The worst team in the Overwatch League may also be the one training the hardest. In a Twitlong note posted on May 21, Shanghai Dragons coach Van Yang claimed that his team practices a whopping 72 hours a week. Though Yang pointed to the intensive schedule of the Shanghai Dragons to defend against criticisms about the team’s poor performance, it had the opposite effect. Perhaps the 12-hour days six times a week is one of the reasons why the Dragons have yet to win a single game.
Since the Overwatch League launched January 10, the Shanghai Dragons have played 32 games and lost all of them. The team has shuffled through several different coaches during its short life and struggled to find a successful roster of players. Unfortunately, much of this criticism has been directed towards the players, who fans berated for supposedly playing games other than Overwatch. Yang’s post was made in response to those comments.
However, none of this is unprecedented. Brutal training hours have always been a part of esports. Some League of Legends players averaged 12 to 14 hours of practice a day, and being a pro goes beyond hammering out games. Pros must also study taped matches, undergo performance reviews, and refine their mechanics through drills. All of this seriously cuts into valuable sleeping time. It’s also causing players, who are typically in their late teens and early 20s, to exhibit signs of high blood pressure and diabetes, illnesses that typically begin to manifest in middle age.
Mental health is another concern. Slowing reflexes due to age is often cited as the primary culprit behind why virtually every pro player retires before turning 30, but in my seven years of reporting on esports, I’ve always suspected it was due to sheer mental toll.
The Overwatch League hasn’t even wrapped up its first season yet, and there have already been numerous reports of burnout. Hyeon “EFFECT” Hwang of Dallas Fuel quietly returned home to South Korea in April after losing to the Houston Outlaws, to return himself to an “assuredly healthy” mental state. Timo “Taimou” Kettunen, also of Dallas Fuel, spoke about his growing depression in July 2017 while training in South Korea. In April 2018, Taimou was hospitalized for extreme stress. Even DSPStanky, a streamer who who doesn’t belong to any professional team, has quit the Overwatch ladder over burnout.
Shanghai Dragons has received a renewed wave of criticism for its training regimen, and rightfully so. There’s no question that hard work is essential to becoming a successful player. You can’t git gud if you don’t put the time in.
But when you’re drilling your players 72 hours a day and giving them diabetes, you’re clearly doing it wrong.