Lessons can be learned from all walks of life—even esports.
Humpty Dumpty’s sugar plum dream — Are Vegeta and Itachi all that different — the duality of creation and destruction — We don’t carve the portrait — Finding the space in the middle.
The Shanghai Dragons have become more than their scars, but in the same vein are still branded. Unintentionally they’ve set poetry in motion not only in the lore of the Overwatch League, but across the wider reaches of competition. It is their story, their unbelievable journey to the top that makes us wonder if there is a dramatic puppetmaster behind the scenes preying on our emotional falts.
From trash to tressure, the Shanghai Dragons redemption arc encourages us to embrace the broken pot as beautiful and something worth redeeming. So long as canyons are grand, we are our scars, and the Dragons lift that lesson with the lemony twist of esports.
If you were told that the worst team in a sports league turned around their franchise in the span of roughly two years, what might you say? That is the reality of the Shanghai Dragons. Even the name draws painful memories of loss after loss after loss. Forty-two of them in a row to be exact before picking up their first against a team that, behind the scenes, were battling the rule book. And week after week, an increasing number of fans and supporters alike would come out in droves to support a frankly pathetic team.
While everyone has their reasons, and far be it from us to project, their story sits as a common throughline. The fall, the redemption, the eventual success, and the future—they all captivated us the same way a Lucas did for film or a Herbert wrote. At its heart, their story is dramatic, but it was draped under the random chance of life.
Shanghai’s inaugural season was marred by their 0-40 loss streak. The region that was untested on the world’s stage had talent ready to promote and compete, but their sole representative failed every expectation imaginable. We were all sure no one could go winless; the probability was just too small. Nevertheless, we were left hungry for crow and egg faced.
2019 gave Shanghai its rebirth. To start broken, to face Humpty Dumpty’s sugar plum dream and be put back together, but more beautiful and regal than before. It’s not only a pillar to the hope we all desperately need during such trying times, but it is the universe in motion.
“To go beyond” was the unofficial motto of the Dragons in 2020. Not only did they dominate domestically, but members of their team also had to end the season fatigued with all the trophies they carried. Be it monthly tournaments, MVP awards; you name it, the Dragons were probably, at the very least, nominated.
And while the future is left unwritten, the team continues to have a bright future.
How can you not fall in love with that? However, their story isn’t the only virtue the Dragons have to offer us.
If we reflect on their sophomore album even further, we can point towards their Stage 3 performance as something we can pin our hope on. Almost childlike, the Shanghai Dragons found their way through the tank and support focused metagame at the time. Their childlike freedom to not necessarily buck trends, but to find what worked for them and wield that as their weapon of choice. To refuse to be limited by their past injuries and topple one of the greatest Overwatch teams. This is the lessons that esports can give us. They are the same as traditional sports and sit at the centre to which most media is made from.
Are Vegeta and Itachi all that different from a narrative perspective from the Shanghai Dragons’ journey in the Overwatch League? They are recognisable and beloved not because we all secretly want to be nefarious, but because those characters are broken.
They are relatable because we are inherently flawed. Their redemption gives us the gentle pat on the shoulder to either get us through the day or continue our journey forward.
Well if they can, then so can we.
Follow us for a moment; think of yourself lost, hungry and boxed in by the urban sprawl of a major metropolitan district. Humble is the rustic corner-store cafe, owned by what you can only presume to be a mother of four rowdy children painted by her quick, but patient demeanour. It is that sense of home, that comfort in the imperfect decor, the CRT television hanging in the corner, the chipped and weathered ceramic plate she places your pastry on. It is that very same feeling that sits at the heart of the Shanghai Dragons’ fan base. They are not the best, their matches were not pretty, but they’re special to them regardless. The cafe and the Dragons are one and the same. It isn’t special, but it is special to them.
Despite its flaws, they have value.
That endearing way of attracting fans, giving them hope when they come close and drawing wells of tears when they’ve finally won. That is not only moving, but it is beautiful. They were the shadow to make the light shine, the contrast between orange and blue, the duality of creation and destruction. The Dragons in this instant were the modern esports personification of David standing against Goliath. The Dragon’s weren’t meant to strike a blow, let alone win. Even now the juxtaposition between the Dragons of then and now is night and day. They were talks of title contention for 2020, and two years ago they were known as the worst of the worst, even impressively bad.
And before we get caught in the snowball of positive projection, before we start to hypothesis what could happen next for such a promising team, what could happen in the future for a team with the 2020s Most Valuable Player and Coach of the Year?
We ask; what’s the rush?
The universe has a way of rubberbanding in on itself; what is old becomes new and vice versa. Think of the vinyl record renaissance or, in the inverse, how quickly technology constantly dates itself. Things that come, must often go, and while the future of the Shanghai Dragons seems bright this coming season, there will likely come a time where they fall, shattered, only to be rebuilt again in the beautiful cycle we call life.
That isn’t to say that you should disown them or think less of them, if anything, the contrary should happen. Rich is the history of this team, and endearing is their story, so why should that hinder you in this hypothetical future? Life is an imperfect painting. In areas it is beautiful and seamless, in others, the canvas pokes through, and proportions are skewed. We don’t carve the portrait into the bits we like and the ones we could care less about, we accept it as a whole work of art in full. That is the point with the Dragons. They are their 0-40 brand, but they are also the dominant force that stood atop their peers in 2020, and they’ll still be the Dragons if they ever fumble again.
Everything is fleeting, a journey is never finished, perfection is unachievable—and that’s okay.
That is the point. If you fall, if you rise, neither is all that important. Finding the space in the middle, the time for appreciation at both ends of the spectrum. The lessons you learn breaking the vase hold just as much utility as the ones learned while you put it back together. And perhaps you’ll find that your own streak of bad luck or poor performances, your own 0-40, can be reshaped and moulded into something not only positive—but meaningful.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment