Influencer faces riot charge over PS5 giveaway melee in New York

NEW YORK (AFP): A popular online influencer who drew a massive crowd to a Manhattan square with promises of a game console giveaway, only for the gathering to turn into a bottle-tossing melee, was charged on Saturday with rioting, New York police said.

The alleged instigator of the fracas, 21-year-old Kai Cenat, drew the crowd on Friday night with promises that he would give away PlayStation 5 consoles.

Word of the event went viral and thousands of youths turned up at New York City’s Union Square, pelting police with bottles and debris and stomping and dancing on cars.

An estimated 1,000 police officers responded to the unrest, which left some people injured.

Cenat was also charged with inciting a riot and unlawful assembly, a New York Police Department (NYPD) spokesperson told AFP, and four others were also charged with felonies.

A Bronx resident, Cenat is massively popular online, with 6.5 million followers on the game streaming site Twitch and four million followers on YouTube.

Friday’s unrest started with an Instagram post, with Cenat calling on fans to meet him in Union Square for a live-streamed event where he would hand out the gaming consoles.

A gathering of people degenerates into riots sparked by Twitch streamer Kai Cenat, who announced a “giveaway” event, in New York’s Union Square on August 4, 2023. Photo: Yuki IWAMURA/AFP

Thousands of young people – as many as 5,000 according to US media – gathered very quickly at the square and in surrounding streets in the hopes of seeing the influencer.

As the streets heaved, young men started throwing objects from a nearby construction site, targeting people in the crowd and the police, who were rapidly deployed in large numbers.

Television footage and news photographs showed rioters surrounding and blocking vehicles, with young men kicking and smashing some of the cars.

“People were bleeding from their heads, from their faces… people were suffering out here,” said New York City Police Chief Jeffrey Maddrey at a press briefing

“There were a lot of people, it was uncontrolled… a lot of young people got hurt.”