The Dragons Era Has Arrived - Shanghai Captures June Joust
Two knights found themselves across the aisle during the June Joust, however only one of them now can argue themselves as the current dominant force in the Overwatch League. Harbingers of a new era, the Shanghai Dragons cannot be denied any longer. After finally finding an answer to the Dallas Fuel conundrum, after transitioning regional dominance in 2020 into consistent international success in 2021, the Dragons are the rightful heirs to this new age of Overwatch.
Paired with the current lay of the land, the way they captured the June Joust, and their record as of late — it is tough to argue against the idea that the Shanghai Dragons have forged their own era.
To properly give context to the Dragons’ current situation, we have to venture back to 2020. The time of growing restrictions thanks to a new global pandemic, the time of divided regions without means of international play, and a league defined by its clear, two-horse race. The west had the San Francisco Shock who reigned as the dominant force. While in the east, the Shanghai Dragons forged a dynasty all their own.
While one of those teams defended their title in the playoffs, the other—roughly eight months later—has continued to find consistent success. While one of those teams will be applauded as two-time world champions, the other has not missed a podium finish in roughly over a year.
That’s right, through hero pools, roster moves, and even persisting through the offseason leading into 2021, the Shanghai Dragons have not placed below third in a major competition since the franchise failed to secure a playoff berth in 2019. That same team marched overcame the odds to capture the June Joust title after coming inches short just a month ago.
Speaking simply and rather reductive to the scope of such a nail-bitingly close grand final, the Dragons’ shift in momentum is most felt and can be best summarised through their evolution on Control throughout the June Joust
During their first meeting in the upper bracket semifinals, the Shanghai Dragons opted for what many expected them to run; more hitscan centric compositions, aiming to stay active during the pre-fight and still giving themselves adequate tools to catch the incoming pressure. Orisa-based compositions, double-hitscan setups with Ashe and Solider: 76, even attempting to be more proactive with Wrecking Ball—none of it seemed to find purchase as the Dragons suffered a swift 0-3 loss and were immediately sent to the lower bracket, clearing the way for the assumed Dallas repeat.
After battling back through the lower bracket without dropping a map, the Shanghai Dragons approached the grand final with a new blueprint born from the marriage of their experience and their wit. The tempo wasn’t the issue in the first meeting, it would be difficult for any team to be as aggressive as the Dallas Fuel were, but the compositions themselves didn’t provide enough value. Hitscan heroes like Ashe and Solider: 76 were simply too slow and based on pre-fight scaling and pressure—and knowing Dallas had prepared strategies for Orisa-based compositions, that was out of the question as well. What were the Dragons to do?
After reviewing the tape, when Dallas faltered, it had been at the chaotic hands of the mirror match-up—and while the decision seemed like a gamble—where did the Dragons’ have to go? Sure, this wasn’t an exact mirror match, most notably the tempo was still in Shanghai’s comfort zone of allowing them to be aggressive with the right resources, but ultimately preying on pre-fight displacement and stellar objective control. However, the archetype was still the same; they still wanted to attack as a deathball and once they entered mid-fight, it was as frenzied as its sibling.
What looked like a strategic white flag at first glance ended up being exactly what was needed to, albeit slowly, force the Dallas Fuel to finally have to think on their feet. Having Koo "Fate" Pan-seung consistently play flanks and off-angles was the crux of finding stability deep into the seven-map series. Not only did he threaten objective control as well as potential engagements, but when he did choose to be proactive, it would be none other than Kim "Fleta" Byung-sun to meet him and slam dunk an early pick on high-value targets like Lucio and Echo.
And after the initial growing pains faded, the Dragons quickly found their footing and began to force the Fuel to finally be put on the back foot. The team that was entering the tournament with the telegraphed, but overwhelming style was finally forced to shift. That’s the kind of team the 2021 Shanghai Dragons are shaping up to be; paradigm shifters.
Now ask yourself; who does that sound like?
A team that, while often slow to start, ends up refining down into a championship calibre powerhouse that will be a threat no matter what obstacles you put in front of them.
Now ask yourself; why do you think they have those attributes?
What’s often under-explored is the impact and value the Shanghai Dragons coaching staff has on this team—and if we’re to be honest with ourselves—this type of consistency points more towards a systematic approach rather than an individually led one. In that sense, you have to tip your hat to the Dragons’ head coach Moon "Moon" Byung-chul and the staff he has put together. They are the ones at the head of this massive success story, one that not too long ago was the textbook anthesis to the team they are today. In hindsight, his Coach of the Year award from last year seems to be providing much more fruit than we once thought.
Much like the teams who’ve penned era previously, the Shanghai Dragons are a team that ticks all the boxes.
Super-star players with MVP accolades? Check.
Domestic success? Check.
Flexibility both within the starting roster and finding ways to utilise their bench? Check.
International titles with consistent finishes across multiple different metagames all the while balancing a shifting roster?
Check, check, and check.
What is there not to love?
This team is nearly a mathematical lock for the seasonal playoffs at the end of the year, we’ve got a sneaking suspicion that they’re going to continue to be a threat throughout the remainder of the season. As much as we want to give the San Francisco Shock another chance to cut into the dance, as much as we want to cheer on the Dallas Fuel in their meteoric evolution, there is one team that has been a consistent thorn in the side of the Overwatch League as a whole—and that is the Shanghai Dragons.
We’re entering a new age, one led by the Dragons.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment