Pokémon cards can fetch hundreds. This card collector gives many of them away for free - East Idaho News

Pokémon cards can fetch hundreds. This card collector gives many of them away for free

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(CNN) — There are a ton of different ways to play Pokémon, the über-popular Japanese franchise that follows pocket-sized monsters across trading cards, video games and film and TV.

But the main mission of Pokémon, no matter how you play, is distilled best through its English-language slogan: “Gotta catch ‘em all!”

… unless, of course, you’re giving them all away.

That’s the strategy for Ross “Coop” Cooper, a prolific Pokémon card collector from Virginia, who goes to card conventions around the Mid-Atlantic and gives much of his expansive collection away — for free — to fellow fans of all ages.

“At the end of the day, we all have a hobby we really enjoy,” he told CNN. “I know it’s going to be worth more, the experience, than getting a couple bucks in my pocket.”

Coop, who runs the YouTube channel Coop’s Collection, films his interactions at card conventions and captures the genuine surprise and joy among kids and adults alike when he gives them a card.

It goes like this: When someone wanders up to his booth, Coop asks them for their favorite Pokémon. Oftentimes, he’ll whip out his binder of cards he sets aside for gifting, find the perfect card and send it home with them for free. But if he’s out of their favorite character, he’ll give them an unopened booster pack and let them keep what’s inside.

He’ll sometimes even open his case of Pokémon cards he plans to sell, some of which can fetch over $100, if a kid or adult gets excited about a card inside. The giftee is often so shocked by the free card, they don’t know how to react.

Adults often try to pay Coop anyway if he tries to give them something without a fee. But to Coop, they’re just “kids at heart,” and a small but meaningful act of kindness can go a long way for any Poké-fan.

Making a Pokémon fan’s day means more than catching ‘em all

Pokémon isn’t Coop’s day job, but it’s become an increasingly meaningful part of his life.

Coop was, like many children of the ‘90s, a Poké-fan in his youth, collecting cards and facing bosses in the early Pokémon video games. But when he reached middle school, he fell out of the hobby.

It wasn’t until 2018, when his YouTube algorithm fed him a video of a popular user opening up a new pack of Pokémon cards, that he rekindled his affection for the Japanese card game. But Pokémon was no longer the humble hobby of his ‘90s youth. There were countless new Pokémon varieties and collections to discover, and the franchise has boomed in popularity since the card game debuted in 1996 –– per the Pokémon Company, more than 64.8 billion cards have been produced, and they’re sold in over 93 countries.

As an adult fan, Coop started out opening cards alone at his kitchen table but, eager to share the joy with fellow fans, started filming his finds for his YouTube channel. It took him over five years to reach 1,000 followers, he said –– until one of his short-form videos, taken from a longer POV video filmed at a card trading convention earlier this year, went viral.

In it, he meets a child who overpaid for a Charizard card at another vendor’s booth. Having spent all his cash, the boy is likely done buying cards for the day. But he takes a shine to one of Coop’s cards with an iridescent Alakazam, a mustachioed psychic Pokémon, and a high score of 9. It’s a card Coop intended to sell, but without thinking twice, Coop opens his display case and gifts the kid the card for free.

“It’ll go with your Steelix,” Coop says with a smile. (Steelix, a metal snake-like Pokémon that evolved from the rocky Pokémon Onix, is Coop’s favorite.)

That video has since garnered 16 million views. Now, at 165,000-plus followers, kids who have seen that video from April recognize Coop when they find his booth at card conventions. One of his young fans (and repeat customers) even gave him a gift –– a colored picture of Charizard, Blastoise and Venusaur.

Coop still sells cards on eBay and at card conventions –– he’s built a massive collection since 2018, and he’s submitted numerous cards for grading. (Graded cards are submitted to professional card graders who assess the card’s condition and rarity, then return it, sealed to preserve its quality, with a grade between 1 and 10, the highest value.) But he cares less about making money at the conventions than brightening a kid’s day and growing their collection.

In a particularly sweet video, Coop meets a young girl who shyly confesses that she’s a fan of Eevee, a popular Pokémon that looks like a cross between a bunny and a cat. Coop can’t find her an Eevee, so he gifts her a golden graded Pickachu card. The girl’s eyes widen –– it’s her first graded card, she says, and she gets so overwhelmed she has to turn around quickly to compose herself.

Graded cards can fetch a higher sum among card sellers since their quality has been assessed by a professional. That didn’t matter to Coop.

“It brings me a lot of joy, too” he said. “It’s not hard by any means to give stuff away.”

That wasn’t always a popular mindset in the Pokémon card collecting community, Coop said. With the onset of Covid-19, many former fans returned to the hobby seeking “comfort and nostalgia,” which caused prices of collectibles and cards to “skyrocket.” It was disappointing to see how many sellers came out “from the woodwork trying to make a quick buck on this stuff” and exploit customers in the process, he said.

But the vibe has shifted more toward generosity and celebration since then, he said. At the card conventions he attends, with cards from Pokémon, “Yu-Gi-Oh!” and “Dragon Ball Super” in tow, he’s found fans to be much more supportive of each other and growing their collections. He’s seen other YouTubers and vendors give free cards to eager young fans, too.

And because he doesn’t take a huge dent from giving out so many cards –– he can make a couple hundred bucks at conventions –– he’ll keep doing it, even if he does pop open his display case and give some of those more valuable cards, too.

Coop remembers one boy eager to trade cards with him who struggled to choose between two graded cards. Coop couldn’t resist, and the boy ended up with two for one.

“This kid is just in it because he loves Pokémon, he loves the art of cards,” he said. “Who am I to not let him have both?”