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The Shanghai Dragons’ training schedule raises concerns for player health

Twelve hour days, six days a week hasn’t helped the Shanghai Dragons score their first win.

Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

The Shanghai Dragons have garnered themselves a fan base, largely off the strength of their story as the Overwatch League’s ultimate underdog team. After a 0-32 record, it makes sense that many Overwatch League fans are rooting for the team to score their first win. Last week, it seemed as though they would finally win against the Dallas Fuel, thanks to the current tank heavy deathball meta that favors the team’s style of play. Unfortunately, they fell short, and this has raised further questions about what is happening behind the scenes of the team. Add in multiple coaching changes, and it appears as though the Shanghai Dragons have some serious behind the scenes problems.

The team’s manager, Yang Van, posted a Twitlonger to the team’s official account meant to address many of these issues, but it raised further questions. He writes:

We have the most intensive training scheme among all the teams, ever since we arrived last December. Our daily schedule starts at 10:30am as we leave for training facilities and return to our houses around 10:30 to 11:00pm, with a possible training extension to 12:00am; we train six days a week with one day off. During mid-stages, we have 3-4 days off depends on other teams’ schedule (if we can have scrims with them).

This is how intensive we train in US. We ask all our players to give everything in training, but we also let players relax however they want during off days.

Upon finishing Stage 3, we make 6th, 7th, 9th, and 13th of May as days of rest, according to other teams’ schedule and our own travelling plans.

Many fans have been questioning and were confused that why several Shanghai Dragons players were playing other games. To make a serious investigation into the matter, we checked every player’s game records with their respective in-game IDs. We can confirm that most games happened during off days, which are four days of 6th, 7th, 9th, and 13th of May. Except some particular players of the team, most players, in all players that fans have questioned about, played other games between 0.5 to 3 hours during off days.

This is not the first time it’s been reported that the Dragons work long hours. In January, the team manager issued a similar statement on Twitter (since deleted) and apology that mentioned similar hours. While the first statement said that the team took breaks for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, it also promised that there would be quality of life changes for the team. An ESPN report backed up Van’s account of the team’s schedule, noting that players also got a one-hour break.

Right now, it’s unclear how much of the Dragons’ day is spent in intensive training, and how much is spent resting or working on player health. However, players on the team have spoken candidly about how they feel going through such a schedule and racking up a string of continuous losses. In March, Weida “Diya” Lu wrote a message to fans.

We are all responsible for the losing streak. You can say it’s because of the strategy or the roster, but in the end it’s because we are so noob. We truly owe you all an apology, but we’ve tried our hardest. I’m now truly lost and don’t know what to do. We want to win, but good strategies didn’t play out well. It’s just we are noobs. Our coach gets the blame every day and we feel bad for that too.

Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment

Working so long and keeping such a strict schedule is unlikely to help the Dragons’ performance, and actually could be causing stress, burnout, and risk their personal health. Having such a limited separation between work hours and personal time has an impact on players. Studies have shown that workers (and the Overwatch League is a job, even if it seems like a luxurious one at times) who can’t detach from work and maintain healthy off-hours tend to burn out hard, with complaints like emotional exhaustion and physical symptoms caused by stress.

The cumulative effects of stress affect everything, ranging from day-to-day comfort to risk of major health risks like heart attacks. When Van says that the team will never relent and keep working hard, it’s concerning—as far as fans can see, the team’s schedule isn’t helping their professional play or personal lives.

There currently is no players’ union or association. Commissioner Nate Nanzer has stated that the League would be in favor of a union, but it would need to be an initiative from the players. In an interview with Dot Esports from March 15, he stated:

It was really important to us in designing the Overwatch League that we created a league where players were treated really well. I think we’ve taken a lot of steps to do that. But if players decide that it’s in the best interest to form a union, of course we’d be supportive of that and have those discussions.

Van’s most recent statement notes that a recent investigation “confirmed some issues” that are to be “handled inside the team”. He also notes that the team does not intend to slack off or give up.

The Dragons are set to face the Philadelphia Fusion and two-time stage champions New York Excelsior this week.