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Part 2: Collecting the Chronology of Top Shot

-- Written by @STEVEYGIII, NBA Top Shot, NFL All Day, UFC Strike and Candy MLB collector--

Welcome to part 2 of Collecting the Chronology of Top Shot.  In part 1, we took a look at some general industry comparisons for Top Shot, along with Series 1 and early Series 2.  In part 2, we are going to start things off with what really was the bursting of the Top Shot bubble, at least as far as price for commons was concerned.  We close the blog out with the last 3 eras of Top Shot thus far:

Series 2 Part 2 & Series 3 – The "Junk Wax" Era

Series 4 – Collectors Only

Series 5 – The Modern Era

Up until the back end of Series 2, we were seeing some incredible price tags on all the moments to date.  I feel like there should be a FLOAT or something if you’ve been in Top Shot long enough to know that Tacko Fall’s /15000 debut used to easily trade at $70+.  We were hitting rapid growth and sales as the boom period of Top Shot was hitting.  We had “rent seekers” coming in just to extract value out of packs and flip moments solely for profit.  Hey, whatever people were into at the time was drawing attention in to the product.  However, all this money coming and going on Top Shot, the market cap exploding and people wanting more; we landed in a place that I still do not think we ever fully recovered from.  We hit the digital “junk wax” era pretty quickly.

Series 2 Part 2 & Series 3: The “Junk Wax” era  Physical card collectors are plenty familiar with the term junk wax.  It was the era of card collecting largely in the late 80s and early to mid 90s where physical cards were printed to the moon.  Collecting cards was a growing hobby and every manufacturer was trying to capitalize.  We had Topps, Donruss, Fleer, Score and Upper Deck all battling for your collecting dollars with high print runs and distribution at every K-Mart, gas station and hobby shop you could find.  As with all things where the supply is so overwhelming of the demand, the cards themselves outside of a handful of true superstars, were not worth the cardboard they were printed on.  In basketball and football cards, there was no difference with Hoops and Skybox adding to the mix.

Fast forward 30 years and enter the new digital collectible world.  I talked in the last blog about how things are happening and multiple times faster in the digital collecting space, compared to physical and this was no different.  For physical cards, it took decades until we hit a real junk wax era, but in the digital space, we hit it in just 2 years.  The back end of series 2 and into series 3, we saw Dapper have the minting button get stuck without being lifted.  Let’s for a minute toss aside the role player and everyone’s favorite example Bruce Brown who had a /40k mint in S2 and two /60k mints in S3.  Take a star player like Bradley Beal.  Beal in S2 had a /15k mint, /35k mint and /40k mint in the base set alone.  Add in a /12k mint for the playoffs and /10k mint for Seeing Stars; which gives us 112,000 Bradley Beal mints in S2.  In S3 we saw the typical base mint go to /60k for most players, including Beal; which runs us to 172,000 common moments.  The most popular player in the world, LeBron James had over 200,000 mints for the same period.  If we had 10,000 active users during that time, every single person would have had to buy 20 LeBrons and 17 Bradley Beals to meet that demand of just common moments.  I love Bradley Beal, but I don’t want or need that many of the same moments.

I get it though.  At some level, I get it.  We were booming.  It was the top of the arc and were growing fast without any sign of slowing down.  I do believe Top Shot was convinced their growth was going to continue to boom and why wouldn’t they?  Ground breaking technology, top tier quality product, breaking ground into a hobby/industry decades old with hundreds of millions, if not more being spent every year in it.  The thing is, once the money tree was shook dry and there were no more ETH leaves left on it, we found we had a lot less true collectors than what I think everyone thought.  Sure, did we have collectors on there who were flipping?  Absolutely, but a lot of them left and either went back to crypto or physical cards, which had a little gas left in the tank before their bubble crashed.  We didn’t retain enough of our audience for the long haul and now we have stockpiles of 1990 Fleer sitting on our shelves that is very visible.  Anytime you hit the marketplace you could just as easily see a /40k S2 Bradley Beal as you could his S5 Fresh Threads.  Our shelves are cluttered.  Imagine any time you walk into your local card shop they have 1990 Fleer sitting next to 2023 Topps Chrome? 

Therein truly lies one of the things I hope Top Shot invests into – allowing us to clean up our collections and display it however we want.  I have plenty of junk wax cards from when I was a kid, but guess what?  It is all in boxes down in my basement that I don’t have to look at if I don’t want to.  With your current collections you only have showcases and groups, so I hope there is a way for the main Moments area to be organized how you want one day; with your own sorting and hiding moments.

To close out our junk wax era, I want to end it with my final overall thought here.  My personal opinion, is Top Shot tried to model their product after physical cards way too much here.  They wanted commons to be common; they wanted packs anytime you wanted them and believed through growth we would capture or convert the cardboard audience.  The Top Shot community quickly fired away feedback, we didn’t want our product to be like cardboard.

Top Shot has to differentiate it’s moments’ positioning from the physical cardboard model.

If nothing else, the Summer of 2021 gave us our ultimate Top Shot junk wax collectible - the Vintage Vibes Dwayne Wade!

