The Dallas Fuel are off to a slow start in the inaugural season of Overwatch League. Seagull, one of most popular Overwatch players in the world, feels his team will turn it around in the months ahead. I talked to Seagull about his path into the league, the early struggles the Fuel are facing, and about the composition of his team.
You have quite a following with your livestreams and YouTube videos. How difficult of a choice was it for you to join Overwatch League, which means spending less time on your own content?
It wasn’t necessarily Overwatch League. When I first made a decision, I didn’t know about the league. It was a choice between “do you want to play a game professionally, or do you want to be a content creator, streamer, or YouTuber?” For someone from my background, I came from Team Fortress 2. I played that game seven years, off and on. [I] never had a chance to go pro because the scene wasn’t big enough. It was just for fun, and because I loved playing competitively.
When I got an opportunity to either make a lot of money playing professionally, or a crazy amount of money streaming, the decision was “well, I’m still making more than enough money to do this fulltime, so I should do what my passion is essentially.” They’re both my passions, but in a different sense. Streaming is really fun, but my entire gaming career, ever since I first got started, has been going from game to game and playing competitively since I was 12 years old. So to have a history of that, it’s hard to stop that habit of not playing new games, but getting really good at certain games. When you don’t get involved in the game’s competitive scene, and you want to get really good, it’s nearly impossible.
You said you’ve been playing competitively since you were 12. You were too young to be able to be in tournaments or join pro leagues. So what was your position in the tournament scene at that point?
Obviously, I was too young for [Cyberathletic Professional League.] I wasn’t playing the games that had big tournaments either, but I would just play and get involved in online tournaments that had no prizes. We were playing for fun. I pretty much always played with teams or organized groups ever since I was 12.
You clearly knew you had the skills to compete at a higher level than most people. You said you played Team Fortress 2 for seven years. Was that the first game you really latched onto for competitive reasons?
Prior to that, I was playing Half-Life 2 Deathmatch. That’s the game I was talking about when I was 12. It was 2004, when Half-Life 2 was released. That was in late 2004, when they released Half-Life 2 Deathmatch, up until mid-2008. I then moved to Team Fortress 2.[I] played that competitively until 2014. I don’t know if these are exact dates; I’d have to go back and really think about it.
Valve had a reasonable presence with Half-Life 2 Deathmatch. I want to say there was a pot with $100,000 for one of its tournaments. They didn’t really support Team Fortress 2 that way, did they?
I’m actually blown away that you know that [about Deathmatch]. There was literally nothing in that game, even less than Team Fortress 2. In Deathmatch, I think it was Verizon that threw in $100,000, and were like, “Ok, the winner takes it all, but second place or lower gets nothing. You can have a PC.”
They came out with that tournament and I was too young to play. So were all of the other good players, actually. The guy who ended up winning that $100,000 was someone who had never played the game before the tournament and just picked it up and started playing. I remember his name was Microwave. What game did he come from? I think he had either been Tribes or some other FPS and thought ,“$100,000, that sounds cool. I’ll just see how far I get.” And then he won the whole thing.
At the age of 16, you were obviously thinking about your future and what you want to do in life. Your passion is playing video games. It’s kind of terrifying, the paths that are there for that career endeavor aren’t well defined. They’re getting there now. What were your other plans for life at that point?
It’s never that black and white, right? For me, I was going to school at a university. After high school, I took a year off and went to community college. All throughout high school and then again while I was finishing up community college, I would travel to Team Fortress 2 tournaments. There were probably three land [events] a year, maybe four that I would travel to, and I would play off whatever I was interested in competitively.
What kind of classes did you play in Team Fortress?
Pretty much soldier for that entire time. I was good with a rocket launcher.
With the rocket launcher in mind, was Pharah the first character you played within Overwatch?
Probably not the first. Maybe Zarya, but I honestly don’t remember.
You obviously adapted well to Pharah’s style of play.
