This article seeks to detail Smogon's philosophy on battling in general, as well as the community's attitudes and intentions. Part 2 applies this to various arguments leveled against Smogon in an informative way. Ultimately, this article seeks to give people an understanding of competitive battling in general and Smogon specifically, so they can be better informed.
In some ways, it is very difficult for some people to understand why Smogon is the way it is. It has been criticized for its behaviors, its beliefs, and its general attitude. But it can be hard to grasp that this is often intended and, indeed, somewhat necessary for Smogon to "work", to perform at its highest effectiveness. These behaviors are not from a sense of cruelty or bias, but from a sort of entitlement, earned through hard work and experience. This document is intended to give some insight into Smogon's philosophy, and an understanding of what Smogon intends to do for its users. The end of the document will serve to dispel certain myths about battling and Smogon itself, so the reader will understand common arguments and misinformation and our responses to them.
It is often stated that Pokémon is not a "serious" game, but rather a child's game, meant to be played with a certain mildness that does not hold a place for the serious, and sometimes "cold", manner with which many of the users of Smogon hold themselves to. This is not entirely incorrect—indeed, it should be recognized that the casual fan is one of the largest buyers of Pokémon and the reason for its phenomenal success. However, the other side of its success is that it can be taken seriously, a testament to the incredible depth of the stat system, the myriad modes and teambuilding options, and the well-calculated balance that Game Freak has intended to bring to the game. No better proof can be demonstrated for the justification of the competitive style than Emerald—a game that has added numerous extras, all for the enjoyment of the competitive player. The Battle Frontier was always intended to feed on the competitive aspect, to nurture it and give it 7 different methods of application, to give competitive players an incentive to purchase and become valuable customers. It seems very unlikely to this author that any casual fan has ever acquired a Gold Symbol—the acquisition of even 1, let alone all 7, demonstrates a commitment and knowledge of the inner workings of Pokémon that can only be the result of a drive for excellence. In the same way, multiplayer battles can be and are approached with a competitive spirit. However, in this arena, the stakes are higher—a human being is often a much more difficult and unpredictable opponent than an AI, making the victory much more satisfying and desirable. If both players subscribe to this doctrine, then the result is inevitable—competitive battling, as Smogon has come to view it.
Smogon, which is comprised of players who have battled competitively since the old days of Red and Blue, has a great deal of experience with this particular area. It has taken into account many rules—some of them subscribed to by Game Freak itself in its Battle Towers, as well as various rules that were designed in the Stadium series. The "OU metagame" is the result of a search for a balanced game, where player skill, teambuilding skill, and a certain amount of luck combine to execute victory. The "OU metagame" is in no ways perfect, but it should be pointed out that 99% of multiplayer games are often plagued by imbalance and the resulting "tiers", and it is fortunate that Pokémon's detailed depth, combined with the intelligent minds of its players, working to prevent various abuses, is capable of producing a diverse and enjoyable arena. However, there is still a search for betterment—the "UU metagame" is an attempt to give a more interesting look at Pokémon that may not compete well with the stronger Pokémon of the game; on the other side of the spectrum, the "Ubers metagame" exists to develop an understanding of Pokémon's strongest and most brutal combatants. However, the "OU metagame", an entity that has existed in an official state since Pokémon Stadium's Poke Cup, is the main concentration of this document.
In all metagames supported by the site, there exist various "standards" as defined by Smogon's elite. These standard sets have been tested through numerous battles, careful design work, and lengthy discussions. This is not to imply that these standard sets are perfect—indeed, new developments arise constantly that require a shifting or rethinking of these sets. New sets arise from a shift of the current standards and the approach of the players—the "Tyraniboah" set is an excellent example of how a new standard set is materialized. Ultimately, this is really the desire and the point of Smogon—it is not so much to "enforce" the standards, but to give its users the skills necessary to make new ones! The saying goes "two heads are better than one"—indeed, hundreds of heads are far better than just the ones of the small circle of Smogon's elite. It is also not desired to merely "give" people the standards and expect them to be used; but for people to understand the standards and why they work. It is with this knowledge, and this knowledge alone, that a player becomes a strong battler. Smogon is not a "boss" of the player, but a teacher—a valuable teacher, imparting knowledge that would require years of experience to attain otherwise.
