Sioras smiled sheepishly. It felt like everyone in the StarCraft area had come to congratulate him by now, but he still couldn't get used to being at the center of attention.
"Thanks. I got lucky."
"No, seriously, man. Getting to that level playing out of Mongolia? That's awesome."
Was it awesome? It had crossed Sioras' mind that what he was doing might be difficult, playing StarCraft alone in a country without even a shadow of a competitive scene. But that's what StarCraft was. Difficult.
"Well, I guess hard work just paid off for me."
In the past, Sioras had heard his idols give that canned response in countless interviews. He finally knew why.
"Anyway, the guys are going into the city to get dinner. You hungry?"
Sioras realized that he was. He hadn't eaten since the morning, when he had deposited his breakfast into a sink in mostly liquid form.
"Sure. I'll be along in a second after I take care of a few things."
"Cool! We're meeting up at the hall A entrance in about thirty minutes. Seeya there!"
Sioras leaned back in his chair and let out a sigh. For nearly an hour, he had tried to absorb, make sense of what he had transpired. He was the lonely underdog from Mongolia, who made it through the group stages of a $50,000 tournament.
It meant something, he supposed, to those who were interested in the grand scheme of global esports and what-all. But all he knew was that when he received the final GG from TooDming, it had been the most exhilarating moment of his life. Before that, it had been when he had won the online qualifier to earn a spot in the tournament.
Sioras pulled his phone out of his pocket and swiped in his password. If he couldn't make sense of what happened, then maybe others could help him. He had heard reading internet comments after winning was one of the most delightfully conceited pleasures a progamer could indulge in. Maybe it was time to give it a try. He opened the web browser with a grin.
Sioras was surprised to hear his ring-tone; he hadn't enabled roaming for his trip.
"Congratulations Sioras. That was quite an achievement."
The voice on the other end was neither pleasant nor unpleasant. It wasn't familiar... ...or was it?
"Thanks, I can't believe it myself. Sorry, who is this? I don't recognize you number."
"Actually, I'm quite envious of your position. In fact, I would prefer if you were to 'remove' yourself from the competition by tomorrow."
"The hell? Who is this?"
"Who I am isn't important—"
"The fuck it's not!"
"—it's what I can do."
"Hey! I don't know what this is about, but it's not funny!"
A series of beeps alerted Sioras to the fact that the call had ended, and that a text message had arrived.
It was his house. It was the place he had been born, and the only place he had ever called home. By reflex, the sight brought forth fond memories: birthdays, celebrations, summer days rolling the grass, cold winter nights huddled together by the furnace.
Then, Sioras saw what was on the hill above. Five blue crystals, gleaming with malice.
"As I was saying, it would be best if your participation in this tournament came to an end."
"Are we clear?"
Sioras sat in silence, staring off into space. His gaze drifted aimlessly over the room, until a sudden glimmer snapped him back to attention. A tin of lip balm had caught the light from the monitor next to it, lit up with a new battle.net message.
'Yo Harstem, get some practice in?'
Sioras knew what he had to do.