PlayStation and Discord Are Teaming Up

Discord’s new partnership with PlayStation could help it become the chat app for every platform.

Discord’s new partnership with PlayStation could help it become the chat app for every platform.
Photo: Florence Ion/Gizmodo

Discord, the gamer-focused chat app that’s been in the news a bit more than usual recently, has partnered with Sony’s PlayStation. Details are scarce, but the statement put out by Sony promises to bring “the Discord and PlayStation experiences closer together on console and mobile” beginning next year.

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In a blog post, Sony Interactive Entertainment President and CEO Jim Ryan revealed the two companies are “hard at work” connecting Discord with the PlayStation Network. The writing on the wall appears to be a full-fledged Discord experience baked into PlayStation consoles, or perhaps a Discord experience tailored to the console, so it’s easier to chat with folks in the app. PlayStation gamers usually have to deal with a whole dance of cables between a computer and the console to use Discord.

Ryan also said that Sony made a “minority investment” in Discord as part of its Series H funding, citing inspiration from both teams’ “shared passion to help bring friends and communities together in new ways.” The news comes hot on the heels of Discord reportedly turning down acquisition offers, including one from Microsoft.

The latest cash influx from Sony might help explain some of the motives behind Discord’s since-rescinded move to ban access to NSFW channels from the iOS app. The overarching consensus was that the company was reeling in some of its “wild west” tendencies to curry favor from outside investors. It’s not clear how much Sony invested in Discord, but the company has raised nearly $480 million in funding.

For its part, Discord continues as one of the reigning all-encompassing chat apps for gamers, along with a few other competitors like Mumble, Element, and TeamSpeak. New Discord features like Stage Channels, which allows Discord users to manage a voice broadcast with up to 1,000 attendants, suggest the company is setting its sights outside the gaming realm, or at least in a capacity where it’s considered alongside other massive community-based platforms like Twitch.

Though it said no to Microsoft’s offer to fold it into its gaming ecosystem, Discord has the upper hand once it launches a full-fledged PlayStation app. Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S players have access to a Discord app for their platform, but it’s limited to status changes and inviting friends to play along. A full-featured PlayStation app might spur Microsoft to offer Discord in full on the platform, especially since it’s already on Android, iOS, Mac, Windows, and even Linux.

Twitch and Facebook Gaming Are Having One Hell of a Year. YouTube Gaming? Eh, Not so Much

Illustration for article titled Twitch and Facebook Gaming Are Having One Hell of a Year. YouTube Gaming? Eh, Not so Much

Photo: Martin Bureau (Getty Images)

As the world descended into lockdown last year, people overwhelming tuned into livestreams to connect with others and stave off boredom while stuck in their homes. And that pandemic-fueled growth shows no signs of slowing down even as the world attempts to return to business as usual, with both Twitch and Facebook Gaming seeing record viewership in the first quarter of 2021, according to the latest numbers.

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The popular livestreaming software provider StreamLabs released its first streaming industry quarterly report for 2021 on Friday. Using data compiled by streaming analytics firm Stream Hatchet from the beginning of January to the end of March, it offers some interesting insights, most notably that Facebook Gaming is closing in on YouTube Gaming’s spot for the #2 most popular streaming service. In first place is long-time leader Twitch, which still easily commands the largest chunk of the market with more than 72% of the total hours of content watched this year.

If you (like me) never really got that into livestreaming, you may be surprised to learn just how massive the industry’s become in such a short time. At Amazon-owned Twitch, viewership, hours streamed, average concurrent viewership, and the number of channels have all roughly doubled since this time last year, StreamLabs said. Twitch broke its viewership record for the second quarter in a row with users watching 6.3 billion hours of content, an increase of almost 1 billion hours compared to last quarter. The platform also saw its single largest quarterly increase in hours streamed since the early days of the pandemic, jumping from roughly 230 million hours to 265 million.

While Twitch is most well known for streaming video games, its most popular category continues to be “Just Chatting”. This category—considered the successor to Twitch’s ill-defined “IRL” section, which was reconfigured into 13 distinct non-gaming categories in 2018—involves exactly what the name implies: Content where streamers simply hang out and chat with viewers or engage in real-world shenanigans.

“Just Chatting” racked up a whopping 754 million hours watched in Q1 this year. To put that figure into perspective, Grand Theft Auto V, the most-watched game on Twitch in 2021, had 536.3 million hours, with League of Legends not far behind at 534 million.

Facebook Gaming and YouTube Gaming, which is owned by Google, continue to lag far behind Twitch, but the gap between them is quickly narrowing. Facebook hit an impressive milestone this past quarter, surpassing one billion hours watched for the first time, almost double the total viewership the platform garnered around this time last year.

“For the first time, we are seeing Facebook Gaming and YouTube Gaming closely compete against each other in terms of viewership,” said StreamLabs head of product Ashray Urs in the report. “While the difference in viewership was approximately 1 billion hours last quarter, that gap has shrunk to about 300 million in Q1. There is a chance we could see Facebook Gaming overtake YouTube Gaming in viewership next quarter. ”

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StreamLabs attributes a lot of that success to PUBG Mobile, Facebook Gaming’s most-watched gaming category for at least the past two years. Users watched 254 million hours of PUBG Mobile livestreams in Q1, an impressive year-over-year increase of 76%. Facebook Gaming absorbing Microsoft’s failed livestreaming platform Mixer last summer no doubt attracted plenty of new talent and viewers that migrated over.

YouTube Gaming was the only platform of the big three that experienced a dip in viewership this quarter, down 28.6% from 1.92 billion hours to 1.37 billion hours. Both its total number of hours streamed and unique channels also fell, though not as much (6.7% and 9.9% respectively). However, taking into account its year-over-year growth, YouTube Gaming doesn’t seem to be doing half bad, as its total viewership and average concurrent viewership both increased by roughly 28%. The platform is also home to the most popular female streamer across all platforms: Valkyrae, whose content viewers watched for 12.2 million hours during Q1 this year.

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We’ve reached out to Twitch, Google, and Facebook for comment, and will be sure to update this blog when we hear back.

All told, it seems the attention livestreaming platforms attracted during the pandemic isn’t dying down anytime soon even as lockdowns lift, vaccines roll out, and people start to journey outside their homes more regularly again. But whether Facebook and YouTube’s gaming livestreaming services will ever pose any real threat to Twitch’s industry dominance remains to be seen.

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The NFT Bubble Might Be Bursting, But Streamers And Esports Orgs Are Still Getting In On It

Illustration for article titled The NFT Bubble Might Be Bursting, But Streamers And Esports Orgs Are Still Getting In On It

Image: Turner “Tfue” Tenney / Medium Rare

As of last month, the age of NFTs was officially upon us. As of this month, it might be on its way out. Average prices have declined by as much as 70% since a peak in February, according to Bloomberg. That, however, has not stopped big-name streaming and esports figures from announcing their own NFT collections.

