Surgical Goblin: The Counter-Strategist
October 16 2019
Ever since the Hagenuk MT-2000 contained a mobile version of Tetris back in 1994, mobile gaming has continued to flourish. Now, it’s dominating the gaming industry, sometimes pulling stats equivocal - and at times higher - than many AAA titles released.
After two and a half decades of innovation and growth, the stigma that mobile gamers are “not real gamers” still somehow ravages the dark depths of social media. Our boy Frank, better known as Surgical Goblin, is the perfect example of a successful mobile gamer in more than one respect. Be it as an entertainer, team captain. or being a fierce competitor, Surgical Goblin does it all. And he does it damn well.
To kind of get started, recently you and the rest of Team Liquid just won the CRL West Championship. How did it feel to finally win the biggest tournament for Clash Royale?
Of course it felt amazing. I’ve been playing Clash Royale since it globally released so it has always been a dream for me to, first of all, compete in big tournaments… But actually winning one is of course a dream come true.
I saw some of the matches and you were playing in the 2v2s. I know that during the first season, 2v2s were something Team Liquid really struggled with. So what changes did you guys make and how did you approach the 2v2s differently for the second season?
So honestly, in the beginning of the second split we still struggled a bit obviously. Like at one moment, we were actually tied for last, 2-4. But then - mainly me and Kanariooo - we started choosing off meta decks. There are basically three decks which all the players were using: Royal Giants, Lava Hounds, and then Graveyards. So we just started kind of creating our own decks with crazy combinations like Golem/Royal Giant, Ram Rider/Miner. And some opponents, they said “I don’t know how you guys use this because it doesn’t really have a win condition…” But we actually ended up going 7-1 with that deck, just kind of surprising people I guess.
For people who don’t understand how the league was set up and how the matches were set up, how important was winning the 2v2 to set up your solo players?
Honestly it was super important because if you win the 2v2 you… I wouldn’t say you have zero pressure, but of course the pressure is way less in the King of the Hill. Because you know that even if you end up losing the King of the Hill set, you still have the 1v1 in set 3 for sure.
Surgical Goblin’s Leadership Prowess
So a lot of these guys are much younger than you. What is it like to lead a group of young players like that?
I mean, honestly I am still quite young so… I’m 19 years old, but I think it’s amazing, especially because I have a great connection with all of them. So being able to see everything from their perspective, because sometimes for example our coach Erick - big shoutout to him by the way - he might see some things only from his perspective. So I can tell him, or maybe tell the players, things which can help the team.
Speaking of which, Erick is very new to the organization. Him and Kanariooo were both brought on just before the new season of CRL. So how much time did you have, how did you guys quickly figure out what you were going to try and do, and figure out a game plan?
Hm I don’t know… I feel like we tried to switch up our game plan the entire time. At the beginning, like I said, we were kind of struggling. So when we noticed that me and Kanariooo did super well in 2v2, Erick basically said “Why change things if it’s working? Let’s take the 2vs2 like this, and then lets try to figure out the best lineup for King of the Hill.”
Which then ended up being Kanariooo first and me second, and then third DiegoB. So I guess it’s just gaining experience and seeing what works the best.
What were some of the larger changes that Erick brought to the team as the coach, and how has he helped you improve as a player?
For me personally, he gave me a ton of confidence. I feel like in the first season I wasn't really that confident, and because of that I had a very rough first season of CRL. But then with Erick coming into the team, he boosted my confidence a lot. He helped me a lot with his pep talks and just… everything, being on call for example in the offseason, before the season we would have tons of calls with him waking up at 6AM his time to be able to have a call with me while I am practicing. It just helped a ton.
The first season was very close for you guys. I think it was a difference of one game that kept you out of the playoffs. And I know that the second season, like you said, it started out a lot slower. I think at one point you guys had a score of 3-4, but then you won the last 4 games in a row in order to make it through the group stage. So you how do you try to keep focused and not let the pressure influence the way that you play?
Of course there is always pressure, and I think in that moment we didn’t even realize it when we were 2-4. We realized it was going super bad, but I think we didn’t realize we had to win all the games to be able to qualify, because at that moment the leaderboards weren’t that close yet. But near the end, after we played those games, we realized that those were the games to assure a spot in the playoffs which would have been a huge pressure. But while playing the games I think we didn’t even realize that!
