The hotel lobby was empty save for the receptionist. Michael walked to his room, feeling out of sorts. It was still too early to sleep, so he pulled out his laptop. It didn’t run Starcraft very well, but it was something.

For some reason, he couldn’t get into the games. In his first game he failed to react to the committed attack that he scouted a mile away, and in the second he grew frustrated for no reason. Michael was ahead in tech and economy, poised to take the game if he could continue to starve his opponent, and… he left the game. Michael stared at his hands in confusion. He had never quit for reason before, and certainly not when he was ahead

What the fuck is wrong with me?

He closed his laptop in disgust, and slipped away into an aimless slumber.

Tommy woke him up the next morning, energetic as always. “Hey, why didn’t you come with us last night? We went shopping for a while, saw a movie, and got dinner.”

“Wasn’t feeling well.” The lie came a bit too easily.

They met up with Marissa in the lobby, and she seemed perfectly cordial. They took a cab to Spodek.

The seats seemed mostly full this time, even with the finals over ten hours away. Michael set up again in the player’s room, feeling much more himself. He warmed up for an hour, then the speakers announced the first call for Group Stage 3.

Michael checked the brackets online. He was matched against two players he routinely beat, and someone he had never heard of. He walked to the second stage. Select matches were shown on stream with the players in booths, but Michael’s weren’t chosen. He sat down at the double row of computers and tried to find his opponents.

He left the stage feeling empty, and returned to the player room to practice some more. Tommy found him after a few games, and dragged him away for lunch. They started eating in silence, but Tommy seemed ready to burst with excitement.

“Uh mahd et thrggggh.” He spouted. Michael raised an eyebrow. Tommy chewed more.

click here “I made it through my group. 2-0 Gren, 1-2 to ThalareN, and 2-1 Envy. I would’ve 2-0’d Nico, but he got really lucky the second game.”

“Nice.” Michael replied. “Nico’s really good.” Tommy stared expectantly for a minute, and then spread his hands and shook his head.

“…what?” Michael replied. “He beats top players all the time, and he has decades more experience than either of us.”

Tommy’s face smacked into the table. “No, you retard. How’d your group go?”

“Oh. I 4-0’d. Mine was pretty easy compared to yours.”

“At the very least” he said, smiling faintly, “please tell me you didn’t do the exact same build every game.”

Michael grinned. “What can I say? It works. I messed up my second game vs Crane. I was about to lose, and then he walked his entire army into a nuke and left without saying GG.”

Tommy’s eyes lit up as he imagined the spectacle. “Dude, you should make a gif of that and upload it. People love that shit.”

“Why would I do that?” Michael asked. “It’s not like I did anything crazy. He just fucked up really, really hard.”

Titanic isn’t a great movie because the iceberg was one-of-a-kind, it just is.”

“It’s not a great movie. DiCaprio only tried to get on the damn raft once.

When the brackets for the Top 16 were released, some people were a little less happy than others. Notably, Tommy.

“Dude, I got Carlos first round. When I beat him it won’t even be on stream! After than I’ll play River though, so at least I’ll get some exposure.”

“Not if I beat River. I think I have a shot.”

readme “Yeah, whatever.”

When Michael spotted Tommy two hours later at dinner, he was ecstatic once again.

“I lost 3-1 to Carlos. He plays like you Michael, only less retarded. Even after I killed thirty workers in the first game I couldn’t finish him off, and I had to starve him out-”

“I bet you hated that, playing a standard game”

readme “-and then the next three games he just did big pushes before my hive finished and won”

Michael smirked. “Well maybe if you knew how to do something other than rush ultralisks after a failed all-in, you could’ve beaten him. If you get more infestors and ravagers instead you can hold the push and tech after.”

“Yeah, yeah. My match vs Crane got streamed though, and he got a little salty after I won 3-2. I walked over him to shake his hand or give him a thumbs down or something, and he looks at me and flips me off. The crowd loved it, and I signed a bunch autographs. The commentators said they want to stream my next games since I play really weird.”

“You play Nico again, right?”

“Yeah. I think I can take it.”

Michael wandered back over to the second stage, waiting for his next match. On the massive overhead screen, Carlos was dueling Example, one of Europe’s best Zergs. He tuned out the amplified casters and tried to make sense of Carlos’s play. He always opened so aggressive, but dealt enough damage to transition into standard play with a lead. It was theoretically unsound, but he kept finding new ways to make it work. Michael had fallen apart against him, and Example wasn’t doing much better.

His phone buzzed; the bracket had been updated. So it would be a rematch with River, then. Exhaustion was creeping back in and his wrists hurt, but that was OK. The game was all that mattered.

By the fourth game, he couldn’t focus any more. Michael’s tech and economy leads were useless after his army was obliterated in a choke point, and his defenses crumbled slowly under the Korean’s steady pressure. His counter-attack fell flat, and he conceded. His scouting reaper died carelessly in the final game without yielding any information, and an all-in attack rolled over his army as he moved out to pressure.

Michael slumped down and shook his head.

            How can I be this bad? Mis-micro after mis-micro, 500 minerals in the bank last game, so many supply blocks. I never fuck up like this.

From across the row of computers, River gave him a curt nod. The Korean unplugged his keyboard and mouse, and walked over to the main stage. Carlos was setting up in the other booth.