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This week, two video game lifestyle institutions, esports organization 100 Thieves and streaming superstar Turner “Tfue” Tenney, announced NFT collections. NFT, if you need a refresher, is short for “non-fungible token.” Thanks to blockchain technology, these cryptographic tokens are technically one of a kind, coming with a “proof of work” that says as much. Some have sold for millions of dollars. However, many people are selling NFTs of preexisting images and videos—things that you could simply download for free in JPG or GIF form, lending dubious value to the whole enterprise.

100 Thieves’ NFTs take the form of “unique artwork pieces” that focus on the organization’s logo, which also features prominently in its apparel line. Several 100 Thieves NFTs have already been auctioned off, with all of them going for between $4,500 and $6,200 worth of Ether, a popular cryptocurrency on the Ethereum blockchain. The rest are being given away to members of the organization’s community for the next 24 hours.

Tenney’s NFT set, the “NFTfue King of Gaming Collection,” went on sale yesterday evening. The animated art is a little higher-effort than 100 Thieves’ offering, depicting a digital Tenney as a character in settings based on Fortnite, Call of Duty, and Minecraft. The clips are cute and clever, making fun use of their looping format. Already, people have bid as much as $2,100 in Ether on them, though most copies are currently sitting at around $400. I just downloaded all of them as MP4s, to be able to say that I did.

Illustration for article titled The NFT Bubble Might Be Bursting, But Streamers And Esports Orgs Are Still Getting In On It

Image: 100 Thieves

There’s also a fourth “special edition” NFT that depicts the three digital Tenneys in a showdown against one another. The winner of that particular auction will also get to meet Tenney in Tampa, Florida for “an epic day filled with streaming, game play, vlogging, jet skiing and more.” It sounds like a dream come true for one of Tenney’s younger fans, but it’s unlikely that any of them will be able to afford it, given that somebody has already bid over $3,000 on the special edition NFT.

This follows NFTs from other esports figures like Conor “Diamondcon” Johst, a Call of Duty pro currently playing in Activision’s official Call of Duty League for the New York Subliners. Johst announced his NFT set last month and has since posted a video of a mockup, but it doesn’t appear to have gone on sale yet. Popular streamer Ben “ProfessorBroman” Bowman also released an NFT of a GIF of himself back in February. Of 50 copies, only one has sold, for about $20 worth of Ether.

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The environmental impacts of NFTs (and the blockchain in general) are well-documented at this point, with artist and creative technologist Memo Akten finding that a single NFT—the sale of which often involves multiple transactions—can have a carbon footprint roughly equivalent to more than a month’s worth of electricity consumption for someone living in the EU. This has led to endless debate in the art and blockchain communities, as well as movements toward more sustainable NFT transactions.

Speaking to Kotaku, Tenney acknowledged the environmental concerns around NFTs and said that trying to reduce the toll they take was a big priority in the creation of his set.

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Unfortunately we live in a world where millions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions are being produced every year,” Tenney, who also noted that he’s been dabbling in crypto for about a year, said in an email.Sadly this has been the case far prior to the NFT boom as well. That doesn’t mean we didn’t think about this when developing NFTfue and insisting as a team that we work with a carbon-neutral and –negative designer who takes pride in using renewable energy and technology in his creative process. I look up to people like Beeple who are taking the same measures and commend them for that.”

Kotaku also reached out to Johst and Bowman for more information on why they decided to make NFTs despite environmental concerns, but they did not reply. 100 Thieves declined to comment.

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Some fans are not happy that the streamers and organizations they’ve followed for years are getting involved with NFTs.

“Not a fan,” one viewer said on Twitter in response to Tenney’s NFT announcement. “I hope you reconsider.”

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“Just found out one of my favorite streamers supports NFTs. I’m going to fuckin lose it,” one fan, who is also an artist, tweeted in reference to Bowman’s stance on NFTs. In a DM to Kotaku, the fan added that their concerns stemmed from “the environmental impacts and also the fact that to me, at least, it’s so very clearly a scheme, because people are now losing a lot of money from it.”

Another issue with NFTs is that technically anybody can make an NFT out of anybody else’s work, rights or no rights. Right now, if you search various popular streamers’ names on NFT marketplace OpenSea, you’ll find numerous tokens that utilize their images. There is, for example, a whole set of “Non-Fungible Streamer” cards based on Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, Timothy “TimTheTatman” Betar, and the couple behind Girlfriend Reviews, Matt and Shelby. There are additional card sets that focus on different streamers as well. An NFT of the original Pogchamp emote is currently on sale for five Ether, or over $10,000. A simple pixelated piece based on Imane “Pokimane” Anys recently sold for about $100. There’s also an NFT of Anys “clapping after saying N-word.” And of course, there’s an NFT of her feet. Nobody has bid on those yet.

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Some streamers, viewers, and even Twitch employees speculate that this is just the beginning.

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“NFTs have the potential to disrupt subs and ads for monetization on all creator platforms,” Twitch senior manager of strategic partnerships in esports Jason Hitchcock, who told Kotaku he’s been in the crypto space since 2014, said on Twitter. “NFTs won’t just be art or clips. Viewers will buy membership tokens that unlock perks for being a member of the community and directly support the creator too. Possibilities are endless.”

In a DM to Kotaku, Hitchcock offered additional ideas: “Imagine: a creator sends a special token to everyone who owns 5 or more of their art NFTs, and this token grants the viewer access to a special Discord, a calendar of private super-fan events, and discounts on merch form their store.”

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Others have suggested that emotes and other visual elements of the streaming ecosystem make sense as streamer-specific collectibles. These could, in turn, help streamers support themselves without Twitch taking a cut off the top. While some streamers have embraced this idea, many are not thrilled.

“Fuck right off,” said Twitch partner RadderssGaming in response to a question about NFTs’ future viability in streaming. “I’m trying to have a lesser impact on the environment than I already do.”

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Twitch partner Breadwitchery, who replied to the same question by simply saying, “No, bad,” clarified her stance to Kotaku. “It’s yet another example of how we’re willing to destroy our planet if it means money, money, money,” she said in an email. “From my perspective, so many people get into NFTs to feel like they’re getting in on the bottom floor of a new crypto trend, with no mind for the damage it can do. The greenhouse gas emissions generated by NFTs are ridiculous. They’re inexcusable. I see the technological innovation behind it, I really do, but superimposed over that is just the greed of late-stage capitalism.”

Hitchcock agrees that environmental issues should be a major concern, but he still believes that there is potential in NFTs for esports orgs, streamers, and other industries.

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“I understand the sentiment behind the environmental concerns,” he said. “Bitcoin mining does use a lot of energy. I think every industry needs to prioritize the environment while operating, too…At the end of the day, Ethereum is here to stay, is growing fast with a powerful network effect, and we’re seeing services that people are adopting like NFTs and Defi. The genie is out of the bottle, so if you’re truly interested in curbing the environmental impact of Ethereum and bitcoin, then you should become active in the community with your voice and energy to help these technologies become more efficient over the long term.”

