In an industry where content is king and fame fleeting, there is one name that stands out when people think of Fortnite. Despite the fact that there are thousands of streamers on Twitch at any given time and thousands of eyeballs glued to thousands of Fortnite streams, it is Ninja who still reigns over the popular battle royale title. Even when Ninja declares he’s done with Fortnite, he is still thought of as face of the game.
Tyler “Ninja” Blevins wasn’t always a Fortnite main. In his earlier days, Blevins played Halo 3 professionally, proving his talents in the early days of the esports scene. From there, he moved into the burgeoning battle royale scene, taking to H1Z1 and then PUBG, where his Twitch channel would see growth throughout 2017. When Fortnite hit, jumping over to the new BR allowed Ninja to ride the tidal wave marketing blitz Epic Games put out for the game. Twitch and Epic partnered up in February of 2018 to promote the Fortnite Twitch Prime Pack, featuring exclusive gear and skins for Twitch Prime subscribers. This led to a big boost in subscribers to Fortnite channels as players wanted to collect the rare items.
One of the biggest Twitch events of 2018 was undoubtedly music artist Drake dropping in to join Ninja on a Fortnite stream. The unusual cross promotion drew in 635,429 concurrent viewers on March 15th, 2018, and was a big first step in drawing media attention to Twitch and to Ninja in particular. This is when his fame began to escalate in the streaming world. The exposure created from this event would lead to Ninja bringing in 2.3 million followers in just that month.
While it is hard to ascribe Ninja’s status as the Fortnite guy to just one event, it is telling that in the wake of the stream with Drake, numbers across the board on Twitch start to swell. It was the impetus that would bring people over to the platform out of curiosity. Big names like Tfue, TimtheTatman, Pokimane all see substantial viewership gains after March 2018. Ninja brought people to Twitch, and what game did he just happen to be playing during that stream with Drake? It was Fortnite. It became something that people remembered.
The initial step into the spotlight drew the attention of gamers, but it also caught the eye of companies looking to reach new markets. Seeing the viewership numbers rise, companies pounced, and sponsorship deals became a part of the Ninja landscape. Samsung, Red Bull, and Adidas were a few who jumped on the bandwagon. Ninja was the right kind of person to align with in the streaming game. He wasn’t a toxic player, had a large fanbase, and with his colorful hair, just the right amount of gamer-quirk. The reach of these brands would help Ninja’s exposure further, and as that grew, so too did his mainstream appeal.
In the summer of 2019, the Fortnite World Cup Finals kicked off their tournament at Arthur Ashe stadium in New York City. The $30 million prize pool drew in an initial 40 million competitors, whittled down to a few hundred, to compete in front of the huge crowd. This event drew considerable media coverage as it took place at the iconic venue that hosts the US Open tennis tournament, in the media hub that is NYC. While Ninja was not competing in the finals, he made several appearances and featured in stories for the event, reinforcing his status as the face of the franchise. Ninja would leave Twitch for Mixer after the 2019 World Cup, causing a substantial drop in viewership, but his status had already been cemented.
While Fortnite has seen a decline in popularity more recently, due to competition from a crowded battle royale market, it is still hugely popular. Ninja has flip flopped on leaving the Fortnite scene, but there is no denying he is still the first name that comes to mind when thinking about the game. Pop culture likes to be able to tie personalities to movements and trends in order to build an image of that thing, not only from a marketability perspective, but as a shorthand to be able to reference quickly. Even if people emerge on the scene who do something better, those first few people are the ones people remember: Kelly Clarkson as the first American Idol, Neil Armstrong as the first man on the moon, YouTube has Pewdiepie, Twitch and Fortnite have Ninja. Career paths might change, but what they were first famous for really sticks.
Rapper Jay-Z recently sold part of his champagne brand for an estimated $300 million, but people aren’t going to most associate him with champagne or know him for his sports management agency. He’s Jay-Z the rapper. Ninja may move on to play Valorant, or use his Ninja skin in Fall Guys, or maybe one day form an esports team that makes him more money, but he’ll always be the Fortnite guy.
Fortnite is available now on Mobile, PC, PS4, Switch, and Xbox One.