Interview with Synre

Interview by Mekkah and bojangles. Flavour by Mekkah.
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I find myself and my trusty ally ibojangles heading towards the car rental department on Detroit Metropolian Wayne Airport. Behind the counter is a man reading some Christian propaganda, mumbling. We nudge him, and he doesn't seem to notice immediately.

"Hmand all homosexuals hmust bur- Oh, good day. Can I help you?"
"Yes, we'd like to rent a car."
"Of course. I've got plenty in store, take your time to pick..."

Not much later, we drive towards our interviewee's, wondering why he didn't have anything but tractors for us...

A long, long drive later, we arrive at our victim's residence. I park the tractor, one wheel on the lawn, while ibojangles rings the doorbell. Just as I arrive at the doorstep as well, the door is opened. A nice looking man stands where the door used to be. He extends his hand.

"Hey, come on in. Stap!"

For a moment, we are confused by these contradictory instructions, but then we understand he is actually introducing himself, and we shake hands and do the same. Once inside, we install ourselves and start barraging him with questions, while he buries us under the answers.


The first question is always the most obvious. Could you give us a short introduction on who you are in real life? Age, occupation, location, hobbies?


Well, let's see...

I'm a month shy of twenty-two years old. I'm technically a senior in college, but because I did the lost college student thing I won't actually graduate until next year due to taking a bunch of classes I didn't end up needing. I'm a marketing major and that plays into the hobbies somewhat as well; I'm very interested in the process of advertising and manipulating consumers (this skill can't possibly have helped me on Smogon) and that sort of thing, so I tend to have a lot of business nerd-y interests.

I live in Michigan, which in spite of being right next to Canada is pretty much a hand-shaped piece of the south copy/pasted into the northern part of the country. I think we have like twelve jobs here throughout the entire state so living here has been a good reminder that I should probably bother to finish my education so I can live anywhere else. This whole recession that hit the US is pretty funny since we've been in one for like a decade now. Also the people here are pretty conservative, often uneducated, and have this annoying tendency to drive tractors to places like supermarkets and churches, which is amazing. Definitely suggest Michigan to avid readers looking to make travel plans. Right.

ibojangles and I try not to look at each other.


As far as hobbies, I never really had the skating ability to be much good at it myself, but I'm a huge hockey nerd. I have six autographed pucks within an arm's length of where I'm writing this (Brodeur, Howe, Lidstrom, Ovechkin, Holmstrom). I do a lot of the video game thing. Pokémon some, obviously. Mass Effect, Fable, Dragon Age, Final Fantasy, the NHL games. I somewhat famously vanished from the community for a couple years due to World of Warcraft. I write and read a lot (and have an associates in technical writing, which is where most of those useless credits came from). I've been known to consume an alcoholic beverage or two. As long as it's fruity, as they say.

The last sentence land grins on our faces, which remain while ibojangles asks the next question.


So, you're clearly an integral part of the community here at Smogon. How did you get involved initially?


I've never really understood the level of intimidation some people seem to feel here, but I think in my case things were definitely easier for me because my presence in the community predates Smogon.

Long story short I ran into the IRC battling community, which would eventually be the group that created Smogon, after being tipped off about the GSbots on GameFAQs. I lurked a while (to the point some old timers like LS used to comment a lot they could never actually remember me being new), figured out when it was a good idea to open my mouth and when it wasn't, that sort of thing. Tried to be funny. Probably wasn't.

A few years later Advance was winding down and chaos, skarm, and the other old guys started working on this site. I was at the peak of that WoW addiction I mentioned previously at this point, so I missed the initial building of the site, but I came on IRC one day and chaos flagged me down and threatened to do naughty things to my mother or something if I didn't register.

He gave me ninja badgeless IS access from day one and I've always just kinda tried to contribute when I thought I had something useful to say from then on. There's a lot of people contributing to Smogon in one way or another and we all have different experiences and strengths, and I think having seen most of the 2nd and 3rd generation's development, both the metagame's and the community's, is probably mine.

I feel like most of the time I add a pretty logical, calculated angle to discussions. Sometimes that turns into something a little more malicious, but in general I try to help things toward a reasonable conclusion. People are always receptive to that. I've always kind of wanted to help if only for the sake of the people who started the site originally—I can still vividly remember how excited they were when they first told me about the site. It's hard not to want to help that.

I love some good red tape and inter-site politics, anyway. Gets that blood racing. Some day I hope my experience here will allow me to slowly take over an actual business through sleazy backdoor deals and such.


So, disregarding any breaks (WoW or otherwise), you've been around on Smogon for a very long time. How much has Smogon changed from your point of view? Do you ever look back and think "wow, everything used to be so much better"?


I think looking at the site that way is a trap. There's a lot of stuff I'd change if I were Smogon nazi empire dictator for a day—I think we're way too committee run nowdays, and as such we're a twisted, diluted version of what everyone one kind of wants instead of being a strong version of anyone's true vision. We lack that chaos-figure, or even that Justin-figure, nowdays. But I think it's a mistake to think that way as a lot of us veteran folk tend to do. It's certainly very differently nowdays—that happens when you move from a community of a couple hundred to a community of fifty thousand. I definitely miss the tight-knit group we once had, and I see myself moving toward it again sometimes. I spend a lot of time with the Mighty Psyducks, which is pretty much a VGC clique group of old timers.

