Summer of Competition

“Roamer mid. Dire bot b-rune up in thirty.”

A teenage girl sat at a desk staring intently at a computer monitor, her sharp brown eyes darting back and forth between all corners of the screen. The long, dexterous fingers of her left hand blazed across a black keyboard precisely striking the neon purple lit keys. Her right hand controlled a mouse in a whirl of subtle movements, her index and middle fingers never seeming to pause in their clicking of the mouse buttons. The girl’s left leg was perched up on the seat of the chair and tucked up against her torso. She was speaking into the microphone of a pair of black and purple headphones.

“Yeah I’m good. Go ahead.”

The girl’s plain gray tank top was soaked dark in sweat at the nape and down the back. Shoulder length black hair stuck uncomfortably to the back of her neck, a few shorter strands moving as air from an oscillating fan blew in from behind. Small beads of sweat had formed on her forehead.

“Bot is MIA. Roamer also MIA.”

The oppressive heat of midsummer had been creeping into the room from an open window on the back wall bringing with it the acrid smell of asphalt and the near constant eerie whine of the cicadas. Occasionally, sounds of children playing, splashing water, yelling adults, and car engines would also waft into the room. As it passed the midway point of its oscillation, the rotating fan placed at the center of the room made a creaking sound as plastic grinded on plastic. 

“Got it. Teleporting in.”

None of these clawing annoyances of summer were noticed by the girl. The heat. The smell. The sounds. None of it mattered. What mattered was the activity playing out on the computer monitor. More accurately, what mattered was the contest of wit and dexterity occuring in the video game the girl was playing. Unless you existed in this virtual space outside of reality, you did not matter to this focused girl.

“Too dangerous. We should back up and wai-. They dived Luchador!”

With her four teammates, the girl was battling an opposing team of five opponents in the popular video game Defense of the Ancients 2, or as it was more commonly called, DOTA 2. These ten competitors were playing in the third match of a best of three set to decide the winner of a weeklong summer tournament. A tournament the girl and her teammates had spent the last few months training for.

“Going!”

At almost forty minutes in, this final game of the tournament was beginning to heat up with the two teams clashing together in a large five versus five teamfight containing a dizzying array of colorful spells and superhuman movements. 

“I’m down.”

And the heat was not going in the favor of the girl and her team.

* * *

“I’m up in forty five,” the girl said. In DOTA 2, she went by the name HeirOfZuko. Waiting for the forty five second respawn time to pass, HeirOfZuko absentmindedly took a sip of lukewarm water and listened to the voices of her teammates coming in through the earphones of the headset as they also waited to respawn.

“Fuck, God damnit, fuck! That shouldn’t have happened. Luchador, why the hell were you down in the river so damn long?” ToxicPizza69 asked.

“Sorry,” eSportsLuchador said, sounding embarrassed. “Hung back to make sure the rest of you got out safely.”

“You stayed too long. Gave them a chance to engage,” CthulhusChosenOne said.

“I know. I’m sorry. It won’t happen again,” eSportsLuchador said.

“Fucking better not. Honestly we might as well call the game here after that disaster,” ToxicPizza69 said.

“It wouldn’t have been as bad if you hadn’t missed your stun on the enemy carry,” CthulhusChosenOne said.

“Hey fuck you bro. I kind of had to deal with half their team diving me after after I went in to save Luchador’s ass.”

“Okay guys enough,” said the team captain, L0cus0fC0ntr0l. “Get back to your lanes. Push the Creeps away from the towers and soak. We can come back from this if we can stabilize in the lanes.”

Her teammates went temporarily silent as they each directed their virtual heroes back to the three different lanes of the map they were fighting the opposing team for control over. As HeirOfZuko maneuvered her hero back to the bottom lane with L0cus0fC0ntr0l, she quickly typed out a few private messages to eSportsLuchador.

To eSportsLuchador: hey. don’t sweat it miguel

To eSportsLuchador: shit happens

To eSportsLuchador: were not out of hte fight yet

After a few seconds, she got a reply.

