Why Shanghai Dragons' 0-40 record is ESPN's disappointment of the year

"We have to ask one more time, since we've been saying it so many times: Is today the day?"

On the final day of Overwatch League regular season, host Alex "Goldenboy" Mendez posed this question to his compatriots on the analyst desk, Jonathan "Reinforce" Larsson and Brennon "Bren" Hook. Was today the day for the Shanghai Dragons' first victory, or would they end the season 0-40, winless for the entirety of the league's inaugural season?

To a chorus of Shanghai cheers, fan club-supplied #FireOn banners and light-up homemade signs in English, Mandarin and Korean, Bren opened his shirt to reveal an iron-on photograph of Park "Crusty" Dae-hee, predicting a San Francisco Shock victory. A little more than an hour later, the Shanghai loss was confirmed. The Shock took Lijiang Tower, cementing the Dragons' 0-40 year.

How did this happen? How could a team, even after talent upgrades in several positions going into Stages 3 and 4, possibly lose every single match?

It wasn't supposed to be this way. In fact, before the preseason started, Shanghai ranked in the middle of most tier lists, which perhaps says more about tier lists than anything else. Shanghai wasn't considered a good team, but the Dragons weren't thought of as an awful team either. They occupied a nebulous space in the middle of the pack.

When Shanghai first stepped onto the Overwatch League stage at the Burbank Arena, they became the Fang "Undead" Chao show. Undead was the team's greatest strength and weakness, and when Shanghai ended the first two stages without a victory, Undead was released at the end of Stage 2, followed by his coach, Chen "U4" Congshan. Shanghai pivoted to a hybrid lineup for Stage 3 when their mid-Stage 2 pickups -- He "Sky" Junjian along with three South Korean players, Kim "Geguri" Se-yeon, Lee "Fearless" Eui-seok and Chon "Ado" Gi-hyeon -- were able to play. This team was better than the previous iteration, but struggled mightily with in-game communication.

With their 29th straight loss, the Shanghai Dragons surpassed the Philadelphia 76ers' 28-game losing streak for the worst losing streak in professional sports history. Beating juggernaut New York Excelsior seemed like an impossible task for the Dragons that week. But the series was a bit closer than most anticipated. The Dragons tied the series 1-1 on Numbani before losing the match 3-1. The most disappointing thing about the Dragons' losing streak is that there were brief moments in Stages 3 and 4 when it could have been argued that the Dragons weren't the worst team in the league based on their in-game performances. Yet, they never picked up that first victory. As the season wore on, it became a more visible millstone around their necks as they battled their way through Stage 4, still without a victory.

Although this improved, the late-season meta shift and the continuing lack of coordination was ultimately Shanghai's undoing. At the same time, teams facing Shanghai prepared diligently for the Dragons as the end of the season approached. No team wanted to be the one in a 1-39 scoreline.

This past year was an odd transition time for Chinese Overwatch, at least in the international and OWL spotlights. With only one Chinese-backed team in the Overwatch League and the reformatting of the Tier 2 scene alongside the league's first year, most larger Chinese organizations pulled out of Overwatch entirely before the inaugural season began, save for a few notable exceptions, like LGD Gaming. Many promising up-and-coming players who had been tearing through the Chinese scene moved over to popular battle royale games like PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds. Many players did not meet the minimum age requirement -- like the lineup of what was largely considered to be the best Chinese team at the time, Miraculous Youngster or LGD DPS player Ou "Eileen" Yiliang. All of these factors converged as a backdrop for the Shanghai Dragons' winless season. It wasn't that there weren't talented Chinese players, but that Shanghai -- either because of their ages or talent scouting -- hadn't been able to pick them up.

