Chapter 3 – Old Gamer (2)

Minho looked at the tall building in front of him, with the bag containing a keyboard and mouse hanging over his shoulders. This building, known as the Esports Center, was a nine-storey stadium equipped with the newest systems where professional gamers from all over the country gathered to compete for victory. Nothing had changed, but since it had been two years since he had last entered, it felt new to him.

“Minho!”

As he was walking into the building, someone called him from behind. It was a man in his 30’s dressed in a suit. 

Minho waved his hands briefly.

“Long time no see, sunbae.”

“Woah, I heard you’re making a comeback. Is your match today?”

Taehyung Uhm had been in the same gaming team with him before he went into the army. Minho happily greeted Taehyung, who was now working as a game commentator.

“I watched your quiz show. I didn’t know you were that smart.”

“I was just lucky.”

“How much did you get for the prize money? Is it about 300 million Won (approximately 300,000 USD) after taxes?”

“Yeah about that much.”

Taehyung poked Minho’s side and asked with a hint of expectation,

“Where are you going to spend that money?”

“I already gave it all to my father.”

Taehyung couldn’t continue the conversation on the matter because of Minho’s somewhat offhand response. It wasn’t even a few million won or 10 million won, but he gave his father money in the 100’s untouched?!

“That–that’s great.”

Minho laughed to himself when he saw the look of astonishment that Taehyung gave him. Who would’ve known that Minho was paying the price of a pocket watch that could look into the future.

Even though Yoonhwan and Minho were family, they were a father and a son who were clear on monetary transactions.

As Minho and Taehyung headed inside, Minho asked in detail about how the game league was going these days. And because they were once on the same team, Taehyung kindly answered the queries.

“So there’s this high-schooler team that’s had consecutive victories after their debut. They’re really scary. They have great control and strategizing, and insane physiques that answer to no one.”

“What’s their team name?”

“Eagles.”

Minho pondered for a bit before clapping his hands and saying,

“They’re my opponent today.”

“What?”

Taehyung worriedly spoke in response to Minho’s nonchalant answer.

“Of all occasions, right before your comeback. The preliminaries aren’t what they used to be before; even professional gamers get disqualified a lot.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll definitely make it to the finals.”

Taehyung just shook his head at Minho’s inexplicable confidence.

“…Either way, do well on the match. After you’re done, come have a drink with this successful commentator sunbae of yours. I’ll text you.”

Taehyung disappeared into the lobby as he said goodbye. Minho was standing in front of the elevator and his eyes sparkled instantly. 

Ding.

The elevator arrived at the ninth floor. The doors opened and as soon as Minho stepped out, the spectators spotted him.

“It’s Minho!”

“Where? Where?”

When he saw the crowd of people swarming towards him, he shifted his direction to the private waiting room for the competitors. Minho exited the corridor and examined the stadium. Although it was just the preliminaries, it seemed like the spectators had gathered en masse. 

‘The quiz show had a bigger effect than I thought.’

Although it was a famous show, he hadn’t thought it would bring him such popularity since it was only broadcast on cable. Minho, feeling somehow flattered, entered the waiting room happily.

Click.

There were already two people in the waiting room. The man with a heavyset frame and buzz cut was Garam Yoon, and the big fellow with waxed hair was Chulsoon Kwon. They were both juniors in the gaming team that Minho was currently part of.

“Welcome!”

Garam and Chulsoon bowed their heads with utmost politeness. After quickly looking over the list of matches, Minho asked the two,

“You guys don’t have any matches?”

“We came to do strategy analysis because our next opponent is one of the guys from the Eagles. We can’t lose this time. We already lost twice in our first week.”

“Oh ho, strategy analysis? Not to cheer me on?”

Minho glared at them and Garam rapidly brought his two fists up in a cheering pose.

“Let’s go! Let’s go! Please win for us!”

“It’s too late.”

“Ahk!”

Garam also let out a groan after getting flicked on his forehead. That reminded Minho of himself getting hit on the back of his head by Yoonhwan, so he laughed to himself.

Minho sat on the sofa and flicked the coin up in the air.

‘Let’s see, is my match the first one?’

Two years ago, Minho was a strong professional gamer with a total record of 201 wins in a war game, Pentastorm. And today, he was sufficiently ready to show that his record was not just a past glory. Not only did he put in an immense amount of effort after returning from the army, he had even received a special power that he had never thought existed.

He had even briefly thought that he should protect the world with this power. But Yoonhwan had told him to do whatever he wanted, and Minho was thinking of following his father’s words like a filial child.

“Let’s think of the later things later~”

First, Minho decided to do well on what he was doing now. As he continued with his thoughts, a staff member knocked on the door.

“It’s time to set up.”

