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‘I felt like a little kid on Christmas’: Ninja recalls Drake’s part in his quick rise to fame at SXSW

He also discussed his future in the industry.


Grace Stanley

Internet Culture

Posted on Mar 12, 2022   Updated on Mar 28, 2022, 2:58 pm CDT

Tyler “Ninja” Blevins is one of the biggest names in streaming and esports, with over 17.5 million followers on Twitch gathering regularly to watch him play Elden Ring, Fortnite, and League of Legends

Blevins and his long-time manager and wife Jessica Blevins gave a talk called “Beyond Gaming: Ninja on the Future of Entertainment” at South by South West (SXSW) in Austin on Friday. The pair shared their insights on Blevins’ rapid rise to popularity as a streamer and talked about the future of his place in the gaming industry. 

Blevins has been playing video games since he was a kid but got his start professionally streaming while playing Halo. Although Blevins credited Halo with helping him build a small online community, he said that it also held him back early on in his career.

“You can only reach so many people because, truthfully, there are more popular games out there,” Blevins said at SXSW. “I was trapped in this bubble of not really being able to get a large audience to watch me play.” 

Jessica said she encouraged Blevins to expand into more well-known games early on in his career. “He’s been very passion-driven, and I’ve been very business-driven. … I think that we were a little bit of the perfect storm for each other.” 

In an attempt to attract a larger audience, Blevins began streaming mega-popular Battle Royal Games, like Fortnite. As a result, his online following grew, and in 2018, it exploded when Drake joined one of his streams. 

“I felt like a little kid on Christmas, waking up and getting a DM from the biggest rapper in the world saying, ‘Hey, let’s play Fortnite,’” Blevins recalled.

Jessica said she witnessed how quickly Blevins’ success unfolded over the next month as a result. “This is just such a Cinderella Story because he streamed with Drake, and he just blew up,” she said.

Despite the almost overnight success, Blevins still encourages streamers to start with smaller, more niche games.

“There’s not as many viewers that are going to be in there. A lot of streamers share viewers. … There’s only two or three to go to. That’s how you start building your brand, and building your streaming community from scratch,” Blevins said. 

When building up a community from nothing, Blevins also advises aspiring streamers to be online, consistent, and get on a first-name basis with regulars on Twitch. 

Now that Blevins has amassed a huge following online, he has shifted more into the entertainment world, appearing on The Masked Singer and Hotel Transylvania 4. He also recently decided to pursue the creation of his own media company. 

“A lot of our conversations right now are talking with Netflix and VH1, coming up with show ideas and movie ideas,” Jessica said. “It makes sense if he’s going into entertainment, he owns parts of that.”

Blevins told audiences at SXSW that in five-to-10 years, he sees himself doing less and less live streaming. 

“I would like more voice acting,” Blevins said. “It might even just be YouTube videos, no live streaming. The pressure of being live every day is daunting.” 

Blevins also shared that he thinks virtual reality (VR) is the future of gaming, and he’s looking forward to seeing a high-quality VR game hit the market. 

“I don’t think there’s any high-level, incredible VR game that’s out there right now,” Blevins said. “Where’s the first legitimate, high graphic, VR [massively multiplayer online game]? [A role-playing game] that’s truly breathtaking? … Give it five years.”

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*First Published: Mar 12, 2022, 3:45 pm CST