Russell Oakley, better known as TCA Gaming on Instagram and YouTube, is one of the most successful Pokemon TCG collectors and online shopfront owners within the hobby. A few weeks ago, I sat down with Rusty to speak about his journey with Pokemon, his experience with owning an LGS, the First Edition Base Set booster box he sold to Logan Paul, his complete PSA 10 English Charizard Master Set, and much much more.
You’re an incredibly successful collector. For people that don’t know you, can you tell us a little bit about your background and what your journey with Pokemon TCG has looked like so far?
I started collecting when I was a kid. I remember when I was in fifth grade around the year 2000, I basically did what everyone else did every day: found some cards, bought some from kids on the bus or in the playground, and just collected. I got out of collecting when I was about 12 when I transitioned from liking Pokemon to Yu-Gi-Oh! When I got to high school, I was more into girls, cars, basketball all that kind of stuff.
My first big purchase was when I was 16 through my brother Travis, around 2006 or 2007. I bought an Unlimited Base Set booster box for 100 bucks. Back then I think what people don’t realise is, when you spent 100 bucks on Pokemon, you were just basically throwing it away – It wasn’t like an investment type deal, it never was.
When I went off to college that’s when I really started to buy and sell. I didn’t have anything when I went to college, other than like the original three sets and Fossil. You could buy complete sets of those on eBay for around $10 and I would just buy and sell. That’s where the name for The Charizard Authority (TCA) came from because I realised you could make more money with Charizards by buying in at $5, selling for $10 and it just kind of snowballed from there. By the time I graduated college, buying and selling Pokemon TCG was paying better than my degree in education would have. So in 2012, I decided to go full-time and have been doing it ever since.
Back in 2012 was there a lot of people buying and selling Pokemon in terms of full-time jobs, or was this a very niche business at the time?
I don’t think there were a lot of people doing it full time, other than maybe people who just kind of incorporate it through a hobby shop or something like that. I know Gary (king Pokemon) and Scott (SMPratte) were around back then but I don’t know if they were in Pokemon exclusively. But you know, there were people around in the hobby during that time, even when I got back into Pokemon in 2008, there were other sellers that I worked with and learnt from. I bought out a few of the sellers that I was working closely with along the way.
I’ve had little things here and there that I’ve done, but I’ve never actually been on the payroll for somebody else other than a summer job I used to do.
My boss taught me a lot about work ethic. I’d get up at 6 am and work through until 9 pm, six days a week. I’d take a total of 30 minutes in breaks. This was outside manual labour, digging ditches, etc. I got paid $7.50 an hour and paid 100 bucks in rent a week, I’d work 90 hours minimum a week just to clear $500, some weeks putting in over 100 hours because I didn’t work on Sundays.
Back then my family didn’t have a lot of money. My mom was in and out of work and my father was disabled, so he didn’t make a lot of money either. So if I could bring home 500 bucks a week, that was good money. I put in every bit that I could so I could pay for car insurance or anything else that was needed and they were always there for me too.
Are you surprised by how far the hobby has come? I know when we look back at Pokemon cards, periods like 2012 were quite quiet and it has continuously progressed. Have you seen real stark growth over the last year or so?
Back in 2012 and even before that there was growth. I remember, I bought a Base Set unlimited box for 100 bucks and watched it grow. The box would double every year until it got to about the $2500 Mark and then it slowed down a bit. Honestly, though, I think this is kind of making up for 2016-2017 where we saw big growth but then everything just kind of levelled out for a while. That’s why I think the last 12 months have seen everything catch up.
The growth is more noticeable now because the numbers are larger. When you go from $100 box to $200 a box, it’s not that noticeable. But if you go from $2500 to $5000, or $5000 to $10,000 there’s a lot of money involved so people take a lot more notice.
A few years ago you opened a storefront (The Charizard Authority) which closed down in 2018. What did you learn from that experience? How does that show the importance of online sales with Pokemon?
I opened the storefront right before the Pokemon GO exploded. I’ll be honest with you, I had no idea what Pokemon GO was, I didn’t realise it was gonna be a thing at all. I hired a guy who knew Pokémonon Go was going to be something big but I was completely oblivious to it. Pokemon Go made it very difficult to get registered as a Pokemon League at that time.
I was already doing the online store and I had to adjust, basically pulling off the inventory that I was putting online, and it siphoned off of that, moving to the shelves.
I saw how people when they walk into a store, most of the time don’t know what they have. When you give them a price, they’ll probably sell it to you. I think when you try to translate that to online, a lot of times when people reach out to you, they expect you to give them a price, but whatever that price is they’re going to double it or triple it because they’ve already looked it up. In a store, you have to think of those prices on the spot.
