In the back of my mind, I knew this day would come. I remember having a conversation with a couple of close friends while we were out whacking golf balls across a field toward a faraway oak tree during the early days of 6P, circa 2011, when the site was still relatively new and unique and cool and flourishing and growth was all I knew: how long it would last? Josh threw out five years. Ian sliced a ball into the peripheral oblivion and cursed. I didn’t want to think about it. Five years seemed a long ways away. I have trouble looking much further ahead than a week. I take things one day at a time and have continued to do so since then.
Well, after eleven years, it finally feels like the ride is over. (Or it has seized, at least.) The global circumstances have unceremoniously disgorged us from what was a temperate and brisk promenade this past winter. I wish I could keep SixPrizes going, but I’ve drawn a bad hand.
- Underground is being terminated. I will be issuing prorated refunds for all active members for unused time (using Monday November 9 as the end date for your subscriptions). This will take me some time (hopefully no more than a week), and I appreciate your patience while I process the refunds one by one. If you have any immediate concerns, please contact me. [Update, Nov. 13: Refunds have been initiated and they are scheduled to process on Monday November 16.] [Update, Nov. 16: Refunds have fully processed. It may take a few business days for them to appear on your credit/debit cards.]
- No new free articles will be published, either. I will not be accepting submissions. Sorry. I want to disengage from the site and the Pokémon community entirely for a while. I’m feeling like I could use a break, again. The last eight months have eroded my once high morale.
- I may restart Underground and accept free articles again later, after IRL TPCi events return. Again, to reiterate, I’d like to keep 6P going. I enjoy collaborating with you all. I have genuine fun with all this and I’m continually learning and challenged to improve what we do here, even after all these years. However, interest in the highly competitive side of the TCG—which is what 6P specializes in—is creeping toward a nadir.
I’ve talked about this with my girlfriend recently: I’m irked by people blaming anything that’s unfortunate on the current year. By doing this we’re being myopic and willfully ignorant. “2020 strikes again!” The year’s become a neobiblical hot take or an amorphous scapegoat (i.e., coping mechanism) that society has adopted in mass. Yes, many Bad Things have have happened since the most recent new year, maybe more than usual. But by broadly labeling issues as “2020,” we’re losing sight of the actual problems and possible solutions. We’re being lazy. Here’s what’s happened the past year-plus to bring us to this point here at 6P, where I’m effectively shuttering the website:
- We had an awesome seven-month stretch with highs in revenue from August 2019 through February 2020.
- In mid March 2020, Mississauga Regionals became the first major event to be canceled due to COVID (amidst a farrago of panic, uncertainty, and fear). Shortly later, the rest of the season was canceled and in-person play was suspended indefinitely.
- I optimistically anticipated the pandemic to not last that long, and I planned to wait it out by (1) scaling back on content and (2) setting aside emergency funds to carry us (if need be) until the return of IRL events, hopefully in the fall. (It is currently fall and almost winter.)
- PTCGO and its myriad issues were abruptly thrust into the spotlight with no better socially-isolated way for players to continue playing Pokémon TCG. (Dire Wolf Digital has improved PTCGO’s stability a great deal since March, but there are still game-breaking bugs that linger.)
- Grassroots online events quickly proliferated and flourished. (Coincidentally, PTCGO streaming has taken off.) Prominent online event coordinators, however and worryingly, have come and gone.
- TPCi held two quarterly PTCGO events (the Players Cups, the second of which is still in progress).
- TPCi recently announced the Team Challenge, which starts in December and will last until May.
- Live competitions remain suspended indefinitely.
- I will also mention: ChannelFireball entered the content creation sphere in October. Four of our writers were presented with the opportunity to join CFB and all accepted, departing 6P amiably. (For the record, this was mostly a non-factor in my decision today. I was harrowed by the departures, but we had a slew of amazing new writers come in this past month and I would have loved to continue working with them.)
Now, here’s how 6P’s Underground revenue (which is basically all of our revenue) has looked monthly over time:
The graph starts at June 2017. The low point near the middle is April 2019, which I wrote about. We had remarkable growth after that and were looking great through February 2020. Then, as mentioned, COVID hit, live play was canceled, and we’ve lost subscribers every single month (aside from August, which, ironically, corresponds with the unsanctioned POG Championship and not either of the Players Cups) since then. I expect subs to continue to drop through the winter and spring, especially given that ~94% of you have been double-eliminated from Players Cup II play as of this past weekend and there’s now again nothing substantial to play for on the horizon.