Still, sometimes it is the inclination of players to rebel against the "accepted standard", for a multitude of reasons. Players find flaws, whether perceived or real, in the state of the OU metagame, and attempt to forge their own path, and develop their own designs based on their current knowledge. Once in a while, this results in an effective new design; other times it merely results in the same standard, or one of the standards, that was already designed. However, many times it results in an inferior design, an artifact of ignorance and poor planning. This experience, ironically, can be valuable—for, by learning the hard way, the player will realize their error and become smarter because of it—but stubbornness thrives in these conditions, and the result is a player who is continually refusing to accept the error of their ways and the wisdom of the accepted standard. It is times like these where arguments result and bad feelings arise. It is not the intent of the author to teach openmindedness and diplomacy—indeed, if these things could be taught so simply, the world would be a better place. However, one should always take a step back before continuing an argument, and contemplate whether their position is valid. One who accepts their mistakes is rarely ridiculed, but often thought better of for having a virtue.
The reader might be curious as to what constitutes a "good design" and what constitutes a "bad design"—of course, beyond the simple advice of "read the analyses, read the discussions on the forums, and battle a lot", it might be helpful to view a few examples of what NOT to do—a cliche, but effective.
One common problem people have with competitive battling is its favoritism towards a certain set of Pokémon (standards) over others. Why, they wonder, is Beautifly or Flareon not represented as well as others like Tyranitar or Hydreigon? The simple response, which has been touched on, is that Pokémon has tiers. In the competitive arena, victory is paramount—and against high-tier Pokémon, lesser Pokémon are simply shut out by the virtue of poor moves, poor stats, or both—or, sometimes, simply the fact that another Pokémon is a superior choice. Consider Whiscash as opposed to Swampert—you can compare them in virtually any way and see that Swampert performs better or similarly in all cases. The UU (and RU and NU) metagames exist to mitigate this problem by creating an arena where lesser Pokémon can be used while still following the competitive ideal, but this is not perfect, and many Pokémon simply find themselves never used.
It should be noted, however, that the player who uses a lesser Pokémon and still attains victory consistently is rewarded with the utmost respect—so a player who values his or her "favorites" should consider investing the knowledge of Smogon into the lesser Pokémon.
Another misplaced argument is the opposite—the banishment of lesser legendaries. This is not disputed in the case of monsters like Mewtwo, but for strong yet available choices like Azelf, or even lesser Pokémon like Moltres, which aren't even considered standard! The important thought to keep in mind is that all Pokémon are unique, and there is actually a world of difference between, say, Jirachi and Articuno—while the former is high-tier and enjoys consistent use, the latter is a forgotten rarity due to a poor stat distribution and typing. Smogon attempts to avoid bans as much as possible—only when it becomes very apparent that a Pokémon is far too powerful to be in line with a balanced metagame is it banished permanently from the standard arena. Many legendary Pokémon are very balanced within the realm of standards and open up new options for players, who value any option to avoid staleness.
The above arguments sometimes drive people to search for their own metagames, unique ideas outside the realm of Smogon's standards. This is not a bad idea—Smogon hosts many unique tournaments, and innovators can use a tournament as a testing ground for their ideas. However, do not expect Smogon to be accepting of new metagames on a more general basis—it is the simplicity and effectiveness of the current metagame, more than anything, that justifies the main ruleset. Smogon's major tournaments will almost always use the standard ruleset, which is more than enough to encourage most players to play by them regularly. Further, ensure that your ideas are actually worthwhile before taking them up with others—this is best done when your understanding of Pokémon is very strong, and that understanding can easily come from—where else?—developing a familiarity with Smogon's main ruleset.
The last argument comes not from the inexperienced, but from the experienced—those experienced with other generations, attempting to apply their experience to newer or even older generations. It should be remembered that there have been some major changes from each generation to the next—GS adding new types and changing Hyper Beam; RS's EV system; and while the RS-> DP ->Platinum changes seem to be less revolutionary, new, unthought-of standards like Choice Scarf Heatran and Swords Dance Bullet Punch Scizor are major players that change the shape of the metagame, making certain Pokémon and strategies less desirable while making others more effective.
There are far more arguments for and against competitive battling—this part of the document may expand in the future, but the first part lays the foundation for pro-competitive arguments and should always be kept in mind. If you've read this whole document (or just skipped to the end), you should just know that experience is the best teacher—if you value competitive battling, Smogon can be a shortcut to developing your knowledge, but there is often no substitute for experience. If you still find competitive battling unappealing, then hopefully you at least understand Smogon's philosophy, and realize that it is not a terrible thing, but just another way of enjoying the great game of Pokémon.