Record-breaking streamer Ninja talks Fortnite tips, Switch and Drake
© David Doran
We chat to the biggest name in gaming right now, Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins, about Fortnite, the future and streaming with Drake.
Tyler ’Ninja’ Blevins is very hardworking. He’s 26 years old and he's been a public figure for seven years, streaming Halo, PUBG and, of course, the biggest game in the world right now, Fortnite: Battle Royale. If he’s not streaming, he’s sleeping or talking about the game. It’s 8.30am for him and he’s sharing his enthusiasm with us.
“I wouldn't say I'm a morning person, but definitely schedules have me up around 8.30 in the morning, so right about now, I'm good”, says Blevins. “People think I wake up with really good hair.”
When we tell him that nobody wakes with good hair, he says that Beyoncé probably does, and who knows, maybe she’ll be on a stream with him soon. It wouldn’t be out of the question, as his apparent whirlwind-like rise to fame has seen him play the game with none other than Champagne Papi himself: Drake.
I'm, like, ’Should I message Drake to play?’ to my wife, but we didn't, and then two days later he messaged me to play.
“Drake and I playing together was totally organic,” says Blevins. “It was so random. I started using Instagram to reach a different demographic of people other than just Twitter and Twitch. Then within a week I gained, like, 300,000 followers, and I started streaming at, like, 9am when my chat started blowing up with people saying Drake is following me on Twitter. Right after that he started following Fortnite Game and I'm, like, ’Should I message him to play?’ to my wife, but we didn't, and then two days later he messaged me to play.”
Streaming's been Ninja’s full-time job for around eight years, starting when he was around 18 years old, competing in the world of Halo. A lot of this, he tells us, is thanks to his older brother, John. “John brought it home and it was the most hyped game ever – Halo: Combat Evolved, the game that changed it all, really, for shooters,” says Blevins. “I picked it up because I was watching him play all the time, and that was just the game that did it. It could have been Call of Duty and that would have changed my entire life, but he picked Halo and that was pretty much it. It was better than any other game at the time – it was everything.”
These days, of course, his hours are taken up by Fortnite, a game in which he dominates not only in Twitch’s viewership figures, but in the combat itself. He’s not so keen on Halo, these days, though. “I didn’t really enjoy the last one at all,” he says. “I think to a certain point it was fun, but it wasn't Halo. I think of the classic, slow, methodical Halo: no sprinting, a battle rifle, four shots, clean movement, no clamber and no jet pack – none of that. And 343 are sitting there and feeling they've got to change the game, so they add more stuff. It's like the exact opposite, they had the formula where it was working – if it isn't broke you don't fix it, and that's what they did.”
The kind of skills he displays require a lot of practice but have garnered a record of over 600,000 concurrent viewers watching him. “I play Fortnite at least 10 hours a day,” says Blevins. “But that's also because of streaming, too, and that's something people don't get.”
Some people joke about taking a year off to do full-time streaming, quitting jobs or school, and I'm like, 'No'
But money is something that’s often documented with these big-name influencers. People always want to know about the cash, but any good soul knows that money isn’t the be-all and end-all. Blevins confesses that he also needed a bit of luck to get to his position – but a whole lot of work, too. The message, then, is very much, “Stay in school, kids.”
“Some people joke about taking a year off to do full-time streaming, quitting jobs or school, and I'm like, 'No,' that's the exact opposite of what you do,” says Blevins. “When you start this it's not like you have a minimum salary, you make no money: you need ad revenue, you need people to subscribe and donate to your stream, especially if you have no following on any social media platform whatsoever, which most people don't when they're thinking about quitting their desk jobs.“
It’s something that clearly means a lot to him and his work ethic shines through. “It's very frustrating to me when people think they can do it and all they have to do is put in the time and stop their life, essentially,” says Blevins. “That's the opposite of what I did: the safest way is to continue to be in school, taking fewer hours in college is fine because you're still going to school, but I was working 40 hours a week and taking two to three college courses, and still streaming somehow.”
