How have the Shanghai Dragons bounced back in Midseason Madness?
And just like that, the 2022 Shanghai Dragons are back in the title talk.
After a slow yet familiar start to the Midseason Madness, the Dragons have bounced back from an 0-6 start to the stage and end week three with two spotless sweeps. Rubberbanding back to form, the Shanghai Dragons have written a letter of intent to the Overwatch League ahead of the midseason tournament.
The 2021 champions are far from finished.
How have the former champions found success flying into the wind? Who deserves more credit than they get? Have the Shanghai Dragons found their second wind and is it here to stay?
To start, let’s go back and review the Seoul Dynasty’s point A attack on King’s Row against the Shanghai Dragons. It’s clear the Dragons know the meta to an extent, their composition features some of the best heroes on the market. However, the macro strategy aspect seems to fall by the wayside.
Watch as Kang "Void" Jun-woo on Doomfist focuses his attention on controlling the high ground opposite the point while the 2020 Regular Season MVP, Kim "Fleta" Byung-sun, is attempting to wrestle control of the point by himself.
Moments after the initial contact between the two teams, Fleta and Lee "LIP" Jae-won are still struggling to manage the objective while Void is off attempting to solo dive and disrupt the enemy supports.
Not only is this massively disjointed and confusing, but quite literally nothing happens for Shanghai. Seoul gets to waltz in and take objective control, while Shanghai never seems to have the chance to leverage their map control to punish the Dynasty.
Okay, fair play. Perhaps this is just a one-off, maybe this is just a cherry-picked example.
Except it isn’t.
To pull another example from their match against the Hangzhou Spark, the Dragons manage a solid first touch of City Center, drawing the Spark into a one-fight defence. If Hangzhou slips up just one time then the map goes into a third and final sub-map to determine the winner. However, a major problem ensures when Shanghai realise they’ve forgotten their flint and tinder.
For the next two minutes and eleven seconds, the Shanghai Dragons failed to start.
The key again here is the coordination around Void’s Doomfist.
For two minutes, the Shanghai Dragons barely fit in two-team fights.
The first of which is a slow and measured march towards the point which features Fleta attempting to position for a dive into the backline from the high ground while Void hesitates an engage onto Shy in the centre of the map. LIP gets picked while Shanghai answers back with a kill onto Superrich. However, the follow-up lacks a strong landing with Fleta absent from the fight.
The second fight is a scramble as the Spark approach 90% but begins brilliantly with Shanghai cornering Shin "BERNAR" Se-won’s Wrecking Ball. However, Fleta has to disconnect from his dive partner in Void, to ensure the overtime trigger, which weakens the follow-through. This directly stems from their initial retake fight and how slow it was.
Shanghai needed one good dive, even a banking ultimates through dry fights ends the sub-map. It’s not elegant, but it works. Yet, the Dragons choose option C where they waffle about around the highway, attempting to threaten point control while also failing to coordinate to leverage even advantageous scenarios.
In both fights, Void and Fleta are disjointed, which isn’t inherently a bad thing, but when no other goal is met this further shows a breakdown in communication when the team does move forward. The default for this roster is to encroach, control the space they take and wait to counter-punch.
They are moving at a 2018 New York Excelsior pace while the world plays at a 2020 San Francisco Shock tempo.
And it seems that 2020 Coach of the Year, Moon "Moon" Byung-chul, agrees.
In a video produced by Shanghai, Moon details some of the woes that Shanghai have faced in this stage and in that he provides a piece of context that wraps this entire argument up with a nice crimson bow.
"Moreover," he explains, "players can’t keep the mindset of reactionary gameplay. But need to make the decision and take action by themselves. I think this is also the changing trend of how to play optimally. However, the current lineup is made up of players who are used to a different style."
Thanks to a separate translation of the interview provided by u/Lumos309, Moon explained that "[The Dragons] didn't have a proper shot-caller in last week's matches; everyone was waiting for calls from others, so we ended up playing very reactively."
Both interpretations revolve around this idea of reactivity.
