SHANGHAI: Played 36, lost 36. The Shanghai Dragons eSports squad are rapidly gaining notoriety as one of the worst sports teams in the world, racking up defeat after defeat and drawing unflattering comparisons with China’s much-maligned national footballers.
Communication problems between their Chinese and Korean players, bickering and accusations that managers are driving the young team too hard have thrust the Dragons into sporting headlines for all the wrong reasons and shone a light on the gruelling training common in eSports.
Angry fans have disowned the team on social media, saying the Dragons were even making China’s national football team – long derided as an embarrassment – look good by comparison.
But others remain faithful despite the Dragons debuting in the United States-based Overwatch League this year with a string of losses exceeding even the 28 straight defeats suffered by the National Basketball Association’s Philadelphia 76ers in 2014-2015, widely considered the longest losing streak in North American pro sport.
The 12-team competition launched in January and is one of the most high-profile in the rapidly growing eSports realm, culminating in a July grand final where a US$1mil (RM3.97mil) prize will be up for grabs.
The Dragons, China’s only representatives in the frenzied shooter videogame competition, now sit a distant last.
With increasing flak flying their way, team manager Yang Van last month issued a statement assuring fans that the Dragons have the “most intensive training scheme” in the league: 12 hours a day for six days a week.
But if that was intended to buoy supporters, it had the opposite effect, leading to fears that the 12-member squad were exhausted.
Yang said in a statement to AFP that while the team’s performances had been “really bad”, “training and competing in a foreign country for almost a half year has been a big challenge for the entire team”.
“Although this season is almost over and we have yet to see our first victory, we have not given up and will go all out to prepare for the following games,” he added.
Yang admitted communication between the team’s Chinese and Korean players was an issue – they use translators – and the team recently sought to shuffle the line-up to improve its fortunes, to no avail.
But he also clarified that they only practise eight hours per day, with the rest of the time spent travelling or relaxing.
“The best solution to get the first victory is to figure out the reasons for the losses within and beyond the game, not to blindly increase training time, which we don’t approve of,” he said.
“We have not won yet, and that has made our fans really sad, angry or even furious,” he added, apologising to supporters.
Time for an eSports union?
With 100,000 viewers tuned in online, defeat last Thursday to Seoul Dynasty made it 35 losses for the Dragons, followed by number 36 on Saturday, a 3-0 loss to the Houston Outlaws.
The Dragons’ training routine has sparked discussions about the need for a labour union in eSports, which is still very much in its infancy as a professional sport, and where top players typically age in their early 20s or even teens.
Ryan Morrison, a New York-based eSports lawyer and agent, said that “there is no union in eSports anywhere in the world” and that he does not allow his clients to do punishing training sessions.
“Long hours are very common in the world of eSports, but as players understand their rights, get agents and lawyers, and start to stand up for better living and working conditions, we’ve seen a much more structured schedule,” he added.
Chinese Overwatch commentator “Tutu” said there had been “serious problems with communication” between the Dragons players, though these were improving. Above all though, they were nervous.
“They need to relax the intense state of their minds first,” she said. — AFP