If you visited the Twitch home page over the last couple of weeks you probably saw the usual suspects: League of Legends, Hearthstone, Counter-Strike. In a twist, GTA Online has joined that list thanks to a former officer of the law, Eli Thompson. People love him so much, he's already become one of Twitch's hottest channels. On his first day alone, he had around 43,000 concurrent viewers.
Screenshot of Twitch from May 15th, 2017 around 2PM CST
"Sheriff Eli" is one of many GTA fans who use online mods, like FiveM, to roleplay as police officers. These fans dress in uniform and roll around in patrol cars to "protect" the virtual citizens of Los Santos. Some role-players are silly officers, but not Sheriff Eli. He's a hard-arse, and fans eat the stern attitude up. The chat is usually overflowing with salute emotes whenever he apprehends a criminal. Throughout the last week, Thompson has been one of the most popular streamers on Twitch, period.
Sheriff Eli had no idea he would get such an immense viewership. "I was beyond surprised," Thompson said via email. "I could not feel more humbled and lucky by the outpouring of support from the entire community."
There, people started to develop a taste for his serious demeanour, his love of "justice" and his colourful jokes and phrases. Eli isn't here to laugh or fool around. He treats each patrol seriously and follows actual police procedure (most of the time.) This dedication is already inspiring fan art:
— Kathleen (@Kit_NZ8) April 23, 2017
Fans wanted a "Sherriff Eli" show so badly, they helped him raise over $US10k so that he could upgrade his old computer and start streaming on his own. To do that, he needed equipment to stream, along with other odds and ends. With the help of streamers like Proxy, his growing fanbase was able to quickly raise the money he needed.
You can watch the moment when Eli finds out how much money the community has raised for him in the video above.
After watching some Eli streams and clips on Youtube, I also became a fan of the former-cop-turned-GTA-roleplayer. One of my favourite things about Sheriff Eli is how committed he is to his character. He never breaks out of it, which means he often improvises on the fly -- even when it comes to glitches.
As an example: at one point during a stream, after Thompson had stopped a crime, he noticed that an AI driver was slamming his vehicle repeatedly into another car. He quickly leapt into action, literally dragging the driver out of the car and dealing with them himself.
Sheriff Eli also loves to screw with Twitch streamers role-playing as criminals. At one point he even makes a suspect recreate the sound of a siren, just because he can. You can hear the streamer laugh as Eli stays serious and straight the entire time.
Eli's ability to stay calm under pressure might have something to do with his 5 years of experience as an actual police officer. This training also allows Sheriff Eli to teach viewers about actual police procedure and tech, all while taking down fake criminals in GTA Online. During an earlier stream this week, Thompson explained how police helicopter cameras and search patterns work. It was a fascinating insight into the world of police, delivered in an entertaining manner.
Thompson explained to me that he still loved police work and the sense of teamwork and brotherhood that police officers have, but had to leave the career for financial reasons. "The work was very rewarding, but challenging," said Sheriff Eli, "And I ended up having to pursue other career options in order to earn more to assist my family."
If you watch enough Sheriff Eli streams and clips, something you'll notice how much he gives a shoutout to his digital family of streamers. Eli credits his success and popularity more to the hard work of his fellow role-playing streamers than his stern attitude and love of justice.
"The reason I am here is because I am surrounded by true professionals who genuinely care about others. WE not ME," explained Sheriff Eli. In fact the main reason he actually started streaming is because that digital family of streamers urged him to do it. "After all their support, I could not let them all down. Here I am."
If you're interested in watching a roleplay of "protect and serve," Thompson streams nearly every day for hours at a time. You can also read more about the phenomenon of GTA Online police roleplayers here.