We’re reaching out to some popular creators to get their best tips and tricks for success and better understand the ups and downs of life as a trailblazer on the internet.
This week, we spoke with Ninja, aka Tyler Blevins, the most followed streamer on Twitch. With over 18.3 million followers, Blevins is one of the most well known gaming creators in the biz. Fans regularly tune in to watch him play games like Fortnite, Elden Ring, and League of Legends.
As previously reported by the Daily Dot, Blevins has been playing video games since he was a kid, but got his start professionally streaming while playing Halo. He then started playing other popular games, like Fortnite, attracting a streaming audience of around 100,000 viewers.
In 2018, Blevins received massive online attention after rapper Drake joined his online stream to play Fortnite with him. Soon other celebrities, like rapper Travis Scott and pro football player JuJu Smith-Schuster, joined in to play Fortnite with Blevins—turning “Ninja” into a viral gaming sensation. Today, Blevins has a massive social media following across all platforms—with over 52 million followers combined across YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, and Facebook.
Ninja has made a lasting impact on connecting the gaming and entertainment industries, venturing into film and television with his appearances on The Masked Singer, Hotel Transylvania 4, Duncanville, and The Tonight Show. In March, Blevins launched his own Master Class series. And most recently, Blevins made a guest appearance last week on unscripted series Made From Scratch, which shows celebrity guests making their favorite recipes with family and friends. In addition, Blevins recently decided to pursue the creation of his own media company.
Blevins attributes much of his business success to his long-time manager and wife, Jessica Blevins. A larger crew, called “Team Ninja”, which was assembled by Jessica, now helps out with the Ninja brand—including assisting Blevins with content creation and rolling out an impressive line of apparel.
Furthermore, Blevins has also been active with philanthropy, investing in the Boys and Girls Club of Southeastern Michigan, which provides career opportunities for young people in sports, esports, and the entertainment industry.
In an interview with Passionfruit, Blevins spoke about growing his audience, scaling his business, venturing into the entertainment industry, how he chooses his projects to work on, his thoughts on the biggest challenges facing creators today, his advice for up-and-coming creators, and more.
Let’s go back in time to your first moments of internet virality. How did you manage to capture and harness that virality to pursue a long-term career as a creator?
I didn’t set out initially to be a creator. First I was just trying to make it as a gamer. Going to Halo competitions, competing, and then streaming grew out of that. Over time it became less about the events as I started playing new and different games, and building my community and streaming skills. I started competing in Halo in 2009 and started streaming in 2011.
There were those years at the beginning, where it was just the grind. Stream, first, 12, 16, 18 hours a day. I knew I had to put in the work. And then, yeah, it started to pay off. First it was making something like close to $30,000 a year. That’s being a professional, right, but it’s not easy street or anything.
Making it though wasn’t one moment. Drake, obviously, that was huge, right? I mean, it was crazy, we’re playing, getting all these wins. Travis Scott shows up, then JuJu. Amazing. And we set the record for Twitch at the time, but then later at Ninja Vegas, I broke the record. But that wasn’t just an overnight thing. Before that, I was regularly streaming to 100k.
At the same time, every milestone, every success, just means there’s more to do.
In terms of operation and management, how have you handled your growth in popularity? Were there any challenges in bringing on other team members to assist your development, and how did you overcome them?
There’s the games and at least at the start, social media—that was all me. I used to always make sure I was uploading content regularly. But after a while it just became overwhelming. Working 16 hours streaming and doing content, that takes a toll. It became very clear that to grow, I needed more help.
Now I have a team, this amazing team, that works with me on content. But outside of that, everything is and always has been Jess. Even putting together the team, that was all Jess too. She used to manage everything, and now she’s put together this incredible team that helps. The creative aspects all still come from the things I’m doing, and things that Jess and I are working on, but they help with things like analytics and even helping suggest new types of content, like lifestyle, and even cooking.
You’ve taken your career as a streamer and turned it into a much broader entertainment career, venturing into film and television shows. How does participating in shows like these tie into your larger career goals?
Even from the beginning when I started streaming, I wasn’t just playing games, I was cracking jokes, doing voices. It’s always been in my mind that I want to do things outside of gaming, doing voice over and acting for sure. But the goal is also always to go beyond just gaming and entertainment too. There’s what we’re doing with the Boys and Girls Club of Southern Michigan and other philanthropy as well.
When thinking about what television shows to participate in, how do you decide which are right for you? What about appearing recently on Made From Scratch, for example, spoke to you?
Obviously because I’m SUCH a great cook. Lol.
There’s this thing about Team Ninja, where Jess wants us to always be doing something new. The Masked Singer—she just said yes. I come upstairs and she’s like “You’re going on The Masked Singer; it’s done.” Same thing with Master Class, it was new. And then again here with “Made From Scratch” where it’s new ground for Team Ninja. I do what my manager says, because she’s amazing at that part of things.
At this year’s SXSW, you mentioned you were pursuing the creation of a full-blown media company. What led to that decision?
Again, it’s about being a pioneer. But it’s also about expanding, and having more ownership of Team Ninja projects. I’m always looking at ways to do more entertainment projects, and while there isn’t a lot I can talk about at this stage, this will be a huge part of these types of projects in the future.
With all your experience in the content creation and online space, what would you say are the biggest challenges facing creators today?
I know everyone’s arc is different, but my career—it started with a serious grind. I have a better work/life balance now, but it still requires a lot of time. I stream. Then after I get offline, I have traveling, calls, and more filming to do. I get to wake up and do what I love day in and day out. I get to play video games and joke with my audience for a living. But streaming isn’t something I’d ever characterize as easy. Anyone trying to do this now, has to put in that same amount of grind. And these days there’s more channels and more competition. That’s tough.
What changes in the world would you like to see to make it a better place for creators?
There will always be those who don’t see streaming as a mainstream medium. But we have a whole generation now that was raised online. They’ll always see this as just another way to view content. I think that more and more as this perception changes, it will be better for creators.
What have been some of your current goals in terms of audience growth and business expansion?
We just crossed 18 million followers on Twitch. We’re JUST shy of 24 million on YouTube. We’re building the audience on channels like TikTok. Then there’s the acting work. Pure voice over work with Hotel Transylvania and Duncanville. I loved being on The Tonight Show, including the guest spot I did for Tonight Show Kids. There are some other upcoming roles I can’t share anything about just yet. Then there’s philanthropy. I’m so proud of building the Ninja Gaming Lounge with the Boys and Girls Club of Southern Michigan and some of the other projects and causes we’ve supported.
What advice would you give other up-and-coming creators who are looking to grow their careers?
I’ve always tried to do a few things that I think are key. Put in the work. If you want to do this professionally, you just have to. You have to be willing to do that to grow your channel. Next, be authentic. If I was faking enthusiasm for something—a game, a product whatever, my audience would know. Whenever I’m asked to give advice to upcoming streamers that’s something I emphasize. In the end though, I’m not sure there’s a secret sauce, I can just say what’s worked for me.
Thank you, Tyler, for speaking with us!
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