BURBANK, California -- The Shanghai Dragons are the Overwatch League's Stage 3 champions.
If you told this to a Dragons fan last year, they would probably have looked at you as if you were insane and perhaps backed away slowly so as to not be infected by your madness. The Dragons' 42-match loss streak, which began in the inaugural season and lasted until Week 2 of Stage 1 this year, will likely remain the longest losing streak in esports for a while.
Before the 2019 season, though, new Dragons off-tank Jin "Youngjin" Young-jin said this year would be completely different. They would not be the same Shanghai Dragons. This team, which entering Season 2 brought in the majority of the Kongdoo Panthera roster from Contenders Korea, would make people forget about the losing streak and focus on the strengths.
As the season enters its last stage, the Dragons have done just that by taking out the top three teams in the league en route to the Stage 3 championship victory -- as an 8-seed.
The playoff run was a notable victory not just for the Dragons but also for the players who make up the core of their Season 2 roster. Here are a few snapshots of what this win means, not just for fans and others who suffered through the team's 0-42 start but also for the players who helped turn the Dragons' fortunes around.
Former Kongdoo players get long-sought revenge ahead of final
Back in the Contenders Korea Season 2 finals, Kongdoo Panthera were reverse-swept by the RunAway squad that later became the Vancouver Titans roster -- a squad that then tore through the Overwatch League and went unbeaten in the regular season until the middle of Stage 3.
Four of Shanghai's current starters -- Youngjin, Yang "DDing" Jin-hyeok, Yang "Luffy" Seong-hyeon and Son "CoMa" Kyeong-woo -- were on that Kongdoo Panthera lineup. They shut down the team that denied them the Contenders Season 2 crown and turned their semifinal match against Vancouver into a warm-up for Sunday's against San Francisco.
"Kongdoo kind of split at the end of the season, whereas RunAway stayed as one team and transferred over to the Titans," main support CoMa said after beating Vancouver. "As a result, I'll call this a form of revenge that I was able to reap. I was able to think that even though we lost in the normal group stages, the fact that we won on the major stage, the bigger one, just means so much to me."
When Shanghai dropped Havana to the San Francisco Shock in the finals after going up 3-0, Kongdoo fans felt a familiar chill. Come Dorado, a sinking feeling, until Shanghai finally pulled off the win, clearing the arena of an imposing reverse-sweep dread. Kongdoo Panthera might be no more, but fans can be happy with the Shanghai victory.
Luffy finally becomes a champion
During his time with Kongdoo, Luffy went to several major finals and was a runner-up in all of them, including the loss to RunAway.
Against the New York Excelsior, Vancouver Titans and San Francisco Shock, Luffy's Ana was instrumental to his team's success, as Shanghai ran the gauntlet of the most successful teams in the league. At several key moments, it was a Luffy Sleep Dart or Biotic Grenade that turned the fight in Shanghai's favor. His Ana prowess won him Player of the Match in the semifinals against Vancouver.
Now he's finally a champion.
"I'm still in disbelief because I thought that I would always be second and never have a chance to win," Luffy said. "So yeah, I'm still at a point where I don't believe that we won."
Gamsu's esports journey reaches another high
It's difficult to think of this team without main tank Noh "Gamsu" Young-jin, but Gamsu did not begin the season on the Dragons. Instead, he was traded at season's start from the Boston Uprising to the Dragons after Dragons' main tank, Lee "Fearless" Eui-seok, returned home due to health concerns. Since then, Gamsu has helped lead Shanghai to their first win, their first playoff appearance and their first stage title.
Last year, Gamsu admitted that he nearly retired from esports after an unsuccessful stint on Fnatic's League of Legends team. He picked up Overwatch as it rose in popularity at South Korean PC bangs and set a self-imposed challenge.
"My mindset wasn't really good," Gamsu said. "I was feeling my failures. And I was just running away from the league. I was scared to play. So I said if I get a top rank, I'm going to have to listen, and I guess I did."
Beaming onstage and at the postmatch press conference Sunday, Gamsu, like Luffy, finally had a title to go with all his time on the stage.
"This is my first time winning in these kind of scenes," he said, "and it's hard to put into words, other than that I'm very happy."
Overwatch League's paradigm shifts
The San Francisco Shock have been finalists in every stage this year and said that Shanghai was by far the toughest matchup they faced in any final, including their Stage 1 loss to Vancouver and victory over the Titans in Stage 2.
"This was the hardest final we ever played," Shock main tank Matthew "Super" DeLisi said. "It was different. No one really plays Doomfist as much as they do. Vancouver, both times we played them, we knew what to expect, but I think with Shanghai, it was a little bit of an oddball. We had to adapt more than any of the previous finals."
On Oasis, the Shock ran a DPS-variant of their lineup using Yoo "Smurf" Myeong-hwan, Kwon "Striker" Nam-joo and Park "Architect" Min-ho. On other maps, the Shock adopted an Orisa-Roadhog strategy to counter DDing's Pharah, making use of Choi "ChoiHyoBin" Hyo-Bin's phenomenal Roadhog play.
"Their coordination on three DPS is really insane," Shock support Grant "Moth" Espe said of Shanghai. "We couldn't beat it using other comps we've used before -- like a lot of times, we've beat DPS with Baptiste-GOATS pretty easily. We struggled early on with that, and it worked on certain maps but not others, just based on how well they coordinated dives."
Previously, the Shock excelled at forcing opponents to bend to their whims and take a triple-triple mirror, at which San Francisco remains peerless. In the Stage 3 finals, Shanghai forced the Shock to adapt.
Above all else, Stage 3 has been a transition. Regardless of whether the rumored two-tank, two-DPS, two-support position lock goes through for Stage 4 in two weeks, the meta shifted in Stage 3, allowing for Sombra-GOATS compositions and more DPS-heavy looks.
There is no team that better represents Stage 3 than its victor, the Shanghai Dragons.