By Clive Henry
Over the past year, we’ve witnessed crazy developments in untraditional investments. Bitcoin surged above $60k for the first time in its history. ‘The First 5000 Days’ NFT sold for an eye-watering $69.3m. But perhaps the most interesting was the sale of a single Pokemon card for $399k.
If you’ve been following the hype, you’ll know Pokemon cards exploded in popularity throughout 2020. So, in a year when the world stood still, let’s deep dive into what exactly caused the re-emergence of this schoolyard hobby and why it transformed from a simple trading card game to a high-end collectible.
Laying the Foundation
Despite many people believing Pokemon cards popped up overnight, popularity in the space had been slowly simmering since 2016.
Pokemon Go was a worldwide phenomenon that caused people to fall in love with the franchise all over again. For most, the fad died down a few months later, but for a sizeable number, the nostalgic value was too strong to ignore. So naturally, this spilled over into collecting old-school Pokemon cards, just like when we were kids.
Although it didn’t go mainstream in 2016, it did spark the beginning of several popular ‘Poketube’ Channels (aka. People who open Pokemon cards on YouTube), which significantly contributed to expanding the hobby four years later.
Stuck at Home, What to Do?!
One of the few positive things to come out of 2020 was that forced lockdowns and limited social interaction encouraged us to explore different things that made us happy.
For some, clearing our houses gave us purpose and a sense of achievement. It’s quite amazing what you can find when clearing out an old attic… Countless old Pokemon card binders were unearthed.
There was something quite magical about blowing off 20+ years of dust, flipping over the cover, and seeing a shimmering holographic Charizard starring back at you. It was like a time machine to your youth.
All it took were a few opportunistic eBay searches, and when people started to clock on to what these cards were worth, they realized the money-making opportunity in front of them.
Side hustles were born, and prices began to climb.
YouTube, the Perfect Presentation
Now, as mentioned earlier, Poketubers had been slowly building their channels for a good few years, but Pokemon card opening videos really took off during the pandemic.
People were stuck at home, bored, and looking for alternative entertainment. YouTube provided that, and the sheer joy of experiencing good cards ‘pulls’ was really fun to watch.
Of course, YouTube algorithms are built to show popular videos to like-minded people, so they began to spread like wildfire. The more people that watched, the more that wanted a piece of the action at home.
Even celebrities got involved. Logan Paul spent $2m on Pokemon cards and showcased legendary box openings on his channel. Despite being all about sports cards, Gary Vaynerchuk displayed graded Pokemon card acquisitions on his social media. Even rapper Logic invested in Pokemon cards as he loved them as a kid.
As a result, desirable booster boxes (like these) were snapped up, and as demand grew and supply fell, prices reached stratospheric levels. It was undeniable; Pokemon had gone mainstream again.
The Final Piece of the Pokemon Puzzle
Everything we’ve touched upon so far is heavily responsible for the growth of Pokemon popularity in 2020. But there was one other factor too…
It was also the 25th anniversary year of Pokemon. You couldn’t make it up; this was literally the perfect storm.
This significant milestone was not only a celebration of the franchise; for many, it was the realization of just how old Pokemon was.
These cards that were once lining the pockets of school kid, were now aged collectibles that needed to be protected.
As a result, card grading services like PSA and Beckett experienced never-seen-before demand, and different market sectors like ‘displays’ and ‘protection’ expanded.
Where We Are Today & What The Future Looks Like
Many people sold their cards at the height of the buzz, expecting demand to drop off. But, really, this was an inevitability, and there has been a fair market re-correction in 2021.
Importantly though, prices still way exceed those prior to the pandemic, and it’s unlikely they’ll ever go back.
However, if you take a longer-term view on Pokemon cards (especially when it comes to vintage), the future is very bright.
Where will they be in another 25 years?
With supply continuing to fall, ‘box breaks’ occurring on social media regularly, and this past year bringing more people back into the hobby than ever before, there’s every chance the most sought-after cards could far exceed figures reached in 2020.
Watch this space.