On Wednesday, controversy surrounding Fortnite golden boy Tyler “Ninja” Blevins resurfaced after a high-profile callout of his apparent avoidance of streaming with female gamers. Blevins defended himself on Twitter and, on Friday afternoon, did in fact play Fortnite with a female gamer.
Blevins was criticized 14 months ago after telling Polygon“I don’t play with female gamers.” At the time he said he didn’t want to put his wife “through that,” saying it could lead to claims of flirting and worse.
It’s unclear how much he streamed with women since then, but a series of events brought the topic back this week.
“He’s one of the most popular streamers on the internet and he doesn’t support women as he publicly announced he will never duo stream with any woman.”
Blevins replied to Caviness three hours later, saying that since the article he has “played squads with multiple women after that article over the last year and a half as well as hosted MANY female streamers.”
Looking back at the 14 months since Blevins’ controversial statement, it’s been difficult to find many female gamers he intentionally queued up with for games. There was the 13-year-old Fortnite streamer Ewok. He also streamed with the 61-year-old talkshow host Ellen DeGeneres. It’s certainly possible he has streamed with more female gamers, but not with any regularity. Some women Blevins’ fans said he’s played with, like Rachel “Asivrs” Retana, weren’t actually tapped by Blevins to be on his stream; they just queued up through the game.
Kotaku has asked Blevins’ team whether they can elaborate on his Tweet and give examples of women he has intentionally queued up for games with. They did not return the request for comment.
Today, however, he sure did it. The woman on his stream is Rachel “Valkyrae” Hofstetter, a capable and high-energy streamer for the team 100 Thieves, and the part of Blevins’ chat that’s making it through moderation seems to be enjoying her presence. Others ask: “What happened to no playing with girls?”
Caviness has been receiving a barrage of hate for pointing out Blevins’ 2018 statement. Among thousands of tweets sent to her over the past 24 hours, some have called her a “retard,” a “bitch,” a “thot” and a “feminazi.” Many of these messages defend Blevins’ decision, saying he did it “out of respect for his wife.” (Caviness, whom Kotaku has profiled, has remained relevant on Twitch since 2013 for her satire and provocative sense of humor.)
“At the time [of the Polygon article] he was the most popular Fortnite streamer, played with all of the other popular guy streamers… essentially making it a club that female Fortnite players were left out of,” said Caviness on Twitter. “Being a female in gaming, it upset me. Do I want to play with Ninja? Fuck no, appeasing sponsors and babysitting kids isn’t really my forte.”
Thanks to the ADL for sharing their research on tweets sent to Caviness after her statement.
Lady Gaga is one of the most accomplished musicians of all time. Ninja plays video games for millions of people online. If this isn’t the biggest crossover in the history of pop culture, I don’t know what is.
I write about video games for a living and barely know what the heck Fortnite is all about, so it came as no surprise when Lady Gaga—between private flights to concerts in exotic locations, no doubt—asked her Twitter followers for the details on this “fortnight” she’s been hearing so much about yesterday morning. As is often the case, the internet exploded, with IGN, Twitch, and even Smash pro Ezra “Samsora” Morris fighting for the “Bad Romance” singer’s attention. Lady Gaga’s original tweet has since amassed over 204,000 retweets and almost 870,000 likes.
Never one to shy away from the spotlight, streaming superstar Tyler “Ninja” Blevins stepped up to the plate, offering to guide Lady Gaga through the wide world of video games with a couple choice references to her music: “Call me on the Telephone. I’ll give you a Million Reasons to play. You and I.”
In any case, Lady Gaga didn’t seem too impressed. She responded to Ninja directly with a follow-up tweet this afternoon, posing another simple question: “who are you.” No capitalization, no punctuation. Ninja, displaying big “not mad” energy, name-dropped Drake, another famous—but not quite as famous as Gaga, mind—musician who appeared on his stream last year. Since then, both sides have gone quiet, likely because they have more important things to do than stare at a Twitter feed all day like me.
What does this mean? Does it mean anything? I don’t know, man. The world is ending. Find some joy wherever you can.
