laughed "My oh my! You have guts, ten minutes before the tournament starts you changed your mind. I'll try to convince the rest of the team of the idea as well. Wait here."
Chang-Min hoped inwardly that they wouldn't agree with his idea because he didn't want to embarrass himself in front of Yeon-Soo under any circumstances, even if it was only in a video game.
"You are an Idiot, Chang-Min! Why did I even suggest this? I should have at least read what Era of Elders is all about."
He stormed into the PC Bang, sat down at a computer and opened the game.
"First, the account name. How about WiCha, my initials, and it sounds a little like the English word witcher. So be it, I'm not gonna come up with anything wittier now anyway."
In the beginning, he got into the tutorial and wondered what all those values and symbols in the interface meant.
"I have to understand and memorize all of this in ten minutes, great…So there are different characters, Eternals, that can be divided into four classes: Enchanter, Tank, Gunslinger and Support. The winning condition is to conquer the enemy base."
He worked his way through all 26 released Eternals and their stats and abilities until suddenly Yeon-Soo and her two teammates stood behind him.
Chang-Min was already quite intimidated by the game and still hoped not to have to compete. Maybe he could enliven Yeon-Soo by inviting her to the new-opened American Diner across the street. They would eat chicken wings with French fries and BBQ sauce and talk about what was going on in the real world. That was how young Chang-Min imagined the perfect version of this evening.
"We have unanimously decided to participate," Yeon-Soo said joyfully.
These words took the wind of all reverie's sails with one blow.
Chang-Min could feel his heart missing a beat. "Don't we need a strategy now?" he asked shyly.
"You should best pick an Enchanter," said Pan Du-Ho, his highest-ranked teammate, who wore big round glasses and almost lived in the Invoker's Inn.
"An Enchanter?" Wi Chang-Min gasped for breath. "But this is the most difficult role and there is constant action."
"Don't worry, just try your best and we'll see how it goes" were Seon-Yoo's words.
And it went fabulous. Chang-Min only played the control mage Myriona, the only champ that he was able to purchase before his first game and he had some trouble in the beginning, but fortunately, his team only faced casual opponents at first.
"You learn really quick, I bet you played this game every night secretly," said Yeon-Soo jokingly.
"Nah, I am just a prodigy."
He found out about Myriona's strengths and weaknesses really quickly, even though he was not yet firm with specific terms and tactics. In the end, Chang-Min was able to win every game they played, also because the Ascendant Team did not compete at the tournament since it's Enchanter Player named Gene joined a newly formed team sponsored by the country's most renowned technology company one day before.
On this day Chang-Min won a gaming mouse as a reward for winning, that he still used today, partly because he was too lazy to get used to a new one it and partly because he really liked its handling.
However, a lot of time had passed since then and a lot of other things had changed. It was one of only three 4v4-tournaments that Chang-Min had played before he was banned forever.
Suddenly Chang-Min was awoken from his daydreaming by the ringing of his phone. On his phone, he saw that he received over 600 friend requests in EoE during the last 24 hours and even more requests to boost some accounts to a higher rank. Some offered him money, some offered him presents and some girls even offered him a date. But the only message that captured his attention was an e-mail from Yin & Yang Games.
He read the subject line "Sign up for the Closed Beta of Era of Eternals II NOW".
Chang-Min's mouth was wide open and his eyes almost fell out of his head when he saw that. "So the rumors were true! Finally, I will get a second chance…"