- Tyler “Ninja” Blevins is the most popular professional gamer in the world, with more than 22 million YouTube subscribers and 14 million followers on Twitch, Amazon’s streaming platform. He reportedly earns as much as $500,000 per month playing “Fortnite” and other games.
- Ninja’s reputation as one of the best “Fortnite” players led to play sessions with celebrities like Drake, Travis Scott, and JuJu Schuster-Smith.
- Rising in popularity alongside “Fortnite,” Ninja has since appeared on Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential people, the cover of ESPN the magazine, and The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.
- While “Fortnite” continues to dominate the gaming world, Ninja told the Los Angeles Times he wants to be known for more than just “Fortnite.” But can the world’s most popular gamer be bigger than the world’s most popular game?
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Tyler “Ninja” Blevins has redefined what it means to be a professional video game player. In the past year the 27-year-old’s list of accomplishments include being named to Time Magazine’s list of 100 most influential people, gracing the cover of ESPN the magazine, an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, and a cameo in a Super Bowl halftime commercial.
Ninja boasts more than 22 million subscribers on YouTube, along with 14 million followers on both Instagram and Twitch, Amazon’s video game streaming service. While other popular YouTubers like Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg have more subscribers and also play video games, Ninja’s video focuses exclusively on playing video games competitively.
His massive following has helped him earn more than $500,000 a month playing “Fortnite,” the world’s most popular game, in front of a live audience every day. But in a recent profile with the Los Angeles Times, Ninja said he wants to be known for more than just one game.
“I’m amazing at every video game I touch. I don’t want to be known forever as the Fortnite guy,” he said.
His wife and manager Jessica Blevins told Business Insider they want Ninja to be a household name outside the world of video games. But so far, it’s unclear if the world’s biggest professional gamer can grow beyond the world’s biggest game.
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Ninja’s success is closely tied to the rise of “Fortnite.”
Ninja has been competing in gaming tournaments for more than a decade, starting with the “Halo” series. While he gradually built a small following through the years, his popularity skyrocketed with the release of “Fortnite,” a free to play game released for PC, smartphones, and every major video game console.
After launching in July 2017, “Fortnite” quickly became a cultural phenomenon. The game boasts more than 250 million subscribers and reportedly generated $2.4 billion in sales in 2018. Ninja’s reputation as one of the best “Fortnite” players earned him play sessions with massive celebrities like Drake, Travis Scott, and Pittsburgh Steelers wideout JuJu Schuster-Smith.
Playing with celebrities like Drake laid the foundation for Ninja to become a pop culture icon.
More than 635,000 viewers watched Ninja’s play session with Drake on Twitch, setting a new record for the streaming platform. The moment proved to be a major catalyst in Ninja’s rise to the top of the professional gaming world, and laid the foundation for Ninja to become a crossover pop culture star.
In the time since, Ninja has become a poster child for the world of video games and online streaming, with major media outlets like CNN, ESPN, The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times publishing features on Ninja’s rise to stardom. At the height of his popularity Ninja was reportedly earning $500,000 a month from a mix of viewer subscriptions, donations, and sponsorships.
With Ninja playing for up to 12 hours per day, his wife Jessica Blevins manages his business affairs. They think his stardom can extend beyond the world of video games.
Maintaining his audience comes with a massive time investment; Ninja spends about 12 hours a day streaming, and days where he’s absent can amount to thousands of dollars in lost subscriptions. Ninja told the LA Times that he lost 100,000 subscribers, the equivalent of $500,000, during a trip to E3, the year’s biggest video game conference.
Ninja’s growing celebrity status and the constant demands on his time led his wife Jessica Blevins to become his full-time manager. The pair have sacrificed much of their private time together to make the most of Ninja’s once-in-a-lifetime stardom, and they believe Ninja’s career can extend beyond the world of gaming alone.
“We want him known in Hollywood. We want him known in the world of sports,” Jessica told Business Insider in an interview last year. “We want him as a household name, so we’re trying to move him from just gaming to everywhere.”
Despite a number of successful sponsorship deals, most of Ninja’s audience still comes from “Fortnite.”
While the advertising industry has slowly embraced the rise of social media influencers in lieu of traditional marketing, few internet celebrities have been able to escape the orbit of what originally made them famous. Despite his celebrity status, Ninja’s core audience still expects him to spend half of his day playing “Fortnite.”
Ninja has been able to secure partnerships to help promote new game releases, including a reported million dollar deal to stream Electronic Art’s “Fortnite” competitor “Apex Legends.” Promotion from Ninja and other pro gamers helped Apex gain more than 50 million players in its first month, but the game still has just a fraction of the “Fortnite’s” audience.
With Ninja earning most of his income from subscriptions and donations, his career still depends on reaching as many viewers possible, ultimately leading him back to “Fortnite.”
Ninja’s path as a professional gamer is unprecedented, but he could become the model for future players.
Having moved on from games like “Halo” and “H1Z1” in the past, Ninja’s personal brand could eventually outlast “Fortnite’s” massive popularity, but sustaining this level of fame and fortune for years is unprecedented for a professional gamer.
Of course, the landscape of video games and online entertainment is rapidly changing as well, so Ninja could very well be charting a brand new path for other professional gamers to follow, even if we don’t have a clear idea of where that path is headed in the future.