From eSportsLuchador: Thanks Ami. Appreciate it. Let’s do this!  😉

A small smile appeared on HeirOfZuko’s face, but it did not stay there long however. Her hero had reached the frontline of the bottom lane and she re-engaged the enemy. HeirOfZuko easily dropped back into a practiced state of extreme focus, her hands once again flying over the keyboard and maneuvering the mouse. 

* * *

Playing DOTA 2 at a competitive level required a keen mind capable of making quick decisions, a high level of dexterity and hand-eye coordination capable of carrying out those decisions as fast and as accurately as possible, good communication skills for coordinating with your teammates, and a deep understanding of the game’s mechanics. The virtual battles of DOTA 2 were fought between two teams of five players, each controlling their own individual hero character that gets more and more powerful as the match progresses. The battles were fought on a large square map composed of two bases from which each team called home, three roads known as lanes which connect the two bases, and patches of wilderness known as The Jungle. The purpose of DOTA 2 was for you and your team to use your heroes to fight your way to the enemy base along one or more of the lanes and destroy the large structure at the center of base known as the Ancient. The first team to destroy the opposing team’s Ancient wins the match. 

Fighting up those lanes, however, was not an easy task. Spread out along the length of each lane were six guard towers, three for one team and three for the other team, that shoot enemy players who venture too close to the structure. At thirty second intervals, three groups of AI controlled creatures known as Creeps spawn from each base and travel down length of the three lanes fighting opposing Creeps, enemy players, and enemy structures. Killing these Creeps awarded money, in the form of gold, to the player who killed them. The act of staying in a lane and killing Creeps to gain gold is known as “soaking”. Players used this gold to purchase equipment to improve the strength and survivability of their heroes, such as weapons, armor, and potions. As the match progresses and players defeat opponents, whether they be Creeps or opposing heroes, they gained experience points that allow them to level up their hero and get stronger.

Over the next twenty minutes, HeirOfZuko and her team did their best to find a new footing and make up for the deficit of gold and experience they had accrued due to the loss of the teamfight. However, the deficit made it difficult to stabilize in their lanes, so they were gaining resources at a slower rate than the opposing team. Occasionally, HeirOfZuko and CthulhusChosenOne were able to capitalize on enemy heroes being out of position to score a few quick kills, but as a team they were never able to get a good enough engagement for a decisive teamfight that would bring things back to parity. With their money and experience advantage steadily growing, the enemy team soon began steamrolling their way across the map. 

For nearly ten minutes HeirOfZuko and her team mounted a vaillant defense of their home base, but it was to no avail. As the animation began to play of their Ancient blowing up in a spectacular display of fire, stone, and lava, HeirOfZuko quickly typed out “gg” to the enemy team. Good game.

HeirOfZuko (Terrorblade): gg

St00pKid (Nature’s Prophet): GG

NerdKid42 (Zeus): gg!!!

ToxicPizza69 (Kunkka) has disconnected from the game.

L0cus0fC0ntr0l (Silencer): Good game, well played

BoxKid (Rubick): gg,wp    ^_^

Sk8trKid (Magnus): Good game, well played

CthulhusChosenOne (Earthshaker): gg

eSportsLuchador (Batrider): gg, wp

WeebKid (Ember Spirit): WP, GG

Disconnecting from the game and muting her microphone, HeirOfZuko leaned back in her chair, hands interlocking behind her head. Staring up at the white plaster ceiling, she focused on her breathing. She would take a deep breath in, hold it for a few seconds, and then slowly release it. After a few cycles of this, HeirOfZuko quietly said aloud her to empty bedroom, “Well that sucks.”

* * *

As the adrenaline from the match slowly died down, HeirOfZuko finally began taking notice of the heat that had settled in her room throughout the morning. She now heard the whine of the cicadas and the creaking of the oscillating fan. The air she breathed was dry and had a metallic taste to it. 

In tandem with her self awareness of her surroundings, HeirOfZuko became more aware of the rising, angry voices of her teammates. Frowning, she tuned back into what they were saying.

“—shouldn’t have lost that,” ToxicPizza69 said. “That one fucking teamfight man. We got screwed from that.”

