ESPORTSREPORTER.COM / FRANK FILIPPAZZO – STAFF WRITER / MARCH 17TH, 2021 /
When it comes to online gaming, getting paid to play video games seems like a fantasy for many. For Richard Tyler Blevins, however, it is his dream job. Blevins, otherwise known as Ninja, is renowned in the gaming community as being one of the greatest gamers of all time. But with all this sensationalism surrounding the self-proclaimed stealthy gamer begs the questions, what makes him so great?
His colorful hair? His gaming setup?
Or maybe it’s his Major League intense gaming skills?
There are many reasons surrounding the sensation of Ninja, however two main reasons for Ninja’s success could be: Skills and Streaming.
MLG Skillz/ Mirror Image
More important people always want to see someone do the best they can do to their limits. In running you have Usain Bolt the fastest man alive, in golf there’s Tiger Woods, and in boxing you have Muhammad Ali, stinging like a bee.
Even though spectators are not playing these sports, the reason for their popularity is people see a heightened mirror image of themselves in these professional athletes, and eSports are no different. When we play the game we imagine what it could be like from someone with more experience. Playing the game and watching the game are shared experiences that spectators can relate too. Even if we aren’t any good at it we can still hope to get on that professional level too.
For Ninja’s fans they want to see someone who does not just have an above average gaming skill, but is best of the best. That’s what is most appealing for many. It’s exciting to watch Ninja play in tournaments because you know he’s not just playing some random gamers online, he’s playing other professional gamers that are also among the best of the best and he’s winning. It’s not just a random game they’re playing, it’s the Super Bowl of Video Games.
Although skills are an important factor in the Ninja phenomenon, it is not the only factor. As someone in the public eye, you’re only as big as your audience. Meaning if nobody has ever heard of you, do you even exist? Ninja has 24 million YouTube Subscribers and 17 million Twitch followers making him the number one most followed channel on the platform, safe to say he’s been heard of by a few.
Unlike the paid streaming services of Hulu and Netflix, not only his fans, but anyone can watch him for free on sites like Youtube and Twitch. These platforms have both grown tremendously throughout the years, many of which are thanks to gaming professionals, Ninja especially. Unlike traditional TV shows or films with long running times, on YouTube and Twitch streams you can watch gaming videos with the highlighted moments for a quick 5 minutes then another and so on. Fast-paced montage gaming videos have also made the watch time more binge worthy and entertaining for many.
Ninja is the number one streamer on Twitch but, like most people, his success didn’t happen overnight. It took time, years of dedication and marketing to turn himself into the cultural gaming icon that he is.
Humble Gaming Beginnings
Although Ninja is a larger than life figure now, he never forgot where his humble beginnings came from. Ninja’s professional gaming career dates back to 2009. After he graduated high school he didn’t want to get a “real job”, so he began entering tournaments playing video games. At first his father thought it was funny how he was making a hundred dollars here and there from playing, but then became baffled when he made millions of dollars.
At his humble beginnings, Tyler played thousands of hours of Halo. This was not time wasted, but time well spent, eventually making him good enough to compete competitively in eSports tournaments.
His first tournaments were a series of Halo competitions such as Halo 3, Halo 4, and Halo Reach. His first professional tournament win was in a 2012 Halo tournament in Dallas Texas where his team placed first and won a prize of $20,000. His skills as a gamer were impressive, making him a lot more successful in future tournaments to come.
In 2017 Ninja made a dramatic change to his career path; he added Fortnite Battle Royale to his gaming resume. This was a life changing, momentous move from being known locally at these gaming tournaments to internationally well-known as the face of Fortnite. It was thanks to Ninja that the games spiked in popularity. At the same time, his Twitch followers were growing from 500,000 in September 2017 to over 2 million by March 2018. In the same month, Ninja set a world record on Twitch by gathering an audience of 667,000. It was the largest online continuous live stream while playing Fortnite with Drake, Travis Scott, and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
To make a living as a professional gamer does sound enticing for many young and impressionable minds out there, however you have to be the best of the best and Tyler was. However, he doesn’t recommend it to the majority of ambitious kids out there, stating:
“All the kids out there, you can’t just drop everything and focus on playing video games for a living,”… “It’s also becoming a very competitive career choice right now, and you want to make sure that you’re securing your future.” – Ninja
Although not the response fans would expect to hear from their hero, Ninja does have a pragmatic point of view.
Gaming tournaments can be an attractive way to make money, fans, and become a member of the gaming community. However one should mainly do it as a hobby that can be a fun and competitive experience, and also a way to make friends. One should always keep sight of the bigger picture in life, which can be focusing on skills that are valuable in the world too.