On Monday, U.S. House Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted about streaming the hit game Among Us, asking her followers if anyone wanted to play it with her. By Tuesday night, she’d wrangled a group of high-profile streamers and amassed streaming equipment so she could broadcast it all live on Twitch from her own Twitch channel. The goal? To encourage people to vote in the 2020 election, specifically calling out the DNC’s voter participation site iwillvote.com.
Playing alongside Ocasio-Cortez were U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and popular streamers like Imane “Pokimane” Anys, Benjamin “DrLupo” Lupo, and Hasan “HasanAbi” Piker. The stream quickly racked up viewers, reaching a peak concurrent viewer count of 435,000, a Twitch spokesperson confirmed to Polygon. Ocasio-Cortez’s debut Among Us stream is now within the top 5 most viewed individual streams in Twitch’s history. For reference, the top spot is held by Canadian musician Drake and Fortnite streamer Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, whose stream hit a record 635,000 viewers.
What Ocasio-Cortez’s number doesn’t account for, however, is a combined total of viewers — people were watching the broadcast via Ocasio-Cortez’s Twitch channel, but tens of thousands were also also watching through her guests’ channels — on Twitch, Facebook, and YouTube.
“It’s great to see continued interest in engaging the Twitch community to get out the vote and discuss important issues,” a Twitch spokesperson told Polygon. “People on Twitch show up for the causes and interests they care about, and that was clear last night.”
Among Us is the online, social multiplayer game that came out in 2018 and rose to its current (and massive!) popularity in 2020. The game is set on a space ship populated by a bunch of jellybean-esque characters — some of whom are crewmates, while others are impostors in disguise. Crewmates have to figure out who the impostors are before the impostors sabotage the mission and kill all of the crewmates. The fun part is in figuring out who’s an impostor and who’s a crewmate. It requires good-natured deception and debate between players.
Ocasio-Cortez, for her part, said she’d never played Among Us before this week, but she practiced a few matches ahead of the live broadcast. Though she’s new to this particular game, Ocasio-Cortez is a familiar face for the gaming community. She’s known for being a League of Legends player, but she also got swept up in the Animal Crossing: New Horizons craze earlier this year, too. (Presidential nominee and former vice president Joe Biden and vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris — or, at least, someone on their campaign — also took to the New Horizons campaign trail this year.)
On the stream, Ocasio-Cortez said she was particularly nervous about playing Among Us for an audience. “I really, really hope I don’t get impostor first,” she laughed. “Knowing my luck, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.” Of course, she did get the impostor position first. (She was figured out, and voted out by the crewmates — except for Omar, who Ocasio-Cortez described as her “ride or die.”)
Throughout the majority of the gameplay, the commentary was largely devoid of political campaigning. But Ocasio-Cortez did frequently remind her viewers that she’s doing this for a reason: to get folks to vote.
It’s just one move in a larger effort from politicians and the government — across all parties — to reach new audiences. Politicians are eager to move into new platforms, especially as options for in-person campaigning are curtailed by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Social media and other platforms — whether that’s streaming sites or video games — have never been more important in allowing people to reach one another. For some time, players have also embraced video games and the accompanying tools (like Discord) as important spaces in their lives, both for socializing and in expressing political views.
Politicians and the government are now seeing the value in using these online spaces, too — and some have been received better than others. While Ocasio-Cortez’s entrance into Twitch streaming and Among Us felt natural to many gamers and Twitch viewers (largely because of her established presence as “one of us”), the U.S. military received backlash for its presence on Twitch and Discord as a means of recruitment. That move was seen by many as exploitative and inappropriate — using video games to entice recruitment. In July, the U.S. House of Representatives approved an amendment draft that would ban the U.S. military from using government funds to “maintain a presence on Twitch.com or any video game, e-sports, or live-streaming platform.” Ocasio-Cortez drafted the bill.
“Young people are at the forefront of the fight for the policies necessary to save our planet and deliver justice for all, from Medicare for All to the Green New Deal to a billionaires tax. But historically, young people have been disappointed and demobilized by the two major parties that side with corporations and the ultra-rich over everyone else,” a spokesperson for the Working Families Party, a New York-based independent progressive group with which Ocasio-Cortez is closely tied, said in a statement sent to Polygon.
“By going on Twitch, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez figured out a way to reach a record number of unlikely voters and make sure they know that there’s a place for them in our democracy and in electoral politics.”
Update: This story has been updated to include a statement from the Working Families Party, a group that Ocasio-Cortez shouted out in her Twitch stream.