And both of these comments perfectly describe these first two matches perfectly.
Rather than being proactive and dictating the flow of the game, the Dragons constantly put themselves into positions to capitalise when conditions are met. This results in a slower style that should dominate when space is controlled and struggles when attempting to retake it.
Again, this isn’t to pillory Void here. He’s an all-time great tank player, just one that doesn’t fit this meta and what the Dragons need at the moment.
Void, throughout Overwatch 1, has always had the job of controlling space to facilitate someone else making the call to engage and being the spearhead of the team. Think about the role of D.Va and Zarya throughout these last five or so years. He’s never had to actually manage both at the same time, so this rough patch makes perfect sense.
However, a change was needed.
This is where Koo "Fate" Pan-seung comes in.
Fate is the spear of the Shanghai Dragons. He has experience leading the team. And with Wrecking Ball proving to be a rather strong pick within the metagame, it does not surprise us that Fate’s presence brings success.
And to supplement that you have Lee "LeeJaeGon" Jae-gon returning to the starting lineup as well.
While compositions featuring double flex supports and Doomfist and Sigma seem to be the new trend this patch, is it worth trading the intangibles that LeeJaeGon and Fate bring to their team?
The issue was never about compositions or hero picks, it was about coordination.
Fate has injected a sense of urgency and proactivity with Wrecking Ball and Winston rather than a passive idea of space control.
LeeJaeGon facilitates that with pick like Lucio but also has shown the ability to be proficient with more traditional flex supports like Zenyatta.
Void has his maps, namely most of the Escort pool, but for the remainder of the Midseason Madness, don’t be surprised to see Fate and LeeJaeGon leading the charge for the Dragons.
Now you might draw questions of strength to the Shanghai Dragons' second wind when looking at their opponents. The Philadelphia Fusion have not been the embodiment of consistency, but by far are they a bad team. The same goes for the Los Angeles Valiant who are competitive through some miraculous efforts.
It is the way in which their matches have happened, the scores themselves that speaks volumes and this goes for their losses as well. Being swept in this meta, especially with an added week of practice under your belt is not something that is likely to happen.
Overwatch 2’s current metagame is a sandbox for individuals to shine. With high-impact heroes like Sojourn, Wrecking Ball, and Zenyatta dominating playtime between the three roles, this better allows for the entire team to become playmakers.
Off the back of a few hot hands and some bouts of luck maps and even matches can be drawn into deep water, while on paper they have no business going out to sea.
Try to remember the feeling you had when looking at the Dallas Fuel and New York Excelsior matchup earlier this week.
Where was your mind at prior to the Toronto Defiant and Paris Eternal game?
And who in the world was predicting the Houston Outlaws to upset the Atlanta Reign?
Everyone has a puncher’s chance in these heavyweight duels and while Shanghai has started lethargic, we know full well what they are capable of.
Now, they roll into the third and final round up on the judge’s scorecards with room to grow.
While the Dragons have already qualified for the Midseason Madness tournament, they round out their stage with two final matches against the 5-5 Chengdu Hunters and the 1-9 Guangzhou Charge. While the former did start the stage on a high, nearly toppling the Seoul Dynasty, the latter has looked to be the worst-performing team in the region for some time now.
So, not only are Shanghai returning to a form we know and expect of them, but they also could be rolling into the tournament on a high with renewed confidence in their own play.
Game five scenarios, new titles, or poor internet, the Shanghai Dragons aren’t perfect, but they find a way.
We saw it during their bouts with the Dallas Fuel. During their heyday stampeding across the Overwatch League with their composition tailored around Lucio, Moira, and Reaper. It took an event, but the Dragons found an adaptation and eventually unseated the North American hopefuls.
This time around it’s Shanghai emerging and collecting themselves as the world unlocks from a pandemic and the league enters a brand-new game. However, mostly, is the same team that made that dominant 2021 run to become champions.
Prophetic as he normally is, Mitch "Uber" Leslie said it best last year.
"The Dragons teach us that if you want to climb high, you must do it against the wind."
And what’s a little wind to a Dragon?