Monday, September 15, 2014

Why I Pack Search & Why I'll Have to Stop

It all started in July 2012.  That's when I googled baseball cards, saw some pictures of 2012 Topps Allen & Ginter, and got hooked on cards.  I loved the retro old school design of Allen & Ginter.  The cards were beautiful, the insert sets were odd yet incredibly interesting, and the autograph checklist in the set was spectacular. 

At that time, I knew I had to buy some of those cards.  The town where I lived didn't have a card shop.  So, where would I go to buy cards?  I had no idea.  So again, I googled for more information.

It turns out that Target sold sports cards.  I didn't know that.  And at about that same time, I also came across something interesting.  I saw something on the internet referring to "hot packs."  What were those?

I googled some more.  It turns out that "hot packs" were packs of cards which were guaranteed to have a "hit" inside of it.  I never knew that you could tell what was inside a pack of cards without opening it, but clearly some people had figured out how to do so.  

I found that intriguing.  

This time, I searched on YouTube and found videos of people opening up hot packs.  Pack after pack which was opened had hit after hit.  I was in awe.  How did these people do it?  

And that's how my hobby, nay, my obsession started. 

For the next few months, I immersed myself in figuring out how to pack search.  I searched the internet for information and free tips.  I watched lots of YouTube videos.  I took notes.  I thought about it in my free time.  I theorized.  And I went out searching to try and see if I could validate all that critical thinking and theorizing by finding the hits.  It was fun.  It was interesting.  And pack searching was thrilling.  

While most people only pack search to find hits (whether to keep in their personal collection or to sell as "hot packs" on eBay), I searched because I enjoyed the challenge.

To me, it was fun to figure out how to pack search each product.  Every card company has its own tactics they use to try and thwart pack searchers.  As a novice pack searcher, you'll fall for them.  I did, a lot.  It's tough on the wallet, but it made me more determined than ever to get better, and get good enough to where the card companies weren't beating me any more, but I was beating the card companies.  To draw an analogy, I wanted to be like a card counter in a casino.  I wanted that edge.  I wanted to be that guy who can beat the house at their own game.

I'm generally too humble of a person to call myself an expert at anything, but after two years of pack searching I do believe I am reaching that point.  If I'm not an expert, I'm at least extremely experienced.  I've dedicated a lot of time and money to this obsession.  I have over 100 notes in my phone about how to search various sports card products which has come out in the last two years.  I meticulously take notes about every product I search, and the product of every store I visit.  It sounds crazy, and I suppose it is.  Remember, I did call this an obsession.  But information is powerful.  The more you know about a product, and how the card company manufacturer likes to try and hide hits, it becomes easier -- a lot easier -- to find hits.  

I do believe I reached that point where I am constantly beating the card companies.  Rarely, any more, do I get fooled by decoys and the other tricks that card companies use to hide hits.  Hell, depending on the product, I can even find hits in rack packs and blaster boxes.  They're harder to search, but I can still find hits in those too.

I started this blog to chronicle my journey from novice pack searcher to pro pack searcher.  At the time, I saw it mostly as a journal to write down memories and stories, for my own amusement.  I thought that in the future, it would be fun to look back at these blog posts to remember these times; to remember when I was once that young padawan pack searcher yearning to be a jedi master pack searcher.  I honestly did not expect anyone to find this blog, and for me to gain a small following.  I thought it would just be me, myself, and I.  

But it turns out that pack searching is intriguing for a lot of other people too.  People were Googling "pack searching" and started running across my blog.  (And I'm sorry for choosing the name "Amateur Hot Pack Hunter" because when I first started the blog and you Googled "Amateur Hot Pack," the top search results would all be porn sites!)  Within a month I had my first comment, and within four months I was getting regular comments.  People were even asking me for tips, and asking me to teach them how to pack search.  Like the old pack searching pros on Youtube (such as deanofmean86 and Tut) had inspired me to try pack searching, I think this blog inspired others to try pack searching too.  At the time, there were no other pack searching blogs on the internet.  I was on the only one.  Now there is one other, and another which has come and gone.  Pack searching seems to be a regular occurring topic on the Blowout Cards forums, and YouTube videos of hot pack openings are still fairly common.  While I certainly can't take all the credit for the surge in pack searching popularity, I can't help but think I played a role in its rise over the past couple of years.  

The rise in pack searching's popularity probably is what led to this:


This might be the first time, at least that I know of, that a card company has actually acknowledged pack searching on such a large scale public platform such as their own Facebook page.  Pack searching must be becoming more prevalent.  

How about that picture?  Wow.  That's some serious pack searching right there.  That guy is, almost literally, camped out in the card aisle to do some searching.  I'll admit I've done similar.  I've brought a fold-up camping chair to sit down while I search, head phones (to help me get in that deep pack searching zone), Gatorade to stay hydrated (pack searching is a sport too!), and some Icy Hot for the arthritis and muscle strain from finger banging all those packs.  Sometimes, when I'm at Target for a really long time, I'll get a couple of those hand carts, flip them upside down, and use them as a foot rest while I'm sitting in my chair doing my searching.  

