Written by Dovepool | Edited by Denayed, Originally Posted: October 4, 2021.
On September 25th, history was made when the Shanghai Dragons, one of twenty Overwatch League teams, took home the title of 2021 OWL Champions. The dominance that the Dragons exuded throughout the season may have seemed inevitable, but it wasn’t always that way. Once upon a time, the Dragons were at the bottom of the totem pole. To let the magnitude of their victory sink in, let’s go back to the beginning.
The year was 2018. Thanks to the support of the Overwatch community, Blizzard secured enough financial sponsors to launch the official Overwatch professional league. Everyone was excited to witness the birth of a new Esport, with excitement only mounting as competing teams were announced. People couldn’t wait to see how the Overwatch League was going to change the way the game was played, for casual and competitive players alike. With a starting roster of 8 players, the Shanghai Dragons began their first match of the regular inaugural season on January 10.
They were off to a rough start. The LA Gladiators swept the Dragons 4-0, and it seemed that the rough start was an omen for things to come. The Dragons went on a 0-10 loss streak in Stage One, and to the horror of their fans, carried that streak through Stages Two, Three, and Four. Each stage was a resounding 0-10. Partway through the season, in a desperate attempt to turn the tides and secure at least one win for momentum, the Dragons signed four new players. Unfortunately, it was too late. Counting preseason matches, the Dragons ended the inaugural Overwatch League tournament with a 0-42 record, making them the first team in the Esports world to never win a single match in a season.
2019 rolled around. The Dragons came prepared with a revamped roster. They had lost Fearless, a formidable tank whom they ended up facing while playing against Dallas Fuel in 2021. Luckily, the Dragons secured the beginning of what would eventually become the dream team: Izayaki, a cutthroat Flex Support. This was a promising start, and the Dragons fought tooth and nail before earning a spot in the playoffs. Ultimately, the sudden pivot to the 2-2-2 role lock structure was their downfall, and they were eliminated in the semifinals. 2020 was a mess for the entire world, and the Overwatch League bore its share of casualties. The Dragons were unable to host any homestead games due to Covid-19 shutdowns and widespread concerns about traveling to China. Despite this, the Dragons persevered: picking up Void, a solid Off-Tank; Leejaegon, a Main Support specializing in close brawls; Lip, a hitscan DPS fresh on the OWL scene; and Fleta, another hitscan whose reputation as a master of all DPS and ace Widowmaker preceded him. The Dragons made their best finish yet with this roster, coming in a shiny third place. However, the finish was widely attributed to their new Head Coach, Moon Byung-Chul.
With Moon at the helm, the Dragons entered 2021 with most of what would be their winning roster. Most notably, Main Tank Fate joined the team, bringing precious veteran experience from the Florida Mayhem and LA Valiant. The May Melee saw the Dragons charging through the lower bracket after a loss to Dallas Fuel, only to be shut down by the same team in the finals. To make matters worse, DPS Erster retired, leaving an empty spot. The June Joust looming ahead, the team signed ex-Excelsior player WhoRU in Erster’s stead and moved on. The Dragons picked up steam in the June Joust after defeating Seoul Dynasty in knockouts, and even though they lost DPS Diem to retirement and had to quickly sign DPS Develop in his place, they fought through the losers bracket to rematch Dallas, the reigning giants. This was the magic moment. The final piece of the puzzle clicked, and the Dragons emerged triumphant with a 4-3 win, marking their first win against Dallas and a turning point towards their ultimate victory.
After this jubilant win, the Dragons hit their stride. They went undefeated during the Summer Showdown and clocked in as the top seed entering playoffs. Even at this point there were those who doubted the Dragons’ dominance, confident that they would choke against fan favorites such as the Shock, the Gladiators, and of course, their old nemeses Dallas Fuel. The Dragons left each match with these doubts crushed underfoot: 3-0 against the Shock, 3-1 against the Gladiators, and 3-1 against the Fuel. By the time the Grand Finals arrived, only those loyal to Atlanta Reign held out hope that the outcome of the match would be an upset. Even most of the casters and commentators only dared to give the Reign a map or two, if they had thanked their lucky stars that day.
At the end of the night, the Shanghai Dragons swept the Atlanta Reign 4-0, taking home their first OWL championship at the apex of a long, hard road. There was no doubt about their dominance, nor whether they deserved it. As far as redemption arcs go, I’d say the Shanghai Dragons are among the greatest.
Kim “Fleta” Byung-sun, Lee “Lip” Jae-won, and Kim “Izayaki” Min-Chul were all MVP candidates for the 2021 regular season with Lee “Lip” Jae-won ultimately being the MVP for the OWL Grand Finals. Additionally, Lee “Lip” Jae-won, Kang “Void” Jung-woo, Kim “Izayaki” Min-Chul, and Lee “Leejaegon” Jae-gon were awarded Role Star commendations for damage, tank, support, and support, respectively.Liz Richardson, Dot Esports