This piece of history does have a bit of a ring to it. It generated headlines around the world, drawing all kinds of attention to the Shanghai Dragons. Hundreds of fans would go wild when the squad entered Blizzard Arena, while thousands more voiced their support online. People who didn’t follow Overwatch League were suddenly hearing about the team and tuning in to watch their historical run.
The problem is that it was exactly the wrong kind of history. The team practiced long hours every day, went through three different head coaches in a span of months, and lost every single match they played in the Overwatch League’s inaugural season.
It was almost too much for DPS Gi-Hyeon “Ado” Chon.
“When we lost, I just wanted to run away back to Korea,” he admitted. Ado spent his first season in the league making highlight-reel plays—at times putting the team on his back—but ultimately came away emptyhanded. “I was very frustrated, and to be honest I don’t think I handled the pressure very well. I was almost out of my mind at the time.”
It was anything but the season Ado had expected. From picking up Overwatch in middle school at a local PC cafe to working his way up the Korean ladder to doubting that he was good enough to compete in the Overwatch League but finding himself more than up to the challenge, Ado had succeeded at every level. But as he walked off the stage after capping the ultimate disaster with another heartbreaking loss, it was a finish he never saw coming.
Still, it had nothing on the devastating phone call Ado had to make to his family just a few weeks later, breaking down as he informed them he had been released from the Dragons and was out of options.
“I knew of course there would be changes to the team in the offseason, but I never thought I would be part of those changes,” he recalled. “And why? I felt I was the best player on the team. I was helping to support my family with the salary. I talked to my dad, and I just asked him, ‘What do I do now?’”
Come home, his father told him. We’ll figure it out together. Ado’s family had supported him when he asked them to help him chase his dream on the other side of the Pacific Ocean, and they would support his return.
That could have been the end of Ado’s tale: a promising career snuffed out in an instant. Wrong place, wrong time. But Ado’s phone rang again. And he never did have to get on that plane.
The Washington Justice had taken note of his talent and wanted to bring him in as they prepped to join the league as one of eight expansion teams for the 2019 season. Of the 10 players who had left the Dragons during the season, Ado was the only one to be picked up by another Overwatch League team. Just like that, he had something other than that long losing streak.
He had a second chance—and he swore this time would be different.
“With Shanghai, a lot of people cheered for the underdog and I had a lot of fans from that, but as a professional player, if you’re losing a lot what are you really going to get out of it?” he said bluntly. “So I changed my mentality. Last year I was modest because that’s the advice I’ve always received from my parents, but I felt like I didn’t play my best being modest. This season I came in confident, telling myself and believing I was the best.”
But adjusting to a brand-new team for the second time in two years proved to be trying, and the Justice would go on to lose their first five matches. When the Florida Mayhem fought back from two games down to send the final match of the first stage into a tiebreaker, it looked like it would be more of the same for Ado.
But he had promised himself this year would be different—and finally, in Week 5 of Stage 1, it was.
Thirty-six. That’s how many times Ado personally played and lost on the Blizzard Arena stage before he finally tasted victory in his 37th Overwatch League match. It’s a streak of futility that will likely never be matched.
That made it all the sweeter.
“I couldn’t stop smiling,” he recalled, thinking back on the moment that will live on in Overwatch League lore. “In that moment I just wanted to thank everyone who had stayed with me to that point.”
It hasn’t exactly been a storybook ending for Ado; the Justice are near the bottom of the league, and he’s unlikely to accomplish his personal goal of taking the team to the playoffs. But Ado knows now how to handle defeat, how to use it to push—but not overwhelm—himself. He’s still got plenty to strive for—there’s a lot of Overwatch League left to be played, and he dreams of making the Korean World Cup team—but no matter how tough things get over the final months of the season, Ado knows he can persevere.
After all, he reminds himself, he’s been through worse.