The London Spitfire may have emerged as the inaugural winners of the Overwatch World League Playoffs, but there was an equally intriguing story at the other end of the spectrum. The Shanghai Dragons managed to go the entire season, that is all four stages of the League phase of the tournament, without managing to rack up a single win.
In some of their matches in that interminable first season, the margins of their defeat were only small. At other times, the team looked outclassed to the point of embarrassment. Sometimes fans rooted for the underdogs to win a game, any game, in order to break their Overwatch World League duck.
Over the season, four different stages came and went. Each time, Shanghai finished without a single win to their name. Of course, as with any franchise team in the Overwatch League, Shanghai was never in danger of relegation. However, they needed to make significant improvements to avoid a similar embarrassment in the second season of operations.
The road back
Last September, the team announced the vast majority of its franchised players from the first season would be leaving the team. Xushu, Roshan, Altering, Fiveking, Freefeel, Sky, Ado, Daemin all then departed.
Only three – Fearless, Diya and one of the few female players with a spot on an Overwatch World League team roster, Geguri—managed to hold on. However, in April, Fearless moved on to Team CC, the academy team of the Shanghai Dragons.
It may have seemed a calloused decision, but it was a bold and necessary one given the trials and tribulations of Season 1. A month or so after that, the Dragons announced replacements. Then came CoMA, Luffy, YOUNGJIN, DDing, and Diem to the team. They were joined in February 2019 by Gamsu, while envy joined in June. Finally, Izayaki is the newest member of the squad, signing a month ago.
Certainly, in terms of personnel, the Shanghai Dragons were a team transformed. But would that really change anything?
Seems like it
At the OWL Community Countdown 2019 Team Scrimmages in February, Shanghai earned their first win in the tournament. Admittedly, it was only in the equivalent of a pre-season friendly, but that 2-0 victory over Chengdu Hunters must have resonated.
The season began a week or so later and in the first two games. It was the same old story for Shanghai. They lost 3-1 to Hangzhou Spark and then followed that up with a 4-0 hammering at the hands of the much-fancied Vancouver Titans.
However, in the third week of action, the curse was finally broken. Facing the Boston Uprising, the Dragons emerged with a fantastic 3-1 victory: Their first-ever win in the Overwatch World League. The result made headlines around the world, especially when in their next game a week or so later, they thumped the Chengdu Hunters, the team they beat in pre-season, 4-0.
Two defeats against Dallas Fuel followed, but they then followed that with a 3-2 victory over the Overwatch League Season 1 Champions, the London Spitfire, to finish Stage 1 with a 3-4 record, just missing out on the Stage Playoffs. This marked huge progress for Shanghai.
The season rolled on
However, that optimism subsided when the team lost their opening two games to two top teams, the Los Angeles Gladiators and New York Excelsior. After that though, the team put together a run of four wins in a row to reach the Stage Playoffs for the first time. They fell at the first hurdle to an impressive San Francisco Shock team, but this was another major breakthrough for Shanghai.
Stage Three of the second season saw Shanghai break their losing streak in opening games, with victories in their opening two fixtures before they lost to Los Angeles Valiant. They then racked up three more wins in their remaining four matches to finish with a 5-2 record, their best ever performance in a Stage and enough to see them finish in eighth in the standings to earn another Stage Playoff spot.
However, they faced a tough task, New York Excelsior were their opponents and they had won the Stage with a 7-0 100% record. Excelsior were the clear favorites in the game, but Shanghai produced a stunning performance to beat their opponents 3-1 to move into the semifinals for the first time.
Another top team, Vancouver Titans, who have lost just one league stage game all season, lay in wait in the semifinals, but the confidence Shanghai displayed against New York in the last round shone through as the team produced an even more impressive display, defeating the Titans 4-1 to claim a place in the final.
In the final, they would face the San Francisco Shock, runners up of the Stage 1 playoffs in 2019 and winners of the Stage 2 playoffs in 2019. While their League section form may not match Vancouver, San Francisco were the team to beat in the playoffs and having beaten Shanghai Dragons twice already during the league season, they were clear favorites once again.
However, a shock seemed on the cards when the Dragons landed the first two games of the final to take a 3-0 lead, but that only seemed to galvanize the Shock into action. San Francisco rattled off the next three games to level matters at 3-3 and it seemed they were on the brink of their second successive stage win.
Incredibly, Shanghai dug deep and produced a stunning performance in the seventh and deciding game to take a 2-1 win on the Dorado map and claim their first-ever Stage victory, plus a $200,000 cash prize.
After finishing rock bottom in Season 1 of the Overwatch World League, Shanghai now sit in the eighth position in the cumulative League Standings and look in with a great chance of claiming a place in the end of season playoffs (which sees 12 of the 20 teams qualify).
Shanghai’s revival is now complete. The Dragons are roaring, and we’re ready for the fourth stage.