I share these details so you can see why I don’t feel comfortable forging ahead like everything is OK, because it’s not. I tried to navigate the uncertainty of the past eight months as best I could. However, I didn’t foresee the pandemic having such a large impact on the site as a business. Even if I did, I don’t think I would have done much differently. The money I set aside to tide us over has been exhausted and I’m not optimistic that we’re going to reconvene in-person, like normal, under conditions bearing any semblance of ante-COVID events, for another year (or more). Why this indefiniteness matters: Without TPCi-run events the magnitude of Regionals and above taking place, it’s become apparent that interest in the type of specialized content we produce will continue to dwindle, indefinitely. Hence, it’s unsustainable to keep the site going, and now feels like the appropriate time to pull the plug. I don’t want to come across like you should feel sorry for me or SixPrizes. People are dying because of COVID. Your local hobby stores and other local small businesses are likely struggling and going under as well. It sucks, plainly and simply. On the other hand, the pandemic has been a boon for certain people and businesses. This is how things go. Times change and you have to adapt.
The State of the Game, the Community, and Content Creation
Here’s the good news: The most recent generation of Pokémon TCG players is the best ever. Seriously. In all facets. The community has evolved so much since the early days of organized play. You’re more intelligent, more mature, more friendly, more social, and more empathetic than the players who preceded you. I’ve witnessed firsthand how the typical PTCG player has evolved. Take a look at the early articles on this website, and it’ll be obvious that the average Pokémon player has evolved many levels. Jaded elders of Western societies often bring up the notion that “this next generation is base, corrupted, and/or doomed,” yet the upcoming generations continually do fine, and the Pokémon TCG community is proof of that. I say this not to discount older players—they are the ones who laid the groundwork for the the current generation to be as outstanding as they are. We’re continually driving each other—both young and old—to be better players and people, and this process is reciprocal. Recent months have been some of my most rewarding in all my years of running this website. It’s truly an honor and a privilege to work with the young people involved with the game.
In regard to PTCG content, on the consumption side, things have also never been better. There’s so much content and, crucially, data available. When I started 6P in 2009, the best (and pretty much only) content to be found was on message boards. There were no how-to videos and streaming didn’t exist. It would be a red-letter day to chance upon a single successful decklist from a recent event. A handful of people wrote about the game, but, generally, players weren’t thinking about sharing what they learned recently or knew. We played within small, isolated groups and tried to get good enough to win tournaments. That was mainly it. Now, players eagerly play and share their findings so other players can improve. This is a dramatic shift in mentality and it’s a beautiful thing to see. Yes, people still play because they want to win tournaments. Winning is fun and losing is not. But there’s way more mentoring of those around us—this is now also considered a victory, which it wasn’t before—and this is evident with how good and well rounded players are these days.
I do think there’s more content being created than there is a market for it, however. (It’s been like this for years.) As a consumer, you have to carefully pick and choose what to read or watch. There isn’t enough time in a day to process it all. And alas: The competitive Pokémon TCG audience is too small for content creation to be a sustainable gig or job for most players. Advertising revenue alone isn’t enough to make it worthwhile. (Hence why I moved SixPrizes over to a membership model early in its existence.) You ultimately need a not insignificant amount money involved to enable people to do things, which leads me into the following:
The bad news: We have no idea when IRL TPCi events will return, and until then, the competitive scene is stunted. The opportunity to compete is still out there (more than ever), and there’s casual-leaning fun to be had, but the money has faded. I don’t like bringing up this conversation for concern of coming off as rapacious or money-driven, but this is how I see the world functioning. Money’s got to be involved and a key factor for things to grow long-term. We went from multiple $50K-prize pool TPCi IRL events per month to one $12K-prize pool TPCi PTCGO competition per three months. (So, quick math: Let’s conservatively assume there’s one NA Regional Championship per month. Since March (when IRL play was suspended) and through December (a ten-month span), we’ll have missed out on roughly $500K in prizes—just in NA—while being awarded ~$28K (assuming eight travel awards @ $3.5K value each) globally through the two Players Cups.) I follow the community discussions loosely on Twitter, and I have not seen players talking about this. (Maybe you have and I missed it.) That is shrinkage. I find it admirable that online stores and players themselves are contributing what they can for the prize pools of grassroots events, but this approach (of funding events ourselves) isn’t sustainable to me. We’ve been forever dependent on TPCi to drive the growth and prestige of competitive play, and I don’t think the current circumstances are conducive for shifting that paradigm. Without consistently juicy prize pools, you are not going to attract the casual players (who are unsung but critical to the livelihood of competitive play) and even diehards are losing interest.
