The seats at the old-school, historic Union League Club of Chicago was filled Thursday night with an audience eager to catch the debate between Republican Rep. Peter Roskam and Democrat rival Sean Casten in the race for the 6th congressional district, a key battleground for control of the U.S. House.
At about the same time, the race was featured on a video livestream on a forum that’s usually home to video game battles, not political ones.
A fundraiser for Casten was livestreamed on the gamer-populated web streaming site, Twitch, thanks to Cards Against Humanity co-creator Max Temkin, 30, who was playing his favorite board game, in which participants lead a clan of Vikings to conquer Ireland. Casten himself appeared in the video when he called in after the debate.
Watch Interview with Sean Casten from Maxistentialist on www.twitch.tv
“Trying to get some pomp and circumstance going behind me. I’m in a room, I guess it’s called the Union League Club … it had a flag, and so it makes me look very congressional,” Casten said when he tuned in.
While he answered some questions about climate change, healthcare and his favorite beverage (horchata), donors with usernames like “skullface” and “lib_crusher” donated about $3,000 to his campaign over the four-hour livestream that had about 1,100 viewers.
“Overall, it exceeded my expectations, and I’m going to work on making this a regular event,” Temkin said. “So maybe some weeks we’ll interview an elected official, some weeks we’ll have a non-profit, some weeks we’ll have a journalist on to explain an issue or story to us.”
It’s a new style of civic engagement.
“Feels like all the rules of politics are off, nobody knows what works anymore,” Temkin said. “If there’s a million people online watching people play video games, that’s a huge opportunity. People who watch video games need health care, need jobs, need opportunity.”
Twitch has its own world of gaming celebrities with massive fandoms who tune in to watch them play popular games. Globally, the site has 15 million daily active users with 2 million unique broadcasters per month.
The site’s record for concurrent viewers on an individual channel is held by Ninja, a suburban Chicago man whose name is Tyler Blevins. He set the milestone with 628,000 viewers when he streamed his game of Fortnite with Drake.
The site has been used as a tool for fundraising before, soon after it launched in 2011. In 2013, Business Wire reported more than $8 million was raised by the Twitch community for various charities. In 2017, Twitch users raised $30 million, bringing the total funds raised since the company’s launch to more than $100 million.
This isn’t the first time Temkin dipped into the resources available on Twitch to raise money — earlier this month, he played a video game for two hours on Twitch and raised about $2,000 for Raíces, a non-profit that provides legal services to immigrants.
Temkin’s use of Twitch for political fundraising shows that politicians and political strategists are also catching on to the resources available on the platform — a result of a political field in which players are also increasingly younger and more digitally fluent.
“With political campaigns increasingly looking to leverage the power of new technology to bolster their reach, we aren’t surprised they are tuning to Twitch to build a relationship with potential voters and donors,” said Michael Aragon, senior vice president of content at Twitch.
The core audience tuning into streams on Twitch are 18 to 34 year olds, “squarely in the voting camp,” Aragon said. “Many of them are cord cutters who consume all of their news on laptops and mobile devices. They are notoriously hard to reach through traditional campaign approaches that target older voters.”
Massachusetts congressional candidate Brianna Wu was the first to tap the power of Twitch to raise awareness and fund her campaign. A game developer herself, she first gained prominence following threats and harassment she received from male gamers during Gamergate, an online culture war in which many women gamers advocated for greater inclusion.
Twitch itself has also been politically active. In 2016, the company streamed a competitive gaming event from the White House featuring administration officials to raise awareness about healthcare options for those without coverage. And Twitch hosted a streaming event featuring gaming celebs to encourage viewers to register on National Voter Registration Day.
Media also want a slice of the Twitch audience. The Washington Post and Bloomberg covered the Russia-United States summit live on their Twitch channels. On Thursday, more than 3,000 viewers tuned in to the Washington Post’s “Playing Games with Politicians” show to hear from Washington State Rep. Suzan DelBene.
“There’s all these young people, young professionals, that play video games, that are on Twitch, they read the news and are really frustrated, I don’t know that anyone is really advocating to those people,” Temkin said. “We can be the first people to offer them a hand and say, ‘Here’s a cool campaign, you can make a difference.’”