Pokemon cards and the Trading Card Game saw a huge resurgence in 2020, with almost every popular YouTuber, streamer, and Twitter personality jumping on the latest “trend” that promised the big bucks.
I mean, who wouldn’t drop $50,000 on a 1st Edition booster box if you were almost guaranteed to make $100k profit from it? Something many smaller collectors could never afford to do, but if you have a large following and a massive paycheck, it’s pennies. Add hyping up the box opening with a video or livestream and you’re seeing dollar signs.
It’s this excitement that caused TCG prices to skyrocket, with scalpers becoming vultures picking off an easy meal. Pokemon cards are no longer something fun for collectors – they’ve become a currency – and if you’re not in a position to spend $15 on a $4 booster pack you should be able to buy from Walmart yourself, tough luck, buddy.
YouTubers, streamers, and the Pokemon Trading Card Game
Of course, TCG YouTubers have always been a thing – just look at maxmoefoe or PrimetimePokemon. It’s not some new phenomenon that’s suddenly swept the internet. But the difference is that they never encroached on anyone else’s ability to collect and have fun.
Take Logan Paul for example: 22 million subscribers, a successful podcast, and more money than he knows what to do with. And he’s 25 years old, meaning like many of us, he grew up with Pokemon cards and knows just how enjoyable the hobby can be.
That’s not to say he isn’t allowed to tap into his nostalgia – of course he is. But constantly advertising 1st Edition booster box breaks with over-the-top livestreams, and flashing around PSA 10 Shadowless Charizards like they’re $10 apiece is doing more harm than good.
The issue with somebody like Paul pulling millions of eyes into the TCG is that it’s turned something that was once a fun hobby into a cash cow. I’ll let his own words speak for themselves here: “Although I bought [a box] in September for $200k, they’re now selling for the price point that I set: between $300k-$400k.” This isn’t just the case with old sets either, new expansions are suffering the same spike.
In one of his videos, the star and his Pokemon card dealer even joke that it’s like they’re “securing cases of drugs”. While made in jest, it’s an example of how they are being treated as currency and not the collectibles they were intended to be – you can’t truly enjoy something if your only motivation is how much you can sell it for.
At the end of the day, he, like any fan, has every right to buy as much TCG collectibles as he wants. And I’m sure his intention isn’t to stop anyone from being able to enjoy the hobby. But at its core, the magic and fun of collecting Pokemon cards is now being lost for many. Because of his influence, it’s just a new stock market, and if you don’t have the money, you can’t even participate.
It’s not just Logan – far from it. Twitch streamers and YouTubers have also bought into the excitement, especially over the last year. It feels as though everyone and their mom has been broadcasting card content, whether it’s booster box and pack openings, IRL purchase streams, or reacting to other people’s pulls.
The intention isn’t always to drive sales, though – take Mizkif and the OTK (One True King) gaming organization as an example. They raised over $250k for the Games For Love charity by opening up a 1st Edition Fossil booster box live on stream back in November. Paul did this too with a similar broadcast on YouTube, donating $130,000 to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
That is a fantastic thing, of course. If only every hyped-up Pokemon livestream was to raise money for other people – sadly, it’s not. Buying 200 Burning Shadows packs in order to try and find a rainbow Charizard on stream only encourages other people to go out and buy 200 boosters because they want to pull the same card and experience the same buzz seemingly played up for thousands of viewers… What happened to browsing the aisle while grocery shopping and only buying a few packs, or preordering an Elite Trainer Box or two? Why do we need to purchase hundreds at once?
(Topic starts at 1:06:55)
How the Pokemon TCG has been affected
Obviously, the current world situation doesn’t help the matter, either. Production and shipping volume has been lowered, meaning there’s less to go around in stores and online. But would the demand be as high if it wasn’t for influencers generating the hype over the last year? Probably not. And not everybody is buying to collect.
The most recent example is when The Pokemon Center set preorders live for Shining Fates Elite Trainer Boxes at the beginning of February. What’s notable about the latest TCG expansion is that it contains a Shiny G-Max Charizard card, which is basically the crown jewels for scalpers. Within a minute, the website had crashed because of high demand and many collectors left empty handed. Other online stores faced the same issue with the Vivid Voltage and Champion’s Path sets – stock disappeared within seconds. If you don’t check out as soon as it goes live, well, better luck next time.
That’s not even taking stores into account. If you stumble across a well-stocked card section at your local store, it’s like winning the lottery. There’s often tales online on Reddit and in Pokemon Facebook groups of scalpers waiting for employees to walk from the back with a trolley full of stock, like an eagle watching its prey. You’re lucky if they leave anything of value behind once they’ve picked the carcass clean, forcing you to pick through scraps of items that don’t sell on eBay for high prices.
Of course, YouTubers and influencers aren’t all to blame for this. The responsibility largely rests on The Pokemon Company to meet demand, though I’m sure they never expected the boom to happen the way that it has. It exploded. Nobody could have predicted that. Stores are also at fault – where are the buying limits? Why are people allowed to clear the shelves and not leave anything for anyone else?
And it’s not solely cards, either. Promotional products that include trading cards such as cereal and the recent 25th anniversary McDonald’s promos have been affected by it too – the latter of which really rubs me the wrong way. Especially when it’s being resold online at ridiculous prices.
Are grown adults really driving through and picking up 100 Happy Meals just for the chance to get a holo Pikachu promo which they can flip online for 100 bucks or for “content”? Quite frankly, it’s pathetic. Sorry, but it is. If raiding supermarket shelves isn’t enough, let’s take from children as well because, well, why not? Kids don’t need the resale money anyway. Buying one or two meals at a time isn’t questionable, but there’s a limit and there’s no reason why it should be crossed.
What’s next for Pokemon card collectors?
On February 10, The Pokemon Company addressed the surge in demand for cards after the ridiculousness of the McDonald’s promotion, which is obviously just the tip of a massive iceberg. “We are actively working to print more of the impacted Pokémon TCG products as quickly as possible and at maximum capacity to support this increased demand,” they wrote in a blog post. As for future products, they promised they will be “maximizing production” to make sure new items are available on release day, as well as replenished throughout their life cycle.
This is a massive step towards combating scalpers – but is it enough? In the current world, yes, but as a stable future plan goes, more could be done. A great way of satisfying the hype while also allowing regular collectors to still enjoy the hobby would be to set up a system like the original Wizards of the Coast cards. Make the first print run 1st Edition, and the reprints Unlimited. That way, hardcore enthusiasts and people who are in it solely for money go in one direction, and nobody misses out.
Who knows? Maybe one day, there will be enough room in the TCG for everyone to participate, regardless of intention. But for now, count yourself lucky if you manage to score an Elite Trainer Box or a McDonald’s Happy Meal holo card without fighting tooth and nail for it.