Tommy lounged in the VIP seating, talking to Nico and Kevin while Marissa watched. The large Ukrainian downed his beer, and then looked pointedly at Tommy.

“You play like you have rocks in your head, my friend. This is not such a bad thing. If you remove a few of them, you will be a much stronger player.”

“After a performance like that, you have a good shot at getting signed by a big team” Kevin interjected. “And once you’re in, you’re good to go. I didn’t play for like three months and still got paid the same. You make money and get sent to events just for existing.”

Tommy nodded along. Michael and Nico shared a look.

“How’d you do, Michael?” Kevin asked.

“I 3-1’d River, and then lost 3-2 to Carlos. I beat some weaker players in the loser’s bracket, and then lost 2-3 to River.”

“Jesus dude, none of that got streamed?”

Michael shrugged. “I don’t really care about that stuff. It’s the game that’s important, not whose watching.”

In a booming voice, the Grand Final was announced. The crowd returned to their seats, and a hush fell over the auditorium. Carlos was hunched over, rubbing his eyes. River was unreadable and stoic.

Minutes into the first game of the Best of Seven, River deflected his opponent’s hellion pressure with ease. He used his economy lead to power a huge frontal attack, the same one he had used against Michael several times. Carlos looked like he might hold with some fancy micro, but was too far behind.

He opened the same way the following game, and inflicted even less damage. The Protoss player tech’ed up quickly this time, and flanking Templar blanketed Carlos’ fragile army in deadly Psionic Storms when he pushed out again. Carlos refused to leave, despite being irrevocably behind. Stuck at forty harvesters to seventy-five, he fell further and further behind in army supply. River reached max supply and marched across the map. Carlos tried to circumvent his army and base trade, but couldn’t break the Korean’s reinforcements. He reluctantly GG’d, and the crowd shifted uneasily.

Carlos opened with a different pressure in the third game, but was countered by River’s own aggression. When the dust settled, he only had one saturated mineral line to two and a half. Kevin shook his head.

“Not this again. I don’t know what he’s trying to do.” Michael stood up and made to leave.

“Let me guess, more practice?” Tommy smirked.

“Yeah, something like that.” He walked towards the player section, but a whim struck him and he turned around.

Most people were sitting in the audience, but at least a few hundred were still seated in front of the computers at the public section. Some had the official stream open, others played all varieties of games. Suddenly nervous, he sat down at an almost-empty row.

Eyes turned when the clatter of his keyboard reached them, and several people stopped walking by to watch for a moment or two. He played with no expectations, no goals. It felt good.

One spectator lingered longer than the others. After a few games, he took a seat next to Michael and waited patiently for him to finish his game. He was in his early twenties, and remarkably average-looking. When he spoke, his voice carried a hint of a British accent.

“You play quite well. Were you in the tournament?”

Michael nodded. “Yeah, I just got eliminated. The finals were kind of boring so I decided to relax.”

“That’s fair. You made it deep into the bracket stage, that’s impressive.” He stood up to leave. “If I may, though, you should try getting your ghost academy a minute faster, but only building 5 ghosts instead of 8. It lets you start extra Command Centers earlier, and you actually have more EMP’s available for the first tempest push. That fast fourth starport was interesting, though, I might have to try it out.”

Michael’s mouth gaped slightly. Nobody, even in the player section, should have had that much insight into his playstyle. Nobody else had the experi-

“Hey, wait a sec.” He called out. The man turned back warily.

Michael smiled. “Thanks for the advice.”

“Anytime.” Cain replied, navigating over a sea of gaming chairs.

Tommy looked up in excitement as Michael returned.

“Dude, where have you been? This is turning into one of the best series of the year, and Carlos is about to win!”

Sure enough, the scoreboard read 3:2 in favor of the South American Terran. He looked to have a commanding lead in the 6th game, up 5 mining bases to River’s 3 with a 40 supply lead.

Michael paused. “Wait, Carlos won game 3 after I left? How the hell?”

“It was crazy, he was harassing all over the map and slowly crawled back into it. He still couldn’t fight River’s army, so he just counter attacked and they raced to kill each other’s bases. It went down to the last building, and he’s been rolling over River since then.”

A cheer went up from the crowd: Carlos denied his opponent’s fourth expansion, while killing two of his existing bases. River was forced into a predictable last-ditch attack, and Carlos fended it off with ease. The Korean typed out his final GG, and the crowd rose to their feet.

Carlos burst out of his booth, drenched in sweat but ecstatic. He lifted up the trophy to another round of cheers. In the other booth, River was slumped back in his chair. The Korean seemed drained, more than even 12 long hours of tournament play would cause.

Nico leaned over. “Would you all like to celebrate with me down town?”

Michael grinned. “That sounds great.”

He awoke on the flight home to Tommy shoving a phone in his face.

The article headline read: RISING AMERICAS? BLAZE STEALS GRAND FINALS FROM HEAVY FAVORITE RIVER, CRYO AND KHAN MAKE ROUND OF 8 IN MIRACLE RUNS

Michael reached into his pocket and grasped his fourth place medal with a faint smile.

buy it To each their own.


Let us know if you enjoyed the story! Thanks for reading.

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