According to a recent post by the Los Angeles Times, Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins wants to be known as more than just that Fortnite guy. If you haven’t heard of “Ninja,” chances are you’re either not between the ages of 12 and 24 years old or the parent of someone who is.
Blevins typically makes more than $500,000 per month streaming — double that in his best months. He’s not shy about sharing that information because he wants to change the perception of gaming and esports. He wants young people to aspire to be streamers and gamers, just like previous generations aspired to be football and basketball players. And he wants parents to be supportive of those aspirations, knowing it’s possible to make a career out of it.
Blevins is the most popular video game player in the world and the unofficial face of Fortnite, the popular battle royale in which 100 players are dropped onto an island where they fight to the death until one winner is left standing (and dancing).
The simplicity of the free-to-play game has attracted more than 250 million registered players, from grade school children to professional athletes.
What separates Blevins, 27, from other Fortnite players is his skill and following. He has more than 14 million followers on Twitch, Amazon’s live streaming platform; almost 14 million on Instagram; more than 4 million on Twitter; and more than 22 million subscribers on YouTube.
Telling a story
It’s just before noon at a Westside studio Red Bull has built for him for his trips to Los Angeles. As Blevins sits in a large black and red gaming chair, he take a sip of coffee and makes sure everything around him is in order before he starts the countdown to his stream.
He circles his mouse, taps the keyboard and adjusts the camera above his monitor. Within minutes of his notifying fans he’s about to stream another game of Fortnite, his audience will rise to 40,000, twice the capacity of Staples Center.
Blevins views each game he streams as a performance; a new episode of a reality show in which he produces, directs and stars. While he attracts millions of viewers because he’s one of the more skilled players in the world, he keeps them coming back on a regular basis because he’s also one of the most entertaining. Like a baseball announcer weaving stories between pitches, Blevins shines brightest during breaks in the action with impressions, jokes, freestyle raps and whatever else might come to him spontaneously.
“What makes Fortnite and battle royales special is they allow you to tell a story,” Blevins says. “The games generally last 25 minutes, where normal arena shooter games are five minutes or less. As a viewer and as a streamer, there’s a lot of down time and anticipation to really hype moments.
“So as a streamer, you can talk in the chat and thank people for watching the stream. You can really paint a picture and tell a story. It’s also really easy to follow. You launch in with nothing and you’re on your own. There’s X amount of players remaining and the last one standing wins. It’s a beautiful story-telling mechanism.”
While Blevins is still considered the most popular video game player in world by most mainstream metrics, he is constantly concerned about being replaced or, worse, forgotten.
“I want to be remembered as the grandfather of gaming,” Blevins says. “I know that sounds weird coming from a 27-year-old, but I want people to remember me.
“I don’t want someone else to come along who hasn’t come to close to doing what I’ve done and take my place.”