The Falling of the Forum

A Look at the Evolution of Communication in Pokémon TCG

“Every so often, I’ll throw an article together on something I feel like talking about.” – fair-haired Jason Klaczynski

blond ness jason kYes blond Jason, I’m basically the same way. I came across this quote on a website called pojo.com, where Jason posted writings that encapsulate an entire decade of Pokémon’s history. Jason wrote about topics ranging from the original Team Rocket set in 2000 and most recently a series of articles titled “The Top 10 Pokémon Cards of All Time” in September of 2010. After all, pojo.com is “Your source for daily updates, tips, and on the hottest games!” so why expect anything less?

Yet, anyone who takes the time to visit Pojosama will quickly realize that the archaic web board is (almost!) entirely disused (hilariously, card of the day is still updated with relentless persistence). Even though the webpages are uncomfortably narrow on modern browsers, it is important to realize that the Pojo boards are an important relic in the history of the Pokémon TCG.

After I wrote my last article about the Dunning-Kruger effect and the quality of information in Pokémon TCG, I got a Facebook message from a reader asking if I knew of any websites other than SixPrizes and the Virbank Facebook group where “quality discussion takes place.” I thought of pokegym.net, perhaps the most longstanding forum dedicated to the TCG, yet, I couldn’t bring myself to seriously recommend it. This might surprise you if you are a longtime member of the ‘Gym’s great community.

Or maybe it wouldn’t.


This wasn’t the first moment I realized that PokéGym had fallen. The concept of the online message board is one crafted by Millennials (AKA Generation Y, people born from 1980-1995ish), but to the dismay of MY people, this torch doesn’t seem cool enough to be championed by Generation Z. The generation of people currently being birthed are characterized by the fact that they are growing up with high technology and the internet already in their lives, while children of the Y generation were introduced to it. As the community ages it’s important to realize that a younger generation carries with it its own technology and .

It wasn’t until 1998 that Pokémon became an ever-present phenomenon on Western shores. At this time, I was an angry four-year-old with a few years to go before I could appreciate the glory that is the Pokémon franchise, much less read the text associated with the TCG. Not surprisingly, the game took with its target demographic first. No doubt you know the story of Pokémon when it was thought of as nothing more than a fad; it swept the United States, and every outspoken school board member made it his or her personal crusade to strike down the franchise.

When Pokémon was wildly popular among the school-aged Y generation, communication was never an issue among the casual fans. After a few years, Pokémon went into remission of sorts. It was still alive, but its growth had slowed. Casual and competitive fans of the card game were out there, but competitive players always have been and will be the minority. Few-and-far-between, these fans found solidarity on BBS systems. Bulletin board systems were the 90s version of the modern forums and grandfathers to Facebook itself. It’s hard to believe, but Pokémon’s communications nexus of 1999 is undoubtedly the same pojo.com that survives today.

The reality is that Pokémon is aging along with its fan base. The generation of kids younger than the game they play are slowly beginning to trickle into the Masters Division and will eventually become the face of the Pokémon TCG.

The Internet is Forever

Pojo was the original hub for the competitive community, and it shows. An interviewer asked a 14-year-old Colin Moll what he had for lunch, and I couldn’t help but laugh. Pojo is a true artifact of its time, emoticons, unedited interviews, text speak and all. To be honest, I don’t know what was appealing about the website in the early 2000s, but I have a feeling it was because content elsewhere wasn’t any better. Articles about Pokémon TCG were undoubtedly hard to come by. It wasn’t until the player base expanded that experienced players had any incentive to write quality content for hosting websites.

I didn’t play Pokémon in those early days, so all it is to me is a living relic symbolizing how high the expectations of the competitive TCG community have ascended in 15 years of play.

In the early days of information sharing in Pokémon, Pojo’s main competitor was a forum website exclusively devoted to the Pokémon TCG. Unlike Pojo which published featured reports, interviews, and articles from household names of the TCG, the original ‘Gym was strictly a forum. It was taken over by Wizards of the Coast and handed over to an entity known as Team Compendium in 2002.