Yeah, I still carry over a lot of the skills from Team Fortress 2. If you shoot a rocket launcher in one game, you shoot one in the other game.
Was it fairly easy to transfer over from Team Fortress 2 to Overwatch?
In some ways. I guess to go back to the previous question: How did you handle gaming and personal life stuff? As Overwatch came out, I just finished up community college and transferred to Washington State. The beta came out in my first semester. In the first semester, I just blew up [as a streamer], so I dropped out by the second semester. I talked to my family about it and my parents were like, “you should take off spring semester, you won’t have to take off summer, right? That gives you six or seven months to figure out if you can do this and by that time, you should figure out if it’s even viable. If it doesn’t work out, you can take courses the next summer and you’ll be all caught up.”
I’m glad you talked to your parents about it.
Some players don’t do it because their family doesn’t really support their career choice. Maybe they don’t know much about it or aren’t educated enough about it, or know how beneficial it can be. My dad used to be a big gamer, so it’s pretty normal for them to know what I’m doing. I think they used to watch all of my games.
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From your streaming success, you’ve been called the most famous Overwatch player by a lot of people. As the teams were coming online for Overwatch League, you had to be at the top of most of their lists. How many teams contacted you to have you sign with them?
At least four. I don’t know how many in total, because some of them would’ve been filtered through my agent, and he would’ve been like, “No, Seagull doesn’t want to go play for Shanghai because, if we eventually move to a city system, he doesn’t want to live in China right now.”
First off, I love the organization. I love the players. It was an easy choice because of the caliber of players and the organization and everything I knew about them.
So other players were already signed before you made your decision?
Yeah, this team was originally Team Envy, one of the best teams in the world.
What other teams did you play with prior to Overwatch League? Were you associated with Envy in any way?
Nah. I was just playing for NRG for a little bit. There was LG/NRG, same overall lineup. I played there for about six to eight months. After that, early last year, there was a break in the tournament scene for a while as Overwatch League was ramping up. There was pretty much only Overwatch Contenders for five or six months. By that point, I quit pro play and went on to stream for fulltime for six months. Realistically, it was only about four months, because by the end of that, you’ve got to start getting good again and get ready for Overwatch League tryouts for all these different teams. You want to make sure you’re actually good when the league starts later that year.
You had to try out?
Of course. I tried out extensively with many teams.
You were playing Overwatch from day one, even from the beta. How is the competition different in the league? As a viewer, like me, we’re seeing a lot of the same lineups and techniques from each team. Can you go into the nuance there a little bit? I know that might be difficult to describe, but is there a difference between playing competitively at a high level versus the league?
It’s like night and day. It’s not at all the same thing. Fundamentally, the easiest way to get a peek into how an Overwatch League team plays is to play with six of your friends. If you six-stack and go over hero strategies and think about them and put a plan into effect, that is essentially the fundamental thing that every Overwatch League team does, except 100x more refined.
Talk to me a little bit about the role coaches play in that. What do they have you working on?
Coaches just make the strategies based on the players and the team. Some teams are really good at fast competitions, and some teams are better at slower ones. Based on who’s playing and the type of strategy you want to run – and the type of map you’re on – the coaches tell you why things work and why they don’t work and how to improve them. Some of the easiest ways to do that are by giving people responsibilities to be. In a team environment like this, once you get down to it and you want people to have specific roles and responsibilities, and not only in-game. For example, it’s like, “Okay, I’m a healer and I heal the team, and this is where I need to be doing stuff.” On a more team level, you’re the person, who after every team fight, is going to know the enemy support roles, basic things like that.
Communication-wise, every once in a while we get to hear the team talking, and it sounds like an intense mess. It seems somewhat reminiscent of a third-base coach delivering signs to a batter. Walk me through match communication.
