At the Incheon International Airport, numerous people were entering and leaving the country with their suitcases. They were dressed in all sorts of clothes and headed for a variety of destinations. Among these people were two men passing through immigration with busy steps.
“Byeongjin, you jerk. How many times did I ask you if it’s a morning flight?!”
“Hyung! I just got it wrong. How many hours have you already been like this? You’ve been saying this for 12 hours since yesterday!”
They were Jeong Byeongjin and Kang Ujong, formerly supervisor and coach of JT Telecom. After quitting JT Telecom, they went on a healing trip. They had tried to return on the morning of the opening day of the Arena Korean League, but they ultimately arrived at 5 p.m. due to Jeong Byeongjin’s mistake when he booked the flight time.
“Who doesn’t check that sort of thing correctly? Will you take responsibility if we can’t enter the stadium?” Kang Ujong continued to scold Jeong Byeongjin.
It was that important. This was the opening match of the Winter League, and it had been really hard to get tickets for it. They had barely succeeded in booking the tickets. If they couldn’t enter, it would be a regret he would keep for thousands of years.
“I made a mistake, so please stop. People can make mistakes,” Jeong Byeongjin replied.
“Isn’t this the day that Alley Leader—no, meleegod makes his professional debut? A mistake?!” Kang Ujong let go of the suitcase and rushed over like he was going to grab Jeong Byeongjin’s collar.
Jeong Byeongjin pretended to be frightened and tapped on the watch on his wrist while saying, “Hyung, if we miss the airport train that’s coming in 30 minutes, we won’t be able to get inside the stadium. So let’s go quickly.”
The effect of his acting was clear. Kang Ujong dragged his large suitcase and started running like crazy. He ran for a long while before turning back and shouting at Jeong Byeongjin, who was standing blankly: “Well? Aren’t you running?”
Then Jeong Byeongjin also started running with his suitcase. Their goal was to board the airport train.
Arena Stadium—its original name was ‘E-Stadium’ since it was a dedicated e-sports stadium. Then it was renamed to ‘Arena Stadium’ after Arena’s development company, Quency, invested additional money.
Both Jeong Byeongjin and Kang Ujong had extremely messy heads of hair upon arriving at Arena Stadium in Sangam. They weren’t sweating due to the weather, but they couldn’t stop their hair from being blown by the rough winds while running. Seeing the long line in front of them, they felt a sense of relief. It wasn’t too late.
The line quickly decreased because there were many entrances. Even at this moment, several people were passing through the gate and entering the stadium. Finally, it was Kang Ujong and Jeong Byeongjin’s turn. The two of them approached the booth attached to the gate.
“Hello, please put the ticket you bought on the disc.” A clear female voice came from inside the booth. Kang Ujong opened the ticket app and placed his smartphone on the disc in front of him.
The disc turned green and made a pleasant sound.
“Your tickets have been verified. Your seats are R-13 and R-14. It is two digits. Please enter Gate 3.”
Jeong Byeongjin and Kang Ujong entered Arena Stadium while dragging their suitcases. The ‘R’ in the seat number stood for Royal, and the Royal seats were the best seats in Arena Stadium. Of course, the price was very high, but Kang Ujong didn’t care about that.
This was the day when Alley Leader would appear. Moreover, it was his first match—his debut. The money they spent on the tickets wasn’t a waste at all. Rather, if Kang Ujong had failed to get a ticket, he had even been thinking of buying tickets from scalpers no matter the cost.
‘Thinking about his usual words and personality...’
Today’s opening match would be the first and last; there was no next opening match for Alley Leader. Considering this year’s Winter League was going to be Alley Leader’s first and last, that alone made the price worth it. This was what Kang Ujong thought.
“You shouldn’t shout at random. You should only speak when we give you a short cheering time. We would be grateful if you give support with the placards you brought.” The Arena Stadium staff were already delivering instructions to everyone while Kang Ujong and Jeong Byeongjin found their seats.
This meant the opening match would soon begin.
Kang Ujong cocked his head and asked Jeong Byeongjin, “Byeonjin, did the league originally start so soon?”
Back when he coached, the Summer League started at 7 o’clock. Yet today, it was not even 6 o’clock, and they were already preparing for the opening.
“Oh, there are many events in this opening match. First, it is an on-site draw...”
“What? A draw? What are they doing?” Kang Ujong laughed when he heard Jeong Byeongjin’s words.
However, Jeong Byeongjin ignored him and just continued talking: “The response was pretty good? It’s good like this because it is fresh. In addition, it was probably planned due to that matter. Don’t think too negatively, Ujong hyung.”
‘...The match manipulation,’ Kang Ujong remembered.
Yes, there was this. The matter of match manipulation had been a tsunami that swept through the Korean Arena scene.
“Yes, it’s a good thing to try new methods to erase the bad images,” Kang Ujong said and sat down in his seat.
Seeing that, Jeong Byeongjin also threw himself into his seat. He was tired. Jeong Byeongjin had sat on a flight for hours, taken the subway, and then a taxi. He couldn’t help being tired, but he tried to keep both eyes open. It took his utmost effort not to fall asleep.
Just then, there was a man who spoke to the two people: “It has been a while, Supervisor Kang and Coach Jeong.”
It was a young man with a clean-shaven face and was dressed in a suit. He approached in a friendly manner like he knew the two of them well.
When Jeong Byeongjin and Kang Ujong saw him, they rose from their seats and uttered, “Boss-nim...”