Illustration for article titled The NFT Bubble Might Be Bursting, But Streamers And Esports Orgs Are Still Getting In On It

Image: Non-Fungible Streamers

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Of course, if the NFT market continues to crater, little of this will matter in the long run. But if it stabilizes—as experts suggest it might—and big names like Tenney and 100 Thieves continue to buy in, ethical questions will become much more pressing, as will basic questions around whether or not people really care to buy NFTs of streamers and esports teams. In the art and sports worlds, celebrities have been able to make millions off NFTs, but lesser names haven’t fared quite so well. Will the same pattern repeat itself in streaming and esports? On top of that, esports itself possesses some bubble-like characteristics of its own. If NFTs also end up being a bubble, you’ve got a bubble within a bubble—not exactly a solid foundation from which to build.

Breadwitchery sees the appeal of an additional income source due to the overall inconsistency of streamer pay, but even then, she’s wary of streamers going all-in on NFTs.

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“As a Twitch streamer, could NFTs help you make more money without a big business taking some of your revenue? Sure,” she said. “But you’re damaging the environment for profit just like that big business. You’re buying into the same corporate mindset as them; you just feel more individualistic about it, because you got yours.”

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Emails Show Amazon Pressured USPS to Install Mailbox at Alabama Warehouse Ahead of Union Vote

Illustration for article titled Emails Show Amazon Pressured USPS to Install Mailbox at Alabama Warehouse Ahead of Union Vote

Photo: Denis Charlet (Getty Images)

Amazon reportedly pressured the United States Postal Service to expedite the installation of a mailbox outside of its Bessemer, Alabama warehouse ahead of a high-profile union vote, a move union supporters argue is a blatant tactic to intimidate employees.

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That’s according to a series of internal USPS emails obtained in a Freedom of Information Act request from the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is campaigning to represent roughly 5,800 workers at Amazon’s facility. If Amazon wins the election, the RWDSU could use these emails to build its case challenging the results, as the Washington Post notes. The counting is still underway, but of the 3,215 ballots submitted, roughly half have been counted as of Thursday evening, with 1,100 votes against unionization and 463 votes in support, per an unofficial tally confirmed by the New York Times.

The RWDSU previously issued complaints about the mailbox after the Postal Service installed it in February just before the start of the warehouse’s mail-in balloting process. It argued Amazon was intentionally trying to mislead workers into thinking the company played a part in tallying the votes, and the box was just the latest move in Amazon’s extensive campaign of intimidation tactics. The mailbox’s placement could also run afoul of the National Labor Relations Board, which previously rejected Amazon’s bid to place ballot boxes at the warehouse so workers could vote in person. (The NLRB opted instead for a mail-in ballot system, citing concerns about potential surveillance by Amazon higher-ups along with worker safety amid the covid-19 pandemic).

The emails were heavily redacted in the Postal Service’s response, which the RWDSU shared with Gizmodo, but it’s clear that Amazon repeatedly needled the agency about setting up a collection box at its warehouse and had an exact deadline in mind: Feb. 7, just days ahead of the seven-week balloting process.

On Jan. 8, a USPS account manager wrote to an Alabama colleague to inquire about how quickly a collection box could be installed for Amazon at its Bessemer warehouse. The manager adds that a person, whose name was redacted, “at Amazon HQ would like to [be] kept in the loop on this progress.”

“We have not heard anything back on the install of this collection box,” the manager followed up on Jan. 14. “Amazon is reaching out again to me today about the status as they wanted to move quickly on this.”

Six days later, they sent another email saying they’d just learned that “Amazon’s expected set up date for this collection box is February 7, 2021.”

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In their responses, USPS officials initially express concern that there may not be enough volume to warrant moving a box to that location in accordance with the agency’s parameters. In a Feb. 1 email, an official estimates the approval and installation process will take “a minimum of 4-6 weeks.” However, a mailbox was placed in the parking lot in front of Amazon’s Alabama warehouse roughly a week later, just in time for voting.

These emails also appear to contradict what the USPS told the Washington Post on the subject last month: That the Postal Service, and not Amazon, first came up with the idea of setting up a box at the warehouse. In a statement to the outlet, USPS spokesperson David Partenheimer claimed the box was “suggested by the Postal Service as a solution to provide an efficient and secure delivery and collection point.”

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The RWDSU claims that Amazon used the mailbox, which is one of those nondescript units you see in apartment complexes or condos and thus lacks any markings to indicate that it is property of the Postal Service, in tandem with its campaign encouraging employees to submit their mail-in ballots at work in a bid to confuse and intimidate workers. The argument goes that some may have assumed Amazon held a role in conducting the election, and, by extension, Amazon could single out which employees supported union efforts based on who resisted using the mailbox, since it could reasonably be assumed they were acting out of fear of retaliation.

These emails prove, yet again, just how far Amazon is willing to go to resist unionization efforts, RWDSU president Stuart Appelbaum said.

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“Even though the NLRB definitively denied Amazon’s request for a drop box on the warehouse property, Amazon felt it was above the law and worked with the postal service anyway to install one,” said Appelbaum in a statement to Gizmodo. “They did this because it provided a clear ability to intimidate workers. We demand an investigation over Amazon’s behavior in corrupting the election.”

For its part, Amazon claims that the mailbox’s placement was intended to make the voting process more convenient for employees.

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“We said from the beginning that we wanted all employees to vote and proposed many different options to try and make it easy,” a company spokesperson told Gizmodo on Thursday. “The RWDSU fought those at every turn and pushed for a mail-only election, which the NLRB’s own data showed would reduce turnout. This mailbox—which only the USPS had access to—was a simple, secure, and completely optional way to make it easy for employees to vote, no more and no less.”

However, that explanation rings hollow given Amazon’s fierce anti-union campaign in Alabama these past few months, not to mention the company’s decades-long history of fighting unionization. To wit, Amazon has pushed out text messages, posters, mailers, Twitch ads, and every other manner of propaganda to convince workers at its Bessemer warehouse to vote “No” this election.

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The union needs just over 50% of the vote to win. Both Amazon and the RWDSU can challenge ballots based on certain eligibility requirements and petition to overturn the results if the number of contested ballots is substantial enough. The NLRB would then hold a hearing and rule on the validity of each ballot individually, a process that could take months. On Thursday, the RWDSU told Gizmodo that “hundreds” of ballots have been challenged, most of them by Amazon.

As of now, it’s anyone’s guess when we’ll have the final results. It may be tomorrow, or maybe Monday, or maybe months from now (though hopefully not). We’ll continue to post updates as we learn more.

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Here’s a Semi-Liveblog of Amazon’s Bessemer Union Vote Count

Illustration for article titled Here's a Semi-Liveblog of Amazon's Bessemer Union Vote Count

Photo: Jay Reeves (AP)

Breaking from Alabama: We are this much closer to learning the results of the historic union election at Amazon’s Bessemer, AL warehouse. The Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union (RWDSU) reports that the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has received 3,125 ballots. This means that a majority of about 5,800 workers cast votes.