Kotaku contacted representatives for both Lady Gaga and Ninja but neither responded before publishing.
Have you heard of The Masked Singer? It’s a Fox competition show where a group of mysterious contestants dress up in outlandish costumes and sing for a panel of judges. Over the course of a season, each singer—referred to by their costume—gives clues as to who they really are (the competitors are all minor celebrities of some sort) while one by one they are eliminated and unmasked. It’s a little bit Eurovision, a little bit pro wrestling, and maybe the closest thing we have to a Power Rangers reality show.
On The Masked Singer’s second season premiere this week, one of the first performers to be eliminated was Ice Cream—a friendly looking man-sized Pistachio cone with sprinkles that was revealed to be Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, streamer extraordinaire.
In his brief but illustrious career as Ice Cream, Ninja sang songs like the Devo classic “Whip It” while a robot Ladybug danced:
And also “Old Town Road,” Lil Nas X’s breakout hit of the summer.
If you want to know how close The Masked Singer’s panelists—which include Ken Jeong, Robin Thicke, and noted anti-vaxxer Jenny McCarthy—got to guessing Ninja’s identity, they very quickly suggested “YouTuber” when Ice Cream gave his clues, and PewDiePie was guessed just before the reveal, which I’m sure made Ninja feel great.
Ninja obviously has no control over that Twitch landing page now, since he’s left the service for good, and is dismayed in this video below that the page is showcasing other streamer’s content.
While stating that his split from Twitch had to this point been handled professionally, he says the promotion of a porn stream to a still-sizeable audience—not everyone will have got the news that he’s moved platforms—is crossing “the line”, leading Ninja to begin attempts to get his entire page taken down, “or at least not promote other streamers and other channels”.
Here’s an example of how Twitch began handling Ninja’s departure last week, using a Mario joke to promote other Fortnite streamers active on the platform (presumably based on whichever streams were trending playing Fortnite):
Here, though, is how that same page looked earlier today, with the top-trending clip being some straight-up porn:
At time of posting the Mario joke has been removed and Ninja’s page is now only displaying old videos of his previous streams, with no promotion of any other channel’s work.
Update: 8/12/19, 10:30 a.m. ET: “I apologize want to apologize directly to @ninja that this happened,” Emmett Shear, Twitch’s CEO, said on Twitter last night. “It wasn’t our intent, but it should not have happened. No excuses.”
Shear said the company had been experimenting with how recommended content was displayed across Twitch when the pornographic stream appeared on Blevins’ page. Shear added that the account behind the stream has been permanently banned and that channel recommendations have been suspended “while we investigate how this content came to be promoted.”
Last week, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, much like his namesake, crept out of the figurative building—flanked on all sides by fanfare, cascading grey-blue mountains of Red Bull, and ill-considered jokes. Soon, he made his presence known under a different roof: Mixer, Microsoft’s competitor to Twitch. Blevins has left behind a void. The question is, who will fill it?
The answer, in the short term, is nobody. Blevins, who had nearly 15 million followers on Twitch before moving to Mixer, rose to platform-defining levels of popularity in part because of a unique series of circumstances. He blew up in tandem with Fortnite, and a major appeal of his rising superstar moment last year was watching him reach heights nobody had ever seen a Twitch streamer attain. He achieved record-breaking viewership, follower, and subscriber numbers. He did streams with mainstream celebrities like Drake. He was a guest on The Ellen Degeneres Show. Eventually, the heat died down, but it was a singularly wild ride while it lasted. Now, with Twitch existing as more of a mainstream force, it’s not an ascent somebody else can easily replicate. If any other streamer comes to rival Blevins’ nearly 15-million-strong pre-departure follower count, it’ll be because lightning struck in a different, probably equally unforeseeable way.
