Sudden fame has brought on more money and more complications for Tyler “Ninja” Blevins.
In the three weeks since the 26-year-old professional video-game streamer teamed up with hip-hop artist Drake to play the game Fortnite, the mainstream attention has certainly been good for his viewership and his bank account. Blevins, a native of Lake Villa, Illinois, has gained two million more YouTube subscribers and 50,000 paying customers on the video-streaming platform Twitch since March 15—increasing his monthly income to an estimated $875,000.
But Ninja also got into his first real controversy. On March 29, he was streaming Fortnite with fellow Chicago-area pro gamer Matthew “Nadeshot” Haag and rapping a song by Logic when as a part of the rap he uttered the N-word. A clip of the incident began circulating on Twitter, with some people calling him out for dropping it into a song that didn’t have the word in it. He later tweeted an apology, writing: “While I am confident that most of this is a misunderstanding, I recognize that it’s my responsibility to never let there be THIS kind of a misunderstanding. More than anything, I hate that any of my friends, fans, or viewers might feel disrespected. It is my job, and hopefully I’m usually good at it, to make everyone feel welcome, valued, and safe to be themselves. So I apologize to anyone who might feel hurt because I NEVER want that. It’s my stream, and it’s on me to make that right.”
Since the controversy Ninja has been more aware than ever of the fraught nature of his public profile. He’s toned down his use of profanity while broadcasting to a fan base that largely is below legal drinking age. He’s also trying to increase the number of charitable activities he’s involved with since raising more than $100,000 for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in February. That includes a recent live fan meet-up event at Ignite Gaming Lounge in Avondale—a partnership with a summer computer camp program that aims to get kids interested in STEM.
The Reader had scheduled an interview with the spiky-haired video-game phenom three weeks ago, but that got postponed until last weekend’s event in Chicago.
Q. What was it like playing Fortnite with Drake?
A. Dude, that was absolutely incredible. When he followed me on Instagram, I was like, uh, should I message him to see if he wants to play? Should I slide into his DM’s? My wife was like no, just wait. Then he eventually reached out and we hooked up and it was awesome.
Q. Are there any other rappers or celebrities that have reached out to play with you?
A. Yeah. Logic wants to meet up in game and I’m pretty pumped about that. I don’t know when that’s going to happen. He’s touring right now.
Q. Sometimes just watching you is exhausting because of all of the multitasking you have to do during a stream. You’re playing to win, reading chat, talking back to fans—does it get tiring?
A. I’ve been doing it for so long that it really doesn’t faze me that much. But it definitely can be draining; that’s what a lot of people don’t understand when I’m exhausted. My wife didn’t totally understand when we were dating six years ago. She didn’t understand when I’d get off stream for six, ten, or 12 hours I didn’t want to do anything except sleep or relax. Once she started doing it herself, she realized, OK . . . this is difficult. I played Fortnite for 20 minutes off-stream the other night, and I was like, this is the greatest thing ever. I dominated and had so much fun not talking.
Q. What’s the biggest downside to all of your newfound attention?
A. I feel like I can’t mess up at all. I don’t mind that because I don’t mess up often, but sometimes people can twist something that isn’t bad and make it bad. Now there are people out there that want to hurt me. Not physically, but my career. That just kind of sucks.
Q. Have things gotten worse since the N-word incident?
A. I already tweeted about it and apologized for it. But obviously the whole thing was very unfortunate because it wasn’t malicious at all. But that is exactly what I’m talking about. I just need to make sure I don’t do anything that I can be tweeted at for.
Q. And you’ve said recently you’re trying to tone your language down in general.
A. Yeah, I’m trying not to swear at all. I don’t think I swore this whole interview. I do it when I’m not streaming—but when I’m at work I’m trying to have a huge off-switch. I want to use my outlets to promote positivity and being a good person. I’d had a friendly PG-13 stream—I get a little crazy—but immediately when I realized I had a younger audience, I realized I can’t be swearing as much and talking about certain things that are inappropriate.
Q. So are you feeling the pressure?
A. Nah, I got this.