Seb “Numlocked” Barton has been to the pinnacle of Overwatch, but his journey in 2019 has taught him that going back to basics can actually let you reach higher heights.
At the end of 2018, Numlocked was regretting the biggest career decision of his life. He had a number of offers at the start of the year, just before the start of the inaugural season of the Overwatch League. He decided to make the leap to the Overwatch League with the Los Angeles Valiant.
He ended up on the outside, wallowing away a year of his illustrious career on the bench, watching on as the Valiant stormed home to a decent 3-4th finish at the tailend of the season. While the team celebrated their success, numlocked was looking for a fresh start – and that took him back to Contenders.
He joined the British Hurricane – the academy team of the London Spitfire, who ended up knocking the Valiant out of the season one playoffs and eventually take home the trophy – and had put up a solid set of results.
They came second in Contenders Europe season one, went to the Atlantic Showdown, but the Brit headed to the colonies for season two, joining Team Envy after Ashley “Trill” Powell promoted to the Overwatch League for Dallas Fuel. From there, Envy took home first place in Contenders NA West, and locked down a spot at the Gauntlet in Korea.
While their primary game experience has been with equal-level teams, they had the best preparation possible for the ten-team tournament – being practice partners with the Overwatch League grand finalists the San Francisco Shock and the Vancouver Titans.
“We’ve been slowly working on stuff that we needed to improve on after the Contenders season,” said Numlocked. “Leading up to the OWL Finals, we scrimmed exclusively the Shock and the Titans.”
It didn’t feel like a skill gap between the two teams – it felt like a skill cliff. However, Envy took home invaluable tips from their scrims against the Worlds best.
“It was a shock to the system, because we had been scrimming OWL teams up to then, but not them. So when we played them, they were on another level compared to the other OWL teams we had scrimmed against. The other teams we could consistently beat, but we couldn’t even take a map off them.”
Since arriving in Korea at the start of the month, the team has still managed to get a healthy dose of practice. The team environment in Korea is a lot more conducive to rapid improvement, and the teams are all of high quality, so it was a lot easier to organise effective training.
“There’s a bigger pool of teams we can scrim in Korea. In NA, we can only really scrim a couple of the top teams in Contenders, and then we have to scrim at OWL level. In Korea, we can scrim the top six teams and they’ve all been pretty good for us. We’ve had good scrims, and we haven’t had to blacklist anyone.”
It’s not Numlocked’s first trip out to South Korea though. He was here with NRG back in season one of APEX in 2017. While he thoroughly enjoyed the experience, the games were a different story.
“I got a call like two weeks out from APEX season one and my mates were like “hey, we’re going to Korea, and we need a Lucio who can shotcall for us, do you want to come play for us?” It was all my TF2 friends, so I said yes, but I had no Lucio experience up until then, so I kind of got thrown into the deep end,” he laughed.
“As a team, we didn’t really gel and got knocked out of groups, so after that we swapped me back onto main tank.
“Korea itself though I loved. It’s always been somewhere I wanted to come back to since then, so it’s nice to be here for the Gauntlet.”
That trip to Korea was part of his journey of always trying to improve himself as a player. He’s thrown himself into the deep end time and time again, but that one season on the Valiant was the year that almost burned him out.
“I felt like a shutout in my OWL season,” he said. “I didn’t get much experience with the team itself in terms of scrims – participating, watching, playing, anything like that. I feel like I just wasted a year of my career, so I look back on that season of OWL with a lot of regret.
“I had a lot of offers other than Valiant that I could have taken, but I thought the Valiant would have been the best shot to improve myself as a player because I would have been fighting with Fate for a starter spot, but I didn’t even get the opportunity to fight.”
“Looking back on it, if I had the opportunity to go OWL again, and if the Valiant were my only offer, I’d stay in Contenders.”
Seb “Numlocked” Barton
Aside from that one blip though, he looks back on his ten year career fondly. He’s won Insomnia, the pinnacle of TF2 esports, and even played League of Legends in Turkey for a couple of years. It’s hard to pinpoint one specific moment that stands out as the most memorable, but nothing beats winning.
“From the early years, the one that stands out to me is the TF2 domination I had,” he said. “For two years, Epsilon Esports, the team I was on at the time, basically didn’t lose a map. We were the best team in the world, and dominating a game that hard will always be one of the top, if not the top moment.
“It’s hard to top winning, but the experiences I’ve had to travel the world to play video games and live in really cool places, it’s all really memorable.”
With his eyes firmly set on the Gauntlet, Numlocked is looking to prove himself as an OWL-worthy player, as well as show ATL Academy who is boss.
“Personally, I want a top three finish – I’ll be really disappointed if we get anything else, considering how well practice has gone for both of us. I know what everyone on this team is capable of, and I feel like top three is within our grasp. That’s where we are all aiming for, and anything less than at least proving we are the best American team will be disappointing.”
Although, there’s one thing he’s not looking forward to at Gauntlet – Orisa.
“Get me off this hero dude, I hate it so much,” he laughed. “You aren’t actively doing anything on Orisa, you are basically your team’s b****.
“Everyone else on the team will ask for my abilities – they’ll ask for my pulls – and I don’t get to choose when to use them. It’s basically up to the whim of the team and I don’t really like that, I don’t have any independence.”
Going back to Contenders has rejuvenated Numlocked’s deep passion for esports, despite being stuck on Orisa and being at the whim of his team mates. After all, you don’t make it to ten years in esports without having the drive to constantly prove you are the best, and that’s what Envy will be looking to do this week in Korea.
Team Envy will continue their Gauntlet journey against XL2 Academy at 12:30pm AEST today. You can catch the action on the Overwatch Contenders Twitch channel.
Follow Numlocked on Twitter.