Anyone older than Gen Z may be confused by the celebrity of Kai Cenat, a 21-year-old Twitch and YouTube star who has captured a massive audience with his gaming, pranks, and high-energy persona. But to teenagers who spend hours watching Cenat mix it up with buddies and guests on livestreams, there can be no mystery as to how he ended up as one of Rolling Stone‘s 20 most influential creators of 2023.
Cenat is so popular, in fact, with 6.5 million Twitch followers (he’s the most-subscribed user on the platform) and 4 million on YouTube, that his promotional stunts can spark mass chaos. On Aug. 4, thousands of his fans were drawn to New York’s Union Square, where he and fellow streamer Fanum had promised a massive giveaway of PlayStation 5 consoles. The crowd overran the park and surrounding streets long before Cenat arrived, and reportedly grew unruly, resulting in several arrests. On the scene, Cenat attempted to stream the chaos via Twitch; bodyguards appeared to surround him and push back the roiling, screaming masses.
But it seems likely that any fallout from the incident will only raise Cenat’s profile. A New York native who first began creating YouTube prank and challenge content in 2018, he fully burst onto the Twitch scene in 2021, quickly gaining notoriety for his gaming streams and reactions to viral pop culture phenomena. He’s done everything from the real-life version of the classic “two people in a trench coat” gag to a feel-good video about buying his mom a house to a day of disrupting college classes by cooking eggs in lecture halls. He relishes being a “menace” in such episodes, and it’s clear that his supporters encourage these gonzo antics.
Unsurprisingly, then, he’s also racked up a record of temporary bans from Twitch. The first two involved accidentally sharing graphic photos as he scrolled a subreddit forum created by his fans. In March 2022, he was banned for a month, reportedly for comments that could’ve been interpreted as threats. In 2023, he received two more bans, with viewers speculating that the first stemmed from passing out on-camera after eating cannabis edibles, and the second due to simulating sexual activity in the game Grand Theft Auto V, a violation of Twitch policy.
Throughout this sometimes tumultuous career, Cenat has increasingly brought high-profile rappers into his orbit for hangouts and interviews, including Lil Uzi Vert and 21 Savage. He’s also released his own singles while taking his content global: a recent trip abroad resulted in the video “I Rented Us Girlfriends In Japan.” Starting at the end of January 2023, he notched his most impressive Twitch milestone, successfully livestreaming around the clock for a 30-day “subathon” to encourage subscriptions — he even slept on camera, only leaving to use the bathroom — and broke the previous record for active subscribers, with more than 300,000 paying viewers. At one point in this endeavor, viewers believed they saw him covertly engaged in a sex act, though Cenat denied those claims, saying the woman with him on camera at the time was only scratching his leg.
Cenat went on to win “Streamer of the Year” at Streamer Awards in March, having won the same honor at YouTube’s Streamy Awards the previous October. He’s been nominated again in the category for this year’s Streamys, as well as in the category of best “Just Chatting” creator. That award show will take place Aug. 27.
Having hit those highs, where else does the young internet icon have to go? It’s anybody’s guess, but with the intense and devoted audience he’s built, many brands and influencers will want to come along for the ride.