I don't know if the guy in the picture knew he was being photographed.  Maybe he knew and didn't care.  Maybe he didn't know.  Either way, it got me thinking, have we pack searchers all started going too far?  Are we really only concerned about the hits or making a profit by selling hot packs, and not interested in the base cards or insert cards any more?  What ever happened to just buying packs of cards, because you liked the cards?  Remember the old days when there were no autographs or relic cards in packs?  You just bought cards because you liked looking at the pictures, reading the stats on the back, or for just plain old collecting.  

Collecting.  Isn't that what the sports card industry is about?  Perhaps we've lost sight of that.  I certainly have.  I can admit that.  Although the beauty of the Allen & Ginter set is what initially hooked me on cards, I went through a period after that where all I cared about were the hits.  I was barely looking at the base cards, and was throwing them away.  I only kept the hits. 

But then a strange thing happened after a while.  I almost became jaded to the hits.  When you're not used to getting hits all the time, getting hits is a big deal.  But when you start getting really good at pack searching and you get hits all the time, they sort of start to lose their specialness.  It got to the point where I almost started leaving hits on the shelves after I found them, and even considered joining the ranks of many of my brethren who sell hot packs on eBay.  But instead of going down either of those routes, life went on, priorities changed, my life changed, and I started pack searching less.  Perhaps this change was inevitable.  Perhaps it is what I needed.  

During that brief time away from pack searching I realized I had changed.  I was a different person.  I didn't want to pack search just to find the hits any more, I wanted to buy cards just because I liked the cards.  In a sense, I had regressed back from that pack searching crazed maniac, back to that kid who just wanted to buy cards because they looked so cool. 

Don't get me wrong, I still think pack searching is fun.  I still enjoy thinking about it, thinking about the challenge, and thinking about how Topps (the card company who I believe actually takes the most effort to thwart pack searchers) will try to confuse us pack searchers.  To draw another analogy, I see myself as a code breaker, and the packs of cards like the Ginter Code -- just waiting to be cracked.  

Frankly, I think this code has been cracked.  I learned how to pack search on Allen & Ginter.  I've given the most time, thought, and effort into pack searching Allen & Ginter, and I can definitely pack search the shit out of the product in every form that it comes packaged.  

Now that the code has been cracked, the question now becomes: can I quit?

I already tried.  That was that period when the blog went silent for about three months.  It was extremely hard not to pack search.  When you shop at Target and Walmart regularly for things other than just cards, it's all too easy to stop by the card aisle and see what's available.  Every time I went to Target and Walmart, temptation was eating away at me.  

I'm only human, and eventually I gave in to the pack searching urges.  The appeal of cracking new codes, was just too much.  I missed taking down all those notes in my phone.  I missed having a product I was working on pack searching to think about during my free time.  Pathetic, I know.  Like I said, it's an obsession.  It's a puzzle.  It's a puzzle that I can't help but want to crack.  The hits are a nice bonus and reward for my searching, but my greatest joy comes from the satisfaction of knowing that I've cracked the code when I can successfully find hit after hit in some of the tougher products to search.  

The time has come for me to try quitting again.  The past two years have been a lot of fun, but life goes on.  My life must go on.  I need to concentrate my efforts elsewhere.  As we all grow up, we have to give up things.  I have to give up pack searching.  

It will be hard.  I know that.  I may have a relapse.  Or two.  Or three.  Or four.  Or more.  Obsessions and addictions don't stop overnight.  They don't always stop right away, or even after a handful of tries.  It might take me a year or a few years, but I do think that I have to put this behind me.  

If anything is going to keep me from pack searching, it will probably because I am now more in the camp of collecting cards just to collect cards.  While I still would love to get hits, I also don't mind just getting nicely designed and good looking base cards or inserts.  As somebody who doesn't have a hobby shop nearby, I'll be buying retail.  That being the case, it would be nice if I could buy retail and still have a chance at getting hits.  In a way, I'm almost like those people who say pack searching ruins it for everybody.  

Note how I said "almost" in that previous sentence.  That's because I'm also still of the belief that pack searching isn't illegal, it's not stealing, it's not wrong (as long as you're not damaging the cards while you search them), and buying cards is first come first serve (earlier patrons owe no duty to later patrons to not pack search).  I view buying cards just like buying anything else at the store: you want the best one available and if you can figure out which might be the best one then buy the best one.  So if I go to a store and I see someone pack searching, I will feel no ill-will towards them.  I believe they have the right to do what they're doing.  The fact that they're pack searching may prevent me from buying cards, but so be it.  That's just the way it is. 

So for all my fellow pack searcher readers who have followed my blog for the past two years, I hope you don't think I'm turning my back on you or that I'm the enemy now.  I'm not.  I don't care that you guys are still pack searching.  I wish you all good luck in finding hits.  I just have to quit this fun and addicting habit.