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I arrive in New York by plane, all alone, no partner. The financial crisis has hit Smogon too. "It's either an interview partner for you, or a proper CAP stat distribution," Doug told me. The choice had not been very difficult for him. The taxi driver snickers when I tell him to take me to Flushing (I must have pronounced it wrongly somehow), but without any further ado I arrive at the church where I was told to meet my man.
I go inside, and find the place is empty except for a small cabinet in the corner. I confess that I have an interview. Whoever is on the other side tells me to do 10 Hail Mary's, then get out of that tiny space so we can continue in the open. I shake the hand of perhaps the most enjoyable religious man I have ever met.
So my first question to you is: who the hell is reachzero? Can you tell us a bit about the man behind the nickname? Age, location, hobbies, occupation, that kind of general thing?
Well, my real name is David Herling, I'm a 27 year old, life-long New Yorker! Most people probably know me as the English language pastor at House of the Lord Church in Flushing, NY, but when I'm not doing that, I enjoy reading, practicing martial arts, watching the UFC, and of course playing Pokemon.
I think that when when people first hear I'm a pastor, they assume that I'm a very serious person, and often that is true, of course. But what people don't usually realize is that I'm a very fun-loving person.
I feel that humor is a major part of really living, and it helps to be interesting in my line of work as well, so I'm always working on that.
That's interesting, a religious person with a sense of humor and a thick skin. We could use a lot more of those!
Realizing I might have said that a little too loudly, I look around to make sure we really are alone.
So what does the English language pastor do? Teach English in a church instead of a classroom?
Not quite. My church is a Chinese church, so I handle the English side of our operations. This means that I'm used to working mostly with young people--most of the older people at our church speak Mandarin. There are a few exceptions, of course. Crossing cultural lines is a major part of my life these days.
I think to myself: so even if someone heard me, chances are they won't know enough English to understand and take offense. Phew. Maybe I could throw in a few paedo jokes just to make sure though...
In terms of what I actually do, the really visible parts are preaching, leading Bible studies, and generally managing our meetings. Of course, there are aspects of my job that are a lot less visible, like counseling, giving advice, and leading the church's administration and planning.
I see, that's cool. Sounds like a job where no day is like the other. When I think of preaching I think of a whole bunch of people sitting on uncomfortable wooden seats listening to one old man tell a boring story. Kids falling asleep or being obnoxious while parents tell them to pay attention. Is that anything like how it goes when you preach?
Well, that's why it's really important to be a good public interview-speaker. No one likes listening to speeches at public ceremonies, either--because public interview-speakers tend to be boring by getting caught up in irrelevant details, speaking in monotones, and generally ignoring the audience.
I've found the need to really work hard to learning storytelling--telling a story isn't just about the plot, it's about showing the various facets of the characters, showing the unexpectedness and irony that makes for a great payoff at the climax, and then really bringing things together at the conclusion.
Keeping the audience involved and with you is absolutely key. And as I mentioned, humor really helps with that as well.
I have to ask it in every interview because I'll never see a better chance to get a public answer: is your username some kind of play on preaching? And what about the zero part? Or do you really want to reach zero something?
Oh, my username. A few years ago, I used to play Hearts on Yahoo! games, and I was interested in seeing if I could reach a zero rating by intentionally losing every game. I wasn't able to lose every game, so I failed.
The username I used was "reachzero", and I just stuck with it after that.
Lol, Hearts...I've only played the Windows variant but they cheat so badly it's not even funny...so is playing Hearts no longer a hobby of yours? Would you say you were/are good at it? (when not trying to reach zero of course...)
I was very good at it, but I don't play much these days. If I'm bored and I have that much time, I'm probably laddering on Pokemon Online.
So, let's shift our attention to this whole Pokémon thing. I hear it's pretty big. How did you end up getting into that, and how'd you end up where you are right now on Smogon?
Actually, I didn't get into Pokemon until after I graduated college! In the summer between college and seminary, I spent a month teaching English in China. While i was there, one of my students gave me a gift, a Pokemon card!
I had no idea which Pokemon it was, and I was curious, so I researched it.
The card turned out to be Groudon.
With a smile, I think back to Doug's children. "My daddy can make a Groudon!"
In the process of researching it, I found that I was interested. My sister and her boyfriend played the actual Pokemon games, so I started watching when they battled, etc.
Eventually their friend, Smogon's user Zracknel, told me about Shoddy Battle and Smogon.
And that was the beginning of it all for me!
That's certainly something different from "well I Googled Pokémon"! So at some point you must've gotten seriously hooked, because right now you're pretty high up there as a player. What do you like about competitive Pokémon?
When it comes to competitive Pokemon, what I like best is the process of actually playing--the in-battle strategy, the prediction, the clash of styles. Obviously, being recognized for being good is a nice perk, but the sheer playing and winning is the best part of it for me.
Of course, that's in a balanced metagame, like the end of 4th Generation OU. In an imbalanced metagame, I also really enjoy the Suspect process.
One of the things I didn't like about running 4th Generation UU was not being able to vote in the actual tests--having opinions on the Suspects was a major part of what made the game fun, for me.
Ah yeah, suspect tests. You'd know everything about them, after 4th Gen OU, and now you're taking Phil's job to lead the overall process. How are you liking that so far?
Well, Phil and I are very different people, and we have some very different views on Pokemon—I expect that the way that we handle the process will be pretty different. Phil was very concerned about players parking and not laddering, which was the cause of the current 15-15 system; I see that as less important because most players qualify through a short grinding period anyway. I think a return to a clear-cut rating requirement is coming in the near future.
Phil also prioritized stability--he liked longer Suspect periods, to give people a chance to ladder without thinking about the Suspect process all the time.
I prefer shorter periods, to try to get us to a balanced metagame more quickly. Generally, though, being in charge of things isn't terribly different from being on the "Brain Trust", except that it means that I need to speak up more, and that I'm more likely to take criticism now!
I see. I'll be following that from a distance, see if I can see those differences. I have one last question for you before we're closing. It is perhaps the most important question of all...
What is your favorite Pokémon?
Jirachi! The ultimate anti-metagame Pokemon, able to adapt to do almost anything you want it to do! Also, quite cute.
Just like me.
I decide I have to interfere here before we reach the awkwardness cap.
Alright, thanks for taking some time for this. Good luck in your endeavors, and may Arceus be with you or something!
Hoping I don't get struck by thunder on my way back, I take my leave and return to my beloved home country.
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