I liked the interaction with the customers and sometimes people were really surprised at how much you pay for their collections. I also really liked working with the kids and seeing how when they came in and bought a $4 pack, you know, it reminded me of my childhood.
If I was to do it again, I probably wouldn’t expand out into all the other games as I did. I was told that comics and Magic: The Gathering! were the two things that were necessary for an LGS (Local Game Store) and I don’t believe that now.
For me, Every bit of money I spent on comics went straight to the garbage. Some other games did work out but really the only one that pulled in money the whole time was Dragon Ball Super because it was just starting.
I should have stuck with what I knew and that was Pokemon. The other thing to note is that when I opened up my store, it was like 2016 to 2018 and this is when Crimson Invasion, Steam Stiege booster boxes were around. At that time, you had to compete to sell them on eBay at 80 bucks, that’s a $5-$10 loss and of course, a physical game shop has much more in terms of overhead costs.
There are some benefits to having a physical storefront but for the most part, online, is just way cheaper – it’s a better way to go, and you have a wider audience to sell to.
I will say I do think that LGS are important for future generations because I think a lot of kids my age had stores when we were growing up, this means we connect back to that experience that we had. When I think about my childhood and playing with Pokemon, I think about going to Toys R Us on a Saturday morning. We traded, battled, and collected free promos. These are the experiences that stick with the kids and that they can carry through to continue with Pokemon. It’s the kids that are playing now that we want to be us in 20 years because if they’re not, then it’s just going to be the same generation continually buying the same old stuff and it’ll just die out.
You sold a First Edition Base Set booster box to Logan Paul that he opened live for Pokemon day. How did that come about?
I posted an Instagram picture of a PSA 10 First Edition Charizard and the box. When I made that post ThePokéJew reached out saying Logan was looking to buy. We went back and forth before deciding on $350,000. At the time, I wanted to go for other items and it was a lot of money. Six months before, the same box was worth around $75,000. It was a really easy process, he transferred the money and I shipped it to California that evening.
As for the box opening, I thought that it went really well. They pulled some really good stuff: two Charizards, three Chanseys, a Blastoise, a Venusaur – you couldn’t ask for more from a box.
I’m glad that it worked out for him, if I had opened the box it could have went the other way so I’m not unhappy at all. That’s the question I get asked the most: do you regret selling that box? He took the risk and put in the work and effort to make the video and sell the packs – it paid off.
My pack was as bad as you can get but that’s okay (laughing). I got a shoutout and a First Edition Scoop Up on its way!
You own a PSA 10 English Charizard Master Set, the First Edition Base Set is always in the news, always on the media. What would you say is the rarest card and the hardest for you to obtain for that collection?
The hardest one for me to obtain was the Cosmos holo pattern (Legendary Treasures). I don’t think that it is a super rare card in the sense that there are people out there that still have cases of those things. That being said there are only five PSA 10 in the world. I think it would be between that and the Cosmos from Boundaries Crossed in terms of hardest to grade.
However, if I had to start all over again, the one Charizard that I think would be the toughest to grab, again, would be the 1999-2000 base set Charizard. It is so hard to pull a 1999-2000 base set Charizard, much less find a heavy pack, and it has a 1999- 2000 holo inside, then you need to pack a Charizard that grades a PSA 10.
That would probably be the one that I would think would be the toughest for me to find again. I paid maybe $5000 for mine. At the time, the regular Charizard was about 2500 bucks, so I’m glad I bought in on that one because the regular unlimited PSA 10 Charizard is now between 15 and 20 thousand dollars. I can’t imagine trying to find a 1999-2000 right now.
Would you say that the master set is the pinnacle of your collection?
I really like that set, it took a lot of effort and drive to get it. It’s still going to be worked on for a while and it’s probably the most valuable set that I have. I do have another set that I just recently got in that I can’t quite talk about publicly just yet. It’s my new favourite set and I can’t wait to do a video on my YouTube channel soon to show it to everyone!
Where do you want to be with the hobby by the end of 2021? What are you working towards?
I’m still constantly working on my PSA 10 sets for all WotC holos and reverse holos. I’ve got a lot of non-holos as well at PSA, the goal is to have everything in PSA 10. I think a more realistic goal is to have everything printed by WotC and in the highest grade possible. Some of them, you know, you’re just not going to have in a 10, like the pre-release Clefable, if anyone ever got one, who knows where the price level would go just because we all know it’s basically impossible.
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John-Anthony Disotto – Ludkins Media Editor-in-Chief
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