Change only fuels the Dragons 2021 Overwatch League title bid.
For a team struck by winters past, spring has surely followed for the 2021 Shanghai Dragons. The team feels familiar, not in a bad way, but nevertheless, we’ve seen these faces before in more ways than one. 2020 saw the Dragons wildly successful domestically and set in motion a plan—a seed—one whose sprouts are finally reaching full bloom.
Through matches and narratives lost to the dust storm of time or from just last season, the Dragons tap into spring itself in their fourth outing as a franchise.
Are the Dragons walking into a new beginning, or is this just the start of something more?
History, with the proper context, can become a pinwheel placed in a light breeze. Alone, it’s an eye-catching decoration, but once it catches wind, it springs to life. What once was thought to lack meaning now has it in spades after enough time has passed, just like a mill with no wind. That same spring draft has sprung up once again, this time within the Shanghai Dragons.
To be a little less metaphorically verbose; you ever go back and watch a children’s movie? The good ones usually have subtle nods that only the chaperoning parents or guardians will notice. However, as kids, we never thought twice about them—the same could be said about a fairly forgettable match of Overwatch from 2017. Battling through the group stage during OGN’s APEX Season 3, the core of the 2021 Shanghai Dragons would assemble, pitting these would be brothers-in-arms against one another in a game that was thought to lack meaning.
On one side of the fateful meetings sat Mighty AOD, a team that at the time wasn’t particularly notable. They had their set pieces, but compared to the field, they were a second thought. Through the dusty lens of time, we know that team to housed Jeong "Erster" Joon, Bae "diem" Min-seong, Koo "Fate" Pan-seung, and at the helm was coach Moon "Moon" Byung-chul.
Across the aisle sat a young flex tank by the name of Kang "Void" Jun-woo on KongDoo Panthera.
Their match towards the tail end of Group A was a surprise, but one that few remember. After taking the darling KongDoo roster to game five, Mighty AOD would end up upsetting the team that, just months later, would go on to earn silver in the grand finals—but this was deep in the group stages, and cold were the locks on the seeds.
It was a nice consolation from Mighty AOD, but it quickly was filed away in the history books.
Who would have known that such an event would provide a vivid backdrop to such a promising team?
All of these pieces, and more, have settled their roots in Shanghai. Some have returned, others are newly dawning the Dragons’ signature red and black for the first time, but they are all more than capable of carrying Shanghai’s banner deep into the playoffs. They nearly completed the circuit last season, and this time around, with further support placed in the careful hands of the 2020 coach of the year, the Dragons look prepared to publish their own era into the history books.
The throughline that spans across the then and now? The puppeteer who has pulled all the strings.
The 2020 coach of the year held a dominant grip of the eastern division, however, one specific thing Moon did extremely well, on top of adapting to the rotating metagame successfully, was attempting to incorporate his roster in full. Constantly you’d see Shanghai submit rosters littered with substitutions, and regardless of your opinion on the matter or the success, it shows a level of intent that most teams lack.
Most recently the Dragons rotated out starting main tank Lee "Fearless" Eui-Seok for Seo "Stand1" Ji-won in the 2020 playoffs. However, Coach Moon was doing this throughout the regular season. This goes as far back as the May Melee grand finals. Going the distance against a Seoul Dynasty squad capable of taking the title, Moon tinked with the roster. Most remember diem’s substitution over Lee "LIP" Jae-won but this extended towards their support line as well as Yang "Luffy" Seong-hyeon was the one to start the match over Kim "IZaYaKI" Min-chul.
Coach Moon’s special roster shuffle will only continue—and with a more compact roster, the vision could easily have been refined down to more actionable roles or better accommodate the return of hero pools. This also shouldn’t get in the way of their consistent past either or the team’s ability to be seemingly unshakeable. On top of that, bear in mind that Coach Moon, and one of their newest recruits, Erster have worked together in the past and you can catch the wind yourself. Moon is assembling not only a dream team when it comes to today’s standards, but one that he’s familiar with, one that will only accentuate the mosaic he’s already pieced together.
Moon has set his plans in motion, and now the gentle waves of change have brought them marching home.
That’s the heart here; the idea that at first, certain things can look surface level, however, given the context of time, the merit can be found. Just like a children’s movie or an iceberg’s hidden depth or like a seemingly insignificant match from the past, there is always something to glean.
Who would have known that the core to a promising but ultimately forgettable team all those years ago would reunite under their award-winning coach? Who would have guessed they sit on a track with a fast pass to title-town?
This is the start of something familiar, a “spring echo” if you will. We’ve seen these players in action, we’ve seen this core work in the past against some of the best in the world. And now they’ve all circled back together and are locked on the 2021 Overwatch League title.
The rain of spring is the engine that drives life into seeds—and that is exactly why we are moving into the spring of Shanghai in a literal sense. Spring is the season of fresh starts, laughter, and blooming buds, but it always houses change.
And Shanghai has built its house on that rock steady foundation.
Legendary Russian writer Leo Tolstoy wrote in his novel Anna Karenina, that; “Spring is the time of plans and projects.” That couldn’t be more fitting for the 2021 Shanghai Dragons. The plan has been set in place, the project finally coming together after all these years; the Mighty AOD core, with the help of a couple of their APEX stage-mates, it has all come together in one talent ridden harvest. Moon is the architect and cultivator of Shanghai’s success and their growth.
This is the spring of Shanghai.
The narrative that this is the team that went 0-40 is long dead and passed with the winter. Now the 2021 Shanghai Dragons bank their franchise on the further refinement of Moon’s long-term vision and ability to properly wield a strong—but wide—roster.
Equipped with a clear and tested strategy, a roster littered with all-star and experienced talent, and with it all battled-tested, the 2021 Shanghai Dragons have their talons sunk deep into the heart of the Overwatch League title race this year.
It is time for the Dragons to bloom. It is time for Shanghai to continue to improve.
It is time for a title.
Images via Blizzard Entertainment