Steinfeld’s channel sees major growth from nostalgic anime subscriber base
By Sean Shapiro
Special to the TJP
Lee Steinfeld has turned a trip down memory lane into an opportunity to help others through the power of Pokemon and YouTube.
Steinfeld grew up with Pokemon, which became an American cultural phenomenon in the late 1990s after its debut in Japan.
Like many others close to his age, he watched the Pokemon animated television series. He played the video games on his Game Boy, opting to use Squirtle as his starter Pokemon in the original red and blue versions, and he was big into the Pokemon trading card game.
Almost two decades later, Steinfeld, now 30, is still opening packs of Pokemon cards. But instead of looking to build the best deck for a battle, he’s opening them up on his YouTube channel, named LeonHart (channel address: youtube.com/leonhart54), for a subscriber base approaching 158,000 and growing daily.
It’s a seemingly catch-all channel for Pokemon fanatics, both young and old.
Steinfeld tracks down and opens packs of cards on the channel. He does dramatic readings of Pokemon comic books. He recently built a stuffed animal Charmander at a Build-A-Bear workshop. And when Pokemon Go — the interactive smartphone game to catch Pokemon in real life came out, Steinfeld taught his subscribers how to catch a Pikachu as their starter Pokemon. He also has giveaways, ranging from Pokemon toys to cards, which have become popular with his subscribers.
Steinfeld started his YouTube channel in 2014 as a general gaming channel. He did a little bit of everything within that realm. He looked at classic and retro games, talked about current games, and of course Pokemon was part of the conversation.
“I followed much bigger personalities on YouTube and saw how they did things to raise money for charity and stuff,” Steinfeld said. “And I wanted to do that.”
Eventually Pokemon superseded the rest of Steinfeld’s channel. It was the most popular part of his channel, and for a kid who grew up trying to Catch ’Em All, it was also the most fun.
“I was really passionate and loved the nostalgic factor of it,” Steinfeld said. “It turned into Pokemon cards and games, and everything. And it really just blew up and became really successful.”
Steinfeld has experienced a real boom in subscribers over the past nine months. He had close to 20,000 subscribers last October and at that time he started putting more effort into the quality of his videos and interacting more with his viewers.
He was up to 80,000 subscribers by the end of 2016, and the channel continued to grow each month.
As his channel grew, which has the slogan “more than a channel, it’s a community!” on the home page, Steinfeld has found ways to give back and raised funds for local charities.
That includes almost $4,000 for the Grant Halliburton Foundation on Mental Health and Suicide. Steinfeld has also raised money for the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and the American Heart Association.
“That was the main reason I started it, not just to interact with fans and be entertaining,” Steinfeld said. “I tried to do that early on, and we tried, but you can only do so much as a smaller channel. So it wasn’t until this January when I hit 100,000 subscribers when I was able to raise $4,000 for the Grant Halliburton Foundation with the help of my fans.”
That donation is a big point of pride for Steinfeld. He went to school with Halliburton at Plano West High School, and not long after high school graduation Halliburton committed suicide.
“One thing I’ve always wanted to do was always give back to his parents and their foundation, but to everyone else that is suffering from bipolar (disorder),” Steinfeld said. “It wasn’t up until I built that community up that I was able to create that type of ($4,000) donation.”
In a day and age where YouTube has evolved into a real career opportunity, Steinfeld isn’t making a dime. All of the money he makes from the channel, including hundreds of dollars in ad revenue, goes back into the channel or to support charities. He has also donated thousands of Pokemon cards to Toys for Tots and the Children’s Hospital of Plano.
He’s also having a great time and Steinfeld, who is a licensed attorney in Dallas, helped kick-start a campaign within the Pokemon community to help reunite Veronica Taylor with the Pokemon franchise.
Taylor was the original voice of Ash Ketchum, the main protagonist in the English-language dubbed Pokemon animated series. The voice actor was replaced in the Pokemon franchise in 2005.
Earlier this month Steinfeld met Taylor at a comic book shop in Plano and they opened packs of Pokemon cards on video.
“I had this great idea and she had told me she wanted to do the voice again,” Steinfeld, who also has done voice-over work, said. “And the Pokemon 20th anniversary movie is coming out in Japan in July. And we used that video to start a campaign to let the Pokemon company know that Veronica Taylor should be the voice of Ash Ketchum again.”
The video already has close to 260,000 views and has sparked conversation on other social media channels. Steinfeld has encouraged viewers to tweet at the Pokemon company, and he’s giving away a photo that Taylor signed to one random supporter.
“To be helping out the voice of Ash Ketchum, who I watched on TV all the time as a kid, the nostalgia factor of this is amazing,” Steinfeld said. “And to see a community wanting to help, that’s been great.”