Tyler “Ninja” Blevins was the catalyst that brought gaming into the eye of mainstream media. He may not have as many viewers now as he did in his prime, but Ninja walked so streamers today could run.
Before 2018, gaming was seen as a subculture of nerddom exclusive to children and adults living in their parents’ basements. Streamers weren’t signed by the Dallas Cowboys, and A-list celebrities weren’t making guest appearances at video game award shows.
Gaming was a hobby, and very few streamers were able to garner enough subscribers and donations to consider it a full-time job. But that all changed when one skinny kid with blue hair played Fortnite with the world’s most famous rap artist.
Today, streaming platforms fight over content creators. Streamers rake in millions of dollars from contracts, donations, brand deals, and creator codes. But the gaming scene could look completely different if it weren’t for Tyler “Ninja” Blevins.
Fortnite sets the perfect stage
With the growing popularity of the Battle Royale genre, Twitch streamers started to notice an increase in viewership. Games such as PUBG and Day Z were among the first to pit 100 players against each other in a fight to the death. Viewers were hooked.
Pivoting from the development of a zombie survival game, Epic Games released what would become the world’s most popular Battle Royale: Fortnite. And Ninja was there as one of the first streamers to capitalize on its inevitable popularity.
Fortnite was immediately popular for a few reasons: It was free for everyone, available on most platforms, and its unique building mechanics would add a layer of gameplay that no other game could offer.
Viewers loved to watch their favorite personalities fight to be the best out of 100 players. Ninja being one of the first to start playing Fortnite in 2017 meant more people would flock to his streams. But it wouldn’t be until a few months into 2018 that his career skyrocketed.
Ninja, Drake, and Fortnite
During the first few months of 2018, Ninja already had a ridiculous number of viewers. Maxing out at just over 100k concurrent viewers a day, Ninja’s average viewer count was more than what top streamers can muster today.
While Ninja was flirting with the glass ceiling of success, it wouldn’t be until March 15, 2018 that he would burst through it. That would be the day that Ninja would squad up with world-famous superstar and rap icon Drake.
That night, Ninja’s stats were off the charts, but that wasn’t what broke the mold for Twitch streamers. This was one of the first times that major mainstream news outlets were reporting positively on video games.
CNN, The Washington Post, Business Insider, BBC. What seemed like taboo to cover was now on the front page of these outlets. Many headlines excluded the mention of Tyler “Ninja” Blevins favoring Drake as a “record-breaking” gamer.
Ninja from Fortnite
A wave of news stories praised Drake for playing with Ninja from Fortnite, and now gaming is a socially acceptable hobby. Hey, if the world’s coolest and most-popular rapper plays Fortnite then it has to be cool, right?
Along with the increased popularity gaming saw as a whole, watching people play games became far more popular. And with his name making international news, many new viewers ran to Ninja’s stream to see what this “Fortnite” was all about.
It’s obvious that Drake used Ninja as a marketing tool. Before the release of a new project, he would garner as much attention as possible, and playing Fortnite with Ninja was a genius move on his part.
Ninja now had everything to lose. His time with Drake catapulted him into the spotlight and he could choose to kill the momentum or use this opportunity to make a name for himself. And in turn, he would be blazing a trail for future streamers to do the same.
Ninja opens doors for gamers
A few streamers have praised Ninja for opening doors that may never have been opened otherwise. And Ninja’s career for the rest of 2018 and into 2019 would be a series of Blevins opening these doors.
Over the next year, Ninja would sign with Redbull, host his own tournament in Las Vegas, play Fortnite live at Lallapalooza, and squad up with Drake a few more times.
However, he started to break into mainstream media frequently by appearing on Jimmy Fallon, being the first Esports athlete to appear on the cover ESPN Magazine, and even hosted New Year on Time Square.
And in mid-2019, Ninja would sign a contract with Mixer that would completely change how platforms operate. Just as athletes are traded between teams, Ninja leaving his home team of Twitch popularized this idea that other platforms could scout and sign streamers.
Ninja changes the streaming landscape
Since 2018, a lot of shocking events surrounding Ninja’s career have become the norm. Ninja playing with celebrities and signing brand deals with major companies was insane when it first happened. Now, no one bats an eye when a streamer tweets “big announcement soon👀”.
When Ninja left Twitch for Mixer, it was the first time streamers were seen as purchasable assets. Now, streamers expect multiple platforms to offer them multimillion-dollar contracts when their current one is up.
Streamers are frequently in movies and commercials. People who have much smaller communities on Twitch are advertising McDonald’s sandwiches. Gamers are making “big money moves” behind the scenes all because some blue-haired kid did it first.
Ninja is still killing it
Compared to Ninja’s unbelievable stint in 2018-2019, his streams now might seem disheartening. He has around 10% of the viewers he had at his peak. He’s not setting records and his name is rarely in headlines anymore.
But you’d be mistaken if you think Ninja “fell off.” He debuted his acting career in Ryan Reynold’s “Free Guy,” and is the voice of Party Monster in the upcoming animated film Hotel Transylvania: Transformania.
Aside from what he’s doing in his career, Ninja’s legacy lives on in other streamers. Ludwig’s big move to YouTube is thanks to Ninja’s move to Mixer. TimTheTatman’s signing with Complexity can be attributed to Ninja bringing gaming into the mainstream.
You may not agree that Tyler “Ninja” Blevins is as important a figure as this article makes him out to be. But I implore you to consider where your favorite streamer – if not gaming as a whole – would be if not for Ninja’s legacy.