Until then, there’s nobody on Twitch who can match Blevins’ gargantuan follower count. Though the two streamers sailing in his slipstream, Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek and Turner “Tfue” Tenney, are extremely popular in their own rights, they only have 6,796,026 and 6,765,512 followers respectively. That puts them just short of half of Blevins’ final Twitch tally. Tenney, a beloved Fortnite streamer who recently made waves by suing the organization that represented him, FaZe Clan, is on the rise, with many predicting he’ll surpass Grzesiek before too much longer. Even before Blevins left, Tenney was already outstripping him in some areas, especially total hours watched, where Tenney beat both Blevins and Grzesiek multiple months in a row earlier this year. In May, for example, people collectively watched Tenney stream for over 10 million hours, while Blevins fell just under the 10 million bar, and Grzesiek hovered at around 5 million.
Grzesiek, a former Counter-Strike pro, hasn’t demonstrated much interest in the biggest-streamer-on-Twitch rat race, instead opting to play whatever high-skill multiplayer game he’s interested in—even if it’s not the zeitgeistiest game of the time. A few months ago, with his popularity soaring thanks to the launch of Apex Legends, Grzesiek said he had no plans to go on a Blevins-style mainstream conquest and that his only ambition in his streaming career is to “game until I’m dead.” Lately, he’s been playing Overwatch, PUBG, Battlefield V, and even some indie games when the mood strikes him. These are, by and large, popular games, but they’re not Fortnite or other games that regularly make it into Twitch’s top five.
Behind Grzesiek and Tenney is Ali “Myth” Kabbani, whose follower count briefly surpassed Grzesiek’s last year, but who now has 5,284,271 followers—about a million less than Grzesiek. At just 20 years old, Kabbani, a Fortnite pro, is younger than most other top streamers, though paradoxically not younger than a fair number of Fortnite professionals. He initially gained popularity in 2017 by bulldozing other top streamers using creative building techniques, and he signed to esports organization TSM shortly after. He’s had trouble leaving his mark on Fortnite’s cash-flush competitive scene, but he continues to be an engaging, generally positive personality even as he struggles to attain his goals. Also, he likes to dance.
In the wake of Blevins’ exit, the distinction of fourth most-followed streamer now goes to Brett “Dakotaz” Hoffman, who recently sounded the fanfare trumpets (by which I mean “We Are The Champions” by Queen) over his big announcement that he’s not going to Mixer. He then gifted $4.99 subscriptions to a thousand of his viewers. A Fortnite pro who was briefly signed to TSM, the same org as Kabbani, Hoffman currently has 3,985,377 followers. He’s somewhat of an edge case (at least, as far as uber-popular streamers who mostly play Fortnite go) in that he’s largely shunned traditional elements of the streaming spotlight, rarely showing his face and avoiding personal drama. He has, however, gotten into a few dust-ups with fans who’ve crossedlines this year, reporting one fan who joked about school shootings and calling others “entitled” after they criticized the state of his stream. Largely, though, he plays Fortnite at a high level and lets his skills do the talking more, sometimes, than even his own mouth.
Narrowly behind the Hoffman is Timothy “TimtheTatman” Betar with 3,929,729 followers. Betar is a longtime streamer, having gotten his start in 2012 and streaming games ranging from Counter-Strike to World of Warcraft. Like many in Twitch’s current top streamer cluster, his popularity went through the roof when the Fortnite bandwagon sprouted rocket boosters and soared past the sun. Betar is among the dadliest top streamers on Twitch, given that he is a) a dad and b) just kinda gives off that vibe, you know? In game, he’s been known to partner up with streamers like Blevins and Kabbani, among others. He also appeared alongside Blevins in a Super Bowl commercial last year, so he’s on the mainstream radar, as well.
Twitch’s current top five is hardly locked in. A cluster of streamers with similar follower counts is right behind Grzesiek, Tenney, Kabbani, Hoffman, and Betar. These include Jaryd “Summit1g” Lazar with 3,918,000 followers, Guy “Dr Disrespect” Beahm with 3,590,074 followers, Daequan “TSM Daequan” Loco with 3,554,746 followers, Ben “DrLupo” Lupo with 3,488,320 followers, and Imane “Pokimane” Anys with 3,248,081 followers. Anys, notably, is the only woman in the top-10, with women still few and far-between in even the top-100 of Twitch, whose viewership is over 80 percent male. Loco, meanwhile, remains in the top ten despite a health-related streaming hiatus that began in June.
