The Shanghai Dragons finished Stage 1 of the 2019 Overwatch League season a 3-4 record. It’s a far cry from the dominance of the 6-0 Vancouver Titans ... but when you’ve gone totally winless, any number greater than 0 is an improvement.
Then the Dragons won three.
I wish I could tell you what it was like to watch them win live. I bought tickets and booked flights in hopes that I would. I froze outside the Blizzard Arena for three and four hours before game time then froze inside the Blizzard Arena for six and eight hours more, just for the chance to see the Shanghai Dragons win with my own two naked eyeballs.
They came close against the Hangzhou Spark. Shanghai played confidently, aggressively, and cohesively — all things I couldn’t say about them in stages past. When they won map 3 against the Spark and ‘Shanghai Wins’ splashed across the giant wraparound screen, I jumped in front of it to take a picture because I didn’t know if I would see those words again.
I had hope for Shanghai’s second match against Vancouver. I held hope that Shanghai’s Kongdoo Panthera core would take their revenge against the Vancouver Runaway squad that bested them in Contenders Korea Season 2 finals 4-3. In hindsight, with Vancouver holding a comfortable 6-0 streak, Shanghai was never going to win that match. Their revenge has been put on pause until they meet again in Stage 4, or hopefully earlier in a playoff match.
Difficult scheduling and last minute roster shakeups kept me from my dream of seeing a Shanghai win live. Yet I still left the arena with happy tears in my eyes and a smile on my face, because I knew it was a matter of when and not if.
They could win at any time. Being a die hard fan of a winless team puts you on around the clock notice. Every match they play could be The One and nobody wants the be the Doubting Thomas who misses out on that historic first win, deprived of the chance to answer the question ‘where were you when they won’.
I was at my boyfriend’s, dressed in a Shanghai jersey (Se-yeon “Geguri” Kim, of course) and draped in a Shanghai scarf, a talisman I hoped would bring luck.
Their first match of the second week was against the Boston Uprising and it terrified me. The Dragons’ new main tank pickup Youngjin “Gamsu” Noh was still too fresh to be integrated into the team’s strategy and Boston’s new main tank Cameron “Fusions” Bosworth had a reputation for excellent playmaking that’s followed him from Contenders, to World Cup, to League.
Fusions didn’t start for Boston, replaced by Min-seob “Axxiom” Park. Gamsu started for Shanghai, playing against the team that traded him not days before and without his knowledge. Despite these impossible odds, Gamsu played like he’d been with the team for years.
Shanghai fans know to never look a gift map in the mouth. Last season they won 21 maps out of a total of 164. The next closest team, Florida, had double that. Shanghai loses 4-0 so often that winning a map is a celebration, but I didn’t celebrate. Was I happy? Sure. Winning a map meant I could at least lose with pride knowing we didn’t get swept.
But then they won two maps. To put this in perspective, Shanghai had never been up 2-0 at halftime. The next map win would bring that long desired victory. I kept calm, face stony and serious. Though they had never lead 2-0 at the half, they have been up two maps over their opponent before. They did it against Florida in Stage 4 before losing the final map in a game so heartbreaking I still can’t speak of it. Keeping my expectations low was a form of self preservation.
The third map, match point. I couldn’t keep quiet any more. I was screaming into my scarf out of respect for decency and my boyfriend’s neighbors. I couldn’t keep still either, choosing to watch the map standing, knees bent, ready to jump in the air or crash to the ground depending on which way the map went.
It went pretty good.
Hearing the crowd and the casters, seeing the fans jump for joy, and girls in NYXL jerseys in tears chokes me up every time I watch the VOD. I cried too, naturally. Same as I cried when the Cleveland Browns snapped their own record breaking losing streak just last year.
We won, our faith was rewarded with a win and winning brings with it this cathartic release for everyone: fans, players, even the other teams. Nobody has to worry about being the “team that loses to Shanghai”. Everything after that became a first. When the Dragons won their next game against the Chengdu Hunters, it was their first winning streak. When they lost the next 2 games both to the Dallas Fuel, it became their first series loss.
For Shanghai’s final game of the stage, they played the London Spitfire. Already at 2-4, I didn’t want to watch this game against the reigning champions. It was a game that analysts were predicting would go decidedly London’s way.
We had already got our wins, I thought. We weren’t great, we weren’t even middling, but finally at least we weren’t last. I could watch later when they play the Washington Justice or the Los Angeles Valiant — games the Dragons can be reasonably assured to win. But I reasoned with myself. If I could make such an effort to see their first game of the stage, I could at least stick around to watch their last game come hell or a 4-0 sweep.
To see me watch the Dragons play the Spitfire, you would think they were playing in the Grand Finals. And why not? They were playing against the team that won the Grand Finals.
And they beat them.
On the last point, in the last map, in overtime, the Dragons beat the Spitfire.
If the first win against Boston was a reward of faith, the win against London was a test of it. Coming into the 2019 season, all I wanted was a win and nothing more than that. My expectations were safe, low, and easily attainable. But now, instead of looking at every win thereafter as the icing on an extremely tiny cake, I’m testing my faith by asking for more. If the Dragons can beat the Spitfire, the inaugural season champions, they can beat anyone. They can make the stage playoffs, win the stage playoffs, and maybe even take the Grand Finals.