It was only recently that the Pokémon Trading Card Game, or TCG, had been brought under the auspices of this process. This wasn’t by accident. Two of the world’s most prominent Pokémon collectors, including Gary Haase, discerned two crises in the scene. The first was the same one Beckett had identified about baseball cards: there was no way of distinguishing the value between one card and another. The other was personal: both collectors were sitting on millions of pounds worth of cards, yet their value was diminishing. Pokémon wasn’t cool anymore. They were the first significant collectors to send their cards off to PSA to be graded. “It made a huge difference,” Haase told Input. “It made it less of a child’s venture and turned it into more of an adult venture, like sports cards.”
But breaking the iron grip of the three big grading companies is proving difficult. And grading companies in the UK have been beset by scandal. The accusations are many: that they don’t know the first thing about grading a card; that they’re scammers; that their slabs are ugly and misshapen. There’s even been suggestion that they’ve been going on eBay and up-bidding sales of their own items. “It’s horrendous,” says Ben Mewis, who runs the Poké-Torio YouTube channel. “They got so much hate, the first couple did. It was horrendous. I don’t envy them at all.”
“So much abuse,” says Kane Crosfill, who runs GetGraded, the first of the new UK grading companies to come to market. “Sleepless nights kind of abuse.” Spelling Butterfree “Butterfry” was a particularly bad day. Multiple times he has debated whether the stress is worth it.
This abuse has affected people’s mental health. “We received a lot of abuse: and I mean, a lot,” says Graham. “Some of the messages that I’ve received from people have been absolutely foul. One day, I had such a bombardment of attacks, I actually realised why stars on social media actually go to low places.”
If this wasn’t bad enough, the new companies are also attacking each other. There’s been accusations of scamming, slander and plagiarism. Crossfill says his company is being targeted because it’s “miles ahead” of its UK rivals – grading thousands of cards instead of hundreds, and setting up new offices in Europe and America. “I’ve seen other people who have been really bitter about how many subs we’re getting, especially some of the other UK grading companies, who have sat on YouTube videos and tried to undermine us, but they might be grading a 100 cards a week when we’re grading 500 cards a day: there’s no comparison,” he says.
Graham has his own list of grievances: that certain companies are lying about employing experienced graders, that influencers with “their fingers” in US grading firm PSA have encouraged abuse against him, and that those who mocked his venture went on to set up their own rival grading companies.
To an outsider, this level of vitriol seems bizarre: although grading by one of these companies won’t increase the value like a rating from one of the big three, they still seem to offer a quicker, cheaper way of getting the condition checked and the card sealed in a slab. “Hobbyists have been crying out for a UK grading company for years,” says Mewis. “We’ve never had one, we’ve always had to send stuff overseas. And there’s a cost and wait time involved in that.”
Part of the trouble comes down to the secrecy surrounding the grading process. Grading companies guard this like KFC guards its blend of herbs and spices. And though a collector knows that a grader will be looking at things like edges, corners, centring, colouring, whitening on the cards’ blue backs, silvering – where the glittering foil layer extends slightly past the paper layer – and general damage like scratches and stains, there are no videos of these companies carrying out this examination. “It’s proprietary, subjective and by our standards,” a Beckett spokesperson says.