It’s also interesting to observe which streamers have seen growth spurts in the wake of Blevins’ departure. Dexertorecently ran the numbers, finding that the single fastest growing streamer since Blevins left is Kyle “Bugha” Giersdorf, who’s gained 274,443 followers since Blevins decided to mix(er) things up. There are, however, some contributing factors worth considering: First and foremost, Giersdorf recently won the Fortnite World Cup, granting him an enormous popularity boost to match. He’s since gone on The Tonight Show and, to bring things back around, streamed a few times with Blevins. By and large, the other streamers who’ve grown the most in recent times are about what you’d expect, with Tenney, Grzesiek, Hoffman, Kabbani, and other already-popular streamers seeing sizable bumps in their follower counts.
Some of this could be attributed to Twitch’s decision to commandeer Blevins’ cobweb-encrusted Twitch page and use it to advertise other popular Fortnite streamers, but mostly, I’m guessing that Twitch users were already aware of these bigger names because top streamers—Blevins included—frequently partner up and play together. With “now live” notifications, algorithmic recommendations, earnable emotes and other other social incentives, and windows that let you watch streams while browsing for other streams to watch, Twitch’s ecosystem is built to shuttle users between realms of near-infinite content and, crucially, keep them from going elsewhere. Even with Blevins already amassing over one million followers on Mixer, Twitch’s system seems to, for now, be working as intended.
Blevins continues to influence Twitch even in his absence. Now that he’s made his big move, it wouldn’t be shocking to see other popular streamers follow suit—that is, if Mixer can afford them. If Mixer becomes a viable threat to Twitch, it could send shockwaves through the streaming world and bust up Twitch’s near-monopoly. Admittedly, two corporate giants with hands on all the levers isn’t much better than one, but it would likely allow for some of the improvements that come with strong competition. While plenty of streamers moved to Mixer before Blevins and undeniably formed its foundation, he’ll be at least slightly responsible for whatever is to come, even on the off chance he fades into obscurity outside the relative safety of Twitch’s purple embrace.
Microsoft recently put their streaming service Mixer back in the spotlight by securing exclusive rights to Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, who had been one of the top streamers on Twitch. Exclusive streamers aside, there are several compelling reasons to stream and watch streams on Microsoft’s platform instead of Amazon-owned Twitch.
Mixer started life as Beam, an independent streaming service launched in January 2016. Microsoft purchased Beam in August of 2016 and announced integration with Windows 10 that October. By spring of 2017 the Beam service was integrated into both the Windows operating system and Xbox One. In May of 2017 the service was renamed Mixer due to the name Beam not being available for international use.
Mixer’s basic functionality is the same as Twitch. Players use the service to stream their gameplay over the internet, either directly from PC or Xbox One or from other consoles using capture hardware connected to a PC. Streamers on Mixer earn money by soliciting donations or subscriptions from viewers.
So what makes Mixer different?
One of Mixer’s defining features is its focus on community interaction. The service boasts extremely low latency between streamers and viewers, allowing for timely interactive features. Instead of a 10-20 second delay between broadcast and viewing, Beam’s low latency protocol lowers the delay to under a second, making interaction between watchers and players more immediate.
These interactions generally manifest in the form of viewer-activated buttons. There can be voting buttons along the side of the stream, interactive commands overlapping the stream and easy access donation buttons. So many buttons.
In the image above, streamer Ship has set up a mini-game where viewers can predict events that occur during rounds of Fortnite. At the beginning of each round spectators receive 100 stars to wager, winning or losing stars based on the accuracy of their predictions. It’s a fun little activity that makes viewers feel more connected to what they’re watching.
I’m particularly fond of the silly beach ball interaction, which drops a ball on the screen and tracks how many users click on the hands at the bottom of the screen to keep it bouncing. It’s what Mixer calls a “rally,” a special skill viewers can activate that other viewers can participate in. These and other skills unlock as viewers experience levels increase. Which leads us to …
Experience Points And Sparks
As users watch Mixer streams, they gain experience points. Everyone loves gaining experience points. When enough experience points are gained, a user increases their experience level. This grants them access to more emotes and skills, used to express themselves as they watch their favorite streamers play. Mixer effectively turns watching other people play games into a game.