The man was Choi Hyunsung, general president of JT Telecom’s e-sports division. All divisions were under his hand, including those of Arena and other virtual reality games.
"Did you have a good break? Honestly, I would still like to invite you back... It is hard to change the supervisor and the head coach during a season,” Choi Hyunsung said.
Hearing those words, Jeong Byeongjin waved his hands and stated, “It’s okay. In addition, if we return, I don’t think the team will be JT Telecom. Of course, it won’t be UK Heights. I think I will go to a weak team. That suits my aptitude.”
Choi Hyunsung smiled slightly. It wasn’t an act or a lie. He remarked, “You want to make it like JT Telecom. We should be nervous.”
Kang Ujong saw this and smiled bitterly. JT Telecom was still incomplete. This had been proved by their devastating defeat in Arena Week last year.
“By the way, do you have time to be here? I know you are busy these days...” Kang Ujong asked.
“No matter how busy, shouldn’t I come see Alley Leader once? I will have to stay up all night starting from tomorrow,” Choi Hyunsung answered with a cheerful smile.
Expectations were high. After all, Alley Leader was the best player in South Korea—no, the world. His debut was certainly of great interest. Therefore, Choi Hyunsung pushed back his busy workload and came here.
“Alley Leader’s debut... I don’t think you will regret this choice,” Jeong Byeongjin said.
Right after that, their conversation was briefly interrupted.
“Arena’s Winter League has begun!” The host announced the opening of the Winter League in a loud voice.
Waaaaah! The audience’s cheers were huge. Arena Stadium could accommodate up to 20,000 people due to the expansion, and it was always full for a match.
“I agree with Byeongjin. Boss-nim won’t regret coming today. m... Alley Leader... He is worth that much." Kang Ujong barely swallowed down the ‘meleegod’ that was about to pop out and pulled the words that were in his throat back down to the depths of his heart.
‘It isn’t time to say it yet. I will say it when he is playing.’
This was his intention. Talking about it now would make it less valuable. Once Alley Leader came out and his match started, that would be the right time to tell Choi Hyunsung.
‘You’ll be surprised,’ Kang Ujong thought.
This was the best gift that Kang Ujong, who had become unemployed, could give to Choi Hyunsung.
Hyeonu lay in the waiting room like it was his own house. Not a single bit of tension could be found in him.
“Hyung, aren’t you nervous?”
“Why should I be nervous? You said there are 20,000 people gathered today? I have a mask on my face. I usually stream in front of millions of viewers. I can’t be nervous,” Hyeonu evaluated soberly.
With the help of his streaming experience, he wasn’t particularly nervous at the thought of being in front of so many people.
‘The mask is also helpful.’
Creak. Just then, the door of the waiting room opened, and a young man with shaggy hair entered. He said, “The captain, please come out. We are going to start the ladder game.”
“I’m going. Don't be too nervous. Just think that you came here to enjoy it. If it stays the same until I get back, those people will start streaming tomorrow.” Hyeonu left these words behind and left the waiting room with the staff member.
‘By the way, who thought of this?’ Hyeonu wondered as he followed the staff member.
It was a very interesting idea. They decided to play the ladder game without deciding the match lineup in advance.
“I’m personally a fan of Alley Leader. Today... will you take it off?”
Hearing the staff member’s careful question, Hyeonu awakened from his thoughts. He kindly responded, “Of course. It is a promise I made a few months ago. You can see what I look like today.”
The staff member then began to move in a lighthearted manner like Hyeonu’s answer was satisfactory. Soon, they arrived at the stage lined with cubes.
“This is a new team just joining the league. It is Alley Leader’s Crescent Moon!!!”
Thunderous shouts burst out once Hyeonu appeared on the stage along with the host’s introduction. Everyone gathered at Arena Stadium screamed like their throats were going to burst.
‘It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience... Let’s enjoy it,’ Hyeonu remarked inwardly.
The moment he got on the stage, he raised both hands above his head and waved them vigorously.
“Alley Leader!” People kept calling out Hyeonu’s nickname, and the cheers showed no signs of ending. Then Hyeonu stopped waving and placed the index finger of his right hand to the mouth of the mask in a ‘shh’ gesture. All those who saw Hyeonu’s action shut their mouths, leaving a momentary stillness in Arena Stadium.
“Thank you all. Right now, we haven’t down the ladder draw yet, so I would be grateful if you could keep it quiet.” Hyeonu’s voice rang through Arena Stadium.
The stadium might be silent at present, but Hyeonu’s voice was also really loud.
“All eight team captains have come out, so we will proceed with the ladder. The rules are simple. The captain of each team will stand in front of their desired number. Those who pick the same number will decide through rock, paper, scissors,” the host stated.
The moment the host finished speaking, the players slowly walked toward the numbers 1 through 8. A strange thing happened at this moment. No one chose overlapping numbers.
“Um... Unexpectedly, the numbers have all found their owner at once. Then let’s reveal the ladder. The matches will be played between consecutive numbers. Numbers 1 and 2 will play, numbers 3 and 4 will play, and so on.”
Along with the host’s words, the ladder that was covered by the screen was revealed. Once again, it was very strange. All the ladders were like chopsticks. There were no horizontal links. Number 1 on the ladder was connected to number 2, and it was the same up to number 8. In other words, they were playing in pairs in the order that they were currently standing.
Then the owners of numbers 1 and 2—
“The owner of number 1 is JT Telecom, and the owner of number 2 is... Crescent Moon!”
They were JT Telecom and Crescent Moon. It was a joke of fate.