Minho woke up from his thoughts and stood up. As he walked out, Garam and Chulsoon cheered for him.

***

“Here comes Minho Kang.”

“I heard he won ‘The Answer’. The prize money from there is higher than the League.”

“Haven’t you seen that show? Yeah, solving the questions is one thing, but he was even flirting back and forth with Seoyeon Jung. Anyway, it was great.”

As Minho opened the doors to the main stadium, the first thing he saw was the packed seats of the audience. When he saw that even the waiting line was filled, Minho came to realize the powerful effect of the quiz show. He felt a little flattered to have received this much attention when he should have been treated just as an old gamer.

Minho followed the guidance of the staff and took his seat in the booth.

“Ten minutes to set up.”

The staff member closed the door and disappeared. Because the booth was soundproof, the noise from the commotion outside was blocked all at once. Minho installed the keyboard and mouse right away and sat at the seat for the match.

“Hoo, this brings me back.”

The space where Minho was able to face the many spectators in silence with a clear glass in between– 

It had been a long while, but the pleasant feeling he got from this place had not changed. It was a completely different feeling from standing in front of the large audience of the quiz show; it felt as if he had found where he belonged once again.

Minho took out the closed pocket watch with the antique lid and put it on the left of the keyboard. The ticking sound from the pocket watch calmed his mind.

Across from himself, Minho saw a high-schooler wearing a uniform with the ‘Eagles’ logo glaring fiercely as he loosened up his hands. His ambition filled with anxiety and defiance made Minho smile.

‘Enjoy it as a sport.’

They simply used a mouse and a keyboard instead of a soccer ball or basketball. People cheering and being happy together over a play was no different from chatting with someone about soccer, baseball or even a game of Go.

This might be something that his father’s generation might not understand. But it was like this now. Video games had become a pastime, a career, and a culture.

‘Now, let’s go head on.’

Minho clicked on the play icon of Pentastorm. When he logged in to the game room, the opposing player sent a greeting via the chatroom.

[Minho Sunbaenim, please go easy on me. ^__^]

[Sure.]

Even though he typed that in the chat, inside the booth on the other side, the high-schooler looked as if he was going to devour Minho whole.

Minho chose the Biological Army, one of the species in Pentastorm. This species, which produced supplies quickly, had a strong offense but the weakest defense amongst the three species.

His opposing player chose the Guardian Army which required exquisite control. This species, which resembled a medieval army, needed a long time to produce each unit but had a defense power that was two to three times higher than units from other species of the same level.

[Players, please wait.]

The words ‘06/20 Today’s Match Up,’ along with the commentator’s chat, lit up on the giant LED screen. The lighting on the stage in between the booths was turned on.

The broadcaster Yongjoon Han, who was sitting at the center of the broadcasting seat, greeted the audience with a bright expression on his face.

“Hello game fans. Pentastorm summer season hosted by N Game Net! Today, we will be broadcasting the matches in the second week of preliminaries. And we have game specialists Taehyung Uhm and Jaekyung Kim to assist us. Hello!”

The broadcaster and the two commentators finished their greetings.

“Player Minho Kang, who was originally the strongest player, is playing against one of the front-runners of the newly risen strong players, Taekyong Lee, in his returning match. Taehyung, how are things looking?”

“I wonder if there was ever a game that was as exciting and interesting as this one. Player Minho Kang, who has a shining total record of 201 victories, has finished his military duty and made a surprise comeback. First, I’ll give player Minho Kang the upper-hand point for his gaming record.”

The camera turned to Minho. Minho gazed at the camera and waved his hand at the audience.

“Look at his composure. That’s player Minho Kang’s style. He never loses his cool no matter how cornered he is.”

This time, the camera turned to player Taekyong Lee. He had his eyes fixed on the screen and was pretending to practice vigorously. Minho couldn’t help smirking because he knew Taekyong was really just clicking his mouse on the screen.

Commentator Jaekyung began to explain about player Taekyong Lee.

“Player Taekyong Lee is also a strong competitor. Since in the professional gaming world, young players aren’t younglings anymore. Crazy high-schoolers. If you just hear it, you may think it’s a curse but it just means that these young players are just as scary. Especially the players of the Eagles, they were born for Pentastorm. They’re crazy! Just crazy!”

“Yes, he says they’re crazy! We just got news that the players are ready. The map for the match, ‘Leader’s Valley’! Minho Kang vs Taekyong Lee. Let’s~ start the match!”

At broadcaster Yongjoon’s shout, the audience erupted in thunderous applause.

The giant screen changed to show the game screen. The countdown finished uploading. Minho stretched his fingers lightly by shaking them, then he turned his eyes to the monitor.

Finally the match began.



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