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No, the vote count isn’t in yet. The NLRB expects the public portion of the count, viewable to reporters and certain observers via video call, to begin this afternoon. We do not know how long this will take, but it’s safe to assume that the count will span several hours. Each of the over 3,000 ballots will be counted by hand, one at a time.

As previously reported, some voters might have been ineligible to participate, for example, former employees. Per labor law, Amazon is the only party to provide the list of eligible names for an election. The company provided the voter roll to the NLRB, and the union was able to contact people on the list prior to the count.

On Tuesday, in a private count with the NLRB, observers (Amazon and the RWDSU included) were allowed to challenge names on each unopened ballot on the grounds, for example, of eligibility or whether voters’ names match up with the list provided by Amazon. Contested ballots are set aside, and an NLRB regional director can arbitrate each individually after the public count. The NLRB has not shared how many ballots have been contested, but that pool could swing the election, depending on the volume. (The RWDSU has said that “hundreds” have been challenged, mostly by Amazon.) Observers can further contest each ballot during this process.

The union needs 50 percent, plus one vote, to win.

But if the number of contested ballots is substantial enough—say a pile of 1,000 contested ballots—an NLRB regional director will hold a hearing. They will then rule on each ballot’s validity, either casting it aside or adding it for either side.

The following process could take months. We have an explainer here.

The mail-in election lasted about two months, during which time Amazon has marshaled an expensive group of anti-union consultants and a disseminated a sweep of agitprop via text message, posters, mailers, Twitch ads, and captive audience meetings. The RWDSU has told Wired that Amazon photographed the ID badges of workers who disputed specious anti-union claims.

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Once the public count begins, the NLRB will disclose the number of already-contested ballots.

The results are expected maybe today, maybe tomorrow, maybe Monday, maybe far into the future. We’ll keep you posted here with rolling updates as we learn more.

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Update 4/8/2020 12:19 p.m.: Added the RWDSU’s claim that hundreds of ballots have been challenged so far, primarily by Amazon.

Hunting for Pokémon Cards Has Become a Different Kind of Game

A few weeks back, during a particularly unremarkable late night of insomnia-fueled doomscrolling, a notification slid its way onto my phone’s screen that quickened my pulse and dilated my pupils. For the next few minutes or so—there was no way to be sure for how long—the long out-of-stock Pokémon cards that I, and other collectors around the world, had been hunting for were just a few taps away and available for free shipping.

At the time, I thought I’d struck gold, but as I attempted to check out, I ran into a soul-crushing roadblock. It was the same one many collectors have encountered in the months since Pokémon cards became hot-ticket, pandemic-era items ahead of the franchise’s ongoing 25th anniversary celebration. Though there’d been a box of cards in my online cart mere moments before, I wasn’t the only one eyeing them, and in my brief moment of hesitation, the pocketable monsters I’d found were apparently gone again. Try as I might, there was no way of denying the truth of the renewed “Out of Stock” button that was staring back at me.

Over the course of the past few months, Pokémon cards and the community around them have gone through a peculiar evolution that’s been driven, in part, by people’s continued fascination with the idea of children making their magic pets fight, but also by how covid-19’s lockdown measures inspired many people to either pick up or get back into collecting habits. As anyone who lived through the ‘90s can attest, Pokémon card crazes are anything but new, but what’s happening in the collecting space right now feels distinct and like the convergence of multiple cultural phenomena that goes way beyond Pikachu and his buddies.

A McDonald’s ad featuring the Pokémon 25th anniversary tie-in.

A McDonald’s ad featuring the Pokémon 25th anniversary tie-in.
Image: McDonald’s

To celebrate Pokémon’s 25th anniversary, the Pokémon Company—the outfit consisting of developers Nintendo, Game Freak, and Creature who oversee the intellectual property—has been releasing special commemorative merchandise along with regular drops of new sets and cards every few months, as has been the case since the mid-‘90s. As one of the Pokémon Company’s longstanding promotional tie-in partners, it made sense when McDonald’s was announced as one of the first places fans would be able to snag some special merch. Specifically: packs of limited edition cards packaged with Happy Meals. What caught many people’s attention and made headlines about the McDonald’s promotion wasn’t the value or rarity of the cards themselves, but how difficult actually getting ones’ hands on them became.

Larger-than-expected crowds flocked to participating locations to buy the shiny pieces of cardboard up in masse. People turning up in droves to buy kids meals for the toys also isn’t a new thing, or unique to Pokémon cards—McDonald’s went through a similar situation back in the ‘90s when it was briefly in the business of selling Beanie Babies at the height of their popularity. But unlike the thousands of miniature Princess Diana-inspired bears that people hoarded for years in hopes that they would one day be valuable enough to flip for a massive profit, the 25th-anniversary Pokémon cards began to resurface in the wild rather quickly, albeit on eBay, where literal boxes of them were being sold for exorbitant prices. Aftermarket prices for the cards have leveled out considerably since they first started showing up in online shops, but the fact that entire cases of them went unopened before many people even had a chance to buy them using the regular route is illustrative of the issue at hand.

In a time when countless people became generally homebound in a way that pushed them to find new ways of entertaining themselves, it was easy to imagine that boredom and novelty alone were the underlying causes of McDonald’s across the United States being sold out entirely of the special cards just days after the Pokémon Company officially announced the promotion. To fully understand what was (and still is, for the most part) going on, you have to look a little further back to appreciate certain things about how the different communities that exist around Pokémon as a franchise have changed over time.


Even though the public’s initial bloodthirsty obsession with collecting Pokémon cards back in the day gradually mellowed as people traded in their Gameboys Color for Gameboys Advanced and Nintendo’s subsequent handheld systems, the community of competitive Pokémon Trading Card Game (PTCG) players has been something of a constant for decades. While the Pokémon franchise has continued to expand far past cards, competitive leagues of card players have been a part of the fandom since the late ‘90s when people were first able to start their own local groups for enthusiasts styled after the leagues featured in Pokémon games.

Like the game leagues, trading card game leagues brought players together to battle and trade in friendly events (usually hosted in mall game shops) where participants could collect prizes and badges reflecting their battling skill. In addition to local Leagues, players have been able to participate in City, Regional, and World Championships, all of which have been overseen by Play! Pokémon, a subsidiary company created in 2003 to handle organized card events following Wizards of the Coast losing its Pokémon license that same year. Even in times when Pokémon cards weren’t in the spotlight, the competitions (and sizable prizes that come along with winning them) were very much still a thing. They’ve continued to be, with annual tournaments for the game becoming increasingly high-profile events.

Because the competitive community around the Pokémon video games and card games are closely linked together, it makes a certain amount of sense when you consider how the collection of cards has become a large part of the present-day YouTube/Twitch streaming space. There are hundreds (if not more) content creators who’ve churned out thousands of hours of themselves tearing into individual packs and ripping into boxes full of Pokémon cards in a way that’s very much a part of the streaming age’s obsession with parasocial relationship-inducing unboxing videos.

