matthew elizondo, a graphic designer from arizona, was hanging out online on a random wednesday in december 2018 when he heard a strange rumor from an acquaintance: that his favorite youtube channel, super best friends play, was ending unexpectedly.
although elizondo, now 26, didn’t think so at first, a quick visit to the channel’s subreddit confirmed that it was. After nearly a decade of making video game-themed productions together on the platform, the channel’s three “best friends” parted ways due to personal differences.
Reading: Super best friends play pat
elizondo had discovered the channel years ago in high school through a mutual friend, and while he didn’t keep up with his best friends’ content as thoroughly as some, he often rewatched their videos while doing homework or just trying to unwind after a long day at college. the super best friends game ending “was like that feeling you get when you finish a great game or book, where there’s this empty moment, like, ‘what am I going to do now?'” he says. “even though they’re just people i saw on youtube, there sure was an emotional shift.”
Like many fans of Super Best Friends, also known as Zaibatsu Best Friends, a joking reference to Japanese mega-corporations like Mitsubishi, Elizondo took to the channel’s subreddit, which then had 50,000 fans, to express his feelings. . the overwhelming response to the news in the community was one of shock. in fact, several of the subreddit’s moderators initially thought the video was a joke. others wondered if the community would survive the schism. “We were definitely in panic mode for a week, and ended up losing a couple of mods by the end,” says deltascourge, one of the subreddit’s moderators, via discord.
However, when each individual member of the group (patrick boivin, matthew kowalewski, and woolie madden) revealed their solo content, something unexpected happened. the super best friends gaming community was not reduced at all. in fact, in the two years since the group broke up, their subreddit and discord channel has more members than ever. the subreddit now has about 80,000 members; the discord channel is at about 3,000. and there are even more super best friend memes.
“The amount of traffic is the same as always, maybe even a little more,” says Boivin, who now streams full-time on Twitch. “Obviously some of that is driven by the content each of us is creating, but it’s much more than you’d expect. the community is incredibly resilient.”
is a phenomenon that demonstrates the power of personality online, but it also reflects a new reality that could surprise those outside the bubble. In our increasingly online world, an existing trend super-accelerated by the ongoing pandemic, communities of a certain size eventually take on a mind of their own, even as they break away from the original impetus for their creation.
The breakup itself remains a touchy subject for both the community and the former super best friends, all three of whom are in their mid-30s and from Canada. Boivin says that she has no desire to discuss the details of the group’s disbandment, while Madden declined to comment for this article, saying that she prefers to focus on her current YouTube channel. (Kowalewski did not respond to an interview request.) However, the overall reason for the channel’s ending was stated directly by Madden in the group’s final video: Boivin and Kowalewski were simply no longer friends, and it no longer made sense for the two of them to produce content together.
Within the community itself, the dissolution led to a period of transition. after the news broke, ironically, the subreddit and discord sprung up with new users, and flame wars erupted as fans struggled to “get through the blues,” as one put it. Different factions quickly emerged, with some conspiracy-minded fans scouring the content for clues and theories about the breakup itself. “There was more than enough speculation to last a lifetime,” says doseofdhillon, one of the subreddit’s moderators. “why did they break up, who was friends with whom, who betrayed whom, who followed whom on twitter, etc.”
Still, queequegtheater, another moderator on the group’s subreddit, says he’s not surprised the community has stuck together. “The subreddit has always belonged to viewers and fans of the best friends play,” queequegtheater writes in a discord post. “That the community persisted afterwards, in my opinion, is due in equal parts to the close-knit nature of the community, the guys continuing to create independent content, and what I would call a concerted effort on the part of the moderation team to keep everyone together. ”
That concerted effort came in the form of a mandate: forget about the breakup drama and focus more on discussing the solo content of each member. Additionally, multiple moderators point to Boivin and Madden’s subsequent joint podcast, Castle Super Beast, as one of the key reasons the community continued to thrive. Although Castle Super Beast has its own name, it serves as a spiritual successor to the group’s previous podcast, The Super Best Friends Cast.
“The subreddit is about the members of the group, but it’s always been separate from them,” says the moderator, the b-funk grandmaster, via discord. “none of the former members are moderators; it is completely managed by the community. so their breakup still didn’t break a strong community. I think it wouldn’t be as popular if the former members had just disappeared from the internet, but I think if one of them is still active on the internet, the community can survive.”
boivin never expected to become a successful youtuber. He was packing groceries at a supermarket to help make ends meet in college when his acquaintance Matt Kowalewski asked him to come over and help him make a silly video about a kid’s game called Kirby’s Epic Yarn.
