Interview: Rob Cygul on Streaming and Community

16th Jul 2021 Nicola Price

Rob Cygul regularly appeared in our Skirmish articles, participating in a number of online skirmishes across the world. A member of the Tolarian Dropouts team, he broadcast almost all of his Skirmish matches to their YouTube and Twitch channels. We sat down to talk about his start in the community, and how he got into streaming.

“I got involved with Flesh and Blood because I… used to play [trading card games] quite a bit... I really don't play anymore but I just happened to be watching YouTube videos one day, and I was watching one of Rudy’s videos and he was just opening Flesh and Blood and I was just kinda seeing the cards and was just kinda intrigued, you know?”

After watching more videos about the game, Rob came to the website to find out more, and pulled up the store locator to find his closest LGS.

‘I found a place in Orlando… called the Cloak & Blaster, I called the store up, you know I never had- I didn't have friends that played the game or anything, I just kind of went out on a limb and called the store up was like “hey, you guys getting Flesh and Blood?” I was talking with a gentleman named Matt and he was like... the Flesh and Blood expert. He ran all the events, so when we started coming out of lockdowns, I called up Matt, and I was like “hey, I'm really looking to get into this game, try it out, you know?” and so he told me- really friendly guy, and has since become one of my really good friends, but he told me to come down to the shop, check it out; he had a couple of Ira starter decks, to learn to play.

‘So I went down there he played a couple rounds of an actual game with me and I was hooked. I bought whatever product that he had; I think he had Arcane Rising packs, and I think I bought a box, and I pre-ordered some Crucible [of War]. I was watching like a bunch of YouTube videos- anything I could find, back then, was really like- it was kind of hard to find a lot of content back then just cuz the game was so new and-

‘Yeah, I mean, that's how I found out about the game. Kinda out-of-the-blue stumbled upon it, you know… the YouTube algorithm. Just being able to go there and obviously have someone that was like an ambassador figure over there, because that was the only shop that sold Flesh and Blood within probably a 2-hour drive? So that was really cool, and I really can't thank Matt enough for getting me into the game, ‘cause it's become my life, you know?’

Rob Cygul with his Dad

‘So I think I started playing at Cloak and Blaster, and then- I was actually on my way up to my brother's wedding, and my parents had picked me up a couple boxes of Arcane Rising in Tampa, which is a little ways away at a shop down there, and I was on my way up there and - I'd never heard of Discord before but I’d just signed up on Discord. An individual named Alex Laplume, he reached out to me and was like “Hey we're playing up at The Collective” - and that was another shop that I had called when I was trying to get into the game. They were interested in carrying it, but nobody was really playing it, so I guess the time that I had called them till the time that Alex had called me or messaged me on Discord, they had started a community up there.’

Alex Laplume is one of the other three members of the Tolarian Dropouts team, featuring in the Top 8 of multiple Skirmish events throughout both seasons, including placing first in the Timetwister Games event, and third at the Game Kastle Sacramento event.

‘So I started playing with them as well, and then, you know... I'm just, like, a competitive person at heart, and I was trying to find and watch anything, and listen to anything about Flesh and Blood I could to try to become a better player. You know, we were in a community where everyone was new at the game... a couple players have been playing longer than I had, but like everybody was pretty much at that ground level, with strategy and stuff. So, you know, I just said to myself like ‘hey it would be really cool to just make content because I feel like there's just that need- at that time, there was a bunch of like box opening videos and stuff like that, there was a couple of streams you know a couple videos you remember seeing like all I got Matt Rogers Deck Tech on [Dorinthea] back in the day and then like the developers playing the game on the Flesh and Blood YouTube channel.’

‘Unlike you know where was before Flesh and Blood, I was kind of really at that fork in the road where I had all these cold foils, I had all these legendaries… and they look great but they're getting kind of expensive, I was playing with them and then I'm like- I could really just maybe sell these and then use the money, put it into content creation... so I mean, that's what I did.

‘I really wanted to make content for other players out there... I think another thing that really kind of just pushed me into that direction is that when we got the Skirmish announcement here in Florida.’

‘We got the word that all of the United States skirmishes needed to be online and we're totally cool with it… it wound up being like a blessing in disguise because we were able to play in so many. I think I played in like 28 or 29 skirmishes I got to meet players all over the world and just build relationships with like, card shop owners, all the content creators, other players…

It took my game to the next level... I started connecting with the high-end players, like the pros over New Zealand reached out because they were watching the stream. I thought it was like really cool and I was starstruck like- my God, these guys want to play with me, and that was really cool for me and I got to play with some of the best I'll never forget Cayle gave me a couple games and I was just like, speechless I was trying to soak up all the information that eat he was used telling me cuz he had so much time in the game you know.’

‘That was kind of like another push it was like, alright, skirmishes are going to be online, so I need to get some kind of computer and webcam setup, so I was like I let's go for it- let's get a camera, let's get the the streaming thing going to the computer. I just like playing games and try to… just be myself, you know. It's been awesome because I've been able to meet so many people doing it, and it was just, like- it was easy, you know. I set up the stream with templates and stuff I got- I just watched YouTube videos to learn how to do it. I didn't know how to do any of this but you know we live in a world where you can literally figure out how to do anything off YouTube… it's just crazy.

‘Before I got into the game, I didn't even own a computer... I'm not a tech guy I don't know much about computers and I never dreamed anything before I never like I was in TV production in high school, so I had worked with cameras and some of that you know I knew how to like edit video I've worked with like Adobe Premiere and so the guy but I mean that it's been at least ten years you know maybe like 10, 12 years since I've touched anything like that so yeah I just you know waiting for getting into the game early I was able to acquire a lot of cards that wound up accumulating quite some value.

