Retro video game craze during COVID-19 leaves shortage of every kind of accessory


Toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and food topped shoppers' lists as COVID-19 pandemic fears settled in across the country, including in Minnesota. Another item added to that list of "must haves" was and continues to be video games.

The demand for video games, both new and old, started even before most of the country went on lockdown.

"Right before everything shutdown in March, while everyone was buying all the toilet paper up, our numbers spiked-up tremendously," Gamerheadz owner Tony Dear said. "Our numbers were on the level of Black Friday. I couldn't believe it. I was like 'people are really going to get their toilet paper, sit in their bathroom, and play Xbox."

Like most businesses, Gamerheadz, which sells new and used video games, was closed inside Edina's Southdale Center from early March into mid-May as the COVID-19 pandemic brought a statewide stay-at-home orders and crippled the state's economy. When Dear was finally able to reopen his store on May 17 the demand for classic games remained strong.

"There was this boom for retro games and now they're really scarce," Dear said. "What I discovered during the pandemic is that everyone wants the same thing. All those people who were quarantining, social distancing, and staying at home were breaking out their old gaming systems like the Nintendo 64 and sharing them with their kids."

Dear said there is one issue with the demand as older systems regain popularity.

"People are realizing they don't have enough controllers or other accessories," he said. "There's a shortage of every kind of accessory like controllers and memory cards. It's not just old stuff, either. Gaming has picked up so much that you can't even find used controllers or accessories for the newer systems."

It's not just casual gamers that have turned to video games during the COVID-19 pandemic. eSports were able to take center stage as major sports leagues were put on hiatus due to safety concerns. Minnesota's professional Call of Duty team, Minnesota ROKKR, still competed in the professional Call of Duty League.

"We have the ability to compete online and have done that since April," ROKKR chief operating officer Brett Diamond said. "Shifting to online-only events isn't as easy as it sounds in the eSports world because you're still competing in a live event and need to conduct it at the highest possible level."

Rokkr athletes had dedicated business Internet lines installed in their apartments just so they could maintain their competitiveness.

"Truly that's how good at this these players are," Diamond said. "Literally the millisecond in an Internet connection can be the difference between winning and losing in a competitive match."

With the playoffs right around the corner, here's a quick #TBT to the start of the season.We picked up the boys and got straight to work -- #ROKKR

— Minnesota RØKKR (@ROKKR) August 13, 2020

Major sports leagues also turned to eSports while on hiatus to give fans something to watch and athletes a way to compete. NASCAR hosted several televised iRacing events in the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, The series featured professional race car drivers. Major League Baseball used popular game MLB the Show to host the MLB the Show Players League.

Gaming's popularity is one that Dear believes won't be slowing down anytime soon, especially as Sony and Microsoft prepare to release their newest gaming systems in time for the 2020 holiday season.

"People continue to trade-in games here, but I wish I had more trades," Dear said. "If I pound the pavement and go to garage sales to find that inventory, it will keep me in business."