The collaboration met with unexpected success, and a few months later, the machinima content network offered the duo what Boivin describes as “a couple of thousand dollars a month” to produce similar videos. What was then known as the game of two best friends would eventually become one of the most popular Let’s Play channels of the era, with creators playing through games and providing commentary along the way, on YouTube. Woolie Madden and Liam Allen-Miller joined the group years later, adding their own individual tastes to the mix. (allen-miller left the group in 2016 to focus on his solo career).
Unlike many YouTube gaming channels, Super Best Friends didn’t focus on what Boivin calls “the new beauty.” Though initially specializing in gameplay of well-known horror titles like Resident Evil and Silent Hill, the channel eventually became known for its increasingly eclectic game selections. While most big-name channels would cover hit shooters like Call of Duty and Battlefield, friends would play through obscure Japanese dishes, like the bizarre mech-shooter Metal Wolf Chaos or the then-lesser-known character in the series. of role-playing games.
“I had lunch with one of the machinima managers and he said, ‘yeah, I just don’t get it. you guys don’t play anything popular, but people still watch it. so i guess it works. that was it for us,” says boivin. “It made us stand out from other channels.”
Since they eschewed the games of the moment and opted for a more personality-driven approach that relied entirely on their members’ specific tastes, the channel saw steady growth, eventually peaking at 700,000 subscribers.
boivin has a reputation for being a cantankerous critic, while kowalewski was the band’s id. (Fan Elizondo describes him as “everyone’s inner 14-year-old child”). On the contrary, Madden is seen as a friendly pleaser, although he loves competition, especially fighting games. As Boivin recalls, the distinctive character of each member led to many good-natured disagreements, especially on their podcast, allowing fans to identify with the specific friend who most resembled them.
boivin is still haunted by the stories he told during the zaibatsu days, stories he barely remembers telling. People often mention a time when he convinced an employee to sell him a copy of a game before the release date as a demonstration of his unscrupulous character. According to Boivin, this incident occurred over a decade ago, yet he still hears about it on a weekly basis.
“It’s like, look, that’s the season 1 you’re getting mad at,” he says, laughing. “I have heard variations of this story that have no basis in reality, from people forgetting or falsifying the details. I guess when you say something to the internet, it’s forever, but sometimes it’s still a little weird.”
Boivin, who describes himself as “extremely introverted,” was often confused or overwhelmed by the popularity of the zaibatsu, especially at conventions. However, he says he remembers the exact moment he realized the group commanded a major community: A few days after the super best friends started playing the then-obscure yakuza 4, he went on amazon and found that sales of the game had increased “something like 700 percent.”
“It was a significant moment for me,” he says. “It was like, wow. that was true cause and effect. we didn’t tell people to do that. we just gave the game a much larger audience than it would have had otherwise.”
Members of the super best friends gaming community attribute its continued existence to its welcoming nature and the surprisingly diverse viewpoints it contains. (although, as with many subreddits, the community seems to be overwhelmingly male). elizondo and several of the subreddit’s nine moderators point out that the super best friends subreddit is among the top five most popular subreddits for a variety of cult Japanese video game franchises. , including devil may cry, yakuza, and persona.
“there’s a feeling that, well, we’re all a bunch of weirdos, but these are my weirdos,” says elizondo. you actually talked to them, you find out they like really cool niche stuff. that’s what keeps us together.”
The arrival of covid-19 has created both opportunities and difficulties for the subreddit and discord, especially when it comes to moderation. according to staff, many casual users have started spending more time in the community, presumably because everyone has more free time than usual.
While the situation has increased the presence of these forums, it has also led to more off-topic discussions and outbursts over minor disagreements. “people seem to be nervous and I really can’t blame them”, says the moderator with thehandlekal. “I’m hoping the sub will die down once covid is finally a memory, but until then, the sub will function as a therapeutic outlet for people.”
Boivin has his own theory as to why the fan base continues to thrive. “Every community or group reaches a point where they become self-sufficient,” he says. “It doesn’t matter what brought them together: it could be video games, it could be football, it could be a type of food. As we progressed as a channel, we gradually expanded our theme from horror video games to general games, movies, or anything else on the podcast. once no specific media or content is the driving factor, it has a life of its own. once you and your crazy friends get bored of hanging out in discord and don’t talk about football even once, it’ll probably last forever.”
Although Super Best Friends didn’t last forever, the YouTube channel lives on, with thousands of hours of videos for fans to revisit or discover for the first time. Boivin himself calls the content the group ultimately produced “ephemeral” and “transient,” but the niche nature of its output allows it to stand the test of time better than most gaming videos on YouTube. (In fact, videos of him still frequently show up in searches for certain games, particularly the yakuza series.) while the games themselves may die down over time, the memes continue to pour into the subreddit, with no sign of slowing down.
“We accidentally created something that is much bigger than any of us, and doesn’t need any of us to continue surviving,” says boivin. “If we all die in a plane crash tomorrow, well, we won’t, because no one is flying, the memes would keep popping up. It’s a very strange feeling.”