Blake Martinez’s Pokémon Card Scheme Went From $11M to $0. Now He Wants Back Into the NFL.

Blake Martinez’s Pokémon Card Scheme Went From $11M to $0. Now He Wants Back Into the NFL. article feature image

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Blake Martinez was on top of the world after an NFL career in which he made nearly $30 million. But it wasn't because of his play on the field.

The former linebacker out of Stanford — who later played for the Giants, Packers and Raiders — created his own Pokémon business, one that reportedly generated $11.5 million in sales by selling "breaks" on a platform called Whatnot. The breaks allowed users to win prizes from packs — in effect, through gambling.

That all came crashing down earlier this year, however, after a "comprehensive investigation" by Whatnot found misconduct on Martinez's part. Whatnot promised to compensate consumers who were compromised.

Martinez had previously played parts of seven seasons in the NFL and used that credibility — and his relationship with Whatnot's general manager for card games Craig Jones, who he played football with at Stanford — to build a business model that may have been predicated on malfeasance.

"He's an incredible talent building a million-dollar business," Jones said in a July 2023 article by The Athletic. "Blake brings the same level of hype he had sacking a quarterback when pulls a Charizard from a pack."

Whatnot did not release any results of its investigation.

But what the Action Network found were two sets of schemes that unraveled almost as quickly as Martinez's NFL career. This loss of income source is perhaps the main deciding factor in Martinez pursuing a return to the NFL more than a year after being cut by the Giants two years into a three-year, $30 million contract.

The first portion of his scheme involved having a buyer purchase a pack of cards for hundreds of dollars in an auction that ordinarily retailed for about $3. In some cases, the pack auctions reached four figures. That's because if the buyer was able to guess correctly which "energy" card was in the supposedly unopened pack, he or she received a set of predetermined, extra prizes that were worth thousands. The packs were opened on streams hosted by Whatnot.

There are eight "energy" card types in Pokémon, giving the buyer a theoretical 12.5% chance to win the extra prizes.

The second scheme employed a similar strategy. A buyer would gamble on their pack having the same "energy" card as the last pack that was opened on stream did. If the buyer was correct, he or she would also be entitled to a set of predetermined prizes that were worth thousands of dollars.

While some allege that Martinez violated standard protocol — including not sending cards to those who paid for packs — the main reason Martinez was kicked off Whatnot and not allowed to bring his business anywhere else was the black box to which he operated this pack breaking scheme. The packs were not vetted prior to opening and could have been tampered with.

Martinez did not respond to requests for comment made by the Action Network.

"We thoroughly investigated all parties involved, permanently banned individuals who created an unfair experience, and refunded buyers who purchased in streams where violative actions occurred," Whatnot said in a statement.

The only public comment Martinez made was on the day of his ban, in which he apologized to fans and customers without explicitly saying exactly what he did.

"I never wanted to make this feel like a scam," Martinez said.

Whatnot, for its part, had a policy in place to ban gambling operations, but did not clearly state that purchase-based or pack-break adjacent games were banned. After Martinez left the company, Whatnot updated its policies to ban games where a purchased item also carries a chance at winning additional items or prizes.

"Whatnot sellers, including Blake realized that there was more money to be made with $3 packs," said RattlePokemon, a YouTube personality with nearly 30,000 subscribers who has made his brand pointing out Pokemon fraud. "With these games, Whatnot became an online casino without the regulations or licenses."

So how was Martinez able to evade Whatnot's previous ban on "gambling" operations?

RattlePokemon suggests Blake was given favoritism because Martinez was college teammates with Jones and had become one of his best friends. Jones remains employed by Whatnot.

Had these "Guess The Energy" games been completely random, the true odds would have been 1 in 8, but 12.5% of users did not win the extra prizes in the end, the streamer alleges.

"It never got anywhere close to those odds, because it was rigged," said. RattlePokemon. They would be hemorrhaging money if they didn't manipulate the odds of the game."

RattlePokemon alleged in his videos that packs that were supposed to be sealed were already opened so that Martinez and his cronies could switch out the energy card if they didn't want a winner. Winners would frequently come at the end of a long stream, which RattlePokemon said came after "they made a ton of money."

"Some of it was very obvious when looking back at the video footage," he said.

Some of Martinez's rise in the Pokémon world can be attributed to Ninja, the gaming streamer who has 6.6 million followers on Twitter and 12.2 million followers on Instagram.

On April 11, 2021, Jessica Blevins, Ninja's manager and also his wife, paid $3,300 for a pack and — improbably — netted one of the hobby's most valuable cards: a Charizard that retails in the five-figure range.


— Jessica Blevins (@JessicaBlevins) April 10, 2021

On Twitter, in front of everyone's eyes, Martinez made a rather strange comment for a marketplace that's supposed to be random: "I told you I wouldn't let you down."

Over the next couple years, not only did Ninja and Blevins promote Martinez: Blevins became a frequent partner of Martinez's.

With nothing to go back on, the man who said he couldn't see himself back in the NFL is trying out again. A week ago, he held a tryout with the Panthers, though nothing has materialized yet from that workout.

Perhaps the former starting linebacker finds a team desperate enough for depth that it looks past these allegations and sign up for his services. Or, after further investigation, perhaps his alleged transgressions prove to be too much of a distraction.

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