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'Gotta gift 'em all.’ A Pokémon YouTuber tries to grow the community through kindness

 Ross "Coop" Cooper and traders at a recent Pokémon card convention.
Ross Cooper
Ross Cooper
Ross "Coop" Cooper and traders at a recent Pokémon card convention.

You can hear the amused resignation in his voice each time.

“I’m going to give you both of them,” Ross “Coop” Cooper says as he gifts yet another Pokémon to a child who was planning to buy one of the colorful trading cards.

The kids come with their allowances by the fistful, hoping to buy or trade Pokémon cards with more seasoned collectors.

But Coop, who records his booth at local Richmond, Va., collectible conventions for his YouTube channel, isn’t in it for the money.

“I guess at the end of the day, I'm a big softie,” Coop says.

“My wife,” he adds, “always jokes like, 'If we ever have kids, you've got to learn how to be the bad cop because you don't get to always be the good cop.'”

Coop has been collecting Pokémon cards since 2018. At 33 years old, he was a '90s kid at the height of Pokémania. But with time, he lost interest in catching them all.

“And then in 2018, I don't know why or how, a YouTuber — his name is MaxmoefoePokemon — one of his videos got recommended to me, and I watched it and I was like, 'Oh, that's interesting,'” Coop says.

“I remember sitting there thinking, this guy looks like he's having a ton of fun opening up Pokémon cards.”

With that, Coop ordered $200 worth of cards — a charge he had to warn his wife about — and dove back into trading.

“It's all been downhill from there,” he joked. “I fell in love with collecting again.”

Coop has a core collection of about 400 valuable trading cards and thousands more of lower value.

Over the years as his channel has gone from unboxing Pokémon card packs to being more active in the trading community, Coop has amassed a loyal following of subscribers who tune in to his videos to watch as he trades — or more often, gifts — cards at shows.

At these conventions, Coop goes in with the intention of buying and trading cards with other collectors, but more often than not, he winds up gifting cards to curious onlookers — oftentimes children — who are growing their own love for the game of trading.

“It's just too easy for me to give [cards away], because at the end of the day, it doesn't stop me from, like, eating, you know?” he says.

He guesses over the past six years since he started collecting, that he’s given away 1,000 or more cards.

“I have people who will buy random cards, like on eBay or something, and I can tell that they're buying their favorite because they might buy two or three of the same character,” he says. “And then I like to dig through other binders or even bulk to see if I can find a couple of that character to try to throw in.”

While trading cards and recording for YouTube is his main hobby and a fun side hustle, Coop works a regular 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. job as a data and analytics strategist in financial services.

That helps him rationalize giving cards away so freely when others are more interested in turning a profit.

“When there's money on the table, sometimes it brings out the worst in people. What's great about interacting with younger collectors is that they're not really in it for the money,” he says.

“They're in it for the love of Pokémon and the love of collecting, and the joy they really get about completing a set that they're working on or getting a new card they've been really, really excited about, and not about like, ‘was I able to get a card for $10 and flip it and make $20?’ ”

In fact, it wasn’t until recently that Coop was able to start making any real money from the venture. Because of YouTube’s strict monetization policy, his videos only became eligible for ad revenue in mid-May when one of his short videos went viral.

He just got his first check from the video-sharing platform for about $3,000.

“I'm able to really lean into just the joy of collecting and the hobby without worrying about if I go to this card show and if I don't sell $5,000 worth of cards, we're going to have trouble paying our mortgage,” Coop says.

As much as he would love to build his channel up into a career, he says he doesn’t have any interest in trying to make actually selling cards his main source of income.

“There's just something about spreading joy and spreading kindness that it's like getting paid tenfold,” he says.

“You know, if I sell a card for 10 bucks, it's like, 'Okay, awesome, I made $10.' But seeing just pure excitement and surprise from being able to give away something, it's just worth more.”

Through his generosity and growing YouTube channel, Coop has made a few regulars at his booth, including 9-year-old Wyatt and his dad, Matt.

At a recent convention, Wyatt and his dad approached Coop’s booth and Coop quickly greeted the rising 5th grader by name. Coop remembered one of Wyatt’s favorite Pokémon characters was Mew, and began digging through his card bank to find a card to gift the boy.

While Coop searched his binder, Wyatt handed him a hand-colored picture of three first-generation Pokémon: Charizard, Venusaur and Blastoise.

“I was like, 'This is awesome that he's wanting to show me his art.' And then I hear his dad whisper to him, Matt goes, ‘Do you want to tell him?' Like, 'That's for him?' Like 'He gets to keep that?,’” Coop says.

“I was so surprised and truly overjoyed that Wyatt felt the want to do that for me,” he says. “It means so much when a child goes out of their way to draw you a picture, color you a picture or something. That's their way of expressing how much you mean to them.”

Copyright 2024 NPR

Alana Wise
Alana Wise is a politics reporter on the Washington desk at NPR.