Interview with KrossUp League Champion, @Raven_Is_Raw

With the KrossUp circuit at its end, we wanted to dive into the mind of the man who took on his greatest challenges to become the league champion.

Last weekend, the eight best Killer Instinct players in the league (well, nine if you count the tie-breaker with DaaChronicle and MnT Letalis) met in a double elimination bracket to compete for the title of KrossUp Champion along with increased cash prizes. Raven is Raw was initially tied with Mike N Ike 25 for sixth place in the rankings, a status which ensured his place in the finale. With seven Top 8 placings but no wins from the eight-week series, the KI community mostly considered him a wild card. He would go on to defy predictions by taking out a handful of the world’s best players to win it all.

His road included UA Wheels, UA Bass and HW xXHoLoGrAmXx, all of whom initially entered the finale with more league points than Raven had acquired. Not to mention that each of them boasted tournament wins whereas Raven had none to speak of. And yet, the hours he invested into his practice would lead him to reap his rewards as he displayed possibly some of the best gameplay with Spinal, a character who is notorious for his ability to lock the opponent’s meter out of the match.

If that doesn’t sound insane enough to you, HW xXHoLoGrAmXx defeated F3 Sleep, the World Cup champion, in the finale twice to make his return to Grand Finals, but Raven himself dealt a similar punishment to Hologram to seize the big victory. Frankly, it’s a fitting conclusion to his full-time run throughout the league.

In this interview, I sit down with Raven to ask him questions about his time as a Killer Instinct player. Obviously his results in KrossUp are included in the discussion. Enjoy!


JagoBlake: First of all, congratulations on becoming the KrossUp Champion! Before we dive into that, however, the StreamMe community would like to know – who are you?

Raven is Raw: My name is Damian Gonzalez and I am 22 years old. I’m a broadcast student who enjoys video games when I am not doing school assignments or working.

JagoBlake: What prompted you to start competing in Killer Instinct?

Raven is Raw: I remember watching E3 2013 at home and I was excited about all the new  consoles and games that were gonna come out. As I was watching the Xbox presentation, I remember they had just finished talking about RYSE when all of a sudden, music started blaring out from the speakers and the screen started flashing. Then I heard “Coming to your home only on Xbox One!” with the letters KI flashing in the back and I just lost my mind. I finally got another version of this game that I grew up playing on my SNES and I immediately knew that I was going to play this game and try my best to be good at it.

JagoBlake: From our previous encounters as well as your appearances on stream, you’ve always been using Spinal. What draws you to that character?

Raven is Raw: I’ve always been drawn to Spinal ever since I was a little kid who played the first Killer Instinct on the SNES. I always remember liking that he was this undead skeleton that uses a sword and shield as his weapon of choice. I loved that his win quote was a cackle and that some of his moves were copies of his opponent’s moves.

JagoBlake: Can you describe to us your experience at Killer Instinct World Cup 2017?

Raven is Raw: My experience at Killer Instinct World Cup 2017 is not a simple one to describe. It was a great weekend with great friend and even greater matches. It was amazing to sit on that stage and play in front of an audience whether they were sitting there in the aisles or sitting down at home. It was awesome to be able to be backstage and practice with some of the greatest players from across the globe. I highly recommend that everyone in the KI community come out to the next one in order to have a great experience.

JagoBlake: Of all the tournament matches you’ve played in, can you tell us about the one that stands out to you the most?

Raven is Raw: The one tournament match that stands out to me the most is my match against UA Bass at Kombo Klash San Antonio. As the tournament came closer and closer, I came to the realization that if I wanted to qualify for KIWC 2017, then I would need to go through him. That would not be an easy thing to accomplish considering that he basically taught me just about everything that I know when it comes to Spinal. So when the day came and I saw that we would end up in Winner’s Finals, I sat down and began to focus about my match with him. I didn’t even worry about my first Top 8 match against Pixel Beat, because I was just looking at the prize at hand. When I saw our names across from each other in Winner’s Finals, I couldn’t help but remember all the time we had ever played before all the way back to when we first met and played in tournament at the very first Kombo Klash back in 2014 which was one of the first tournaments I had ever done. That Winner’s Finals set was one of the greatest sets I had ever played against one of the greatest players to play the game. It was an awesome set between the best two Spinal players in season 3 and I suggest that everyone go and enjoy the set.

JagoBlake: Ever since you began competing in the KrossUp circuit, you’ve been known to place in Top 8 every week except for Week 8. What do you feel you owe your consistency to?

Raven is Raw: I feel like I owe my consistency to sticking it out with Spinal. I don’t know or care how the majority of the community thinks about Spinal, but I definitely know that he has some bad MUs in Season 3. My ability to overcome his bad MUs has helped me stay resilient when I face strong characters and even stronger players. That being said, I can’t wait to be putting work into some characters that could definitely help me become a stronger competitor.

JagoBlake: How confident were you going into the KrossUp Season Finale?

Raven is Raw: I was feeling very confident. My break with Spinal was very beneficial to me because as I played sets with strong players to get warmed up for the Finale, I noticed that I felt rejuvenated. I felt like decision making was on point and I was aware of all the risks I wanted to take. These skills coupled with my ability to adapt had me feeling very confident. There was honestly only two people that I didn’t want to face in the finale, and I am pretty fortunate that I didn’t play them.