I worry about the Junior and Senior Divisions as well. Those divisions are (and always will be) the future of the game, and they’re currently nonexistent because of internet privacy laws. In the past, I’ve seen Masters players gripe about how easy it is for Juniors and Seniors to snag big prizes, but think about how many of those Junior and Senior players (and their parents) are still involved with the game. Without them, the game isn’t what it is now: RK9 Labs doesn’t exist and many of the best Tournament Organizers and judges disappear. When you give, you often get back. TPCi knows this, and I’m sure they’re concerned about what competitive PTCG will look like a few years from now because of this stretch we’re in.
The game itself seems fine. Yes, there are problem cards, but, to quote Dr. Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park, which I have never once done before in the history of SixPrizes: “The meta, uh, finds a way.” Past formats may have been better, but I don’t think any of them have seen as many games played as TEU–on has. This is new territory. Like, ten years ago, nobody played this much. We grumbled over having to playtesting for the most part. It was a chore, and it wasn’t even physically possible to play so much without a sleek automated simulator such as PTCGO (bugs and all) available. Opportunities to then compete were scarce and cherished. Formats get “figured out” faster now, yet I still see players continually innovate further. Pokémon has never been the best TCG, but it is among the most fun (for reasons outside its raw mechanics).
I’ve worked with so many special people over the years. It’s weird because it’s an intimate experience editing someone’s writing, poring over their every word, but for the most part I correspond with everyone only through email, which is kind of faceless and lacking in the sense of human connection. Regardless, it’s been an incredible privilege to collaborate with you all. We’ve published over 3,000 articles from nearly 300 different writers since July 2009. (2009!) That’s bonkers. I’m beyond fortunate to have been able to facilitate all this.
I don’t want to name names because there are so many of you to thank and I’m going to forget people who I’d be remiss to not mention. Something our readers wouldn’t know is that I send each writer detailed feedback on each of their articles. I try to help everyone improve, and I hope I’ve made it clear to each of you who I’ve worked with that I appreciate you and by writing for the site you’ve made a positive impact on yourself and others. Despite my faulty memory, I will go ahead and name a few people that I worked with for an extended period of time, felt a special connection with, or that were particularly exceptional in some way (again, everyone who has written for the site is awesome and I owe each of you a hug):
- Jay Hornung: Jay was a pillar of Underground for many years. It was not easy editing his earlier articles (writing was not his forte and neither was editing mine), but we worked at it and Jay became a proficient writer. In recent years Jay has written killer guides to the all-time decks and formats. Like, I don’t think his write-ups will ever be topped. He is so knowledgeable and I’m thankful he was able to get his thoughts on paper. Check out his new YouTube channel if you are fond of classic formats.
- Erik Nance: Erik is a special person. There’s been no one else involved with 6P quite like him. He would create instructional graphics for his articles (which was highly abnormal but incredible and helpful) and he was a talented writer. He also developed a notorious alter ego, Derrick Vance, as a pedagogical tool, which I found brilliant and hilarious. He was so good at what he did, and he went above and beyond in everything he did as well. He was a Renaissance man and I hope that fatherhood has been treating him well.
- Kenny Wisdom: Kenny has been involved with and supportive of 6P since Day 15 of the site’s existence. I don’t know how he found the site so quickly, but I’m thankful he did. Kenny has grown immensely as a person over the years. It makes me so happy to see him leaving the dream by commentating—with aplomb!—for TPCi and being a positive figure and mentor in the community.
- Brit Pybas: Brit produced some of my favorite articles on SixPrizes, which were controversial when they were released (because he wrote on abstract, philosophical topics at a time when strict deck discussion was the norm). He was always thoughtful and pondering the game in new ways. You can now listen to him on speak sagely on the Trashalance podcast. (Shout-outs to Brent Halliburton and Mikey Fouchet as well.)
- Christopher Schemanske: KP (as I still prefer to call him if he’s okay with that; just don’t call him Chris) first became involved as a moderator on the 6P forums. He was a veritable whiz kid and eager to help out in any way possible. At the time he was a moderator, he was like 14 years old but wiser than most Masters and he was able to provide anyone with obscure and esoteric PTCG data and info at lightning speed. I don’t know how he did it. He eventually became involved with editing and then management of the site, all during his teens. Christopher is remarkable. I was lucky to have worked so closely with him. I don’t know what he’s up to now, but I hope that he’s entrenched in academia, attempting to solve the “big picture” problems of the world, and that he continues to write.