Most everyone has a story about a “friend” they “know” who ended up selling their old Pokémon cards for a pretty penny (those words are in quotes because these stories always tend to have an urban mythic quality to them). But what’s become increasingly common in recent years are instances of people being in the news just for that and showing how, in some instances, holding onto rare cards can pay off both financially and in terms of a person’s notoriety.

Streaming is a part of what brought Yussef Abdala, a New York City-based Pokémon card collector and streamer, to a local Target where he and I met in line recently. Like almost everyone else waiting that day, Abdala had shown up hours earlier with a group of friends to put their names and phone numbers down on a list in order to be contacted after the store’s new stock of cards was dropped off that same day.

I happened upon the Target queue purely by chance and assumed there must have been some sort of announcement directing people to line up in front of the customer service counter, where a harried Target team member (their term for employees) stood guarding a small horde of assorted Pokémon products. Abdala explained, though, that the new queueing system had been put in place quite suddenly with no apparent warning.

“We learned about the queueing system because we literally come every week to buy to collect,” Abdala told me after taking a moment to step out of line to gauge how many people were ahead of us both. “I guess it makes it easier. If you’re in it to collect, if you’re just here to buy—like if I was a mom, I would prefer this, because it gives my son a shot, you know?”

In response to the current spike in Pokémon card sales and subsequent shortages in many locations, Target stores across the country began taking different measures like the queueing system in order to give more people the opportunity to buy the products in stores. Much of the current card drought for both regular products and promotional events like the McDonald’s tie-ins link back directly to the cards’ popularity online and the countless scalpers looking to capitalize on the moment.

Cards featuring VMax Single Strike Urshifu, Tyranitar, Victini, Empoleon, and VMax Rapid Strike Urshifu.

Cards featuring VMax Single Strike Urshifu, Tyranitar, Victini, Empoleon, and VMax Rapid Strike Urshifu.
Image: Kinu Nishimura, Hyogonosuke, Saki Hayashiro, chibi,/ The Pokémon Company

There are obvious parallels between the Pokémon card shortage and the scarcity that drives much of the sneaker aftermarket that pops up in the wake of new releases of highly-anticipated shoes. From Abdala’s perspective, though, the dynamic with the cards is further complicated by how much more relatively accessible they are to scalpers, who are often also collectors themselves. At times, he explained, the online Pokémon card collecting community can feel like an ouroboros.

“Because the scalpers, they themselves go onto Twitch to see what everybody’s spending their money on, so then it becomes even harder for us to collect the merchandise,” he explained. “They kind of mess with the market with all of this buying and selling. It’s gotten to the point where people I know who collect Pokémon now collect sports cards. They’re opening up packs, not pronouncing people’s names correctly, don’t know what teams they’re on, and it’s like, ‘Oh, you’re not collecting this because you’re into it.’”


You don’t have to look hard to see how Pokémon card collecting for the express purpose of building one’s professional social media presence has become part of how some people engage with the franchise online. But what’s been interesting to see during the current covid-era shortage are the handful of communities that have popped up seeking to help normal people get their hands on the items, and how these communities feel like part of a larger, somewhat altruistic energy present in the Pokémon fandom.

Because there’s a pandemic still on and this is the 21st century, online shopping has been the other popular route people have taken in their hunt to buy cards on top of a variety of different retailers, like the Pokémon Center, big-box stores, independent gaming shops, and open online markets. Throughout the shortage, it’s actually been quite easy to find packs and Elite Trainer Boxes from recently released sets, like the Galar Region-focused Vivid Voltage, shiny Pokémon-centric Shining Fates, and Battle Styles, the newest set that introduced The Isle of Armor’s bear Pokémon, Urshifu, on online open marketplaces.

The catch, though, is that most independent sellers are selling their stock of new sets at drastically inflated prices in response to the high demand. What many people, including myself, have been aiming for was just to buy some cards at the price they were meant to be sold, which has meant either choosing to rely on stores’ in-stock notifications (which seldom seem to work) or, in some cases, looking to places like the @CharmenderHelps Twitter account.

When I spoke to Daniel—a 29-year-old Florida man who runs the “CharmanderHelps” account when he isn’t running his own online retro gaming company—he had his own memories of journeying to Toys ‘R’ Us with his father on the weekends to participate in local Pokémon Leagues. While getting back into the Pokémon scene in 2020, Daniel could feel how much more effort it took to buy cards when, just months before, they were easy enough to come by just by walking into stores.

“One day I thought hey, maybe I can help and so I made a Twitter account,” he told me over Twitter DM. “I have over 10 years of experience deal-hunting so I thought I could put that into better use by helping others, and so here I am.”

CharmanderHelps lives up to its name in a rather straightforward way. As stock at various online stores Daniel monitors become available, a tweet with a link goes out from the account, and within seconds, dozens of followers swarm in the hopes of securing their grails. Though there are certain rules of thumb people have developed to expedite the checkout processes at places where roadblocks like PIN codes are common, the entire process is essentially a free-for-all in which one’s timing, speed, and attentiveness all play key factors.

If the entire idea of following a Twitter account in order to breathlessly buy Pokémon cards the minute you see them seems a bit exhausting, that’s because it is. But accounts like CharmanderHelps have become one of the few bulwarks against scalpers, who in some instances deploy bots in order to rapidly buy up large sums of online inventory at stores like Best Buy, Walmart, and Target. Chaotic as the process may seem from the outside, Daniel explained that because hunting for deals is something he was already familiar with, it isn’t actually where he focuses the bulk of his CharmanderHelps energies. More often than links to where to buy cards (again, there’s a shortage), CharmanderHelps is usually filled with retweets of people sharing details about where they’ve recently seen merchandise out in the wild. The idea is that they pay their good luck forward to people nearby who also follow the account.

It’s that energy, Daniel said, that some people new to Pokémon and who only just now started to pay attention to the collecting spree usually fail to see, particularly when they’re focused on making money. “I see comments often on my tweets asking ‘Is there a Charizard in the set?,’” Daniel said. “‘Is there something expensive?,’ ‘What booster packs do people want most?’ It’s pretty much a gamble to them. They’re not actually in it to collect and it seems like they think everyone else is there for the same reason.”

Annoying as the questions may be, there is a ‘Charizard-like’ card in almost every set—meaning the rare, coveted items that carry a disproportionate amount of value because they typically have legendary Pokémon featured on the box art—in reference to the ultra-rare, shiny Charizard from the TCG’s 1999 base set, which can fetch thousands of dollars on the aftermarket today. It can’t be ignored that CharmanderHelps is a hunting resource from which Daniel sometimes profits from himself as much as it is a place where fans interact. But Daniel’s followers do seem to have a rapport with one another. In truth, it can read a lot like the kind of camaraderie you often see develop between fans at in-person conventions that became impossible to attend last year.

