The day of the main event arrived. As a prestigious event witnessed by everyone in the star sector, the LIT did not hold the competition on a plain grassy field. Instead, every participant was brought to a huge and extensive arena complex.
Ves, Dietrich and Lucky looked out from the window of the shuttle. After passing through innumerable islands, they finally came into view of the LIT's sector-famous arena complex. It encompassed as much space as a major city from the Bright Republic. The complex already prepared five hundred stages. The most formidable fabrication and projection technology the Carnegie Group had developed underpinned the systems of this immense competition stage.
Much like the Republic's Young Tiger Exhibition, the competition in Leemar disdained the use of simulations. They only resorted to using simulations during the qualifiers for expedience. Now that they were about to broadcast the design contest to the public, they had to showcase their power. Everytime the LIT held its open competition, the people from the Coalition and many smaller states got to enjoy thrilling fights between real mechs piloted by real mech pilots.
"It's too bad they don't let outsiders like me pilot on your behalf." Dietrich sighed. He truly wanted to share the stage with Ves and make a name for himself in the duelling stages. "It sure sucks to be a pilot."
"Haha. You mech pilots have your own competitions." Ves responded lightly.
Humanity currently loved all things mechs. Though mech designers received their fair share of admiration, the highly technical environment made it hard for laymen to get excited.
In contrast, mech pilots overshadowed shuttle racers in daring and excitement. Even a small place like the Bright Republic held a hundred of different competitions each year. The Young Tigers Exhibition might be a prestigious event, but the ones where veteran pilots showed off their skills attracted ten times more fans. The celebrity culture around piloting massively overshadowed the attention placed on mech designers.
When they came close, Ves witnessed thousands of shuttles descending from orbit. As a major event, the competition attracted millions of spectators. Most of them merely came because they lived nearby. Most likely, only ten percent truly understood what was going on. The rest just came to see the thrilling mech duels.
Leemar only paid attention to the guests of influence. Many industry insiders attended from afar. Ves even guessed that representatives from some of the major corporations in the Republic would be present today. The competition not only gave the foreign talents a chance to shine, it also brought a lot of powerful men and women together from across the sector. Many deals and trades were made under the table during each event.
"Alright, please disembark follow me. It's very crowded today so watch your step!" A guide called out once their shuttle landed.
A massive amount of people converged to the arenas. Dietrich and Lucky had to seperate from Ves again. They followed the majority of the crowd to the spectator entrance. As for Ves, he boarded a smaller shuttle that brought him and his fellow designers to a resting area backstage.
Up on the main stages, a grand spectacle unfolded. The show preceding the competition featured music and dances from the most popular entertainers in the employ of the Carnegie Group. In between, different executives entered the stage to introduce various high tech innovations such as a new engine model or a renewal of a popular consumer electronics device.
"The Group never fails to milk the publicity dry." A designer sitting next to him remarked. "Each year they go through the same process."
Ves nodded in agreement. "It's a good way to distract the audience when we're still in the design phase. A pure mech design competition is pretty boring to the average viewer."
Watching someone design a mech in real time was like watching a sculptor chisel a statue. While the end product might look impressive, no one wanted to go through all the boring parts for hours on end.
"The other partners of the Coalition have their own pageants. This is nothing unusual. Now that we're facing tumultuous times, every power is going all-out in attracting talents. Even the notoriously close-minded Konsu Clan have opened their doors."
"You'd have to be insane to hire yourself to the Konsu Clan. There's hardly any room for promotion for outsiders."
"That's true, but the Konsu Clan is honest about it. You'll only have to sign a twelve year contract. After that, you're free to go."
That sounded like a pretty good deal. If Ves failed to qualify for today's event, he'd probably be forced to crawl in front of their doors and beg them to take him in. Thankfully he fought well enough to avoid such a miserable fate.
After half an hour of advertisement, the mech designers finally entered the stage. They bowed before the millions of people present and the trillions more who watched from their homes. The entire star sector took notice. An executive from the Carnegie Group introduced the rules for the first round.
"Today is the day where we will hold our famous free-for-all! Five hundred mech designers are given access to our proprietary QuickForge instant fabrication systems. These designers can choose to rush out their design or take it slow in order to perfect their work. However, the speed in which they finish their design decides the ranking of their allocated pilot. The faster they finish a design, the better their pilot!"
