It’s been an explosive year for Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, the neon-haired streamer whose savant-like skill at Fortnite has made him a household name. Not only is he the most-subscribed streamer on Twitch, Blevins recently made his way into mainstream TV in commercials hawking Samsung phones. You’d think that becoming that big so suddenly would put a lot of pressure on someone, but Blevins seems to be taking much of it in stride.
Last week, Blevins sat down with The Verge to talk about his new commercial partnership with Hershey’s (the entertainer partnered up with another huge Twitch personality, Dr. Lupo, at TwitchCon last week for the brand) his accomplishments, and his opinions on Fortnite as a game.
Blevins’ ascent as gaming’s most recognizable personality can be traced to a variety of factors: he’s charming, he’s extremely good at a very popular game, he makes smart use of social media, and he’s so family-friendly that he doesn’t curse during his streams. But perhaps the most significant contributing factor is his work ethic. There is no inherent merit to working long hours, but on Twitch, streamers are expected to entertain viewers for extended periods of time.
The product isn’t just a performance — you could watch a YouTube video for that — rather, it’s a back-and-forth with viewers, an interaction. And when it comes to streaming, Blevins does not quit. He streams nearly all day, taking only a short break in between sessions.
It almost sounds like a video game character grinding away for more stats
“I don’t burn out, but it’s definitely taxing,” Blevins says. “My wife and I, we just try to spend as much time as possible with one another. When we do have breaks — like our four-hour breaks — they’re usually filled with meetings or her having to go out and do things and me just trying to catch up on sleep if I can.”
“Even though we do have four-hour breaks, we don’t usually get that with one another. And we haven’t taken a vacation in an entire year. We probably don’t plan on doing that for maybe another year. It’s difficult.”
Fortnite is huge now, but there’s no telling how long that might last. In the past, Blevins has explained that he maintains this unhealthy schedule because he wants to make enough money to take care of his family, even if it means sacrificing a couple of years to get there. It almost sounds like a video game character grinding away for more stats: sure, it’s time-consuming, but the results speak for themselves.
So if the pressures of streaming endlessly don’t weigh heavily on Blevins, what does? According to the 27-year-old, his biggest challenge of the year is “continuing to stay positive,” he says.
“Once you’re kind of in the limelight, there are a lot of people. You just get these random haters who, in my opinion, probably don’t even enjoy your content or watch it. They just hear about your stuff, and they’re just very rude. A lot of comments on Instagram and Twitter and sometimes subscribers on my chat, they can be very rude. It’s like they’re just trying to bring me down no matter what it is. They’re just in a not happy place. They’re trying to make someone else feel that way.”
Now that he’s a hugely successful streamer, Blevins gets attention from everyone — and it’s not always good. Right now, his most-viewed clips on Twitch include one that makes fun of him dying in a video game and another where he gets roasted by Jimmy Kimmel. Some YouTube channels garner millions of views simply by rehosting controversial snippets from his live stream. Most of this kind of attention comes from younger people who think it’s cool to be negative, Blevins hypothesizes.
“Yes, I’m the biggest streamer right now, but... over the last year, I’ve been very good at making sure that anything controversial, questions of that nature, just to never answer them,” Blevins says. It’s partly a reaction to viewers who try to get a rise from him by saying things like “Fortnite is dead,” which is — at one point, at least — a bannable offense on his stream.
“I hate giving people that kind of chat interaction,” Blevins says. Mostly, though, the streamer seemed wary of how often people try to provoke him with controversy so they can create “clickbait.” On that front, the streamer has had a shaky year. Beyond the controversy of him rapping the n-word during a live stream, Blevins also made headlines for saying that he does not play Fortnite with women in order to avoid romantic rumors. But if Blevins didn’t have as much media training then, he’s certainly more careful now. During our interview, his manager cautioned me to ask fewer “personal” questions about Blevins, despite largely sticking to topics he’s spoken publicly about before.
“It’s like they’re just trying to bring me down no matter what it is.”
Like Blevins, Fortnite has undergone a number of changes in a short period of time. Most of these alterations have been positive, making the game feel fresh despite being over a year old, but for some, the last season was disappointing. Cool things happened, yes — who can forget the roaming mystery cube? — but many players feel that it wasn’t internally consistent or coherent. Blevins has a different reason for disliking the previous Fortnite season, though.
“Last season is definitely my least favorite,” Blevins says. “That’s when they added brand-new SMGs and the Tommy gun, which completely changed the meta away from building and just making it very spammy. But other than that, they nerfed a lot of SMGs accordingly, removed the Tommy gun, and really rebalanced the meta of the game.”
Even so, Blevins does give Fortnite credit for maintaining momentum. “New games, map updates every other day, it’s fantastic,” Blevins said. “The game has just broken standards and completely changed the way that people view gaming.”
As for what’s next for Twitch’s most famous entertainer, Blevins has plenty of ideas. While nothing is concrete, he mentioned possibilities like voice acting in his own cartoon, working with Epic to create Fortnite-official content, or perhaps something relating to music. And he wants to develop more partnerships with brands, he says — not just in gaming, “but in the world.” It sounds like Twitch is just the first stop for Blevins.
“There’s nothing off limits,” Blevins said.