- Alex Schemanske: Being a younger brother isn’t easy, and Alex had particularly high expectations precede him, but he is himself admirably. Alex was exceptionally easy to work with; he always submitted his articles on time (of which he wrote many in a short time span) and he was highly receptive to feedback. He matured a lot as a player and person in the time we worked together. I’m happy for him to have received the opportunity to write for CFB. Fun fact I recently learned: In Alex’s free time, he bakes cantaloupe melons.
- Gabriel Semedo: Working with Gabriel was special given our language barrier. His articles were all translated from Portuguese and I did extensive editing to make them sound like native English. Gabriel has a big heart. He continually strives to improve himself and in turn he makes those around him want to be better. It was such an honor to be able to work with Gabriel.
- Emery Taylor: To know Emery is a treat. I have not worked with anyone more empathetic than he is, and that is one of the most valuable attributes anyone can have. He is continually trying new things and he seems to quickly excel at all of them. It was an absolute pleasure collaborating with Emery. His articles always brightened my day and I am excited for his future.
- Xander Pero: I first met Xander back when he was a wee Magikarp and I knew then that he was destined for great things, like placing 3rd at Worlds and becoming one of UI’s leading squirrelologists. (Xander is incredibly bright and one of the most polite people I’ve worked with. He would always say “Thanks!” after I sent him a payment, which you would think might be the norm, but it is not. Interactions with him routinely made me smile.)
- Dylan Lefavour: Dylan was one of our best writers from an artistic and technical sense. I always felt like the topic of Pokémon constrained his abilities. He could probably write a great work of fiction if he wanted to. His most memorable piece is one you may not have realized was written by him: the exposé on cheating in the Pokémon TCG, Mens Rea, which was published under the pseudonym DeepThroat.
- Chris Fulop: There’s still no one better at talking your ears off than Chris Fulop. I cut 13,000 words from one of his articles, and it was still almost 8,000 words long. Chris played a gigantic part in kicking off Underground. He was the player everyone wanted to hear from, having been a Worlds Finalist and US Nationals 2007 Champion. After Chris left 6P to write for another website in 2012, I thought that was going to be the downfall of Underground. I’m glad we got to reconnect recently, in 2019, for a handful of articles.
- baby_mario: Jak was a moderator on our forums (when our forums were active; shout-out to the 6P Skype chat crew). He was incredibly quick witted and perfectly suited for the role of putting out-of-line forum users in their rightful place. I’d like to think that he went on to become a writer for one of the late-night TV shows (though I don’t know what actually became of him).
- Tony Smith: Tony was a PokéDad from my area. He wrote frequently while he was involved with the game and his articles were always humorous and creative. He beamed with positive energy. He was highly supportive of 6P during its early days, and his eagerness to help out spurred me on. I mention him to show that a little encouragement can go a long way.
- jermy101: The 2005 World Champ. Our experience that summer, collaborating on Queendom, is what started this all. I would never have started 6P if we hadn’t as a team spiked Worlds 2005. I recently drove through Jeremy’s hometown, and it’s now even more astonishing to me what Jeremy was able to accomplish (1st and T4 at Worlds in consecutive years) given his circumstances. He lived in the middle of nowhere and faced other challenges. He’s a remarkable person. We haven’t spoken in years, but I always wish him the best.
- Pablo Meza: Pablo and I have been involved together with the Pokémon TCG since 2004 (or was it 2003?). I’ve stayed in touch with few people that long. He was here for the launch of SixPrizes and he was here for the tail end. Who could have predicted that? You can find Pablo producing PTCG content around the web under the moniker Tablemon.
And thanks to everyone who has supported the site in any way, whether it be by purchasing a subscription, writing an article, or leaving a comment or like. I know the price for Underground has always been expensive and prohibitive for many players, yet I think this approach worked out. The money we generated from our modest readership was enough to let us do cool things. (Without our subscribers, none of the past ten years would have been possible.)
Where to Find Me
I don’t know where I’m going from here. This has been the most steady thing I’ve had going for me my entire life, and now it’s kaput. I may code in the background to prep 6P for a relaunch one day, or I’ll devote time to PkmnCards (which is due for a refresh), but whenever I code, I feel my soul wither some. I do it out of necessity and not because it invigorates me. Maybe I’ll do something totally different and unrelated to any of this. I’m trying to view the world with more plenitude and to not be afraid of giving things up. There’s always more opportunity if you can maintain a positive outlook.
I started a mailing list a while back for my blog. I’ve only sent out one email newsletter so far, so do not have high expectations, but you’re welcome to join (it’s free) if you’d like to keep in touch and hear from me rarely about topics that have nothing to do with Pokémon:
Until we meet again, much love and thanks,