Overwatch

The Perfect Defense: Shanghai Shocks The World (Part 1)

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The 2021 Shanghai Dragons is possibly the best team to ever play the original Overwatch. With Overwatch 2 poised to overthrow everything we know about the game, it's worth looking back and seeing what the pinnacle of professional Overwatch really was, what years of experimentation and failure (with Shanghai historically being no stranger to it!) have yielded.

During the first day of the playoffs, Shanghai faced the opponent it had chosen weeks prior – the San Francisco Shock. Two time champions looking for the third. Despite a rocky regular season, Shock were clearly looking to shock the world and show that it is still a team that can challenge the championships. So when Moon slammed the table and said, "San Francisco Shock", it was regarded as a bold yet foolish decision. Why not choose the Justice or the Reign (the latter who, in hindsight, should have been feared way more)? But a 3-0 stomp by Shanghai quickly shut the naysayers. And there were few games, not only during the playoffs, but the whole season, that were more disgusting than Shanghai's spectacular full hold on Hanamura.

Comps and Setup

Shanghai play a heavy poke comp using the Pharmercy and Ashe to get picks and force out cooldowns, while Orisa and D.Va provide stability and some ability to push advantages – one thing that Shanghai does very well this defense.

Shock rolled out with a Winston rush comp (often called "talon dive" or "six man dive", yet the latter will soon vanish along with the original Overwatch). It is similar to Rein rush comps in that it plays more stacked together and has significant power up close, yet it doesn't have near as much sustain as a Rein comp meaning that it often can't simply force the point. As a bonus though, Winston rush comps have significant mobility which makes them better at bursting down targets. Winston rush comps usually have one clear win condition: get the team on a single target. Nonetheless, Shock's main strategy here was to find a way to rotate onto the point, forcing Shanghai's tank line to touch and Izayaki to play closer to point which opens an opportunity.

But why were they forced into such a suboptimal strategy? The answer lies in Shanghai's positioning.

  1. Izayaki's positioning is probably the most important piece of the puzzle. He positions on high ground, which rush comps have a lot of trouble accessing. While Winston and D.Va can easily access high ground, often that is not enough – you need a source of damage to finish off Izayaki, and even if you eventually kill him, without that quick burst of damage, you just give Shanghai more time to poke you out and force out cooldowns. Now this positioning has one disadvantage, but it turns out it isn't that much of one at all as I will explain later.
  2. Fate is actually positioned near the choke, which seems foolish, but Shock's comp really sucks at killing Orisa. First, Orisa has a lot of armor, which greatly affects Shock's tanks and DPS that don't do big bursts of damage. Second, Orisa has fortify, which when you factor in armor, reduces damage by up to 70%. But most importantly, Fate positions in open space that makes it easy for his teammates to punish the enemy for trying to run him down. Shock actually get baited by Fate and Shanghai win a teamfight off of it.
  3. Void is controlling the window, which is incredibly important on Hanamura 1st defense, as it is the only alternative to the choke. If you give up window, it makes it way easier for the enemy to stage behind the choke and split attention away from it, which has unraveled a lot of unsinkable 1st defenses on this map. Even if Shock send multiple players to clear window, Void can at least poke out and stall a bit which buys Shanghai time to attack and prevent them from staging near point or Izayaki.
  4. Finally, Lip positions around point and uses the high ground ledge below the roof. This is a standard Ashe position due to good kiting options (can kite towards Izayaki or away from it depending on where Shock rotates) and long sightlines. If Lip positions on the roof above the mega, then he probably won't get a better angle because Fleta is likely to play around that area and you always want to create as many angles as safely possible. But if he does, he might be isolated by a good engage outside of his team's peel range and die.

Now, Izayaki's positioning prevents a direct hold at choke because the house blocks LOS of the choke. But Shanghai aren't trying to hold at choke – against Shock's more brawly comp, it is just asking for trouble. Instead, Shanghai are trying to exploit the long rotations to point and aggressively attack Shock's rotations, which mean letting them take some inches past the choke. More importantly, Shock's comp doesn't benefit as much as being past the choke as other comps – Moira/Lucio does not benefit from having longer and wider sightlines as much as say an Ana/Brig backline does, and the comp has to stick more together which means it can't use the wider angles as much.

However, Shanghai's positioning makes it difficult for Shock to achieve their main win condition. Orisa is next to unkillable before your team just blows up, and Pharah, Mercy, as well as D.Va can just run away or play above you so they aren't very rushable targets. This leaves Ashe and Ana as the only easy targets. But Ashe is playing far away in open space and in LOS of her team, which means Shock have to rotate through a death trap before they can get onto Ashe – who can simply rotate away.

1st Fight: Zugzwang

Watch the fight here (ends at 1:11)

The finest hour of any defense is not simply to stop the enemy from what they're doing. No, it is to make it so that every move they make is a mistake. Chess players call this zugzwang.

During the first fight, Shock try to rotate towards the left side, with a view of eventually forcing the point and forcing Shanghai's backline closer into a vulnerable position. But Shanghai aren't scared of the close range potential of this comp yet. Shock's DPS have yet to stage in positions where they can actually burst down targets, and every team is the weakest during a rotation. So Shanghai decide to strike at Shock hard. Void and Fleta decide to play up close and personal, forcing Super to use his bubble and Choihyobin to use most of his DM. But it was not enough, as Izayaki used this distraction to land a 3-player nade. Shanghai kill Choihyobin in the process. When you lose your D.Va in a Winston rush comp, it's really bad because you lose the ability to rotate. If Shock try to break out from the room, justice will rain from above. Shanghai knows this and since Shock are no longer a threat without their D.Va, as a prisoner of war, they decide to play it slow and not immediately push their player advantage.

