Sitting at a table in London while my kids compete, I wanted to write an article that wasn’t just a tournament report for you this time. In the interest of hearkening back to my earlier work, I wanted to write a bit about the market for pay-for-content blogs in the Pokémon TCG. Then of course, I will give you some Junior meta content because people seem to like me name-checking their kids.
This topic is actually aligned with my professional interests, so I have some strong feelings about this. First, let me say that advertising will generally not work. The audiences that you need to have a viable advertising-based business are so large that it is a generally inappropriate model for niche blogs. If one were to advertise, you would want to have a very focused sales outreach because the rate relative to the audience size would need to be so discrepant with common advertising rates that the media buyer would need to feel like your content is a home run. I would expect that a couple of thousand dollars per month is the most one could possible expect to generate in advertising and that would require a simply herculean effort.
So subscriptions are probably the most appropriate content creation model.
Having said that, there are now many subscription sites all competing for scarce subscription dollars. I don’t think it is practical for a player to subscribe to more than one or two subscription sites, so choosing the right site to subscribe to is important (i.e., if it didn’t matter if you subscribed then subscribing is pointless; subscribing should be aligned with making you a better player, so subscribing to the site that makes you the best player is important).
People like Will Post on Virbank (search for “snapshot”) have tried to assess the relative value of subscriptions by looking at how closely aligned tournament outcomes were with decks suggested by subscription sites. This is a topic I already wrote at length about in my “In Defense of Net Decking, Part 2” article. Some players play their decks, some do not, and sometimes the meta is reshaped by a well-written article.
I think the larger issue is how many “splinter faction” subscription sites the Pokéconomy can support. And maybe more broadly, what do they have to do to succeed.
I have written before that I am a huge fan of Dylan Bryan and Russell LaParre and they have been nothing but generous and kind to both myself and my Juniors. When I talk with them about making their site (Some1sPC), and more broadly many of these sites, successful, it is one part amazing content, one part consistency. My experience with professional blogging more broadly is that the best blog in the world requires great writing, but it also requires consistent output.
In the interest of studying this further, I did a snapshot of the paywall articles output in the last 60 days by the most popular subscription sites. For days when multiple paywall articles were published by a site, I marked the second article as being published on the day prior for simplicity. (Just in case I made some color-coded pretty thing.)
Now, this is not speaking to quality at all. This is just a dump of an analysis that I wanted to do.
What I love about what Adam has done at SixPrizes is that he has successfully, consistently acquired strong writers to produce content and delivered great editing to accompany it. 60Cards has more of a (this is all my opinion, worth what you paid for it!) “trial” approach to enlisting writers, where they have more writers and more uneven quality, but you can see how this approach yielded voluminous output of content. If you subscribed to 60Cards, every day felt like Christmas. I can’t tell you if that Christmas was a good one or not, but there was something there for you to read.
From a quality perspective, the bar is high. Andrew Wamboldt’s articles, Squeaky, the free content on 60Cards and PokéBeach, and even yours truly produce some output that will keep a person busy without a subscription.
I always tell people, the thing that makes Squeaky great is not the absolute quality. My kids laugh comically, as does he, at his numerous misplays on stream and sometimes crazily bad lists. Despite that, he shows up every single day. Ross Gilbert of PTCG Radio fame has demonstrated the power of frequent content creation. It seems like every time a card is announced for the next set, he films a YouTube video about it and posts it. The result is that even though he may merely be a middling card game player (“Imagine how well I would have done if I hadn’t decided to play Garchomp!”), he generates thousand and thousands of views and is an in-demand content creator.
Showing up is half the battle. You really feel like Squeaky has prioritized Pokémon above everything else because there is a video every single day like clockwork. As a professional, I can tell you that this is just hard. It is hard. And it is a testament to the quality of the work Squeaky does no matter how much he misplays on stream. Even if his Pokémon playing is not professional, he runs a professional content business.
Showing up to blog every day is what professionals do. I assume that some of these sites will grow, some will die, some will mature, some will wither. As Pokémon is evolving, and people are migrating from other card games, interest in subscription sites is probably rising. I suspect we are at an inflection point for the market for content economics in Pokémon.
Let me talk about Greninja for a second. This is a deck that bricks all the time. And of course it will: It typically runs ~7 first-turn outs to draw — probably half of what other decks run. What is interesting about the deck is that a Ball card or a Frogadier can allow you to Water Duplicates, ensuring the deck sets up, more or less, if you don’t get donked. So that gives you ~10 more “outs to getting set up.” And obviously Talonflame. That is kind of interesting.
So we went to Fort Wayne and London. I want to thank Pokémon for the hook-up. My son finished in the Top 4 for North America last year so we got a nice stipend to go and that was awesome. My kids have never left the country so it was interesting to go to London.