And when you guys actually got through the group stage, you had one close game against Immortals. But for the most part you kind of swept the competition. What was it that gave you guys such a huge edge once you got to the semifinals and the grand finals?
I think it was kind of just momentum. After winning five games in a row with really good performances, both in the 2v2 and King of the Hill, I think we were all feeling like we were at our peak and everyone is super confident and has good mentality, attitude, and it definitely helped us to do really well in the semis, and in the finals as well, sweeping 3-0.
Are there any pre or post game rituals that you guys do before your matches?
Hmm… I don’t think that we really have anything specific. Depending on what time the match is we usually just go to the facility and go over the analysis; for example if it is early in the day we just go straight to the studio and discuss strategy, and always before the game Erick does his pep talk.
The Man. The Myth. The Entertainer.
Straying from the competitive aspect and more onto you, how did you get your start in content creation? You now have 800,000 subscribers on YouTube. What made you want to start doing content creation in Clash Royale?
Actually what made me start content creation is the community, my fans - although I wouldn’t call them fans at that time because I was kind of unknown. I got second at a live event back then, in 2016, and lots of people were interested in my playstyle and the type of deck I was using. And they were like, “Maybe you could make a YouTube channel and explain this deck, or maybe you could talk a little bit more about this or that.” And honestly, my first few videos were terrible, like the quality. I was using an application on my phone as a screen recorder with my headphones, and terrible audio. But people actually liked it and it got quite a lot of views, so I decided to buy a computer and try to use a webcam and a good mic. From there everything just started.
When you guys are playing 2v2 and 1v1 - trying to figure out which decks counter what the other team is trying to set up - how much work goes into the preparation of deciding which deck you are going to use each game?
Honestly many many hours. We have two analysts working on that, so I don’t know how many hours they put into that but it is definitely a lot. Especially sometimes... Even at night they would - for example - send the analysis for the next game at 3 or 4 AM their time. They always make sure it’s good no matter what time so it's amazing. And based on the analysis we start preparing our game plan.
Going with what you were saying about a couple of years from now, what do you think of the brand that you have built so far, with all of the content and stuff like that? Do you ever think that; for example, even if you stop competing, will you continue to make content and stay involved in the esports scene?
I would definitely love to; I am super passionate about YouTube as well, not only Clash Royale. Of course I mainly got into YouTube because of Clash Royale, but I am definitely super passionate about YouTube so hopefully, if needed, I could transition to another game.
Because I know there was quite a bit of time between Season 1 and Season 2, and they weren’t quite sure when they were going to announce it and all of these different types of things. Between the seasons a lot of things change in the game, like the meta; they release pretty regular updates. How do you try and keep up with the competitive scene between seasons?
I think it is definitely important to still play, but in my opinion it is also super important to take a break. We had a really intense season with a lot of ups and downs, a lot of emotions and pressure, travelling from LA and then going to China there was jet lag. So for sure trying to relax and take a break is really important. But after a couple of weeks definitely start practicing again especially with the team, for example doing scrims against other teams, trying to keep up with the best meta decks, stuff like that.
You guys traveled quite a bit, and especially you, travelling to LA for the league and then to China recently. What has that experience been like for you? Did you ever expect that when Clash Royale came out you would end up travelling the world playing it?
Honestly I never expected it. I mean I used to travel quite a bit with buses and trains in the Netherlands, but never really to different countries. And now for instance going to Paris for a live event, back then it was crazy to think that I would be travelling for this mobile game that I downloaded just for fun, actually competing in a big tournament. But now, afterwards, it doesn’t really feel normal but I was just travelling so much that I kinda got used to it I guess.
What has been one of your favorite places that you have traveled to?
Mmm… I think it was King’s Cup 2? It was in America but the event, just the travel there and the event itself made it a really good experience.
And what is it like to live with all of these other guys, I believe you guys stay in LA right, for the CRL?
Yeah, we stay in LA. We actually have two apartments so we aren’t all in the same one, and then we train in the Alienware training facility. So basically every day. Sometimes not on the weekends, but most of the time actually on the weekends as well, we go and practice there. We have a personal chef there, Manny. He is awesome by the way. He makes great food for us. Living there is amazing.
