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Ninja: Drake Made Gaming Cool

Tyler “Ninja” Blevins is in a car headed to some sort of taping when we speak by phone. He can’t tell me where he’s headed, but even if he could, he might not exactly know.

Life for the world’s most famous video gamer is at times too busy, too fantastical to completely take in.

When Variety asks him how often he thinks about his year spent playing “Fortnite” with the likes of Drake, appearing on Ellen and essentially becoming the modern face of gaming, there’s a bit of a pause.

“Not very much,” he says. “I don’t really have time to think about things like that. It’s insane with things all day: Interviews, shows, streaming as much as I do.”

While Blevins didn’t appear out of nowhere, a video game streaming wunderkind manufactured by “Fortnite,” Twitch, and YouTube, he wasn’t exactly well known until 2018. He started streaming way back in 2010 or so, playing “Halo Reach,” the latest at the time in the Halo franchise that he adored. His following was essentially nonexistent until he started streaming the other battle royale game “PUBG,” where he averaged maybe 8,000 viewers. Then he moved over to “H1Z1” where a good day saw an audience of 15,000. But it wasn’t until he started playing “Fortnite” that he started to see the sort of massive success that began to catch the attention of media, the mainstream, and celebrities.

Blevins believes that his “Fortnite” success was driven by the “popularity of the game and the high demand of it being viewed on Twitch and YouTube.” It also helped that Epic Games’ battle royale title was available on every single platform.  It wasn’t long until “Fortnite” toppled “Minecraft” — which had topped the YouTube charts for a decade or so.

In a year of memorable moments, Blevins says that his most treasured is when he hosted the first-ever “Fortnite” tournament. The Vegas event broke his own viewer record.

“I”ve never hosted my own event ever,” he said. “I’ve hosted LAN parties but that was about it. This was 300 to 400 people in the audience, broadcasting to 600,000 people. It was a huge accomplishment to me and my wife was there. It was amazing.”

Another 2018 career highlight includes appearing on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, something Blevins and his wife, streamer Jessica “JGhosty” Blevins helped arrange. Blevins said he and his wife are both huge fans of the show and he had always been interested in going on a talk show. In March, the two reached out to the show to see if they would be interested in having him on. But the show was on break and they didn’t hear back. Then, months later, out of nowhere, the show contacted him to see if he would go on the show.

“I was very nervous because I don’t do a lot of TV stuff,” he said. “Ellen is a goddess. It was so much fun.”

While television is new to Blevins, his career was built on talking to a camera. But he said live streaming isn’t really the same in his mind.

“When I’m streaming, I’m usually broadcasting to a majority of my audience and they are there because they know me or share my opinion, he said. “On TV I’m sort of invading other people’s lives.”

The Ellen appearance certainly helped broaden Blevins’ exposure to a much wider, more mainstream audience. He said the appearance resulted in some “mom tweets” and an increase in parents watching his streams.

Perhaps the most famous 2018 event for Blevins was his breakout appearance with Drake on a “Fortnite” livestream. The March stream easily shattered the Twitch streaming record with about 600,000 viewers at its peak and soon included appearances by Travis Scott and the NFL’s JuJu Smith-Schuster.

Blevins says that stream had a massive impact not just on him and “Fortnite,” but on gaming as a whole.

“Drake, that is what pushed gaming into the mainstream and made it cool,” he said.

Since then, Blevins has played host to a number of celebrity gamers on his stream but doesn’t see Drake on “Fortnite” as much recently.

The last two weeks, Blevins had a particularly busy time in L.A. He’s prepping to launch an album of electronic dance music — something Capital Records approached him about, he taped something that he can’t talk about until next week, and then taped an appearance on the Gamers’ Choice Awards — which were televised on Sunday on CBS, and he both presented and won an award at the Game Awards last Wednesday.

The Game Awards moments gave him a chance to appear on screen with a Muppet, and to bask in the glow of an award for content creator of the year, an award designed to recognize a streamer, influencer or media member who has made an important and positive impact on the industry in 2018.

And he’s already on to what’s next. He told Variety that he wants to work on a collaborative stream for Nintendo fighting game “Super Smash Bros. Ultimate,” and that he’s focusing now on his Times Square New Year’s Eve party. The party is going to be live from the Paramount building in Times Square with Blevins streaming, along with special guests, from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m. ET.

And then after that, Blevins says, “three or four amazing things.”

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