We must also appreciate how Shanghai use their cooldowns – instead of throwing them out whenever, Shanghai use micro missiles, dynamite, and nade at the same time for a coordinated burst of damage, which is sure to maim Shock and make sure Moira's insane burst healing matters not. When you are on defense, you want to save your cooldowns to attack rotations – when the enemy is at their weakest – instead of just plopping them out whenever you feel like it. Save your strongest tools for their weakest times.

But why doesn't Shanghai immediately try to finish the fight? Even if they're down a player, you're still trying to fight a close range comp in close range, which still merits caution. Losing Fleta would be huge for Shock as they could easily deny the res and push into Shanghai's hinterland rent free. Another reason why Shanghai might not want to hatch their goose egg immediately is because they want to prevent Shock's flankers from setting up in good positions, which might at best set Shock up nicely for the next fight, and at worse diverts attention and allows Shock to break the encirclement. Finally, the defending team wants to burn the clock as much as possible. Shanghai probably knows that Shock overzealously commits to lost fights and wastes a ton of time.

In general, defensive play is a hallmark of the Korean Overwatch style. When you watch Contenders, you can see that NA/EU Contenders are bloodbaths while Korean Contenders is a more timid affair. None of these "playstyles" are better – in fact they can be thought of weaknesses. Attacking teams can't defend and defensive teams can't attack. Shanghai are very good at defensive play, but they just don't sit back and let the enemy do what they want. No, they let the enemy feel they're in control, but with their amazing positioning, Shanghai are always in control and ready to strike back. Once Shanghai have absorbed the enemy's pressure – which they can easily do so because Shanghai always hold the flanks and the positions required for a successful attack – they look to counterattack and roll over the now overextended enemy. Counterattacking play is the basis of how Shanghai dealt with Dallas – whereas other teams fell under the pressure (mostly because they tried to be copycat Dallas), Shanghai invites the enemy to pressure them and exhaust themselves. We will see counterattacking play be a theme of this round.

So Shanghai are slowly trying to poke out Shock while Fate guards the choke and tries to poke out Nero. However, after a bit, when Choihyobin respawns, Fate actually decides to retreat to point and give up the choke. This was at first seemingly a baffling decision, but it is actually brilliant for a number of reasons! Shock have basically three options at this point.

  • They could wait for Choihyobin to rejoin them, but since Choihyobin is still not past the choke yet, it gives several more seconds for Fleta to poke them out and potentially land a fatal barrage. Shock have already wasted a Winston bubble, a Moira orb and all of Moira's resource, and even a Lucio amp to survive in that room. Any more pressure and the Shock just buckle while the rest of Shanghai can focus on denying Tracer/Sombra good positions for the next fight.
  • They could try to rush down a stationary target – either Fate, Lip, or Izayaki. But Lip is on high ground and none of Shock's DPS are on adjacent high ground, in addition to still having a coach gun to use. Izayaki is simply too far to rush down, and while Shock have a potential pincer attack with Tracer and Sombra behind him, Fate moving back will actually help peel and buy enough time for Shanghai to punish an engage on Izayaki. And Fate has fortify, which means he is essentially impossible to kill for a few seconds. And finally, Shock do not have Lucio amp, meaning that they will move at a plodding pace giving Shanghai even more time then they should have.
  • And finally, they could try to force the point and force Shanghai to touch point. But Fate is exactly setting up for this scenario!

All three options lead to Shock's downfall. This is zugzwang – there is no right move for Shock other than to choose one option and capitulate. Shock choose the third option, using movement cooldowns in a desperate beeline to point. They know that if they just zip directly to point though that Fate will do a lot of damage off the bat and even orchestrate a neat halt combo which will unravel their attack. So Shock decide to move to the other side of point in an attempt to catch a breather. However, without Winston bubble and low on other cooldowns, Shanghai easily kill Super and kill the push. But Shock are close to ults, and we know that Shock love to throw ults when they're down in players. But Shanghai intelligently cleans up the fight.

Many teams when they get a pick blindly press W with no regard for safety. But often, when you get a pick, you actually want to take space on the flanks first (as there is one fewer player to contest it) and then go for a pincer attack. To close out the fight, Fate, Void, and Fleta move away from the point towards the choke and then finally start pushing into Shock. This removes the possibility of Shock resetting outside the choke – their only retreat path is towards Shanghai. Only after establishing the pincer does Shanghai start committing cooldowns and ults, which is good tempo control. You don't want to use cooldowns randomly – you always seek to use cooldowns as part of a coordinated team attack. A brief struggle later and Shanghai win the fight, burning nearly 2 minutes off the clock.

Lessons learned: Always seek to attack rotations, and use cooldowns in a coordinated burst when the enemy is in a bad position. When you get a pick, think of the consequences of that pick for the enemy, and exploit it as hard as possible. Don't rush fights you don't need to immediately win, but instead setup attacks and execute them as a team!

In the next part of this (two part) series, we will examine how Shanghai use ultimates to flip the initiative on its head and how Shanghai bait Shock to use ults badly and ultimately towards their demise.

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