Overwatch League’s Countdown Cup concluded over the weekend with the (unsurprising) crowning of the San Francisco Shock and the Shanghai Dragons as the winners of the North American and Asian regions, respectively. The Shanghai Dragons are my team. I braved their inaugural 0-40 season when the Dragons did not win a single game. I am an OG fan. A forever fan, which makes what I’m about to say next surprising and borderline blasphemous: It was more fun when they weren’t winning.
I could not tell you how it was that a Black girl from Indiana who lives in Cleveland chose a Chinese team with a roster made up almost entirely of Koreans as her favourite, especially when there are teams closer to home to root for like Philadelphia or New York (though if the OWL answers the deepest wish of my heart by adding a Chicago team all bets are off). But I do know that I love an underdog — being a longtime Cleveland resident in a post-LeBron world will do that. And the Dragons were, for the longest time, OWL’s underdog.
This Countdown Cup marks the second tournament win for the Dragons out of the three total this year. If you count their Stage 3 championship last year, they’ve now won three total tournaments. And Overwatch League doing away with Stage Playoffs after Shanghai’s win means the Dragons are now eternal Stage Champions. Any way you look at it, they are currently the highest-ranked team across both regions.
It is wondrous that what was once one of the worst teams ever assembled in the history of competitive esports is now an easy favourite to win the Overwatch League championship — ranking them above top-of-the-ladder mainstays like the New York Excelsior, Philadelphia Fusion, and current final boss of the League, the San Francisco Shock.
But it’s just not fun anymore. And nothing drove that sad feeling home more than watching the players react to their triumph over the Hangzhou Spark.
I understand that, unfortunately, Hangzhou didn’t put up that much of a fight so beating them may have felt like a foregone conclusion. I also know that winning isn’t always guaranteed for the Dragons — they lost the Summer Showdown to the Guangzhou Charge. But I’ve never seen a win so lifeless before, especially considering they lost the tournament just before. Winning is their new normal now, and I love that, truly I do. This team is gonna win the Grand Finals (you hear that Shock, we are coming for that arse) and it will be my honour to have been with them on that journey from the initial soul-crushing days of 0-40. But my goodness, losing then felt so much better than winning now. I want to go back.
I remember one of the worst defeats the Dragons ever suffered, not because of how badly they were beaten, but because of how tantalizingly close they came to winning. It was Stage 4 versus the Florida Mayhem (another team gone from worst to first — we love a glow up). Everyone believed that this would be it, their first win. And everyone, from the fans to the casters to the analyst desk to the people live-tweeting the game, were rooting for Shanghai to break the curse.
They were playing against Florida after all, the only team close enough to the Dragons in skill they could conceivably beat. It was Florida or no one. And at the last possible moment, the final point on the final map, Shanghai lost it. I’ll never forget watching the game and how silent the Blizzard Arena was after Florida won. It felt like the collective Overwatch community (minus a handful of Florida fans) had their hearts broken all at the same time.
There was camaraderie there, a shared pain that even the casters and the analysts couldn’t keep out of their voices. Experiencing the journey of that match was one of the best feelings — though we were hurt, we hurt together. In Season 2, when the Dragons finally broke that curse and won their first match against the Boston Uprising, I wept. There is video evidence, which my partner has rightly destroyed since he values his life. I wept again during the Stage 3 Playoffs when the Dragons defeated the toughest teams in the League — New York (when they were still good), Vancouver (when they, too, were still good), and San Francisco (who are still very good) — to ultimately win their first championship.
Look at the joy there compared to their most recent victory. I know your third tournament win isn’t supposed to feel like your first. And I know the obstacles they overcame in that first tournament pale in comparison to this one. (Sorry Hangzhou.) I am by no means advocating that we return to the dark times of the Winless Year, nor am I implying the Dragons have grown complacent with their successes.
I merely express a longing to recapture what I felt watching them earn that first win and that first championship — when a Dragons win was more an exciting uncertainty than an expectation. And even if I can’t, if they knock the Shock from their lofty throne and become the new raid bosses of Overwatch, I’ll still be one of their most loyal fans.
Unless, again, I get that Chicago team…