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I'm sitting in the waiting room outside the Tiering Room of Smogon HQ in sunny Cleveland, Ohio, waiting to see the king of Tiering himself, JabbaTheGriffin. This is an interview that's been in the making for a while; it was continuously pushed back by Jabba's secretary, citing "important council business." Eventually, though, I grew tired of Setsuna chewing me out, and after the 5th angry phone call, I made the long walk from the Central Command building to the Suspect Testing Center and flashed my Admin ID to get past the secretary. Pen and paper in hand, I was finally ready to breach the veil of secrecy in front of Smogon's most controversial process.
I walk into the Tiering Room, half expecting to see Jabba in a Bond-villain-esque swivel chair, stroking a cat. Instead, I see Jabba with his shirtsleeves rolled up past his elbows, covered in sweat from running from monitor to monitor, each by a man at a desk; I can faintly make out a teal, wing-shaped marking on each of their lapels. He's feverishly barking orders that somehow relate to the Pokemon statistics on the screens, but I manage to flag him down and get him into a chair long enough to ask him a bit about his role on Smogon.
OK Jabba, let's start with the standard questions: who are you in real life, what do you do, what do you aspire to do? Let's meet the man behind what used to be a whole folder of Dexter avatars.
It's unfortunate that I had to stop using Dexter avatars because they never released another season!
I'm currently in law school, heading into my final year.
I'm not very interesting besides that. I probably have the same hobbies everyone else on a competitive Pokemon website has.
You don't give yourself enough credit—you're studying law while most people on this site are under 18. Through all this work, how did you get started on Smogon?
Well I joined the site in 2007, but before that I had played competitive Pokemon off and on for a few years. I'm pretty sure during my sophomore year in college I was pretty big into a social board on GameFAQs and they were holding a Pokemon league/tournament of some sort.
I was like well shit I used to dominate the best players in the game with my SubReversal Medicham, I think I'll join!
So then one of the people in the league, DekarTKB, was having me help him test for a mono-tournament. I asked him where the tournament was being held and he directed me to Smogon. I joined for the tournaments and never looked back.
Also side-note, the same GameFAQs social board league that led to me joining Smogon also produced LegendaryCurt, the best player to ever play the game.
A bell goes off in my head at the mention of that name. I know to tread carefully in this area…
The LegendaryCurt and you seem to have an interesting relationship, as hinted by various posts on Smogon. Tell me a bit about him and why he isn't your fellow Super Mod.
Oh god. Him and I had the most insane love/hate relationship ever. For people who also know my history with jrrrrrrr, there's really no comparison. We came from the same site at the same time and rose up at the same time. We were really good friends but Curt was the sorest loser ever. I'm not exaggerating. He puts reyscarface to shame. If Curt had stuck around, there would have been a sportsmanship infraction years ago.
So it was really hard to maintain a friendship with someone you tested a lot with when post-battle would always turn into a full on argument on who would have won if there wasn't a Crunch Defense drop on turn 4. So we started to grow apart and I think the rest of the site, especially Jumpman, started to get fed up with his bullshit (though chaos always liked him for some reason and had a tendency to overturn infractions given to him).
I don't think he was fond of the hate, so thankfully for the site, and unfortunately for team Canada, he decided to leave.
Speaking of Jumpman, you two have something in common—you've both had hands in crafting our suspect testing system. How did you get involved in Smogon's most controversial, yet incredibly central, process?
Well as a player, I prefer playing in a balanced metagame. Some players will play anything you give to them, and props to them for that. But metagames with unbalanced elements always rubbed me the wrong way. So by the time we had finally gotten around to the possibility of instituting a suspect testing process, I wanted to make sure the testing process was crafted to make sure we ended up with a balanced metagame.
So when the topics were opened up in Policy Review, I believe, I took a massive role in trying to craft a process that could successfully turn the metagame that was currently dominated by a few suspects into a balanced one.
I'll admit the end product was somewhat of an uncoordinated mess at times, especially the infamous Stage 3, but I think we learned a lot from the process and it really helped us create a pretty seamless suspect testing process like we used in DPP UU and early BW OU.
What do you think made it a mess? As an outsider, I was sort of confused by the point of Stage 3; do you mind shedding some light on that?
Before he can respond to my query, a siren starts blaring and a desk jockey yells out "Terrakion rising by 5.2%!" Jabba starts to get up, but I push him back into his chair.
Well alright I don't know how deep we want to get into the DPP OU suspect testing process in a Smog interview, because I could write a dissertation on this bad boy, but I'll break it down as best I can.