When you add new players to the lineup, it’s really tough because communication, especially in a fast-paced game like Overwatch, is super, super important. In slower games like Counter-Strike there are a lot more set players, but once a team fight starts in Overwatch a lot of these set plays begin to break down and communication becomes much more important as teams have to improvise. When you start implementing new players in and out of a lineup, each player has their own style of speaking, right, and what do they talk about, how they communicate it? Getting everyone on the same page is definitely a learning curve. Our team specifically has struggled with that the first couple weeks, and we’ve adapted to it a lot better recently, and hopefully, we can show it again this week.
Here’s the question you don’t want to hear: The Dallas Fuel are off to a slow start, one and seven on the season. Teams are obviously still gelling, but what does the Fuel need to do to start winning?
It’s hard to say. I mean, I can talk about our practice results and how we do in practice and things like that, but ultimately it’s what you see on stage, right? A few days ago we got absolutely destroyed by Valiant and Outlaws, I think. We looked far, far better in the next week of practice. That was just with one week of synergy practicing with the same lineup. We’ll see how it works again this week. I’m not gonna say we will or will not use that same lineup, but hopefully, it looks better.
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Why the name Seagull?
It started in Half-Life 2 Deathmatch. The developers accidentally left this cheat code enabled in multiplayer that let you change your character model to anything in the game. You could change it to a skyscraper or just about anything. The problem is that if you’re a random building and you died in the game, the server didn’t know what to do and so it would just crash. But seagulls could die because you could actually shoot a seagull in the single-player game, so I changed my character to a tiny, little bird and just ran around. It was fun.
You signed with the Dallas Fuel. Was the contract just one year? Do they have an option to bring you back for next year if the League continues?
Yes. The default contracts in Overwatch League are essentially you’re signed for one year. The team can choose to extend that for one additional year.
So two-year contracts for pretty much every player then?
If the team decides to keep you. It’s more from a player perspective. You’re always going to assume one year until it extends because that’s the worst-case scenario, right?
Overwatch League is keeping you busy each day. Do you still have time to stream? Is anyone else adding content to your channels?
I have one guy working on my YouTube channel, who’s probably been doing that for about a year. For streaming, I just don’t really stream that much because streaming is not practice. If you’re sitting there hanging out with your chat while playing the game it’s really fun and great, but if you’ve watched any streamer, you know that when they’re looking at their chat, they’re not looking at the game. And half the time if they’re interacting with chat, community and stuff like that, then they can’t be focused on the game, so you’re barely paying attention. So is it really practice? No. With a team like ours, are we streaming most of the time? Hell no, because we want to win. I haven’t been streaming that much. Probably in total, I’m averaging two and a half to three hours. I want to stream, even though it’d be a really short stream, I think that’s kinda cool, otherwise people have no idea what I’m doing. They’d see me in Overwatch League and that’s it. But I still enjoy keeping the stream going as much as I can.
You train in Overwatch. Are there any other games or programs apps that you guys use for hand-eye coordination?
I don’t specifically. I am pretty sure that EFFECT and a couple players on the team play Aim Hero. I think that’s what it is? Maybe it’s a game on Steam, I don’t know that much about it. Osu is another. That’s a rhythm-based mouse game that’s really cool. I don’t know how much it helps, but it looks fun.
I haven’t heard anybody talk about this yet: What are you doing backstage before matches? How early do you get to the arena?
Let’s say I have a match at 4pm. I want to be at the venue practicing by 1. That gives us one or two hours of warm up. After that, I want to say roughly an hour prior to your game they call you for makeup. Thirty minutes before the game we are in our practice room warming up. Once a match gets to one map, and the game is getting close to ending, they call you backstage. After that, if you’re in the starting lineup, you set up on stage. They’re usually airing production clips at that point. They have these rooms called dugouts, I think. That’s where the other players go. If you aren’t on in the starting lineup, you’re going to be there. That’s where your coaches, managers, and everyone else are because they can actually talk with you prior to the game through their headsets, same as anyone else. They cut their mics at specific times. The coaches can talk to you between maps, but their mics aren’t on during a match for obvious reasons. Usually, after the match, you want to be around at least for an hour for media.