Series 4: Collectors Only Not every pack has to be incredibly profitable or even return positive gains all the time, but we didn’t want to become the norm of cardboard where 75-90% (sometimes higher) of your pack is junk and you’re just chasing to hit.  There is absolutely a place for that, which is what we have seen with the improved hot packs from S4 that evolved into Quick Rips in S5.  Putting everything all in the same packs and chasing it all wasn’t right for the product.  There is something exciting about ripping a rare pack and knowing you have a hit coming. 

In S4 we saw the infamous parallels experiment.  To mixed reviews, I personally was ok with them.  I didn’t think they would be game changing, but appreciated the attempt to try something different.  After the bubble burst during the end of S3, we found ourselves in an interesting place in Series 4.  What was your purpose for being on Top Shot?  For some people, they were just hanging on to liquidate out.  Others hung onto a hope we would climb somewhere near the pandemic pricing; while others hoped the marketing machine would take off.  I still have my personal e-mail from Kevin Durant I received in previous sets.  From my perspective, the people who were still high energy at the start of S4 were the collectors and the crazies.  I fall into both buckets as I love to collect on Top Shot and I am also bullish on this leading to the digital evolution of collectibles.  The people still bullish in S4 were the long haulers.  You went into S4 largely knowing there wasn’t quick money to be made, but there was a great buy low opportunity if you were long.  At the same token, this was maybe the biggest era where we started to ignore price on the new collectibles for awhile.  

This really was a buy what you love period, because all those old moments we talked about that were peaking in 2021 were now within reach.  A lot of rares became within reach, even after locking challenges, you still largely could pick up most rares cheaper than a Tacko Fall /15k in years past.  Personally, I fell in love with the For The Win set and enjoyed building out the Rookie Debut set.  Anything you wanted to collect was largely there for the taking (outside of legendaries).  We saw a focus on long term collecting with the leaderboards and rewards.  Collect your favorite team, sets and players; with a lot of opportunities to get rewards.  I think the leaderboard as a concept opens up a lot for the future of Top Shot, beyond its current form.  Series 4 also brought us one of Top Shot's best innovations, the concept of the redemptions for the playoffs; which created a fixed mint and provided  collectors and the old fashioned rent seekers a new way to strategize their collections.

While this could often be considered a prime candidate for a series that would get lost in the historical chronology of Top Shot, funny enough, the parallels on the base set are most likely what will always keep it relevant with a spot for collectors.  Series 4 in my mind was a transitional series where we took what wasn’t working, blended with what Top Shot wanted itself to be and began laying the groundwork for where we were going.

Series 5: The Modern Era I’m not just labeling this the modern era because of the physical period of time we are in, but I think the current instance of the Top Shot product is what we are going to see as a foundation for series to come.  We’ve moved ourselves out of trying to be cardboard, while incorporating what works.  Sealed “wax” aka the pack marketplace, one low mint parallel, set building and an emphasis on rookies.  Going back to differentiating our positioning we have found a way to bring value back to packs, albeit in different ways to where you don’t always feel like you’re opening a bust more times than not.  We have utility for our commons, adapted our rare tier mints to the user base size and built communities around your favorite team to collect together. 

The product itself is working on a weekly drop cycle, which by in large so far about ½ way through the season is actually working.  The return of the master challenges was long overdue and a huge plus.  The Chet Holmgren MGLE challenge saw big marketplace spikes like the vintage Cool Cat period.  We’ve seen a tone down in mint sizes on the common subsets, which are finding their home in a similar spot to insert sets in traditional carboard.  Your price points still are there for collecting for most things, although expert challenges are creating that spike back in rare and legendary moments; which is a good thing.  Our best moments and sets feel special.  The curation of the common base set feels like a premium product over base sets in the past.  This is an absolute plus if we can keep interest in the base set.  Maybe not since early S2 has the base set felt as well done as the current series does (check out the Jokic or Steph common).  The pack opening experience on Top Shot is second to none.  Oh and there’s this game building called Fast Break, but shhh don’t tell anyone.

Series 5 has me excited about where we’re heading on the platform.  It feels like the product is on the right path, with the intentions to keep it where it needs to be until growth comes.  The only thing missing in my mind here is the return of solid flash challenges.  The good news is – that is only one component of the Top Shot ecosystem.  There is plenty to do, day in and day out to be engaged on Top Shot, that maybe after five season we actually are in a position to grow the platform.  The product of the moments themselves has remained constant as a quality product, and it continues to evolve.  Nowhere in any of the series did we even touch on the potential of the nostalgia for historical series like the Run It Back sets or Archives; which I think have a world of untapped potential to bring in new collectors.  While the modern era of physical cards may be heading back to a second junk wax era; Top Shot feels like we are stabilizing in the right ways in a lot of places.  If I would summarize my opinion on the modern era of where we are with Top Shot…

We have a focus on collecting, with an acknowledgement of value and a goal to drive fandom.

Unit next time – watch more moments, tell more stories and we ride at dawn.

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