“The teamfight wasn’t our only misplay in that game. In hindsight, we had a bad last pick and we weren’t as efficient at roaming as they were. We also weren’t expecting NerdKid to do the build he did against Toxic,” L0cus0fC0ntr0l said. HeirOfZuko drew in a breath, bracing herself.

“That build was such bullshit! I did the best I could against it,” ToxicPizza69 said. 

“No one’s saying you didn’t bro,” CthulhusChosenOne said. “Even though Magnus was out performing me, as a team we were soaking our lanes better. Until that teamfight happened anyway.”

“If Luchador hadn’t been so damned out of position we could have pulled back and not engaged them in such a shitty position,” ToxicPizza69 said.

“Again, I’m really, really sorry about that guys. I was hoping to cover yo—”

“I would prefer you fucking played better than being fucking sorry about it,” ToxicPizza69 said.

“That’s enough Josh!” L0cus0fC0ntr0l said, his voice booming. “Lay off already. Miguel wasn’t the only reason we lost that match, so stop singling him out already,” said.

“Whatever.”

HeirOfZuko frowned and shook her head.

“Look,” L0cus0fC0ntr0l said through a sigh, “let’s just finish up today by doing a post game analysis of the final match. Go ahead and load up the replay everyone.

“Actually Locus, it might be good if we called it here for today,” HeirOfZuko said. “It’s been a long week. We’ve been doing ten hour days to get through the tournament and we just got done with three forty five minute plus matches. I think we’ve all earned a chance to spend the rest of the day to unwind.”

“The analysis won’t take too long. The match is fresh in our minds. Best to do it now,” L0cus0fC0ntr0l said.

“We’re only delaying it until tomorrow. The replay will still be there. We’ll also be rested and relaxed tomorrow. It’ll make for a better analysis.”

“I’m with Zuko. Plus, I want to go help my abuelita prepare dinner. We’re having family over tonight,” eSportsLuchador said.

“I also would prefer to put it off until tomorrow,” CthulhusChosenOne said, sounding bored and as if he was already elsewhere mentally.

“Alright, fine,” L0cus0fC0ntr0l said. “Meet up tomorrow at nine AM for the post game analysis.” After brief pause, he continued, “We did good everyone. Second place isn’t something to feel bad about. We played really well all week.”

“First place would have been better. I’m out. See ya,” ToxicPizza69 said, followed by the sound effect signifying that he had disconnected from voice chat. Coming from the background of CthulhusChosenOne’s microphone, ToxicPizza69 was heard saying, “That match was such bullshit!”

“Well, I better go deal with that I guess,” CthulhusChosenOne said after a few seconds. “Talk to you all tomorrow. Bye.”

HeirOfZuko said her goodbyes to the remaining teammates and disconnected from chat as well. She removed her headphones, the thin layer of plastic covering the earpieces pulling at and peeling away from her sweaty skin. She slowly set them down on the desk bringing to an end a long six and a half days of an exciting and adrenaline filled tournament.

* * *

After downing the rest of her water, Ami got up from her chair to stand directly in front of the oscillating fan and spent a few moments stretching her tense body. Letting out a loud sigh, she said, “Maybe next time.”

Glancing about her room, Ami started thinking about what she wanted to do with the rest of her day. She looked over to the bookshelf where her Kindle rested, along with a new manga she had received the day before. “Eh,” she grumbled after a few seconds, deciding she was not in the mood for reading. Turning to the small cabinet that contained her game console, she contemplated playing some of the new Kingdom Hearts game, but she eventually shook her head at the idea.

In the corner, she spotted the bag containing her workout clothes. Perhaps she could go for a run? The ever present sound of the cicadas drew her attention to the window. Looking down the road of the cul de sac, she saw the air shimmering wavily in the distance. “Yeah, that’s not happening,” she said, frowning. “But I do want to get out of this room. Maybe . . .” 

Walking back to her desk, Ami picked up her smartphone and opened an app showing movie times for the local theaters. After a few minutes of looking up various showtimes for a few different films, she said, “That’ll work.” 