For anyone who doubted the amount of talent in China, the 2018 Overwatch World Cup surely set them straight. Now many of these players have found homes on Overwatch League teams for Season 2, including the all-Mandarin lineup of one of three new Chinese expansion teams: the Chengdu Hunters. One of the most disappointing things about Shanghai's losses was that they were the most visible Chinese team to international audiences, and their streak set the discussion about Chinese players and teams. That won't happen in the coming season, especially with teams from Hangzhou, Guangzhou and Chengdu coming into the league. Going into Overwatch League Season 2, the Dragons themselves have a new look with a majority South Korean roster: the remnants of Kongdoo Panthera, Geguri, Fearless and Chinese DPS player Lu "Diya" Weida. For now, and possibly until they claim that first victory, the Dragons' winless season remains one of the most disappointing performances in esports history.

-- Emily Rand

Other nominees

South Korea's performance at worlds

The loss of Tracker's Knife. Stagnant play styles. Lack of competent early games. Complacency and arrogance, especially from members of South Korean coaching staffs. Myriad reasons for South Korea's collapse at the 2018 League of Legends World Championship have been floating around the community since the Afreeca Freecs, the final South Korean team to be eliminated from worlds contention, were embarrassingly swept by North American upstart Cloud9.

Since their inclusion in the world championship tournament, South Korea had always made it to the championship finals and lost only once, all the way back in 2012 when the Taipei Assassins took home the Summoners' Cup. Every year since, a South Korean team had carried that trophy. This was an unprecedented collapse from all three of LoL Champions Korea's worlds representatives, beginning with defending champions Gen.G bombing out in groups and ending with the Freecs losing in the quarterfinals. The winds of change are already blowing through the LCK offseason, but these defeats remain fresh and raw.

--Emily Rand

MIBR's weak return

MiBR's Counter-Strike team was formed from the best rosters of 2016 and 2017, and expectations were high coming into 2018. When Immortals revived the Made in Brazil brand and acquired the legendary SK core, many greeted the move with optimism. SK had been in a slump in the first quarter of the year, but most believed that under a new brand -- clear of conflict -- the players would figure it out. Unfortunately, MiBR didn't come near to reaching the success they had found in years past, as they failed to win a single Tier 1 tournament and reached only a couple of finals. Without a single major trophy to their name in 2018, MiBR were colossal disappointments.

--Sam Delorme

Bayo standoff during Evo

In its final year of professional competition, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U began to feel stale. With the absence of its best competitor, Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios, younger players rose to the top of the rankings, and at Evo, it seemed that it was nearly anyone's tournament to win.

In the second portion of the grand finals, friends Zack "CaptainZack" Lauth and Bharat "Lima" Chintapall stalled for more than 1 minute, 45 seconds using Bayonetta, a character that since her release became the strongest and most-hated in the game. During the stall, host Zak "Coney" Zeeks jokingly interviewed the two as they smiled and joked with one another.

The stall was finally broken up by Evo Smash for Wii U lead tournament organizer Bassem "Bear" Dahdouh, who told the players they needed to continue the game or would be disqualified. Those two would eventually continue playing, but the damage was already done; Smash for Wii U ended its finale on a sour note.

--Jacob Wolf

Fortnite's Summer Skirmish

When Epic Games announced it was going all-in on competitive Fortnite with $100,000,000 invested in the scene during its first year, there were lofty expectations. Maybe a pro league? Maybe an offline circuit? With all that money pumped into the fledgling pro scene, there had to be a grand entrance, right?

Well, not so much. Beginning things online and working toward an offline climax, the Fortnite Summer Skirmish was half-beta test/half-tournament that Epic Games created to see what worked best for competitive Fortnite. The only issue is that the servers weren't ready for players all across the world. Couple the server issues with a faulty scoring system that rewarded passive play, resulting in virtual games of hide-and-seek, and the debut of the Fortnite competitive couldn't have gone worse. While the tournament would stabilize and the kinks would be worked out, the first week of the Fortnite Summer Skirmish will never be forgotten as one of the most embarrassing debuts in esports history.

--Tyler Erzberger

Dishonorable mentions: Riot Games' sexual harassment allegations, Infiltration's domestic abuse allegations.