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GTA Online’s biggest role-playing streamers make for must-see Twitch viewing

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Watch Sheriff Eli lay down the law

GTA Online - Sheriff Eli at police station
Sheriff Eli books a criminal at the police station.
Rockstar North/Rockstar Games via SheriffEli/Twitch

Grand Theft Auto Online, the multiplayer component of Grand Theft Auto 5, has apparently evolved into a wild and woolly place since it debuted more than three and a half years ago. The latest shenanigans that people are engaging in? Play-acting as members of the San Andreas State Police.

All the people participating in this adventure play the game as if they’re real people in real life — for instance, they stop at red lights. The group in question is led by the character Eli “Sheriff Eli” Thompson, who runs what he calls “Sheriff Eli’s Digital Law & Order.” Thompson plays the role of a badass, gives-plenty-of-guff-but-takes-none sheriff, and he plays it incredibly well.

Seriously, it’s an Oscar-worthy performance. In a Southern drawl, he lets rip flurries of police jargon — “Kiki, that’s King-Ida-King-Ida” — as he chases down crooks. “You try to take that hostage, and it will be scorched-earth shit comin’ down on you, son,” Thompson said sternly, issuing a warning to some bank robbers during a negotiation.

Other players on the side of the law, as well as civilians, “call in” to report crimes for the cops to investigate. I watched Thompson leave a police station and drive a long way to a traffic stop on a highway offramp, only to immediately get back in his car and speed off in the opposite direction once he got notice of a bank robbery in progress. The scofflaws are also human-controlled players, of course, and they’ve each established characters for themselves in the world — nemeses for the sheriff, in a way.

It isn’t always what you would call riveting as a viewing experience. Everyone takes the role-playing aspect very seriously — for instance, Thompson’s police cruiser runs on fuel that he periodically has to replenish by stopping at a gas station. (It’s unclear how exactly this all works; it seems like the participants are playing on a modded private server.)

Earlier today, more than 40,000 people were watching Sheriff Eli’s law-enforcement exploits simultaneously. For its first week, “Sheriff Eli’s Digital Law & Order” will be streamed every weekday from 2-10 p.m. ET. Catch the action on SheriffEli’s Twitch channel.