One year ago, the Shanghai Dragons were the laughing stock of esports.
The team had just finished a miserable first season in the Overwatch League, with a record-breaking 40 straight losses and not a single win.
Yesterday, the Dragons were crowned Overwatch League Stage 3 champions. And they got there in style, beating the top three teams in the league.
Cynics will point out that almost the entire roster has changed from that first season, but that takes nothing away from what the organization as a whole has managed to accomplish. As the Toronto Defiant and Florida Mayhem have discovered, just importing a full Korean lineup does not automatically result in wins.
In a season dominated by the GOATs meta, the Dragons showed that GOATs isn’t unbeatable, playing a triple DPS composition to perfection with Pharah, Sombra, Doomfist, an unkillable Wrecking Ball, and an Ana and Mercy that refused to let their teammates die.
Here’s how they did it.
Shanghai Dragons Vs New York Excelsior (quarterfinals)
The Dragons had a monumental task in their first playoff game, facing the second-place New York Excelsior, who were undefeated in Stage 3 with a perfect 7-0 record.
On the very first map, the Dragons showed what they’re capable of, with Yang “DDing” Jinhyeok’s Pharah aiming a beautiful Concussive Blast that knocked Jeong “Nenne” Yeonkwan’s Pharah off the map.
With Nenne’s death, Excelsior was down a team member, giving the Dragons an early foothold on Gardens.
The first kill of the match was a foreshadowing of things to come as DDing’s Pharah continued firing missiles from above, keeping Excelsior off-balance and unable to fight back.
NYXL knew they had to focus DDing, but that left Jin “YOUNGJIN” Youngjin’s Doomfist free to wreak havoc among the Excelsior backline, and the Dragons easily took University to take the first map 2-0.
NYXL struggled against the Dragon’s triple DPS comp throughout. Focusing on DDing opened up opportunities for Minseong “diem” Bae’s Sombra, who landed multiple clutch EMPs throughout the match, with DDing following up with Barrage for multiple team wipes.
While NYXL managed to take Hollywood, the Dragons won Volskaya and Watchpoint: Gibraltar for a 3-1 overall score and their first ever playoffs victory.
Shanghai Dragons vs Vancouver Titans (semifinals)
Advancing to the semifinals, the Dragons’ next opponent was the first-place Vancouver Titans, who were looking for their third straight Stage Playoffs finals.
The Stage 1 champions were ready for DDing’s Pharah, and put Lee “Stitch” Chunghui on Sombra to counter him. The goal was to use Sombra’s Hack to clip DDing’s wings and keep him on the ground.
Despite heavy focus fire, Yang “Luffy” Seonghyeon’s Ana and Son “CoMa” Kyungwoo’s Mercy were able to keep DDing alive, buying time for diem to counter Vancouver’s Sombra GOATs comp with his EMP.
The two Dragon supports continued their amazing play throughout the match. On Volskaya, Luffy’s Ana landed a perfect anti-healing Biotic Grenade on three Titans, letting DDing easily clean up from above.
On Havana, with the Titans on attack, Shanghai managed to stall them out before Point B thanks to some incredible healing from Luffy. The Titans picked off YOUNGJIN and CoMa, and looked like they would be able to push the payload to the checkpoint, but Luffy was able to keep Gamsu alive long enough for the Dragons to regroup, wipe the Titans and end their attack run early.
In game five, at match point, the Dragons played even more aggressively and focused their pressure on the Titans supports. Lee “Twilight” Juseok’s Ana was constantly under pressure from DDing’s Pharah and YOUNGJIN’s Doomfist, with YOUNGJIN even using his ultimate to spawn camp Twilight and prevent him from getting back to the point.
The Dragons ended up winning Oasis 2-1, and took the overall series 4-1, advancing to their first-ever Stage Finals.
Shanghai Dragons vs San Francisco Shock (finals)
Despite already taking down the top two teams in the league, the Dragons had no chance to rest, as their finals opponent would be the number three-ranked team, and Stage 2 champions, the San Francisco Shock.
Unlike the NYXL and Titans, the Shock had their own Pharah lineup to counter the Dragons. But instead of battling for air superiority, the Dragons switched diem from Sombra over to Widowmaker and, as we discovered at the Overwatch all-star game, diem is one of the best Widowmakers in the league.
In the biggest match of his career to date, diem did not disappoint, constantly picking off Park “Architect” Minho’s Pharah and Grant “Moth” Espe’s Mercy.
diem also combo’d effectively with YOUNGJIN’s Roadhog, who hooked enemies in, letting diem easily finish them off with massive headshot damage.
On Numbani, the Shock went to Sombra GOATs, with Jay “sinatraa” Won on Sombra to counter DDing’s Pharah.
However, sinatraa was ineffective at stopping DDing who continuously evaded him and kept pressuring the Shock’s backline supports.
On Horizon Lunar Colony, with both teams winning their first attacks, and the score tied 3-3, Shanghai stopped San Francisco’s final push with a clutch kill on an out of position Matthew “super” DeLisi’s Winston, letting the rest of the Dragons clean up. While neither team managed to complete their second attack, Shanghai had more progress on the second point and got the win.
Up 3-0, the Dragons tried to finish off the Shock, but San Francisco wouldn’t go down easily.
Finding their footing on Havana, the Shock switched their focus to locking down Gamsu’s Wrecking Ball, and stopped the Dragons before they could even reach the first checkpoint.
On Ilios, the Shock’s Sombra GOATs lineup again proved difficult for the Dragons to deal with. Their support line knew that the Dragons would rely on a big EMP-barrage combo from diem and DDing and were prepared for it.
Despite diem hitting four members in a small room with his EMP, Hyo-bin “ChoiHyoBin” Choi managed to Defense Matrix or body block most of the damage, and Kim “Rascal” Dongjun’s Brigitte was able to stabilize his team afterward with a clutch Rally.
Without an EMP, the Dragons were unable to retake the point and the Shock took map five.
On Eichenwalde, the Shock switched to an Orisa-Roadhog combo at the end of their attack that helped them pick off and isolate members of the Dragons, letting them tie up the score at 3-3.
With one final map to decide the Stage 3 championship, the Dragons went to a 2-2-2 comp on Dorado with DDing on Pharah and diem on Widowmaker.
DDing played superbly, and found an early opportunity on the Shock’s attack when he caught them crowded into a corridor with Super’s shield on cooldown. DDing immediately unleashed Barrage, taking out two of the Shock and leaving the rest to be cleaned up.
With dual pressure from DDing’s Pharah in the air and diem’s Widow on the ground, the Shock were unable to make it to the second checkpoint.
On the Dragon’s attack run, the Shock tried to counter diem’s Widowmaker with one of their own, but sinatraa was no match for diem, who grappled to the high ground to take him out.
With sinatraa dead, the Shock didn’t have anyone to counter DDing’s Pharah, who was free to Barrage the Shock’s tanks uncontested.
Shanghai easily cleaned up the rest of the Shock and pushed the payload past the box to win the map and the Stage 3 championship.