Join any of Jake Randall’s streams and he’ll appear in the corner of the screen, his back against a bookshelf overflowing with video game trinket boxes. He’s staring at an online retailer in the jittery minutes before a PlayStation 5 restock. Today, Amazon is the target, and Randall enlightens the crowd with his most reliable console-rustling axioms: be an Amazon Prime member or free trial holder, go to the PS5 page, and hit “add to list,” let’s go You open a tab with the product page and one with this listing and try to buy the hardware from both sources once the Add to Cart buttons are unlocked. He explains that it’s common to fail dozens of times before succeeding, and to repeat those steps until the process works.
A few minutes later, the consoles fill up again and Randall’s Legion pours through the breach, updating the checkout page over and over again. The chat lights up when people share successes and failures.
In the last two years, Randall has been one of the standout influencers in buying consoles worldwide. He has more than 400,000 followers on twitter and 180,000 subscribers on YouTube, the bulk of which showed up in late 2020 when pre-orders for the new console became available. The streaming star is notoriously elusive, but Randall broke through by mastering an extremely difficult art: becoming really good at buying PlayStation 5 devices and being willing to show others how to do the same. He cracked the secret code of viral fame; all he needed was a Chrome browser and a lot of patience.
“Every retailer is so unique. It’s all just trial and error for me to figure out what works. I don’t use bots, I’m not a reseller, and all the knowledge I’ve gained would only help another person like me; a common consumer just trying to buy a console for themselves,” Randall said in an interview with Polygon. “I think when people try to buy this stuff without a stream running in the background, they don’t know what they’re doing. You become discouraged. To be honest, the most important thing for me is just to encourage.”
Randall started streaming on YouTube in 2019, a year before the ninth generation of video game consoles came out. He was able to start his channel due to a revolutionary change in his physical health. Randall was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at the age of 5 and has battled the disease’s debilitating fatigue for decades. But a few months before COVID-19 was discovered in the United States, Randall began a new treatment that gave him much of his energy back. (Life expectancy for people with cystic fibrosis is typically around 40 years. But today, Randall is hoping he’ll avoid those grim predictions.)
During that time he cultivated some brand new passions and started a daily one Pokemon Sword & Shield broadcast on YouTube to a small but tight-knit group of viewers.
“I was able to get up to 1,000 subscribers in a month, and then animal crossing [New Horizons] came out a few months later and that’s what I focused on,” says Randall. “By August 2020 I had reached almost 5,000.”
It’s extremely difficult for streamers to even come close to finding an audience, so Randall had those numbers to be proud of. But the burgeoning hardware mania – and supply chain chaos that followed – made him a superstar.
Randall’s initial success happened by accident. He knew he wanted a PS5 and on a whim he decided to live stream his attempt to secure a pre-order. So on September 25, 2020, Randall just streamed himself lurking on the GameStop website, waiting to pounce on a new machine like so many other potential customers around the world. The console hunt isn’t a particularly cinematic experience. And yet his viewership has doubled, then tripled, then quadrupled, far exceeding the hundred or so viewers who tune in to his gaming streams. At the peak of the stream, Randall had 10,000 people watching his efforts.
“Maybe it was just searchable in the YouTube algorithm,” he says. “I don’t know what was going on.” Since then, his viewership has increased.
After striking gold with that first pre-order session, Randall kept his ear open to rumors of restocking. He fired up his streaming rig whenever reports of one of these scarce payloads flitted through social media. In the fall of 2020, buying a new console was already a highly strategic endeavor, often requiring a sweaty 24-hour monitoring effort.
Before long, Randall had formed connections with insiders at major department stores like Target, Best Buy, and GameStop, who would update him on potential shipments and elusive delivery dates. In fact, he’d been making connections since his very first pre-order broadcast, when a GameStop employee entered the chat and provided a backdoor link that allowed him and his viewers to skip the line to make a purchase, says Randall.
In the months that followed, the thirst for the new consoles reached a zenith. Scalpers in this scene have automated their operations with bots that effortlessly penetrate online retail infrastructure and potentially steal hundreds of consoles at once. And aggregate demand is likely to remain high given the never-ending semiconductor shortage. Under these circumstances, you can understand how a friendly face on YouTube has become the best choice for aggrieved gamers across America.
Randall doesn’t recall a specific moment when it became clear that PS5 and Xbox Series X warehouses would remain limited for the long term, but Randall certainly didn’t anticipate sitting in retail queues well into 2022 . “I figured that would be good for a while and that I would move on to something else later, but it took so long and it became my main thing,” he says.
There are many people who join Randall’s stream, copy their long-awaited PS5, and go straight back into the void. He’s fine with this cycle; Randall understands he’s offering a service, and many viewers happily move on once they land a console. But Randall also tells me that he has some regular customers who stick around even after they’re no longer in the market for a machine. “That’s probably less than 10 percent of all people, but the most common comment I get is, ‘Jake, I came for the PS5, but I stayed for you,'” he says. “Some people will be in my community for life, others will be in and out.”
I get it. yes i am one of many Gamers who haven’t landed PS5 yet, so I have some transactional interest in Randall’s stream whenever it’s live. And yet I’m drawn to the irresistibly tense atmosphere of his craft that I don’t find in my usual slowdown diet Hearthstone streams. The audience is either on the brink of triumph or defeat and hopes so This will finally be the session to see the stars. Randall leans all the way into that fidgety consumer high. Each stream is fueled with a “hype session” in which he spins in his computer chair and throws a pair of finger guns in the air. “If you’re struggling to secure your PS5, today will be that magical day,” he says. “I’ve been doing this for two years. I will not disappoint you.”
Of course, there are some faint signs that some of the supply chain issues are being resolved. It’s getting easier and easier to buy an Xbox Series X in the wild, and while PS5s remain in short supply, Target is now allowing its local stores to sell their stock without collaborating with national restocking programs. We might not be far from a world where anyone who wants a new console can buy one without the help of a veteran streamer, because that’s how retail is supposed to work in the first place.
So where is Randall? He tells me he’s been asked this question constantly for the past two years since he started walking viewers through that first pre-order gambit. Randall would like to do more content about his journey with cystic fibrosis; After all, he has many stories to tell. But he’s also not worried about his current streaming format. Randall believes there will always be another shortage on the horizon – another gimmick of gamer envy – and given the way scalpers have gotten to sneakers, graphics cards and consoles, he couldn’t be wrong.
“There’s always the next big thing coming out,” he says. “Always the next product that everyone wants. And given the chip shortages, there will likely be high demand for products after they’re launched. As long as I’m excited about the products, I’ll stream it.”