It's just reality, though. Things are going to change with this many people. There's probably a few people (badgeholders in particular) I miss the days without, but it's not Little Christopher's Family Fun Pokémon Site anymore, and it never will be again.

This increased size hasn't been all bad, either. The amount of content on this site is so much greater than I ever thought it would be. The sheer number of posts we get about hot topics is amazing. It was really telling when I was at the VGC nationals event, too, how many random people who weren't even members on our site had an opinion about us. We're big, now. Bigger than I ever thought we could be. It's cool in a sense. I try to look at the increased size as an advantage. I can still hang out with my old buddies in clique channels and Facebook and that sort of thing. It'll always be fun to talk about the old days, and if I could, I'd probably go back to them. But the stuff the newer guys have done is really impressive, too, and a lot of what Smogon can do now is because of its increased size.

It's been really interesting watching it evolve, and I look forward to seeing what happens next. There was a time in the third gen, and even in the second gen, when we thought this community was dying. Wi-Fi in the games helped, but you know, without sites like this one, it damn well may have. We might not still be here if Smogon hadn't become what it is. I try to keep things in perspective.

I look at my notes and see the next question is going to be a loaded one. I almost chicken out on it...


So, for the next question. At what age did you make the choice to change your sexuality to homosexual? Are you considering going back?

Synre's face suddenly resembles some stormy weather, so I quickly shift to a less explicit version of the question.


You are also well known for your active moderation and participation in Congregation of the Masses. How's that working out? Isn't it a constant source of frustration for you?

Now he understands, and he laughs.


Absolutely! Next question.

ibojangles already breathes in, but Synre cuts him off with a gesture.


No, seriously, I think it's another thing I just have to be realistic about. It's an off-topic forum on a Pokémon site. More specifically, it tends to have a lot of very mature, delicate topics that get replies almost exclusively from people who are barely in high school, and sometimes people who are even younger (which makes the relationship help topics a constant source of hilarity). I dont want to sound super ageist here, because some of the really young guys have valuable opinions in topics like those, but it's really tough to relate to things in life without perspective and experience. Most of our posters just don't have that. It shows in their posts.

It's probably never going the type of forum that people hang around for after they quit Pokémon like Firebot is at times, because without instituting Policy Review-type posting restrictions we just don't have the userbase for it. I mostly look at my responsibility there as being the guy who makes sure the site is somewhere that people can at least somewhat intelligently discuss important issues without getting unnecessarily offended.

I think we're getting a little more aggressive on line-toers when they are fairly obviously just there to try to ruin the days of people who disagree with them, but I don't like throwing a lot of infractions in Congregation because I don't want to ban people from a Pokémon site because they aren't able to intelligently or objectively discuss religion or the economy or whatever. I just try to make sure people aren't insulting other people, groups of other people, or being unnecessarily abrasive. That's about the best we can feasibly do, I think.

Synre is silent for a moment, and ibojangles waits to make sure he's really done this time.


In addition to moderating Cong, you also moderate Uncharted Territory. What's it like being a leader in one of the most active forums in Smogon's history?


I think I am one of the few posters who legitimately enjoys Uncharted Territory. I mean, sure, it's a giant clusterfuck, and like two thirds of the posts there are completely terrible, but it's inspiring how excited everyone is. I wish people would try and be a little more cynical about unconfirmed new features (Swimming Goggles, anyone? Swimming Goggles?), but when posters are discussing how things that actually exist might work in a new metagame it's what the site is all about, I think.

I love the beginning of new generations. New moves, new abilities, new Pokémon, sheer panic—let's not forget the panic, boy, is there a lot of that—it's a time when people get to be truly creative and innovative. A lot of the stuff people come up with is garbage that'll never work in real life, but trying to anticipate a new game and figure out how to break it makes them better players, I think. It's sure fun to engage in some of the theorymon myself, too. I think I enjoy thinking the game more than actually playing it.

I've actually been pleasantly surprised by how civil most of the posters havee been, which has been wonderful. I mean, I've given more than a few warnings, but usually if I'm civil about handing them out people are mature about taking them. I'm really impressed by how few people have been legitimately trying to start trouble. Sometimes people are a little... underinformed, but really, things could be a lot worse. Things were a lot worse in early Gen 4. Maybe the community is growing up a bit.


Speaking of the "community", I remember hearing about a big meet-up that happened this past VGC Nationals in Indianapolis. What was that like? Were there any Smogoners that surprised you in any way?


I remember as I pulled up to the hotel at midnight that Thursday I immediately started tripping out. There were a trio of creepers outside the hotel, which probably isn't that strange in a big city like Indianapolis, but they were NOT just any creepers. No, these were creepers I recognized. By freak coincidence, it was ET, chaos, and Articuno64 wandering around, all of whom I recognized from pictures they'd posted on the site.