Has he sacrificed a lot for his dream, then? “I wasn’t sleeping, but you have to sacrifice something,” he says. “I wasn't hanging out with friends unless they were coming over to my house to watch me play. I didn't have a social life, I was the last person to a family get-together, arriving at 10 o'clock at night because I'd finished streaming for 12 hours. I would come home at 6pm and stream instead of hanging out with my family.”
Trust me, I would play on the Switch all the time, for sure
Ninja plays on PC, but Fortnite is also available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and iOS, with Android coming soon. Notable by its absence, then, is Nintendo’s Switch. What does Ninja think of that platform and would he like to see the game on there? “Absolutely – for so many reasons, but one of them is because the Switch is incredible," he explains. "It's got a big enough screen, it's got an actual controller, so you can walk around and play the thing wherever. Oh, trust me, I would play on the Switch all the time, for sure.”
All his hard work has paid off in spades now, though the man known as Ninja to his fans has no intention of slowing down. “When I'm playing I'm focusing on when I lose a battle or I die,” he says. “I don't just play, I’m constantly analysing myself to make sure I'm improving, and never just playing to play. Other people are going to continue to get better, so I have to as well.”
In the cut-and-thrust world of competitive gaming, there’s always someone out there to take your place if you slow down. “That's absolutely how it is,” says Blevins. “Specifically when people ask me about money, I take it with a grain of salt, because people need something they can relate to, to pull them into the scene, and everyone can relate to money because you need it to survive, whether you have a lot or a little.”
All it takes is for one person to mention Fortnite is free and there's another person playing
Many think Fornite has appeared overnight with its success, but those who believe it’s just getting started have an ally in Ninja. “I definitely think it can only get bigger at this point,” he says. “I mean, simply because they're already releasing it on new platforms as well, they're just going to increase the audience and outreach they have for the game, and that's going to get more people talking about it. I think that it's really important to know that it's free to play, all it takes is for one person to mention Fortnite is free and there's another person playing.”
Only Epic really know what the future holds for Fortnite, but what does Ninja want to see added to the game everyone loves right now? “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," he says. "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.”
I think consistency is really how to tell a good player from a bad player, and you'll become more consistent when you learn how to fight and shoot
Epic may not need advice, but we certainly do. “Battle Royales aren’t your typical game, so a win doesn't necessarily mean you're good,” he says. “Hypothetically you could hide in a bush the whole game, then someone could fall off, and you win. Does that mean you're good? No. So if you want to get better, there are two tips.
“Focus on being aggressive when you very first start. You’re getting comfortable with the map, realising how to react in gunfights, and you'll be forced to learn how to build a little bit, and that way you'll be more consistent. I think consistency is really how to tell a good player from a bad player, and you'll become more consistent when you learn how to fight and shoot, and know where all the looting spots are, and then you'll start winning more fights and games, and you'll see more wins.”
And that second tip? “Learn how to critique your own gameplay. I think critical thinking is definitely a skill that’s kind of fading away because everything is being fed to the youths, rather than them having to learn how to think and analyse critically and solve a problem. I tell people in my stream all the time when they ask how to get better, but I don't know why you suck because you're playing this game that has a million possibilities of how you could be dying, so it's, like, are you getting pinched? Are you peeking too long? Is your shot not very good, or sensitivity too high or low? What are you doing wrong?
“Analyse your gameplay, don't just blame the game: go back and watch it if you’ve recorded it and figure out what you did wrong. Should you have switched weapons, or healed, or not pushed? There are so many things you can do in this game and things you can improve on, but a lot of people want to be handed the answer, where they can simply look at why they died, fix it, and move on and fix it each time, then you'll start improving.”
In fairness, who doesn’t want to improve? Blevins seems like a positive individual who thrives on entertaining his audience, but always aims to improve. If that isn’t a good way to live, then what is?