Aside from the masks, social distancing, and distinct lack of people in costumes, the buzz running through that Target where I stood waiting for cards was indistinguishable from the slightly sheepish excitement you can feel radiating off people at any comic con. The uncertainty of whether fans would actually be able to get what they came for was an obvious point of stress, but mixed in with people’s slightly-too-loud proclamations of how unbothered they would be if they went home empty-handed was a resolute hope grounded in some basic logic.

Collecting Pokémon cards has always been a game of probability, but things like Target’s queuing system and knowing when the store was scheduled to receive new stock gave everyone waiting a solid idea of when and where to look. Beyond that, though, everyone waiting in line that day was well aware of the Pokémon Company’s recent move to ramp up production in order to specifically address shortage issues.

Of course, being in line on that day meant not being patient enough for things to calm down, but that’s the nature of hype that you allow yourself to get into. Ultimately, the hype’s likely to die down, especially here in the U.S. as vaccinations continue to roll out and people are able to wander outside to do things that don’t involve buying collectibles in bulk. For the collectors who hopped onto this bubble because the whole point was to find enjoyment buying shiny pieces of paper, the inevitable bust is part of the fun, as is waiting out the scalpers.


Personally, getting back into another Pokémon craze similar to the original one that first pulled me into the fandom has been a fascinating, if at times frustrating, experience, because of what it’s highlighted about what happens when lifelong fans of a franchise grow up to become adults with some disposable cash on hand. In the Pokémon games, anime, and books, doggedly trying to hunt down Pokémon for one’s personal satisfaction is something that drives both the heroic protagonists and the villainous gangs like Team Rocket whose plans for global domination have only increased in scale over the years.

At times, hunting for and securing the cards in batches meant knowing that other people out there wouldn’t be so lucky in their searches, and in moments like that, the larger “game” could feel a bit Team Rocket-ish. But at the same time, competition, scarcity, and chance have always been core parts of the Pokémon experience, something Abdala reminded me about before we parted ways.

Regardless of how things feel as new drops are still being gobbled up by scalpers and bots at a rate that makes casual collecting more difficult, Abdala pointed out that eventually, things are almost certain to cool off and settle down, because that’s what always happens when hype and hustles intersect.

“There’s going to be more sellers than buyers and the market’s going to plunge at the end of the day because the people who are buying all these products, they’re going to hold on to it to try to make as much money as they can,” Abdala predicted. “But then they’re going to realize that the people who collect are not going to end up paying those prices. Then when they start bringing down their prices, there’s going to be that medium line where, ‘You know what? I’m just getting out of this.’ Like it’s not even worth it to wake up at two in the morning to make $20 at the end of the day.”


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Area Newspaper Fixes Own Mistake With Additional, Weirdly Uncomfortable Mistake

Illustration for article titled Area Newspaper Fixes Own Mistake With Additional, Weirdly Uncomfortable Mistake

Screenshot: Gizmodo/Washington Post, Photo: Win McNamee/Getty, JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP/Getty

One of the hosts of the anti-conspiracy theory podcast QAnon Anonymous is no longer so anonymous.

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The pseudonymous counter-extremism researcher publicly known as Travis View until today knows more about the rabidly pro-Donald Trump QAnon community, which believes that Democrats and Hollywood celebrities are the masterminds of a demonic, Illuminati-style cabal of cannibalistic pedophiles, than pretty much anyone else. He’s been tracking its adherents for years as their numbers exploded on platforms like Facebook and the theory’s repugnant dogma united disparate factions of the conspiracy web and wormed its way throughout the Republican Party, and well before its violent rhetoric contributed to the deaths of five people during a clumsily executed coup attempt at the Capitol in January.

In a Twitch stream that aired last week, View revealed his legal identity as a former California marketer named Logan Strain—apparently under the threat of the Washington Post doing it for him. On Thursday, the Post published a deeply weird and frankly baffling article trumpeting its unveiling of Strain’s real-life identity as a scoop and arguing that his use of a pseudonym for safety reasons posed major ethical concerns for journalism.

Why was it in the public interest to doxx Strain, who uses his pseudonym to protect himself while covering a demonstrably violent, far-right group the Post’s own Editorial Board warned is notorious for vicious harassment of critics and their loved ones? Good question—it’s not! The Post apparently quoted Strain as an expert on QAnon in a number of articles and even brought him on as a columnist, all under the name Travis View, without ever quite catching on they should have asked if that was his real name. The paper then seems to have scrambled to cover its ass.

Though Strain has never hidden the fact he uses a pseudonym, the Post only belatedly realized its mistake after his appearance in the recent HBO documentary Q: Into the Storm, which debuted on March 21. That put its prior coverage in violation of editorial policies saying the paper does “not use pseudonyms, and we do not mislead our readers about the identities of people who appear in our stories,” and in the “rare situations when we decide to identify someone by other than their full name, we do so in a straightforward manner.”

It would be difficult to find a QAA listener, QAnon adherent, or reporter on the anti-extremism beat who isn’t aware Travis View isn’t the co-host’s real name—Strain frequently mentioned that it’s a pseudonym on the podcast, hasn’t hid that fact from interviewers, and regularly jokes about it on Twitter. Despite that, the Post article revealing his name ran with the sub-headline “QAnon Anonymous co-host, riding a wave of newfound fame, acknowledges he was using a pseudonym all along.” It also states the Post was unaware “the Travis View persona was an invention, created for the anything-goes world of the Internet in 2017,” as though this was somehow not common knowledge. Only midway through the article did the Post acknowledge that it was updating all its prior coverage featuring Strain, apparently because it was never familiar enough with him to bother asking what his real name was. Talk about burying the lede.

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Strain told Gizmodo in a phone interview that when contacted by the Post, he told them, “of course I use a pseudonym. I’ve been open about this. I’ve never… hid the fact that I use a pseudonym.”

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“I‘ve mentioned it frequently on Twitter, frequently on my podcast, also it was mentioned at least once when I was [commenting in] the Associated Press that Travis View is a pseudonym,” Strain said. “So it’s been mentioned, like, on the public record that this is a pseudonym.”

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Strain added that the Post appeared to be “taken aback” when he clarified the Travis View persona to them, but, “If this was some sort of a violation of their policies, I don’t think it’s due to any lack of transparency on my part.” Strain didn’t recall ever being asked about his identity by anyone at the Post and even filled out a contributor contract with the Post using his real name and address.

“It seems like they didn’t ask or it didn’t matter or whatever,” Strain said, adding,I don’t think View is even a real surname in any culture or any language. I mean, I haven’t checked on that, but yeah. I always just kind of assumed that Travis View was obviously a fake name, honestly.”

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The author of the Post piece, Craig Timberg, quoted Strain under the pseudonym “Travis View” in at least five prior articles, each of which has now been updated with an “Editor’s Note” that muddies the waters around who actually violated Post editorial policies and appears to imply it was… Strain:

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story quotes Travis View, co-host of the QAnon Anonymous podcast, without reporting that this name is a pseudonym, a detail View did not disclose to The Post when the story was written. That violates Post policy, which prohibits the use of pseudonyms except in rare cases and requires disclosure that a pseudonym is being used. View’s real name is Logan Strain.