That was kind of how the whole weekend felt. There were a lot of people there I'd known for years and years and getting to run into them in person was really amazing. I've known people like those three, evan, tad, skarm, TTS, DM, and Huy for longer than most of my real life friends, so it was surreal to meet them in person. It was just as great to get to run into the people I've become acquainted with more recently like mingot and Fishy, too. I remember Arti, evan, and I ran into Huy, Duy, and Andrea at 4 in the morning in a hotel lobby and it felt totally normal. That was kind of how the whole weekend was, it was like we had the city to ourselves. I'll never forget it.

I think what surprised me the most was that almost everyone was basically who they were on the internet. Almost everyone acted basically the same way they did online; the quieter people were quiet, the more gregarious people were chaos, ET trolled someone by throwing pitas at them, it was about what you'd expect. Everyone was just really great to be around. I'll definitely go again next summer and would suggest it to anyone—the experience is amazing.

The Pokémon, for its part, was pretty fun too. I doubt VGC will ever become even comparably popular to singles on Smogon, but it's a metagame with quick, fun games and being part of the crowd was incredible. We must have been incredibly obnoxious, but the Smogon/Duck group was at least a couple dozen people strong, and everyone in it was loud and supportive. There was a really electric, exciting atmosphere. It felt more like a real sport than a video game. I've never seen so many people excited about Blissey Softboiling before. It was something else.

Just watch out for TTS. He seems like a nice guy on the internet, but he'll walk out of the bar without even paying for his Sprite.

Try out VGC before next summer though, guys. You might find you enjoy the game, and you'll definitely enjoy the company.


Another thing you were big on was SPL; your team even won! How was that experience? From a managerial perspective or otherwise.


I was really excited about SPL conceptually going into the event, and after playing in it I can definitely say it is my favorite tournament on Smogon. I much prefer team events to invidual ones, but I'd never been big on the World Cup because of the team selection process, so this was right up my alley.

I was pretty sure coming out of the auction that we were going to win, but it is a difficult tournament and we ended up needing the last week to go absolutely perfectly just to make the playoffs. We had some trouble filling out the bottom of our roster because people kept resetting our bids to drive our prices up, but out of the gate we felt good—we knew we'd get good years from people like Gouki, G80, Atticus, husk, JMC, and MrE, so we figured we had a good shot.

Things didn't end up being as simple as they seemed, of course. We lost a lot of valuable standing points to inactivity losses and "Pokémon" happening and things looked kinda bleak when JMC ended up deserting the team in the middle of the season. Everyone really pulled together, though. husk ended up picking up RBY basically from scratch to help the team. He put in more hours practicing the last few weeks than MrE did in the entire competition to make sure we'd win... it was very impressive. Less impressive was the fact Gaborik signed up and then didn't contact anyone on the team at any point in the tournament, so we started out with only nine players, and had only the minimum of eight after JMC's unexpected abduction by aliens.

I think the best part for me was that as the manager of the team, I got to pick the personalities on our roster. I had a lot of fun with the people I had the good fortune of playing with this season. My co-managers, Carl and alex, are definitely two of my three closest e-friends, so being able to work with them (even though Carl was mostly afk) was a really great opportunity. The team itself was composed as much because of personality as skill, too, which made team channel #carlsucks a fun place to be.

MrE played WoW with alex and I for years, and while he can be (and was) a bit of a social interaction timebomb, he's a good guy and knows his GSC.

I have the utmost respect for G80 and husk after watching them dominate the later parts of Gen 3, and they both had really great attitudes, as did our two frontier champions Gouki and Atticus. Watching a battle between those two, which clinched Atticus' Frontier win, was something that got me into Pokémon a lot more aggressively again, so it was fun to have them on my team for this event.

All four of the guys I just mentioned were fantastic team players. They practiced together, they helped each other with teams, they were always around... great guys to have. apologies ended up surprising a lot of people with a fantastic season and Jibaku and Folgorio got some really clutch wins for us as well. We had a strong, versatile team. Great, fun season.

The Scooters have a little uncertainty going into next season—we'd have much, much, much preferred more keepers than we're likely to get, for instance, and I'm not sure if I'll be managing again or playing since my co-manager may not be active enough to take over (busy Harvard, busy alex), but I think we'll put up a hell of a fight again next season regardless of how our roster turns out. May the best team win!


Okay, that's pretty much everything we wanted to ask ("and process", I say under my breath). Thank you so much for the elaborate answers, I'm glad I decided not to prepare more questions than this because we've certainly gathered enough interesting material here. I hope you'll like reading your own words as much as I did, and I hope to see the Indie Scooters on top of their game again in the upcoming SPL!


Thanks for letting us harass you with questions!


No problem!

After we pick up all our notes (took us a good five minutes) we take our leave. As I turn on the tractor's ignition I hear a certain song by the Red Hot Chili Peppers blast from the house, which remains my earworm for the journey all the way home.
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