What is that like? Not to toot our own horn too much, but the AWTF is quite an impressive facility. So what is it like to go in there and to practice and train compared to just staying in your room and playing there?
It’s definitely amazing. At first I thought that for Clash Royale, maybe you don’t really need it because it’s a mobile game. You can easily just play from home, for example, even laying in bed! But I feel that going there every day, it kind of… you kind of start taking it more seriously. When you enter the Alienware Training Facility, you get in a really good mood. The attitude is serious, you know you need to pay attention, stuff like that. I think it is really good.
And I would guess that applies to everyone on the team then?
Yeah, for sure. And also when you are first going there, it’s kind of crazy because you’re walking and eating lunch with, for example, Doublelift and those types of names, so it’s definitely a cool experience.
Mobile Controversy and Microtrans-WACK-tions
Now, on a bit more of a controversial topic; There’s always a lot of pushback against mobile games in esports especially. How do you deal with those criticisms and what is your rebuttal to people who think that if it’s not CoD, DotA, League of Legends, then it doesn’t really count?
Of course there is always haters, especially if you do something good, but I have always tried to ignore the haters and just let them be. I have always tried to not care about any other opinions, other than the ones from my really good friends and family and stuff like that. And I think it just needs time.
When “normal” esports - like you said, Call of Duty, DotA, stuff like that - came out, I think they also got a lot of hate from people. They would say “No way you can get paid for playing games!” And if you look at where esports is right now I feel like the same thing can happen to mobile esports in a couple of years, and I do feel like it is already happening right now.
I looked up a little bit before this interview, and I think there are 14 million users give or take for Clash Royale. Mobile gaming has such a wide reaching audience, and as you said in the next couple of years I am sure as it becomes more and more normalized people will get used to it.
Yeah I agree. When this all first started how supportive was your family over the course of the last two or three years? When it started were they unsure and now they’ve seen it for a while has it gotten a lot better?
I feel like I am very lucky with the family that I have because they have always been really supportive. Of course in the beginning, my first live event in Paris, I came to my parents saying, “I’m going to Paris, I qualified, and I can take one of you guys with me!” They were unsure about it, they didn’t really know how it worked or that it actually existed, but they were still super supportive.
Actually, I made the decision with them that I should take this opportunity to do this now and quit studying. Of course I finished highschool, but more studying for example, I can always do that in a couple of years. But I won’t have this opportunity in a couple of years. And actually my grandparents are also super supportive. They always watch the matches and watch my videos, so I feel like I am definitely really lucky.
That’s really cool! So they all know what is going on and they can all follow along as well?
I remember talking to Boeufmac a long time ago, and he had said the amount of time that he had spent going over decks to get started was astronomical. What would you credit to your success as a competitive Clash player?
I think in general it helps that I am always really calm and focused, but I can also kind of predict the plays that my opponents will make, and that helps.
And you aren’t just talking about which decks they use, you mean which cards they are going to play within the match, right?
This is kind of an obvious question but how important is that, being able to counterplay your opponents?
*laughs* As you said it is kind of obvious, it is super important. Being able to, for example, keep track of your opponent’s cycle helps a lot because you can in your head decide what is the best option of play, “if I do this he will most likely do this so it would be better to do this other thing.” Honestly, I think people who don’t play Clash Royale might think it is a really easy game or really simple, like you just play the card and see what it does, but on a competitive level it’s actually insane.
I remember when it first came out and people figured out that Hogrider trick where you could drop it at the same time as something else and it would jump and avoid buildings and go straight to the tower. It was crazy the amount of damage that could do, but I could not even do that 50% of the time. What are some of your favorite decks to run?
I feel like I’m pretty versatile, I feel like I can use any type of deck even like cheap or beat down decks but I think mainly I prefer cycle decks because it’s easier to outplay and out-cycle your opponents.
Do you prefer to play quickly then?
Yeah cheap cycle decks are my go to deck but as I said I’m also versatile so I’m also fine with running a heavy golem deck or lava hound or things like that.
Check out Surgical Goblin on his YouTube channel.
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