Kai Cenat Overtook Union Square, But It’s Just an Average New York Day

people swarming NYC park (l&r) Kai Cenat with NYPD (c)
ilikemyfriendsmom123/TikTok oblaxknation/TikTok therealbrainchild/TikTok

On Thursday, influencer Kai Cenat told the thousands of fans watching in his Twitch stream that he will “finally be returning to New York tomorrow” to do a “huge giveaway” for PCs and PlayStation 5s. The Bronx native, joined by fellow streamer Fanum and the rest of their streaming group AMP, said to “clear their schedule” because he knows “school hasn’t started yet.” 

“Security will be deep, try something you’ll get moved,” Cenat said. 

Less than 24 hours later, a swarm of teens descended on Union Square in a scene of violence that was not very secure. Rocks were thrown, a construction site was dismantled, fireworks were set off, and a CVS had water bottles stolen. In total, 65 people were arrested, including Cenat who is facing multiple charges including inciting a riot. The visual carnage was picked up by every traditional media outlet you could think of, eager to frame Cenat and his army of “baby-faced teens” as villains and hooligans.   

Mayor Eric Adams, the former cop who is detested by many New Yorkers (and fun fact, who lives in a house full of rats), blamed the incursion on “outside agitators” and “social media.” His NYPD shut it down hard. According to NYPD Commissioner Jeffrey Maddrey at a Friday press conference, the highly-funded force responded with a “level four” mobilization, the highest level of disaster response with helicopters overhead and roughly 1,000 police officers. One clip showed an officer pushing a kid’s face through a taxi windshield as they were trying to get away.  

As a native New Yorker, I am not too shocked at how any of this played out. I learned about Cenat’s city visit right after his announcement, but unfortunately was bedridden with a case of “Is this COVID or just one of those regular colds.” Just the idea of the giveaway gave me flashbacks to 2019 when I covered a FaZe Clan pop-up store and meet-up in the Lower East Side. The crowd was more than the store or the esports org had expected, with the hundreds of teens wrapped around four city blocks, eventually devolving into a chaotic swirl of hormones and pineapples that had to be shut down by the NYPD. 

Kai Cenat after all is currently larger than the entirety of FaZe. The 21-year-old has become one of the fastest-rising stars in the streaming community and has a massive audience of 10 million YouTube subscribers willing to support him. After a 30-day subathon in March, he managed to become the most subscribed channel on Twitch, with over 300,000 paid subs (though he’s now dropped to number two). His audience is engaged, loud, and young, which meant that there was no way this was going to end well.  

Union Square was also the perfect battleground since its culture is so unique in the NYC park landscape. Washington Square Park is for burnouts and NYU students and Central Park is where tourists and anyone who wants to day drink congregate. But Union Square is ripe with chess-playing hucksters, stands to buy comic books, and plumes of pot smoke hovering over skaters. It’s the best place where you can buy artisanal goat cheese at the Farmer’s Market and then watch a man in his underwear scream about peace and love. Burnouts, bankers, and befuddled besties bask on the stairs leading up to the always-crowded Subway station.  

Kai Cenat, a Bronx native, had probably chosen the place based on its ability to handle a large amount of NYC grit. But since he hadn’t gotten a permit and caught everyone who isn’t completely plugged into the internet hive mind off guard, it created a tasty opportunity to blame those pesky influencers for all of life’s woes with images that harkened back to the protests of 2020.

But after the dust settled and the crowd dispersed, Union Square returned to a relative level of normalcy. I watched TikTok live streams from my bed of the aftermath, and you would be amiss if you didn’t know what had just transpired. Sure there was more trash, NYPD, and thrown chairs than usual, but overall Union Square’s weird energy remained intact. This city is a beautiful place, where in the afternoon it can capture the entire new cycle and by the night focus has shifted to DJ Crazy Times premiering his Eurodance-inspired TikTok hit “Planet of the Bass” in a Brooklyn warehouse. Just another day in our wild world. 

Content for Creators.

News, tips, and tricks delivered to your inbox twice a week.

Newsletter Signup

Top Stories