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Post editorial policies are extremely clear who is actually responsible for making sure stories don’t violate guidelines, however:

Washington Post reporters have primary responsibility for reporting, writing, and fact-checking their stories.

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To put it another way, it would be definitionally impossible for Strain to violate the Post’s editorial policies in those articles where he was simply quoted, as they apply to the journalists, not any random person they choose to speak to. And while the Post’s standards require that corrections and updates be visible and made accessible to readers, nowhere does it specify that they’re required to write a 1,300-word article trying to score pats on the back for correcting themselves.

Our story on Logan Strain’s use of the pseudonym Travis View—and the simultaneous publication of nine editor’s notes on pieces that he authored or in which he was quoted—was an act of transparency with our readers,” Molly Gannon Conway, a communications manager at the Post, said in an email. “We were unaware that View was a pseudonym until the HBO documentary was released in March. When we contacted him for verification, he agreed to participate in the story.”

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The Post article about Strain’s name states that “experts in journalistic ethics” said Strain’s use of a pseudonym “created complex ethical issues for the news organizations that quoted him.” For one, it’s the Post that created those supposedly meddlesome ethical dilemmas by missing its own standards. Two, it’s not clear why Timberg—who, according to a Google search, appears to have quoted Strain under his pseudonym more times than any other Post reporter—was allowed to write an article spinning his own journalistic ethics into breaking news.

But what is clear is that Timberg or whoever edited the article seems to have some kind of axe to grind over it because the piece strongly implied Strain’s use of a pseudonym means the income QAA raises on Patreon is somehow ethically compromised or otherwise illegitimate:

Driving this change was an increasingly popular podcast reaching more than 100,000 listeners and earning more than $60,000 a month. A related live stream on Twitch, which is where he publicly revealed his real name for the first time on Thursday, only added to that audience — and profit — for Strain and the show’s other two co-hosts.

But Strain’s use of a professional pseudonym has complicated this success story.

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It strains credulity to imagine that any QAA subscribers who managed to miss the memo would want their money back.

“I stopped working at my previous job at the end of last November,” Strain said. “But prior to that, I always said, like, you know, I’m a digital marketer from San Diego. Everything about my person. I never lied about my credentials I have or who I am or anything. I just operated under a pseudonym… [it] doesn’t mislead people into giving, people contributing to the Patreon or anything like that.”

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Another weird thing—the experts who supposedly told the Post that Strain “created complex ethical issues” seemed pretty skeptical that his use of a pseudonym was either surprising or deceptive:

“They didn’t give these news outlets a chance to engage this ethical reasoning, and I think that’s a problem,” said Kathleen Bartzen Culver, director of the Center for Journalism Ethics at the University of Wisconsin. “But I can see how this person thought it was not a problem” because such journalistic standards are not widely understood by the public.

The rise of Internet culture, with its widespread use of anonymity and a variety of alternative naming conventions, has forced news organizations to rethink their policies without misleading readers, said Susan McGregor, a former Wall Street Journal data journalist and now a researcher for Columbia University’s Data Science Institute specializing in journalist security.

“This is totally normal for the Internet. It’s not surprising at all that he didn’t want to do this under his real name,” McGregor said.

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Michael E. Hayden, an expert on the neo-Nazi movement and senior investigative reporter for the Southern Poverty Law Center, told Gizmodo there’s legitimate reasons for the Post to disallow pseudonyms in general.

“Sometimes big publications like WaPo have a standards and practices division that does not allow pseudonyms for reasons related to ethics,” Hayden wrote. “For one example, if ABC News is going to discover who a far-right account is for transparency, it’s hard to argue balance if they should not make a similar effort with antifa accounts. They have a different objective than [an organization like] the SPLC.”

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But Hayden added that QAnon’s well-documented history of violence is more than enough reason for the QAA crew to obfuscate details that could lead to dangerous confrontations.

“I think Travis View is well within his rights to acknowledge that he has safety concerns and ask that he uses a pseudonym for that reason,” Hayden added. “SPLC has numerous employees who choose to remain anonymous to the public for that reason… QAnon is violent, and there are reasonable reasons why people who cover it might choose to do so under a pseudonym.”

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“I assumed I would be doxxed eventually … that, I just want want to get it over with, so it’s a matter of public record and I can sort of move on to, I think, more relevant things than what my real name is,” Strain said. “I guess we’ll see in the coming weeks if this has led to increased personal harassment or any other sort of safety issues, concerns. But since it just came out just today, I mean, I haven’t seen anything quite yet.”

“I think this indicates that Washington Post standards around pseudonyms are archaic in the time when pseudonyms A) are extremely common and normal when operating online, and B), when they’re very useful for anti-extremism researchers to protect themselves,” Strain told Gizmodo. “And you’re going to miss out on a lot of extremely valuable information from those resources if you … demand that they operate under their own name in order to distribute the information that they provide.”

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Julian Feeld (the pseudonym of one of Strain’s co-hosts) told Gizmodo via Twitter DM the Post article was “mostly fair,” but added it “seemed to conveniently leave out that Logan was paid four times by their paper for columns under his real name.”

“The Washington Post seemed intent on minimizing their failure to adhere to their own protocols,” Feeld added. “Nonetheless it forced them to at least acknowledge our success—we welcome a good faith profile of the podcast and its importance.”

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The Last Starfighter’s Potential Sequel Now Has a Sizzle Reel for Hollywood’s Consideration

A Last Starfighter sequel might be on the way.

A Last Starfighter sequel might be on the way.
Screenshot: Matt Allsopp/YouTube

Trailer FrenzyA special place to find the newest trailers for movies and TV shows you’re craving.

Fans of The Last Starfighter have long dreamed what a sequel to that movie would be. Today, they find out.

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Gary Whitta, writer of The Book of Eli and Rogue One, has been working with Last Starfighter writer Jonathan Betuel on bringing the 1984 classic back to life for years now. Today, he hopped on his Twitch stream to say the film is closer than it’s ever been to fruition. It’s “right on the one-yard line” he said, and he believes it will happen.

To help cross that line, though, Whitta also revealed the sizzle reel he, Betuel, concept artist Matt Allsopp, and composer Chris Tilton collaborated on to give people an idea of the movie they want. Whitta explained, as he’s said before, this wouldn’t be a straight remake of the original movie. It’s a sequel that keeps the original film in canon but passes the torch to a new generation, much like Star Wars: The Force Awakens did.

Here’s the sizzle reel for what they’ve called The Last Starfighters.

The trailer doesn’t tell us much but we do see there’s some new conflict, it goes back to Earth, we assume Alex Rogen is still around, and that he has to recruit some new Starfighters to join him in defending the galaxy. That’s purely speculation though.

