On Friday, August 4, a large number of fans of the YouTube personality Kai Cenat gathered in New York City’s Union Square, waiting for what sounded like a large-scale giveaway of PS5s and other electronic gear. (Or possibly gift cards to buy them with, or gift cards and personal electronics.) What took place instead was less flash mob — remember flash mobs? — and more chaos, with some of the attendees shouting at the police and (as per Gothamist’s reporting) the aforementioned NYPD eventually taking Cenat into custody.
This might prompt a few questions for readers unfamiliar with the world of streamers. Questions like, “Who is Kai Cenat?” And more questions, like “Did a bunch of people really riot over not getting free PS5s?” In the hopes of answering at least some of these questions, here’s a handy explainer.
Who is Kai Cenat?
A YouTube personality and Twitch streamer. Earlier this year, he became, as per a report at AfroTech, the first Black Twitch streamer to amass 200,000 subscribers — and only the third Twitch streamer to do so overall. He has a total of 6.5 million followers on Twitch and another 4 million on YouTube.
What happened on Friday in Union Square?
As per the New York Times‘s reporting, Cenat announced the event on a livestream several days ago. This led to approximately 1,000 people arriving at Union Square in the hopes of seeing Cenat or his fellow streamer Fanum. As more people arrived at Union Square, more police showed up as well — and, when no electronic devices or gift cards were made available, a small fraction of the crowd grew visibly unruly. Add police in riot gear to the mix and you have a troubling combination.
New York City subways temporarily skipped the Union Square stops as a result, and a Best Buy on 14th Street briefly locked its doors, the Times reports.
Gothamist reported that a few fireworks were also set off, which probably didn’t help reduce the tension. It’s also worth mentioning that many of fans of an online influencer are themselves very online — which likely accelerated things even further, creating spectacles within spectacles.
Buying a PS5 costs hundreds of dollars. Did people really expect to get one for free?
It’s weird, but it’s not that weird to think that a high-profile influencer might be able to pull off something like this. Earlier this summer, the New York Times Magazine profiled Jimmy Donaldson, aka MrBeast, who does things like pay for cataract surgery for 1,000 people — to cite one example.
Is this the first time Cenat has been at the center of a controversy?
Nope. Twitch has suspended his account on multiple occasions. GameRant has a good overview of them — which include Cenat being suspended for accidentally showing explicit photos while streaming and, on one occasion, passing out from eating too many edibles.
One of those suspensions did lead to Kyrie Irving — who has appeared in several of Cenat’s videos — criticizing Twitch’s management.
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You said something about fireworks before. Is there anything else I should know when it comes to fireworks?
Yes, actually. Cenat was one of several streamers residing in a space dubbed the AMP House. Earlier this summer, the residents of the home in question brought their time there to a close by having a fireworks fight inside the house. And if you think that’s bizarre, wait until you see the pictures.
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