Twitch streamer Kai Cenat's PlayStation giveaway sparks chaos in NYC

The NYPD arrested an estimated 65 people during the Friday afternoon chaos in Manhattan; police did not say if the influencer would face any criminal charges

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A famous video game influencer known for streaming on Twitch is in custody after a giveaway event attracting thousands of young people sparked pandemonium in Manhattan's Union Square.

The Friday afternoon event advertised by Kai Cenat, one of the most popular streamers online, grew out of control well before its scheduled 4 p.m. start time. Police estimates suggest the crowd size eventually climbed to a "couple thousand people."

Cenat had told his online followers to come out to Union Square where he would be handing out free PlayStation consoles and gift cards, among other items.

What exactly turned the crowd unruly isn't quite clear, but by 3:30 p.m. people were seen chucking garbage at police and taking down barriers around the perimeter. Witnesses reported seeing others throwing chairs and bottles. One person had a bruise on his face and he said he was pushed to the ground.

The commotion prompted the highest level of police mobilization by the NYPD. According to a spokesperson, the department called on an estimated one thousand officers to respond to the escalating situation.

Here's what it looked like in Union Square during Kai Cenat pandemonium

Cenat was eventually pulled out from the massive crowd by police officers and seen speaking to several officials. A spokesperson confirmed the influencer was in custody facing charges for inciting a riot, unlawful assembly "and a few other charges," NYPD Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey said Friday night.

A few dozen others, however, were arrested during the NYPD's efforts to clear the park and maintain order. Initial estimates from the department were that 65 people had been cuffed, 30 of whom were described as juveniles.

The chaos was far from contained to just the plaza. The thousands of mostly young people in the crowd stretched into multiple streets, blocking E 14th Street and Broadway directly south of Union Square.

A number of cars attempting to pass by were swarmed by the overwhelming size of the group and forced to halt. Chopper video showed a handful of people in the crowd climbing on top of some of those cars as well as a food cart nearby.

NYPD Chief of Department Jeffrey Maddrey holds a news conference about Friday's unrest in Union Square following a reported giveaway event advertised on social media.

Drivers faced significant delays during the evening rush hour, as did commuters on public transit. The MTA had trains completely passing the station below Union Square for about an hour. Regular service resumed shortly before 5 p.m.

Police issued warnings for people to avoid the area and stay clear of Union Square as they fought to regain control and disperse the thousands in attendance. Within two hours, police finally emptied the park and were focused on getting stragglers off nearby streets.

"We want our young people to come out and gather and have fun. But when it gets to the point where they disorderly, we want the parents to come and take control. And let us take a step back," Maddrey said.

The ultimate toll of the chaos may not be known for several hours, including the extent of any damage and total number of arrests made. A handful of injuries were reported, but all appeared to be minor.

One young person who had initially attended the event told News 4 he decided to leave after feeling worried about his personal safety. But he and a friend turned back around, he said, because "it's not every day you see a famous person."

Who is Kai Cenat?

Kai Cenat, who police said organized the giveaway that led to the chaotic scene, is a Twitch streamer and YouTuber who has been making online content since 2018, when he was still in high school. He is known for having a large fanbase, and in Feb. 2023, became the most-subscribed Twitch streamer of all time, with more than 100,000 subscribers.

He’s won awards for his content, which includes videos of him doing various challenges, online pranks and more. In addition to those videos, he gained following for videos where he chatted with viewers on his Twitch channel, which he started in 2021.

While it didn’t appear that Friday’s stunt was a prank of any sort, he has done other prank videos like pretending to break his brother’s PlayStation 4 controller, or knocking on neighbors doors and running away — a video which became his first one to break a million views.

NBC New York's Chris Glorioso reports on Kai Cenat, the social media and Twitch influencer who organized the reported game console giveaway Friday in Union Square.
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