The Shanghai Dragons’ very first Overwatch match was an 0-4 shellacking delivered by the Los Angeles Gladiators in 2018. The team would go on to lose the next 41 straight games — encompassing the entire first season of the league and the first two games of the second season — earning them the dubious honor of having the longest losing streak in esports history. The Shanghai Dragons’ very last Overwatch match of 2021 — and the last professional Overwatch match ahead of the sequel’s launch next year — was a 4-0 beatdown they themselves visited upon the Atlanta Reign to win the 2021 Grand Finals.
It is a long-time fan in-joke to call the Overwatch League “scripted.” Like a TV show, teams are given story arcs, villains and heroes are cast, and any match that ended just so was pre-determined by a writer’s room. That the Shanghai Dragons are the team that closes the chapter on professional Overwatch as we know it is proof positive that some kind of cosmic force is at play. Stories that good just don’t happen by chance, and yet, here we are.
The Dragons’ grand finals run started off inauspiciously. In the first round, higher-seeded teams were given the opportunity to choose their opponents. Shanghai, as the highest seed, got first pick and decided to choose the San Francisco Shock as their opponents. Oh no.
The Shock are the winningest team in the league, period. They are the only team to have completed a “golden stage,” meaning they won all seven games in a stage without losing a single map — just straight 4-0s across the board. They are also the only team that’s won back-to-back championships. And they are the team that sent Shanghai into the loser’s bracket during the 2020 playoffs. In the previous nine matches between these two teams, Shanghai has only won one of them, so it’s easy to see why I thought this was a terrible pick.
My concerns were unfounded as Shanghai made quick work of San Francisco, bouncing them to the lower bracket with a 3-0 embarrassment. But my relief didn’t last. The Dallas Fuel was their next big challenge after having lost to them in the May Melee earlier in the season. When the playoffs began, I said that the finals Overwatch League 2021 deserved was Dallas vs. Shanghai. The only other team even close to Shanghai in performance has been Dallas. Fuel vs. Dragons was the rivalry the league’s writers demanded.
And, by the grace of Goddess Victory, Shanghai came out on top again.
By this point, I’m sweating. Yes, my Dragons are in the grand finals, but the Shock are destroying the loser’s bracket, sending Philadelphia and Chengdu home — two teams stuffed with big Dark Horse Bracket Busting energy. More than anything, I do not want a 3-peat. I have no personal animosity toward the Shock, I simply find dynasties boring, and for a moment, it looked like the Shock of old were back, ready to reclaim their crown.
But then I was granted a boon from an unlikely source: the Atlanta Reign.
I’ve always enjoyed Atlanta. They’re a neat team with an incredible tank line and excellent proof that you don’t need a mono-culture team to have success. Atlanta’s always been the gatekeepers of the upper rankings — good enough to keep everyone else out but never good enough to break through themselves. So imagine my shock (heh) when they’re the ones to grant me my wish of eliminating San Francisco.
Then they beat Dallas, and then I got scared.
As I said, the playoffs are built differently. Good teams fall fast, and mediocre teams suddenly rise from nowhere. Dallas was a devil Shanghai knew. Atlanta wasn’t.
No grand finals match has been terribly competitive. The Philadelphia Fusion won only a single map of the eight played against London for the inaugural championship. After being tied in their head-to-head records and tying in stage playoff wins, San Francisco sent Vancouver home in 2019 four to nothing. Only Seoul has made a grand finals match interesting, and even then, they lost to the Shock 4-2. I hate when games are blowouts, especially finals. But for this final between Atlanta and Shanghai, I wanted total domination. My heart did not have the strength to endure a close match. And, in keeping with the tradition of one-sided grand finals, Shanghai granted my wish. There was no magical moment like there was when the Dragons finally won their first match ever against Boston in 2019. No screaming or crying — just me observing Shanghai wipe out Atlanta in overtime and going, “that’s it, that’s the game.” After four years, the Shanghai Dragons’ redemption arc is complete.
The Dragons are a lot of firsts and a lot of lasts. They’re the first team to lose every game in a season. They’re the first (and only) team to field a female player. They were the last team to win a stage championship before the league changed its format, and now, they are the last team to win a championship in Overwatch 1.
Jon Spector — Overwatch League commissioner — confirmed that the next season will be played on Overwatch 2. The switch in game brings with it a host of other changes. The starting lineups for teams will reduce in size from six players to five, and the much-maligned assault map type will be replaced with push — a map type in which teams fight to control a robot that pushes a payload. We even got a glimpse at what competitive play will look like in 2022 with an exhibition game of league pros demoing Overwatch 2 during halftime. The changes are interesting, and while I’m eager to see how Overwatch 2 will transform the league, that excitement is tempered by the abuse, harassment, and discrimination allegations levied at its developer, Blizzard Entertainment, and the news that Chacko Sonny, Overwatch 2’s executive producer, has left the company.
As I celebrate my Dragons, mourn the end of Overwatch prime, and continue to watch Blizzard implode in slow motion, I am reminded of the reason I came to this game in the first place: its community. Some of my best friends and colleagues have come from my time as a fan and a reporter, and my favorite memories come from matches I saw live.
I’ve never truly participated in a sports fandom before, and yet, I latched onto this esport and the Shanghai Dragons with it, with such fanatical devotion that a tattoo of their logo is now a foregone conclusion and a promise fulfilled. I know that the Overwatch League was never scripted, but I’m glad the league’s story ended like this.