On election night, 29-year-old Hasan Piker wore a dark blue “Bernie 2020” sweatshirt and a “Democracy Now!” Baseball cap when he dropped into a chair to address his digital audience.
"I've told you a hundred times that places in the rust belt have a lot of postal ballot papers that you don't count immediately," he said. "What you are seeing is incomplete data!" The following words were full of explosives.
Since then, Mr Piker, a progressive political commentator known for his frenetic on-screen presence, has been the most watched streamer on Twitch. He's spent 80+ hours in front of his camera this week, with tons of tabs open on his computer, reading news aloud and providing analysis for his left-wing Millennial and Gen Z followers. Many say they find his open, slightly chaotic style more reliable than that of buttoned cable news anchors.
"People came to me because they wanted to hear a point of view – and maybe not a well-kept point of view, but an honest point of view," said Piker.
Twitch, a platform known for broadcasting video games, has become a buzzing political space in the past few months. This summer activists and organizers streamed demonstrations and sit-ins for racial equality from Black Lives Matter. "Chat only" streams in which people hold monologues or have discussions, often about politics, have also become increasingly popular. In June the New York Times reported that Twitch had "turned into an unexpected center of social activism."
The recent interest in political content has been a blessing for Mr. Piker.
Born in New Jersey and raised in Turkey, Piker graduated from Rutgers University in 2013 with a double major in communication and political science and took a job with his uncle Cenk Uygur, a founder of The Young Turks. a progressive online news and commentary program.
He started out advertising sales and business development for the program but eventually wanted to do something of his own. In 2016, Mr. Piker presented the idea for “The Breakdown”, a “Young Turks” video series on Facebook that was supposed to provide political analysis to a left-wing audience. His sharp criticism of commentator Tomi Lahren and President Trump's immigration ban proved a success. It wasn't long before Mr. Piker became famous as a Facebook resident “Woke Bae”, a title he refuses.
But through 2018, Mr Piker was seeing falling returns on Facebook and seeing the rise in right-wing news dominance on the platform. He also noticed that the algorithm was moving away from the video.
In March of that year, he set up a Twitch channel and began streaming sporadically. "I wanted a place where people could gather every day," he said.
Its streams grew slowly; The first only had 35 viewers, but as time went on, he began to attend other streamers' shows and work with other content creators, which helped expand its audience. In 2019 it streamed for hours almost every day. There were some bumps on the road. Mr Piker has been temporarily banned four times for violating the platform's copyright and content guidelines.
Meanwhile, Mr. Piker's goal was to rewrite the narrative he sees on the news on the Left. He believed progressives had an image problem in part because news organizations maliciously played portrayals of activists and organizers.
"Everywhere you've been on the internet, accelerated by Fox News, the left has been viewed as hysterical, emotional, blue-haired warriors of social justice," he said. "You have turned the concept of the struggle for social justice into something negative."
"SJW is seen as derogatory," he added, referring to the abbreviation for the term "warrior of social justice". "This is crazy to me. The thing is, these people have a righteous cause, they have the right to be emotional and frustrated, but unfortunately, the law made a very successful narrative."
In January, Mr. Piker switched to full-time streaming. Previously, when he was with The Young Turks, he basically worked double shifts, working during the day and streaming late into the night and early in the morning.
The Democratic presidential primary was in full swing and Mr Piker reported and analyzed the process for millions online. Twitch sent him an "IRL Backpack" streaming kit that he could use to broadcast locally, including organizing events in Nevada and a Bernie Sanders rally in Boston.
When the protests against Black Lives Matter took place this summer, Mr. Piker also reported about it. "I was showing what the local people were saying, not how the local news or mainstream media covered it to some extent," he said. "I have broadly criticized the local news channels that focused on looting and all of these other tropes they built over these protests."
Mr Piker kept the momentum going on his channel during the debates this fall. On October 20, he played the game Among Us with representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar in front of hundreds of thousands of spectators. He also began to prepare his audience for an election night that is second to none.
On November 3rd, Mr Piker woke up, went to the gym, started streaming – and didn't stop for 16 hours. His election night marathon stream was viewed more than 4.5 million times and had more than 225,000 concurrent viewers at its peak.
What fascinates viewers is the way in which Mr. Piker consumes information in real time. "Last night, I watched Piker and his guests play when he clicked the wrong tab at least three times in his disorganized browser," Gita Jackson, a reporter for Vice, wrote in an article last week. "I saw myself and the way I deal with politics and the news not only in Piker's political opinions, but also in the way he uses the Internet himself."
Anne Alexander, a 33-year-old New Yorker, watched Mr. Piker's channel for hours the day after the election. "Hasan consumes the Internet at the speed of the Internet," she said. "He's opened 50,000 tabs and he's switching from Fox to CNN to Twitter to whatever. He's consuming news from all over the aisle. He's on social media, reputable news sources, reads all incoming comments, sometimes listens to commentators and replies on it. It's extremely dynamic. "
Sara Clemens, Twitch's chief operating officer, said Mr. Piker's stream is an example of how Twitch has diversified its content beyond video games over the past year. She said its stream had reached Twitch's "core" viewers: Millennials and Gen Z. "It's a really powerful way to connect with that audience," said Ms. Clemens.
Although he frequently receives journalists from mainstream news outlets, Mr Piker said he had no desire to pursue a career in cable news. In fact, he said the hours of streaming gave him such an edge over cable news on election night.
For the experts and analysts who worked long hours in the past week, 10 and 11 hour days in front of the camera are unusual. But for Mr. Piker, that's the norm. "I stream these hours every day," he said.