Whitta didn’t reveal many actual details, though he did explain how he and Betuel teamed up, how concept artist Matt Allsopp (Rogue One) joined, and the sort of collaboration between original composer Craig Safan and Chris Tilton (Assassin’s Creed), who did the score here by adapting Safan’s original themes. You can listen to that on his Twitch feed.

The Last Starfighter is one of my favorite films ever and seeing it is my first memory as a human. Watching that reel brought back so much nostalgia and hope that one day I’ll finally get to see this movie. What did you think of it?

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Twitch’s Latest Sensation Is A Stop Sign Where No One Stops

Illustration for article titled Twitch's Latest Sensation Is A Stop Sign Where No One Stops

Image: Twitch / Stopsigncam

A blue car pulls up to a stop sign. Against all odds, it briefly, miraculously comes to a halt. Twitch chat goes ballistic. Numerous people spam “I was here” as pogchamp emotes flood in. This is Stopsigncam, a Twitch channel that suddenly has over 125,000 followers even though it’s just a camera trained on a single neighborhood intersection in Salem, Massachusetts.

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Ideally, every car would stop at the sign, but that would ruin the fun. Stopsigncam’s stream title says it all: “98.73% of vehicles don’t stop.” That’s almost certainly an estimate, but if you watch the stream, it really is incredible how few drivers stop—or even pretend like they’re maybe going to do a halfhearted roll-through stop. Most drivers just pass right on by, despite how precariously close they come to getting into wrecks with other drivers. It’s an entirely unnecessary game of chicken that makes for weirdly riveting viewing, especially with chat yelling out every stop and non-stop its collective Eye of Sauron sees, doling out nicknames to cars, making memes, and establishing an ever-expanding lexicon of terms like “rollers” and “zoomers.” It’s like watching a gigantic esports event, only it’s cars passing by some rando’s front yard.

With the channel suddenly exploding in popularity, the Stopsigncam stream has also grown more eventful. Earlier this week, somebody got out of their car and did a backflip for the camera. Other people showed up one night and had a lightsaber duel. In just the past few hours today, a viewer walked up to the sign, identified himself in chat, and removed a sticker from the sign, which had previously been applied by some miscreant who sought to deface its purity (or do some advertising). Not long after, two other obvious stream snipers held up unreadable signs of their own while standing next to the stop sign. Some have speculated that the police now use the stream as a means of monitoring the stop.

The stream has a strange sort of intrinsic appeal, but that alone did not propel it to such absurd heights. According to longtime fans, it’s been running since at least last year, but it averaged single-digit viewer numbers, when it had any viewers at all. Then, over the weekend, a couple things happened: The stream got some play on Twitch drama hive turned kingmaker r/Livestreamfail, and probably most importantly, a big name, 100 Thieves intern JhbTeam, promoted the stream to his audience. First he tweeted about it, but it wasn’t until he created a TikTok on Monday that things got out of hand.

“At first, I thought it’d just be a little fun joke between me and my audience on Twitter for only [one] night, because I deleted my tweet hours later,” Jhb told Kotaku in a DM. “When people actually stayed and watched it throughout the night, it made me want to create the TikTok to see if I could make it bigger. I went to bed that night when it had 400 viewers, and woke up to 4,000 viewers as well as my TikTok having 800k views in only a few hours. I’m very happy with the result of the TikTok because it was my ultimate goal to make it popular, and it became more popular than I imagined.”

The TikTok, which implores “bored” viewers to check out the stream and gives a rapid-fire summary of its appeal, now has over 2 million views. Ever since it caught on, Stopsigncam has had a consistent audience of 1,000-3,000 concurrent viewers 24 hours a day. So, for those keeping score, this all came about because a streamer made a tweet and TikTok about somebody else’s Twitch stream. Oh, and he recounted all of this in a YouTube video, as well.

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The owner of the channel ended up giving Jhb moderation privileges, which he occasionally exercises to keep the chat he personally turned into an avalanche of screams from getting too rowdy, despite how busy he is working for a major gaming organization: “Since I was the first person in the stream and I was a verified user, the owner put trust into me and gave me moderation privileges,” Jhb said. “I’ll usually have the stream open on the side and if I see an inappropriate message or anything that could link to the location, I’ll ban that user.” (Kotaku reached out to Stopsigncam’s owner, who declined to answer questions for the time being, as well as a couple moderators, who did not reply in time for publication.)

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“First person in the stream” might be a stretch, given that others claim to have been watching Stopsigncam for a little while now. One, a writer and financial analyst named Daniel Connolly, says he found the stream last year in Twitch’s travel and outdoors category. “I often leave location cams on as background while I work,” he told Kotaku in a DM. “I really started watching this stream during the winter, during a snowstorm.”

As a (relatively) longtime viewer, Connolly said he’s “happy” for Stopsigncam’s owner, but the growth spurt hasn’t impacted his viewing habits, since it’s all just background for him. Others, however, worry that in its transition from obscure curiosity to sensational stream sniper target, Stopsigncam has already lost something essential. One of those people is a viewer who goes by the handle Ilikecorndogs. Buoyed by his love of chat’s reactions to last-second stops and stunts like the aforementioned lightsaber duel, he created a subreddit for the Stopsigncam stream earlier this week. Now, though, he’s on the verge of being done with it.

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“Honestly, after two days of knowing about [Stopsigncam], I’ve already grown out of it,” he told Kotaku in a DM. “I might hop into a stream here or there, but I feel like it grew too much out of a quirky stream in the corners of Twitch I was told about one night.”

Watching so many people show up during today’s stream clearly aware of the camera, it’s not hard to see where he’s coming from. Some Twitch sensations stick around and evolve into institutions. Others are just bizarre little moments. Before you know it, they’re over, because they were never meant to be anything else.

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There are also more practical concerns: It has not been difficult for locals to figure out where Stopsigncam’s stop sign cam is positioned. What happens if somebody doxxes its owner? PC builder and streamer Robert “OD_Technology” O’Donnell, who says he was one of a few people who were involved in the lightsaber fights, doesn’t think it will come to that, but he acknowledges that it’s possible.

“We were able to find [the house] because we hang out in the bars [in] the area, but we won’t tell specifically where it is,” he told Kotaku in a DM. “I put up a Facebook post asking where or who it was, but I took it down immediately after thinking about it because we want it to be fun and not a risk… I really hope [the stream lasts] because the guy deserves it, but if locals ruin it, it will be on them and not him.”

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He’s optimistic about the stream’s chances, though: “I think it will last a long time,” he said.

The whole moment has remained remarkably wholesome so far, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will stay that way, with thousands of people tuning in to watch the daily lives of hundreds of unknowing others. Despite watching for longer than most, Connolly thinks Stopsigncam feels temporary—like a brief roll-through rather than what the unmissable red sign tells everybody to do.

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“I assumed people would have moved on by now,” he said. “I suppose it’ll last as long as the chat stays active and friendly. It feels like an ephemeral moment in a tiny, weird corner of the internet.”

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