PokéGym publishes the Compendium, a document originally created by a user known as Koribourus. If you didn’t know, the Compendium is an authoritative ruling archive made up almost entirely of different card interactions. While PokéGym itself isn’t associated with TPCi, the site’s administrators are able to get rulings straight from the source and compile them into a document that the site assures you is 100% official.

Similarly, the ‘Gym is the only place other than the official website where Pokémon USA executives would ever respond to issues brought up by the community.

Without a doubt, PokéGym served as an amorphous link between the official and unofficial allowing it to hold a unique niche that endured over 15 years of change. Nevertheless, most active discussion has moved elsewhere. PokéGym had a lot going for it — an active readership, decent articles, the Compendium itself — so what happened?

Perhaps it lacked social modernization. The turn of the decade changed the way we view information in the TCG universe.

Hey, Trainer!

touch change hey trainer 2ebay.com

2009 brought with it an information revolution. First was HeyTrainer, a forum that sprung to life out of nowhere in the middle of that summer. As an inspired response to PokéGym’s aggressive moderation, John Kettler’s HeyTrainer was founded on the principle of free speech. HeyTrainer’s user base tended to advertise the new site in their PokéGym signatures as a way to get people to come to the apparent “dark side.” HeyTrainer’s philosophy clashed with PokéGym’s to such a degree that the ‘Gym’s administration actually banned the phrase “heytrainer.org” from their website.

HeyTrainer’s popularity split its the user base with the already existing message boards of the time. Perhaps tired of what was being offered, Pokémon players began to diversify their soapboxes. As such, the numbers of individual users meeting on each existing one website began to go down. Although HeyTrainer is still kicking around today, the site has met with fate in the same way as PokéGym.

A little bit earlier in 2008, the first Top Cut was founded by Drew Holton. It became the first website for Pokémon TCG that was successfully driven by subscriptions. Stylized as TheTopCut.com, Drew’s website was the grandfather of all similar sites which attempted to follow its model. An infinite amount of innovations have been made since, but Drew proved that the TCG had enough support for the idea to have some success.

TheTopCut.com was a short-lived pay site that had little going for it other than content written by well-known players. It’s likely many of the people who read this have never even heard of the original Top Cut because it wasn’t around for very long nor is the archived version of the site very complete. There wasn’t much of a reason to visit the site if you didn’t pay for the content, probably contributing to its quick demise.

The existence of a subscription-based website devoted to the Pokémon TCG was unheard of before Drew’s Top Cut. Although it wasn’t a successful venture for very long, it did prove that Pokémon players could get paid for their winning deck lists and quality insight. It’s not surprising that around the same time, the standard for free articles on message boards plummeted. As SixPrizes rolled out Underground in 2010 while still hosting free articles from readers, this very site became the hub for aspiring writers.

Just as SixPrizes became the place to go for dedicated articles, Facebook became the place to be for quality discussion. In 2013, Jason Klaczynski made HeyFonte. Pulling its etymology from “HeyTrainer” and “Lafonte,” the group was intended to be both a soapbox for free speech and high quality discussion. The “fonte” stems from the name of the community “Lafonte”, a moderately famous club of great players that ran through the late 00s. Here’s vice president Martin Moreno’s election campaign speech.

Heyfonte’s golden age came right after its launch. Surprisingly, nobody had ever made a prominent TCG Facebook group before, and of course, everyone had to wiggle their greedy selves into the web of information. As more people joined, Jason threw some moderation at the group, making some folks pretty irritated. How dare he violate their personal freedoms!

Eventually the page’s owners changed the name of the group to Virbank City to get people to stop complaining that something inspired by the ghost of father HeyTrainer was being regulated by mods, but I guess it was a positive change, because from there Virbank grew to support a community over 5,000 members strong.

“Think Before You Post” – Common Sense

gary here ash loserpokemonscreenshots.tumblr.com

Facebook has a way of bringing people together by offering a platform where it is really, really easy for Pokémon players of all skill levels to post stupid stuff. Virbank was a great place to go for decent deck discussion and general news, but humans make a terrible hive mind.

