Meet Tyler Blevins, the Ninja who packs a Fortnite punch

Who had the most social media interactions in April? Not Cristiano Ronaldo. Not Virat Kohli. Not NBA superstar LeBron James. It’s 26-year-old gamer Tyler Blevins, who is better known by his online name, Ninja. The Fortnite player generated 150 million social interactions in April.

By Mathures Paul
  • Published 16.07.18

Who had the most social media interactions in April? Not Cristiano Ronaldo. Not Virat Kohli. Not NBA superstar LeBron James. It’s 26-year-old gamer Tyler Blevins, who is better known by his online name, Ninja. The Fortnite player generated 150 million social interactions in April. This is the same dude who was joined by Drake for a Fortnite stream on March 14. One of the most powerful influencers in the gaming and e-sports world, Ninja recently announced a partnership with Red Bull and will participate in the Red Bull Rise Till Dawn event, which will take place July 21-22 in Chicago.

t2 caught up with Tyler, who has come a long way since working at Noodles & Company, over email.

Name: Tyler Blevins
Online name: Ninja
Age: 26
Social media pull: 14m on YouTube, 7.4m on Instagram, 2.76 on Twitter and 9.3m on Twitch
Big moment: On March 14, Drake joined him for a Fortnite stream late at night, and the two broke Twitch’s record for the most concurrent viewers of all time. That night, they topped out at 635,000 concurrent viewers

What is it about Fortnite that reeled you in? Also, why do you prefer Fortnite over PUBG? 

Fortnite really is just the perfect storm of a game. You have the fact that it’s free-to-play on almost every platform, and everything about the game is enjoyable. The fights are fun, weapons are unique and the colour variances add that epic “OMG GOLD SCAR” feeling. The treasure chests’ humming sound all the way to the headshot “PA DINK” noise… it’s just perfect.

I prefer it more because the game runs 10x smoother than PUBG... [Fortnite game developer Epic] had quickly handled an overloading issue involving 3.4 million active users. The game is free, multi-platform (and growing), and it is just fun. Also being completely free-to-play helps.

How does it feel to be the most popular streamer on Twitch?

It feels great; my streaming ambitions took centre stage when I left the world of professional gaming to concentrate on growing my Twitch audience full-time. Most viewers only donate a few dollars here and there, but some have been known to go overboard. And in one night, one single viewer gifted me $62,000 in donations, which caused me to — quite understandably — lose my mind during my broadcast. That’s when it all started! I haven’t stopped working hard since then. 

There are millions out there watching people play games on YouTube. Here you are, on Twitch, which is live entertainment. How important would be the platform in the coming months?

I knew I was missing on millions of gamers from YouTube who do not really know about live streaming and are just comfortable watching videos. This made me realise that I had the ability to tap into this audience if I just grow my YouTube scene and transition them to live entertainment on my Twitch page. 

What was life like in Grayslake, Illinois, where you grew up?

I’ve always had a naturally competitive streak. I always want to be the best; I love competing. If I’m not doing well I’ll be upset and I’ll be raging. My dad actually was the main influence, he loved video games when they started to come out and he would purchase them for us, but we would go to bed around as early as you can imagine, like 6pm or 7pm, but he would play on the consoles until 2am or 3am. That’s when I developed a liking for games. 

What games did you play back then?

My family owned early gaming consoles like Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo and bought Microsoft Xbox and Sony PlayStation games when they came out in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In November 2001, Halo, a multiplayer, futuristic war game was launched on Xbox. When I was nine or 10, my brothers John and Chris asked me to play Halo with them. They thought I was too young to play, but I destroyed them all (laughs). Since then I would stay up past the small hours and just keep working. I think, that’s when my brothers thought: ‘Okay, maybe we’re not going to play with Tyler anymore.’

Playing Halo: Reach competitions in Dallas in 2011 made you popular. When you look back, what does Halo mean to you today?

I first played competitively in 2009 by entering a Halo 3 event in Orlando to small success, but gained notoriety playing a later version of the game, Halo: Reach, in 2011 at competitions in Dallas, Columbus, Ohio and Anaheim.
The same year, I was making about $100 a day streaming on Twitch. In 2012, my team won the Halo 4 2012 MGL Fall Championships, notching the highest score in the final game. I have since then competed with major e-sports teams, like Team Liquid and Renegades. So Halo is really, really special to me as it was a start to my career. I enjoyed playing it then and I would certainly love to play it now. 

What are some of the things you want Epic to add to Fortnite?

Maybe a ranking system! A team doubles or solos ranked playlist, and then everything else is still unranked like it is now — that’d be cool. I feel like the game is going so well and they’re doing everything so right that I don’t want them to mess anything up. Again, the way they’re adding everything, they don’t need my advice! 

On March 14, Drake joined you for a Fortnite stream late at night. What was the experience like?

It was epic! The livestream attracted 628K concurrent viewers, setting a new milestone in terms of peak concurrent viewers on an individual’s channel. Uniting our large and passionate communities was absolutely fun! I think it was a cultural moment in terms of building awareness around the appeal of social video and I wish it keeps growing from here.

What is your message for youngsters who look up to you?

This is a growing space, both streaming and YouTube. It is very difficult to “make it” as a top broadcaster or YouTuber. I encourage every person to follow their dreams and believe that they can do anything, but the harsh reality is... reality. People need to be true to themselves, and if entertaining and content creating is something that does not come naturally and is really difficult, they should find something they are passionate about and love and do that instead. 

Future plans...

In the future, I plan on doing plenty more fundraisers and charities, and I really just try to grab things that hit home. Last year I raised over $10,000 for two women (moms) who were affected by breast cancer and wrote them a cheque for five grand each to help with bills.