‘And I made the decision to sell the expensive part of my collection, to then invest that in a computer setup, and cameras, and you know- everything that I could do to actually get like a stream setup and that so that I'd like to be able to make content. So had I never found Flesh and Blood, I probably wouldn't have ever bought a computer that could stream and make content, and edit videos, and stuff like that, so it's just really kind of crazy sometimes when I think back.’

‘I started to do it because, as a player, I really wanted to be able to see games, to see interactions, watch somebody just play. That’s kind of how it started, and then people started watching, and supporting me… You just make all these friendships and it’s just really cool. Another thing is that, when I first started the Skirmish season, when I realised it was 6XP per win, I thought- you know, it’s going to be really hard, but I was going to try- I really tried my hardest to reach 1,000XP.’

Rob Cygul was very, very close to being the first person in the United States to reach 1,000 XP, with Jacob Burns beating him by a small margin. We previously spoke with Jacob Burns about this challenge, and not unlike his rival for the title, Rob Cygul speaks to the friendly competition between them, and seeing which of them could reach the goal first.

‘It was a great run. Jake Burns, he got it- he’s a really great guy, he’s out in Texas, we’ve gone back and forth playing games all throughout Skirmishes, playing Flesh and Blood in general. It was really cool- I don’t want to say we had a rivalry, because it wasn’t… It was like a goal for me. I’m pretty sure he had like 350XP on me going into Skirmish, so it was a really hard thing for me to do, but I almost got there, you know. Like I said, I played in probably 28, 29 skirmishes, and I was playing in [events] in Greece at six o’clock in the morning my time, and I was playing… I sometimes played three [events] in one day, which was kind of crazy, you know, like 18 hours of Flesh and Blood, but I just couldn’t get enough of it.

‘I was learning, I was doing okay; I was talking with players like Davis Kingsley out in California, and we came up with this Dorinthea build, and I was getting some tips from Tom Penny over in New Zealand… it was a lot of fun. I would do it again in a heartbeat. I did my best, I put my best foot forward, my best effort, and that’s all I thought I could do, so I was happy with it.’

‘The community is just great in general. Jake’s been really cool, he’s a really great guy- the players are all just really supportive. I play with Dante [Delfico] all the time, we met in Skirmish season, I’ve played with Brendan Patrick, he does the Gauntlet in the Arsenal Pass podcast with Hayden Dale; I get to play with a couple of players from over in New Zealand, here and there… the community’s just great. We’re all just trying to get better at the game, at least over here in the States, in North America, it’s just been pretty sweet.’

When I turn the conversation to the topic of competitive play, Rob starts talking about his own experiences with local community, and the players he faces in his area.

‘I know some players in North America feel as though the only way to get that competitive fix is by playing online - well that’s not the case where I’m from. We have the 10 of the top 20 players in the United States playing in our local armories every single week, and it’s as competitive as it gets here in the States.

‘While I might do really well in Skirmishes here and there, I go to my local Armory and I just get taken to school. I get to play with some of the best players, and it’s just really humbling. You’re constantly learning with other players, and you know, we’re just playing a lot. We haven’t had Callings or major tournaments like Road to Nationals since like, 2019, so Skirmish was a huge deal for us. We were playing two to three times a week in Armories, and then Skirmish came along, and while we all did a lot of them online, we’ve all still continued to play in-person, and continue to try to grow the community as well.’

‘We always try to get new players into the game. We do different prize structures with our Armory events… it’s not just the four best players who take [prizes]. Every week, we try to incorporate something, you know, where like, we vote on a People’s Champion, and every week the players that attend get a vote. And they could vote for anybody, anybody who’s played the game there before. So if someone’s not there for a week, they could still receive a vote, but if they’re not there, they can’t cast a vote, you have to be there… there’s just this camaraderie we’ve built in the community.’

To finish, I wanted to ask Rob, who’s had the opportunity to play in both online and offline events, about his favourite experience in an online tournament, and his favourite experience in an offline tournament.

‘I want to say my favourite online event was probably the Deck Edge Skirmish - this was about the third or fourth Skirmish that I'd played in. I got to play Iain from Ritetime Gaming, and it was really cool being able to play somebody from across the other side of the world, and he was just such an experienced player… but I actually wound up winning, that was the first Skirmish that I won and took first place in, so that was really cool for me.’

‘Can absolutely say my favourite experience, most recently, was in-person with the pre-release of Monarch. That was really huge for us as players, because we didn’t get the pre-releases for Crucible of War here, and this was the first set that came out where we had our community really built up. We were doing the thing with Tolarian Dropouts, we were streaming games, making content, shooting videos, and we were like- alright, we’re going all out for pre-release. So we did this awesome pre-release weekend where Friday, we went to the Cloak & Blaster, we filmed a little bit of it, and we got to open [some packs] of Monarch.

‘The next Saturday, we drove down to Tampa, to go play in Kitchen Table Games’ pre-release event… It’s probably an hour-and-a-half away from where we live. It was pretty cool, we drove down there- we rented a sprinter van, and we took like, a road trip… We printed the Tolarian Dropout’s logo out on printer paper and put signs on the van… we drove down there and stayed the night at the Hard Rock hotel. We did a mock sealed in the hotel room, which was kind of cool, amongst us friends. Then we drove, on Sunday, from the hotel we were staying at right in to The Collective, for their pre-release… it was just a blast. We had this epic pre-release weekend, we had a really good time, and it was just the first road trip we took for FAB. I can’t wait for the Callings and Road to Nats, because we’re hitting all the Callings for sure. The last one is in my hometown, I’m just speechless… I’m so stoked.’