My youngest ran Darkrai/Giratina.
Rd 1 — Jackson H. (Yveltal/Zoroark) — LL
Rd 2 — Rocco B. (binder drop) — WW
Rd 3 — John G. (Volcanion) — WW
Rd 4 — Toby B. (M Scizor) — WW
Rd 5 — Oscar A. (Zygarde/Carbink) — LL
Rd 6 — Jahjireh J. (Volcanion) — WLW
Rd 7 — Bryant R. (??) — WW
Final: 5-2 // 9th Place
My oldest ran Mega Gardevoir.
Rd 1 — Oscar A. (Zygarde/Carbink) — LL
Rd 2 — Joseph B. (binder drop) — WW
Rd 3 — Tanner T. (mirror) — WLW
Rd 4 — Jackson H. (Yveltal/Zoroark) — WW
Rd 5 — Jacob S. (Sceptile/Yanmega/Ariados) — WW
Rd 6 — Regan R. (Yveltal/Garb) — WW
Rd 7 — William W. (??) — ID
Top 8 — Bodhi R. (M Scizor) — WLL
While I could give you some play by play details, I think this kind of played out how one might imagine. Darkrai/Giratina struggles with Zoroark because you run a big Bench. Similarly, it gets crushed by Fighting types. My youngest prized both Giratina Game 1 against Zygarde and prized one Game 2. No way to work your way out of that. The other matchups are predictably more favorable.
M Gardevoir lost to a Zygarde that was hitting for 240 by T2 with All Cells Burn. And then we got slaughtered by M Scizor. Everything else was fairly conventional wins. Funniest highlights were Rd 4 when Jackson Ultra-Balled his hand T1 for a Shaymin only to discover both Shaymin were prized and Rd 6 when the other player tried to Ninja Boy into an Yveltal-EX only to discover his last Yveltal-EX was prized.
We take those.
I feel bad for my youngest; he placed 13th, 10th, and 9th at three consecutive Regionals. At least this time around he got points as there were 66 Juniors competing. After two straight Worlds invitations, I think this season is going to be a struggle. Especially when he has to compete with a certain someone at every League Cup he ever attends.
London had many fewer players than Fort Wayne — only 48 Juniors — meaning points were only available for Top 8. Many nice dads from all over the world came up and introduced themselves to me. London was beautiful and I really appreciate Pokémon affording us the opportunity to go have fun in this way.
My youngest played M Gardevoir at the last minute.
Rd 1 — Max B. (Giratina/Hammers) — LL
Rd 2 — Hun K (Nidoking) — WLW
Rd 3 — Bodhi R. (M Scizor) — LL
Rd 4 — Amman J. (??) — W
Rd 5 — Rei Casana (??) — W
Rd 6 — Enrico Marini (??) — L
My older played Pidgeot.
Rd 1 — Elliott L. (Volcanion) — WW
Rd 2 — Max B. (Giratina/Hammers) — WLT
Rd 3 — Marco B. (M Scizor) — LWT
Rd 4 — William W. (??) — LWL
Rd 5 — Justin H. (??) — WW
Rd 6 — Robin C. (??) — WW
Once again, there isn’t much to say here. Max B. is one of the best Juniors in the world, coming off a top cut at the World Championship. Taking a tie there is OK. The other tie came when the opponent N’d us to 6 and we drew garbage, not seeing a Supporter for the rest of the game when we needed a Lysandre to win (via deck-out). We had to bench two Shaymin to set up against William Wallace despite Zoroark threatening our board. This is how it goes.
Now, Bradley is exaggerating, but his point is one that I feel, and I think my oldest feels, acutely. I can only imagine this plagues many successful players in Pokémon and all card games. It is a card game. There is a lot of variance. Even favorable matchups occasionally go south because you draw garbage and the other guy draws the nuts. I mean, we express these matchups as 70/30 and the implication is you should never lose and the explicit statement is, when you should never lose, you will lose ~1/3 of the time.
I talked last time about how we felt a little like we had a target on our back. I think the real issue is this:
Up until last year we felt like we were on an upward trajectory. We sucked, we won a States, we won the National Championship. That is our 2.5-year story arc. It sounds good. Now it is the year afterward.
We go to a tournament, we miss cut, and the tournament is a disaster. And we are missing cut pretty regularly. I exhort my son to find the joy in playing a card game he loves, but he wants more.
My youngest son wants to continue his arc, but he is inevitably paired against his brother. For his brother, anything but the most amazing outcomes seem mundane. I know it seems jaded, but honestly, this is a learning experience for both my eldest and I. We aren’t going to “do better than we did before.” We can work hard, but it is a card game, there is variance, and we can’t expect to have the same outcomes every time. We must learn to experience the joy of the game, take that for what it is, and embrace the simple pleasure of playing a game.