How ‘Fortnite’ Live Streamer Ninja Became a Celebrity

Michigan native Tyler Blevins spends hours a day in his basement glued to a computer screen, playing video games — and makes millions of dollars doing it.

Blevins, 27, better known by the pseudonym Ninja, entertains gaming fans across the world, broadcasting himself on several platforms playing “Fortnite,” “Call of Duty” and “Halo.”

The internet star, who hails from Taylor but moved to the suburbs of Chicago as a child, recently garnered plenty of buzz after live streaming a “Fortnite” Battle Royale with rappers Drake and Travis Scott on Twitch. The video, which was later posted on Ninja’s YouTube account for his 18.5 million subscribers to see, has more than 10 million hits.

“I started watching Ninja after I saw the video of him playing with Travis and Drake,” said 20-year-old Canton resident Rayyan Ahmed. “He really blew up after that video.”

Blevins reportedly makes $300,000-$500,000 a month from streaming alone and became the first video gamer to grace the cover of ESPN The Magazine in September.

Blevins’ success and exposure are a testament to the increasingly popular gaming landscape.

Blevins appeared on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” earlier in October to teach the talk show host how to play viral game.

“Thank you very much for being here. You flew in just to play “Fortnite” with me and I’ve learned — nothing,” DeGenere said chuckling after she failed to keep up with Blevins, who told the audience he plays “Fortnite” 10-12 hours a day.

As gaming continues to earn buzz — supplemented by Blevins’ celebrity status — it’s also receiving legitimacy as a competitive sport.

The Michigan High School Athletic Association is considering adding esports as an official prep sport, MLive reported in September.

“I hope these YouTubers don’t foster an obsession with video games and that human interaction gets encouraged,” said 17-year-old Ann Arbor resident Zaynab Elkolaly. “Kids still need to go outside and play.”

However, Elkolaly says she watches Ninja videos in moderation and enjoys how they are “quick, straight to the point and provide instant gratification.”

Blevins’ videos tend to be free-flowing, impromptu and goofy. Whenever a new season of “Fortnite” is released, Blevins tests out the updates and incorporates fresh elements of the game into his broadcasted gameplay.

Ninja’s viewers can also expect impressions — tons of impressions. Blevins takes requests from fans via Twitch Chat while live and mimics movie scenes, other gamers and celebrities.

“I’m by no means a gamer, but I watch Ninja because his videos are funny and entertaining,” Elkolaly said. “I suck at “Fortnite,” so watching Ninja is a way for me to enjoy the game without playing it.”

One pride

Despite living in Chicago Bears’ territory, Blevins says he is a Detroit Lions fan at heart.

He was on the sidelines at the Lions’ home opener this season against the New York Jets, and Blevins — who declined an interview request with the Free Press — told ESPN he watches highlight videos of Barry Sanders, his favorite all-time player, when he wants to wants to get pumped up.

“It’s amazing,” Blevins said to ESPN about meeting the Lions players. “I’ve been a fan of them for such a long time. Been watching the Lions for like the last five years, so it’s just amazing. It’s humbling, I guess.”

Ahmed, who was unaware Blevins was from metro Detroit until he saw Blevins’ tweets in support of the Lions, says he was surprised to discover Blevins was such a passionate fan of the team.

“I’m proud a local guy made it this big,” Ahmed said. “He became an A-list celebrity just by doing what he loves.”

Rise to stardom

Just nine years ago, when he was still a semi-pro gamer, Blevins was studying at Silver Lake College in Wisconsin and working at Noodles & Company.

“I continued to do well in school and focus on the future of my life” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Alley.”

Video games were an integral part of Blevins’ childhood. His father would purchase games for Blevins and his brothers. The family owned classic gems such as the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo, as well as the then-revolutionary Xbox and PlayStation consoles, Blevins said in a Twitch stream.

“My dad actually was the main influence,” Blevins said.

Blevins began playing competitively in 2009, entering Halo tournaments across the U.S. and joining premiere esport teams. He started streaming in 2011 and eventually made enough money to sustain himself, so he quit his job at Noodles & Company.

“To live stream for hours at a time almost daily is not an easy task,” Ahmed said. “He’s entertaining a lot of people and since he built such a large audience he deserves the money.

“His fans even donate money to him, so clearly people appreciate his work.”

No more potty mouth

Earlier this year, Blevins vowed to stop swearing in his videos out of respect for the youngsters who watch them. It has proven difficult to apply his no-swearing policy when playing against celebrity rappers, and for this reason, Blevins has implemented a rating system to some of his videos.

“One thing I am going to start doing is applying a ‘rated’ (PG, PG-13, R) in some YouTube videos and Twitch stream titles depending on the content. I understand some celebs I play with might be a little more … tasteful than others lol,” Blevins tweeted in May.

Some Twitter users have called Blevins a “sellout” and “soft” for cleaning up his streams.

Ahmed and Elkolaly say they think the decision was a good business move for Blevins, but added that Ninja may have lost some loyal fans.

“His older videos are funnier. He would rage and swear a lot, and to me, it was much more entertaining,” Ahmed said. “His new videos are a bit more childish and a little annoying. But I see what he’s doing. He’s appealing to the majority of his current audience — kids.”

“He stopped swearing to accommodate a larger fan base, which means more moolah for him,” Elkolaly said. “I think he should stay true to the nature of his channel unless he made the personal decision not to swear (in his daily life).”

Jessica Goch, Blevins’ wife and manager, responded to the complaints regarding Ninja’s decision saying: “The majority of fans he has come up to him (sic) while we are out are 7-13 y/o boys and girls whose parents say ‘wish I could let them watch with sound’ Tyler feels a moral obligation to tone it down for the younger ears.”

‘I don’t play with female gamers’

Like any celebrity, Blevins isn’t immune to controversy.

In a live stream, Blevins told viewers he met Goch, 26, at a 2010 “Halo” tournament in Wisconsin that he almost didn’t attend because of inclement weather.

“When I saw her man I was like — it felt like the world stopped,” Blevins said. “You know when you see a girl and you think they’re so drop-dead gorgeous and you just can’t think and you just get this feeling — yeah that’s what that was.”

Blevins said Goch, a Wisconsin native, was accompanied by her ex-boyfriend at the 2010 tournament and said he had a girlfriend at the time. However, the two stayed connected on social media, started dating and eventually wed in 2017.

Goch is a streamer herself under the tag JGhosty.

In August, a firestorm ensued after Blevins told Polygon he refuses to stream with women because he doesn’t want internet hearsay to arise.

“While I understand some people have implied my views mean I have something against playing with women, I want to make clear the issue I’m addressing is online harassment, and my attempt to minimize it from our life,” Blevins tweeted in response to the outcry. “It is something that affects all streamers, especially ones that make their relationships public.”

Elkolaly says she thinks Blevins’ comments were unnecessary.

“Playing with women on a gaming platform made for preteen boys is not that scandalous in my opinion,” she said. “But, who knows? Maybe there’s something else to the story.”

This article is written by Omar Abdel Baqui from Detroit Free Press and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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