It has been a crazy couple of weeks for Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, the 26-year-old Twitch streamer who recently played the popular game “Fortnite” with Drake and reportedly makes half a million dollars every month from his bedroom.
In just the past five days, he’s gained an average of 83,000 followers a day on Twitch, broken a world record for greatest number of in-game kills on a “Fortnite” mode called Duos. He also entangled himself in his first large-scale scandal by casually rapping a racial slur during a livestream.
Ninja has taken the internet by storm. And Twitch projections show that Ninja’s online popularity is only growing.
Here’s everything you need to know about Ninja, the pro gamer who’s bringing streaming into the mainstream:
Ninja is one of the highest-paid personalities among Twitch streamers, YouTubers, and e-sports players.
In an interview with CNBC, Blevins confirmed he earns over $US500,000 a month from his more than 160,000 paid Twitch subscribers, which are separate from his 4 million followers on the same platform.
On Twitch, streamers net $US3.50 for every subscription, which costs the viewer $US5 a month and gets them exclusive emotes and badges while allowing them to view the stream without ads. Meanwhile, simply following a streamer is free, but doesn’t come with any perks.
Ninja’s subscriptions have ballooned in the days since the interview, so it’s safe to say that he makes much more now. Even without accounting for the likely rise in “tips,” which Twitch lets viewers leave for streamers, Blevins also makes money from his 6 million YouTube subscribers, and any additional sponsorships he’s likely to have taken on since his appearance on national TV.
Ninja spends most of his time playing “Fortnite: Battle Royale,” the internet’s favourite video game right now.
Ninja’s success has been bolstered in part by the surge in popularity of “Fortnite: Battle Royale,” a shooter game in which a hundred online players are dropped onto an island where they mine for materials, build structures, find supplies, and kill each other until a single player is left standing, similar to the dystopian arena game described in the “Hunger Games” books and movies.
While packages with the full version of “Fortnite” start at $US39.99, the “Battle Royale” game mode is free to play on PC, Mac, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and mobile (both iOS and Android). It stands as the most-watched game on Twitch, by a lot.
The popularity of “Fortnite” is what sparked his friendship with Drake, who is also a fan of the game.
Drake initiated the unlikely pairing, saying he had watched Ninja’s streams before they played together.
On March 14, Drake joined Ninja for a “Fortnite” stream late at night, and the two broke Twitch’s record for the most concurrent viewers of all time, partly thanks to Drake’s advertising the marathon to his 36.9 million Twitter followers.
— Drizzy (@Drake) March 15, 2018
During the hours-long session, Ninja implied that it had been Drake who actually initiated the team-up.
While the two ran through the virtual island looking for weapons, Drake said he had recently been playing “Fortnite” in the recording studio during his breaks, had seen a video of Ninja playing on Instagram, and later watched more of his content on YouTube.
“I am 99.9% sure we are about to break Twitch,” Blevins said shortly after, pointing out the number of their concurrent viewers had surpassed the previous non-tournament record of 388,000, held by Dr. DisRespect.
“That’s easy,” Drake replied.
The duo was later joined by rapper Travis Scott and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, who admitted during the game he is a huge Ninja fan.
That night, they maxed out at 635,000 concurrent viewers. Luckily, Twitch didn’t actually crash. You can watch the recorded games on Ninja’s YouTube channel.
Despite all the success, Ninja hasn’t forgotten his roots.
During the CNBC interview, Blevins reminded viewers that while playing video games on Twitch may seem like an easy way make millions, he doesn’t recommend quitting your day job – at least not at first.
“You can’t just drop everything and focus on playing video games for a living,” he said, after pointing out that when he first started his gaming career, he was also working, going to college, and playing soccer. “You want to make sure you’re securing your future and putting in the extra time to make this happen as well.”
Perhaps the most charming part of Ninja’s zero-to-hero story is his previous job at Noodles and Co., which he has nothing but kind words for, as evidenced by this Twitter thread:
— Noodles & Company (@noodlescompany) March 22, 2018
And based on this tweet, it seems like they feel the same way:
You have Ninja's people, reach out to our people and we'll see what we can do.
— Noodles & Company (@noodlescompany) March 21, 2018
And although he’s managed to build a reputation as “one of the good ones” in the often toxic gaming community, Blevins has already made his first public gaffe.
On Tuesday, while playing “Fortnite” with Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag, Blevins started freestyle-rapping over the song “44 More” by Logic.
The actual lyrics to the song don’t include the N-word, but Blevins said it anyway, to the surprise of his partner, who can be seen reacting to the slip-up in this video:
— J.D. (@jdwitherspoon) March 28, 2018
Lots of Blevin’s fans came to his defence on Twitter after the initial blowback, saying that unlike YouTube star Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg, who famously fell from grace in 2016 after calling another player the N-word (and said many other regrettable things), Blevins had no malicious intent and clearly fumbled over it in the moment, indicating that it was a sincere accident.
Blevins apologised for the blunder in a series of tweetsThursday morning, saying: “The best way I can explain it is that I promise that I understand how much pain that word causes, even if it gets used a lot in music and elsewhere. It’s a word historically used to divide people, and I’m about bringing people together.”
He continued, “I apologise for offending anyone and appreciate you all rocking with me.”
Blevins hasn’t always been this famous.
This time last year, Tyler Blevins was one of the thousands of 20-somethings livestreaming video games on Twitch, with around 28,000 subscribers, and making gaming videos for YouTube.
He had played Halo professionally, travelling all over the country to compete with various esports teams, including the Renegades, Leftovers and Team Liquid.
And while these are huge accomplishments in both the gaming and online entertainment industries, no one could have guessed what 2018 would have in store for Blevins.
In just the last 30 days, his fan base has more than doubled, from just 2 million followers last month to nearly 4.5 million at the time of publishing. For scale, that’s more people than the total population of Los Angeles.
While esports and video game streaming are still only emerging – and clearly experiencing growing pains – as a mainstream entertainment source, overnight celebrities like Ninja suggest that live-streaming on Twitch, a relatively new entertainment style, may soon be in competition with established but revolutionary online media epicenters like YouTube and Netflix.