So the first two parts of the process, stage 1 and stage 2, were created by me. What they were meant to do was to test both current metagame suspects (Garchomp), as well as Pokemon that had previously been Uber (Manaphy) in isolation.
This was to see the effect that each Pokemon had on the metagame. Does Garchomp break the game when it's the only suspect? What about Latios? What about Manaphy?
Well then the problem arose, "well what if these Pokemon, when added together in the metagame, break it?"
So Jumpman came up with Stage 3.
He takes a deep breath. I can feel the agony in what he says next.
My vision for Stage 3 was to pretty much be a 1 month or less process in which we just check to see we got things right. Somehow....it didn't turn out that way. It was definitely a bit painful to watch that part of the process last for what was probably almost a year. But we came out on the other side better human beings for living through it.
Pleased with his answer, he gives a curt smile. A weight has clearly been lifted from his shoulders; I get the feeling that he doesn't like talking about this aspect of Smogon's past.
Evolution at its finest. So what new knowledge did you take into the start of BW?
Well the best part of BW is that we were starting fresh and we had an initial banlist that we all agreed should be in place and never really questioned. So we didn't have to deal with introducing new suspects. From there it was pretty much just implementing the system that was used in DPP UU.
And of course the most important thing we learned is that no one wants to write a book to vote on a Pokemon.
So, how did the BW testing work in practice, and why did we totally shift our paradigm to a council system?
Well the BW process was as simple as can be. Pokemon players play Pokemon, then at the end of 4-6 weeks, we have the best players vote on the Pokemon that the players decided may be too strong. It was simple, easy, and efficient.
A pained smirk crosses his face.
Unfortunately, the Greed God of Pokemon, chaos, would have no suspect testing on his site so he issued the command from Mount Olympus to cease this foolishness at once before he smote us.
I took a team of trusty Greek Pokemon demigods, Aldaron and Haunter, to Mount Olympus to appease the angry God and somehow we ended up with a council system.
But really, the council system is the only alternative to suspect voting, so me and Aldaron pitched it to Arti and that was that. Haunter and Bloo were added later because three people is way too exclusive.
Ah, but I'm starting to hear some rumors and rumblings of a return to a suspect testing system. Can you confirm, deny, or elaborate upon this?
I can neither confirm nor deny any rumors at this time; please direct any questions about suspect testing to my loyal secretary locopoke.
Jabba smiles a coy smile. I get my pen ready—this is going to be good.
But seriously, it's tricky right now. I can tell you we want a hybrid system. That means that we'd keep the councils in place, but have suspect tests run at the same time.
How this will work, I have no clue. But in the near future, once we have a stable official ladder, expect to see some sort of announcement.
Well, I'm sure many of our readers will be excited to be able to get back involved in testing. Let's move away from suspect testing for a moment. You're also an avid battler still, despite all the work you have to do for us. What tiers and tournaments excite you most right now?
I know this may be blasphemous for me to say, as an OU council-member and the UU boss, but I'm really big on RU right now. I think the two tiers above it have some elements that make it frustrating to play. OU has weather wars and a few Pokemon (Dragonite, Tornadus-Therian, Genesect) that really ruin it for me, while UU has good Spikers and terrible spinners (though thankfully it isn't as Spike-dependent as it was pre-Deoxys-D ban).
I think RU has the most enjoyable level of balanced combined with that "you can use almost anything!" style that DPP UU had going last gen. Therefore I'm obviously really big into the RU Open right now.
Outside of that, no tournament has really piqued my interest lately. For most of the year I just sit patiently waiting for SPL to start.
Sirens blare again—more sirens than I thought existed in the universe. People are starting to get up and run around. One young-looking desk worker practically trips over his own feet running towards Jabba, but I wave him off. I need to finish this interview and get it to Setsuna.
Ah. The Team Raiders. You guys had a good run for the tournament, but alas, it was not to be. Good luck to you guys next year. Unfortunately though, we've got to come to a close since we've already pumped our readers full of information. Any last things you'd like to add?
Stay in school, eat your Wheaties, and don't use Focus Blast.
Topical as always. Thanks for the talk, Jabba.
No problem. Just don't take anything I say out of context; I know how the liberal news media works. Next thing you know the headline of my interview is "I murder cats!"
Jabba looks to me for the go ahead and I oblige him, letting the interview finish on that note. I get up, and am almost immediately pushed to the door by a burlier employee while Jabba runs off and starts barking orders pertaining to certain Pokemon. I walk out of the Tiering Room and back towards Setsuna's office in Central Command, thankful that I'm an Ubers player and don't have to deal with the same drama as Jabba.
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