Pokémon TCG: Gotta Scalp ‘em All!

Image Credit: Unsplash License: Thimo Pedersen

With the recent explosion of popularity in Pokémon TCG, Lennon McGuirk looks into the reasons behind the surge as well as the problem of card scalping becoming more and more of an issue.

The Pokémon Training Card Game (TCG) was initially released in Japan in October of 1996. While it has always been a popular card game, up until recently sales belonged to a relatively niché group of players and rarely extended beyond the series’ core fans. Over the course of the past year or so, sales of Pokémon cards have risen exponentially to the point that the supply can no longer keep up with the demand. 

So what caused this sudden surge? Was it adults stuck in lockdown who wanted to get back into an old hobby? An insanely successful marketing campaign? Or just a spontaneous increase in interest across a large group of gamers? In reality, it was a mixture of lucrative auctions, sales to public figures, as well as online content dedicated to opening packs that generated millions of views.

Firstly let's look at recent auction sales: eBay alone reported a 574% increase in online auctions of Pokémon cards over the last year. This combined with very eye-catching headlines of massive sales such as a first edition booster box selling for $408,000 obviously brought a lot of attention to Pokémon TCG. Videos of people opening packs and listing off the values of what they have opened became commonplace on websites like YouTube, Twitch, and apps like TikTok, with entire channels dedicated to simply opening packs and showing off the cards inside. Influencers across the content spectrum were exposing the hobby to their viewers, with vloggers such as Logan Paul making videos about it, and bigger celebrities like Logic bidding $226,000 on a single first edition charizard card, creating clickbait headlines and drumming up marketing for TCG. 

You would be forgiven if you thought all this hype and popularity is a good thing for the card game, but as previously mentioned, the supply can no longer keep up with the demand because as we all know, where there is a hyped up commodity, there are scalpers taking advantage. After a few weeks of the popularity increase of TCG, videos surfaced of adults standing in line outside of stores waiting for them to open so they could stock up on card packs and resell for ludicrous amounts. Then the inevitable articles of fights between scalpers started flooding in, with one story of a man pulling a gun on another man because he bought the last booster box in stock. The intense amount of scalping of cards actually resulted in a lot of stores outright refusing to sell the product. In the US, both Walmart and Target completely stopped the sale of Pokémon TCG while in Ireland, Tesco temporarily ceased sales as well. 

Unfortunately, for the people who poured their life savings into Pokémon TCG as a sort of stock investment, sales are starting to drop off as the market has been completely flooded by cards in good condition now. Boxes that once sold for $1,800 are now going for as little as $300. As of July this year, the official quality grading company was so backlogged with cards that they had not even gotten to the cards sent to them in 2020, the start of the hype surge. 

“If you want a hobby, enjoy it as a hobby and please, try not to pull a gun on someone over it.”

While this craze may be slowly dying off, it still serves as a stark reminder to not hop on the bandwagons or get rich quick schemes. If you want a hobby, enjoy it as a hobby and please, try not to pull a gun on someone over it.