JagoBlake: Describe your matches you’ve had with Wheels, Bass and Hologram.

Raven is Raw: Wheels is a strong player and he plays some characters that I was definitely concerned with facing. We had some very close matches and although I won this time, I still feel like he is the better player. I will consider this to be a runback for our match at the KIWC, this time without any mistakes on my part. Bass is another strong player that has shown me the ropes and I owe my skill level too. We had a great set that reminds me of our set from Kombo Klash San Antonio. Hologram is a strong player with an even stronger character. After he beat me in one of the previous Kross Up brackets, I made sure to be on point in that bad MU and have my homework done for future matches. It definitely paid off because after that Kross Up match, we played at the Cup and the outcome was the same as the Kross Up Finale, with me standing as the victor.

JagoBlake: Now that the World Cup and KrossUp are behind us, what are your plans going forward? Do you intend to continue playing KI competitively, or are you thinking of branching out into other fighters?

Raven is Raw: My plans going forward are to definitely focus on some aspects of my life outside of competing such as my education and work. I will continue to play KI competitively with Spinal being my main, but I am interested in other games with other characters. I will definitely be playing KI and SFV at Texas Showdown in May, and hopefully I will be playing Injustice 2 at CEO.

JagoBlake: When it comes to esports, it’s no exaggeration to say that fighting games have begun to occupy a larger share of the spotlight than in past years. How do you feel about the evolution of the FGC?

Raven is Raw: KI was my gateway into the FGC so I don’t have much experience with it, but I am in love with the evolution that I’ve seen. It’s great to see games make it TV via ESPN or TBS.

JagoBlake: What exactly do you find yourself doing when training in preparation for skilled players?

Raven is Raw: I get prepared by studying the MUs on a character level, and then I make sure to watch whatever tapes are available so that I can study the MU on a player level so that I can be aware of tendencies. Tendencies like breaker patterns and decision making are very important in KI and it is helpful to have things like that scouted out before a bracket.

 JagoBlake: What offline events do you plan to attend in the near future?

Raven is Raw: I am registered and confirmed for Texas Showdown 2017 and CEO 2017. I am making plans to attend Defend the North, Absolute Battle and maybe even SoCal Regionals if the stars align properly.

JagoBlake: Has your time in the FGC affected your perceptions on anything unrelated to fighting games?

Raven is Raw: My time in the FGC has definitely affected my perceptions outside of competitive fighting games in a positive way. My experiences traveling for competition along with the people I meet has helped me grow as a person more than I could ever have imagined prior to all of the competitions.

JagoBlake: How do you feel about the current state of balance for Killer Instinct? Have you any opinions on what could or shouldn’t be done for it?

Raven is Raw: I’m fine with the current balance for the most part. It is just part of fighting games being fighting games, and sometimes you’re dealt a bad hand by having the character you like be on the lower end of the spectrum. At the end of the day strong characters can only carry players so far, and there is definitely evidence for that at the KIWC.

JagoBlake: The third mystery character has yet to be revealed. Our only hint is that it’s not a “remix” like Kilgore and Shin Hisako, according to Keits. What are your suspicions on who it might be?

Raven is Raw: I’ve heard the rumor that it is a completely new character and as long it’s not a guest character that nobody asked for (looking at you Joanna Dark), I’m genuinely excited for what the next character will be.

JagoBlake: If Killer Instinct were to receive a fourth season, what would you look forward to about it?

Raven is Raw: The main thing I would be looking forward to is just the new content that would be released.

JagoBlake: I notice from your Twitter background that you live in Texas. Did you pay a visit to the Stream.Me headquarters after the World Cup happened? If so, what was your experience there?

Raven is Raw: Yes, I am from Texas and sadly I wasn’t aware that the Stream.Me headquarters was in San Antonio until after the event. I would’ve gladly stopped by had I known sooner.

JagoBlake: Got any advice for anyone looking to pick up Killer Instinct?

Raven is Raw: Killer Instinct is not a simple game and it will definitely take time to see the results that you want, but all the tools exist in order to accomplish any goals that you have. Don’t be afraid to ask anybody in the community for help and make sure to come out and support KI at tournaments.

JagoBlake: Almost forgot to ask…what inspired your gamer tag?

Raven is Raw: My gamer tag comes from the fact that I am a huge fan of the Baltimore Ravens, and I was in desperate need of a new gamer tag. It helped that the year I changed gamer tags was the same year that the Ravens won their second Super Bowl.

JagoBlake: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us! Any shout-outs you’d like to give?

Raven is Raw: I just want to give a shout-out to all my friends and family that supported my investment into the FGC. I also want to give Brandon Alexander and the rest of the team at UA a shout-out for going above and beyond for everything they do for the Community. The final shout-out I want to give is for the KI community and their support for the game that we were even lucky to get. #PlayKI


Thanks again to Raven for such an awesome discussion! Make sure to give him a follow at his Twitter account! For more Killer Instinct with Stream.Me, check out the King of the Ring mini-series by The Dutch Brawlers!