Leaving her room and walking across the hall to her sister’s room, Ami knocked on the closed door.

“Come in.”

Ami stepped gingerly into the room, not wanting to disturb her sister or the camera setup on a tripod in the far corner of the room. In that same corner was her sister Kana, her tall frame crouching down over a large Lego diorama and manipulating the blocky figurines ever so slightly. Between each adjustment, Kana would lean back from the Legos and take a new picture with her camera. 

“Hey sis,” Ami said while gingerly shutting the door.

“Be right with you. Two minutes,” Kana said, maintaining her focus on the Lego figurine she was manipulating.

Nodding, Ami leaned against the door and looked around Kana’s room to see if she could spot any new film or television posters her sister might have put up recently. Dozens of posters from Kana’s favorite films and television shows, mostly animated ones, covered nearly every square inch of the walls. Some of the lower posters were partly obscured by plastic tubs of Lego pieces, camera equipment, and furniture. She finally spotted a new one after a few minutes. It was the Japanese edition of the poster for the animated film “A Silent Voice.” Kana and her filmmaking friends had been enamoured with it ever since the film aired in the United States last October.

“And there we go,” Kana said, standing up and moving a bit of purple-tipped black hair out of her eyes. Moving to the camera, she said, “That was the last frame of the scene.”

“Good progress today?”

“Yep!” Kana said, smiling. Kana disconnected the camera from the tripod and walked it over to the desk. Plugging it into the computer, she began transferring over the pictures. “How about you? How’d the finals go?”

“We lost one-two.”

“That’s a bummer,” Kana said, glancing over her shoulder and frowning sympathetically at Ami.

Ami shrugged. “Part of the game. We’ll learn from it and get better. That’s how it works.”

“Knowing that doesn’t make losing a big game any easier,” Kana said, glancing over at an old middle school second place tennis trophy.

“No, but that’s why things like chocolate and superhero movies were invented.”

“Milkshake and movie day?” Kana said with a smile.

“There’s a showing of the new Spider-Man film we could make if we left now,” Ami said, holding up her phone. “I’ll buy, you drive?”

Kana rolled her eyes at her little sister and grabbed her car keys from the desk. “Go close your window and then we’ll go.”

“Got it,” Ami said, leaving the room.

“Also, change into some clothes that are less sweaty. And put on some deodorant!”

* * *

Many hours later, after the sun had sunk below the horizon, Ami walked back into her darkened bedroom. After turning on the desk lamp and the oscillating fan, Ami reopened the window, the ever present summer sound of the cicadas bursting in. It was still warm out, but it was noticeably cooler now that the sun had gone down. Breathing in the warm air, Ami let out a deep breath and said, “Okay. Time to step back in.”

Returning to the desk, HeirOfZuko opened up DOTA 2 and loaded the video replay of the first match of the finals. On her second monitor, she brought up an application she used for taking notes. The bluish-white light of the monitors cast dark shadows across the her face. The intense focus from earlier in the day was back. Her eyes shifted across the primary monitor, taking in as many details as possible. At some points she would watch the game at two or three times the actual speed, and other times she would watch it in slow motion. She studied her own play, noting the good and the bad decision she had made. She analyzed the play of her teammates and her opponents, trying to understand the reasons for their decisions and how those decisions had affected the game. She created pages and pages of notes, both for her own benefit and for reference at tomorrow’s post game analysis with the team. 

After gleaming all she could from game one, HeirOfZuko moved on to game two. Once she had finished with that one, she moved on to the final match of the best of three set. In this match she paid particular attention to the portion of the game after the devastating teamfight they had lost. She noted at least two possible paths they could have taken that might have given them enough of an edge to push the game back to equilibrium.

After a few hours, with the analysis completed, the young competitor joined a public unranked match. A few minutes into the match HeirOfZuko’s eyes gradually became softer, and her body slowly melted into the chair. The movements of her hand across the keyboard was more lethargic than it had been during the tournament matches and the mouse clicking was not as furious. A small, contented smile settled onto her face as she lost herself in the competitive bliss of the video game.

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