Leemar's renowned free-for-all format had a lot of strategy behind its simple rules. The round lasted for twelve hours. A mech designer was free to submit his design at any point, but if he took too long, then he will only receive a mediocre pilot. The fastest submission always received the best pilot from a batch of five hundred cadet pilots from an affiliated mech pilot academy.
The QuickForge fabricator was able to produce or modify many simple mech components, giving the illusion that it worked just as fast as a virtual workshop. Naturally, this only applied to obsolete technology. This was the reason why Leemar used the equivalent of 3-star mech components in the qualifiers. The time and cost to fabricate more advanced components grew massively at that point.
These renowned cadet pilots fought on behalf of their mech's designers in an enormous space consisting of many temporarily fused arenas. In this random forest environment, giant coins occasionally spawned at random locations. Mech pilots had to search for these coins and bring them to a random location, though they had to look out for ambushes. Regardless who possessed the coins, the pilot who delivered the coin successfully gained a score.
To keep it all fair, the five hundred pilots were completely isolated. They piloted the mechs remotely through advanced transmission technology. In a real war, there were millions of ways for an enemy to interfere with these signals. In a venue completely controlled by the Carnegie Group, the risk was deemed acceptable. The Group did not want to risk the lives of their future pilot officers, after all.
The key issue of this round was that a mech only had one life. Once it received fatal damage, the mech did not have any opportunity to collect more coins. The designers who submitted their designs early had more time to collect coins. Those who came later might overshadow the rush jobs, but with lower ranking pilots and less time to collect coins, they had an uphill battle to fight.
Another key issue was that the allocated pilot remained attached to the designer if they successfully survived this round. Only the top hundred teams who submitted the most coins qualified for the second round. The pilot rank was thus of prime importance to your chances of reaching the finals.
"Now, every year, we receive the same complaints. It's not fair. It's too arbitrary. Everyone should receive the same quality of pilots."
The executive turned around and stared at the designers on stage. All of them felt the intensity of a man who climbed his way up the ranks of the renowned Carnegie Group.
"I am a businessman. You work for us. As a responsible businessman, I expect my subordinates to work promptly and deliver their products on time. Those who can never meet their deadlines will never cut it in the mech industry. The best mech designers are always those who are a step ahead of the competition. It is up to you to decide how much time you wish to spend on your designs."
Everyone felt the weight of his words. While some of the designers had little clue what he was talking about, Ves knew better as he already had some experience running his own business.
The free-for-all in fact could be considered a race. Those who worked faster gained a lot more advantages, though sometimes the slowpokes turned the tables by submitting an almost invincible design.
In essence, Ves had three overall choices to make before he even started. He could rush out a sloppy design and gain an elite pilot who could search for coins before the majority of the competition entered the simulated battlefield.
This was the highest risk a designer could make and had enormous influence to their future course. If Ves succeeded in his gambit and climbed his way up the top hundred, then he paved the way for a clear road to the finals. With a high-ranking pilot by his side, he had the qualifications to fight for the number one position.
If Ves was not that confident in a quick design, he could take it slower and submit his design somewhere around the average. With enough time, he could design a substantially better mech who could go toe-to-toe with almost any opponent except for the slowpokes.
Finally, he could take his time and design a truly perfect mech. With sufficient time, he could build up a mech that enjoyed a full coverage of compressed armor. With such a marvellous protective layer, his mech would be virtually invincible.
"Still, the pilot I'll get won't cut it. There's a huge difference between a top pilot and an average pilot." Ves considered carefully. He wanted to reach the absolute top. Those who took their time were mostly content with reaching the top hundred or top fifty. Only the designers who submitted their designs fast enough had the right to struggle for the limited amount of available apprenticeships.
Throughout the competition, Ves already acted boldly. He already staked his entire future to a single throw of the dice. He had to keep walking his chosen path to the end.
"Three hours. I should be able to finish a functional design in three hours." Ves whispered to himself. The average submission time in past competitions usually hovered around five to six hours. Cutting that in half meant his mech inevitably retained some serious flaws. The key was to minimize or mitigate these flaws.