The people who were truly invested in the group joined right away, but as Virbank became the the go-to place to keep up with discussion, everyone and (literally) their mothers had to be involved. As the group size swelled, it became more common for members to bash on each other for posting ruling questions and asking for deck lists. At this point, toxic members began to contaminate the group. Post quality in general began to fall, but that’s a fault of the very system that attracts people to Facebook in the first place.

Most people stay logged in 24/7. It couldn’t be easier to tab to Facebook when you want to avoid talking to your creepy coworker or when you sit down on the toilet. So you start scrolling down the glorious wall of Virbank City only to see a highly mediocre V/G list. Instead of simply telling 13-year-old Jimmy Blevins not to play Tropius or those hideous plain Grass Energy from the theme deck, you type “-60 cards +a new deck lol.” You smirk and press enter. You your fedora gingerly toward your 22” monitor and walk out of the room, content that you’ve made a better Pokémon player out of little Jimmy, that scrub. Maybe you have. His deck was probably bad and those Grass Energy put him on the plebeian watch list, but you’ve certainly helped the Virbank City live up to its virulent namesake.

This kind of comment is much more common on Facebook than it ever was on PokéGym or even HeyTrainer. Part of the reason people say such stupid things on Facebook is because they do not think before they post. On a message board it’s not as simple to make a dumb comment. Having to log in and click “reply to thread” is often a wide enough barrier to deter bad posters. That’s a lot of work for a troll, where on Facebook posting the same message is as simple as typing vitriol and pressing the enter key.

It might seem premature to say, but I think Facebook is where the Pokémon gossip will take place for a long time. SixPrizes’ BBS sits right next to it as the next best place to go. Unfortunately, this site’s forum suffers the same fundamental inefficiencies that message boards like PokéGym do.

The day has come where clicking is correlated with effort, and the number of clicks it takes to post on a forum is just too high compared to Facebook and Twitter. While SixPrizes has other resources to draw people back, sites like the ‘Gym and HeyTrainer never really had those, so people naturally drifted onto more interesting waters.

Gone

ash falling off cliffpokemonscreenshots.tumblr.com

It’s clear that message boards have fallen out of popularity in favor of more dynamic forms of communication, but do they still have a place in the Pokémon TCG? Certainly yes. Facebook isn’t a resource in the same way PokéGym is. Searching a query on Google can dig through a decade of history, insight, and mistakes, but whatever is being talked about on Virbank today will never be archived in the same way.

Nobody knows where Facebook posts go to die, but have you ever heard the saying that you die twice? Once when you stop breathing and again when somebody says your name out loud for the last time. There’s a depressing amount of “dead” information out there from what I regret to call the “lost years” (’03-’04).

When I tried to build some old decks last summer I realized how much information has just been forgotten because it wasn’t written down. It’s nearly impossible to find even a borderline competitive list for any of the tier 2 decks from 2004 especially. Shiftry, Metabyss, Alakazam, and even Swampert lists just don’t exist. Even their pilots seem to have lost that info in some cases.

On the other hand, Facebook posts go to a gnarly sort of internet purgatory when they die. When they die other posts unceremoniously bury them and unless someone has an extreme will to scroll south through months of posts, every bit of talk from say Nationals 2014 is as good as lost forever. Although things like lists will be archived forever, immortalized in sites like this one, reactions, stories, gossip, and confessions of the past will disappear with their memories so long as they are only on Facebook.

If anything, forums provide us with records of the past. Even Pojo, outdated as it may be, still donates its server space to hosting many decidedly orphaned deck lists from Base Set. Being able to see how people from 15 years ago played Pokémon, badly or no, has to be enlightening, if not interesting. Even if this doesn’t interest you, Virbank probably does, and it can’t hurt to know the roots of something before that too slips through the meniscus of time.

Memory can be painfully temporal.

Dylan Lefavour

Reader Interactions

Leave a Reply

You are logged out. Register. Log in. Legacy discussion: 8