I am currently level 15, just from tuning into random streams sporadically since early 2018. I earn experience points automatically while watching. A little box in the top right of my screen keeps track of how much experience I am accumulating and how much I need to reach the next level. I’ve got a long way to go to level 40, when I unlock the “Piece of Me” effect.
Users also earn an in-app currency called Sparks as they watch or broadcast on Mixer. Sparks are what viewers use to activate skills, enable interactive features, and use community-created apps. Using Sparks during the streams of partnered Mixer streamers contributes to the financial rewards they receive from the service. Otherwise, Sparks are just a neat way to make some noise and express yourself while watching others play.
In March, Twitch launched a featured called Squad Streaming for partners. Mixer’s been doing it since 2017, allowing groups of up to four players to merge their streams into one. Watching co-op online games is much more satisfying when you can see the action from every player’s perspective.
It’s Not Twitch
Twitch has dominated game streaming for so long now, it’s nice to see someone playing a game surrounded by an interface that isn’t the same old white and purple, watching the same horrible emojis and comments speed by on the right side of the screen. Despite being around for years, Mixer feels fresh compared to Amazon’s streaming juggernaut.
Mixer is also more chill. Even when I watched watched the platform’s recently-acquired superstar alongside 35,000 other viewers, the chat rolled by at a manageable pace. It’s the most relaxed I’ve ever felt watching Ninja stream.
It’s Also Not Perfect
Even with Ninka, Mixer has a long way to go before it’s a serious threat to Twitch’s streaming dominance. It needs to be able to stream natively from platforms other than PC and Xbox One. It needs a lot more viewers. As I write this on a Tuesday afternoon, the most-viewed stream second to Ninja’s 30,000+ is Monstercat Radio with a measly 4,200. It’s not going to be the most popular streaming service anytime soon, but it’s already a damn good one.
Last Thursday, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins announced he was leaving Twitch to stream exclusively on Mixer. Twitch has subsequently added a tongue-in-cheek reference to the original Super Mario Bros. at the top of his channel to mark the popular streamer’s departure.
“The Ninja you’re looking for is in another castle,” a banner at the top of the page now reads. It then encourages viewers to “check out these popular live channels” instead, before listing a couple dozen channels for other Fortnite streamers. If any of the roughly 14 million users following the account pop over without having heard the latest news, at least they’ll know not to keep waiting.
While Twitch removed the purple “partner” check mark next to Blevins’ name as soon as he revealed he was moving to Microsoft’s platform, the rest of his video archive is still up on Twitch, at least for now. That’s just over 900 videos, each with thousands to millions of views.
While the emphasis is usually on the “live” part of live streaming, it’ll be interesting to see what happens to arguably one of the platform’s most notable and prized collections of gaming content. Twitch normally only saves the archived work of Twitch Turbo users for 60 days.
Correction: 8/5/19, 9:39 a.m. ET: A previous version of this story stated that Ninja had 14 million subscribers to his channel at the time of publishing. That was actually the number of followers on his channel.
Superstar streamer Ninja is leaving Twitch for Mixer. This afternoon, he’s been serving up his first Mixer stream, broadcasting in front of a live crowd at Lollapalooza and also garnering tens of thousands of online viewers. The move to Mixer was announced yesterday in a short ad full of light-hearted jokes aimed at the hype surrounding this niche platform announcement. One joke in the ad—an archaic gag about a character in drag’s wig falling off—baffled and unsettled me.
The ad depicts a press conference held by Ninja, who stands at a podium. He announces that in the future he will be streaming exclusively on Microsoft’s streaming platform Mixer. He fields questions from eager audience members, several of whom are in costumes. One audience member is the bush from Fortnite; another is a cooler of Red Bull wearing a hat. Other audience members are played by Ninja himself, but in various disguises. There’s Ninja as an old man, and Ninja in glasses and a suit. There’s also Ninja in a wig and dress, sporting heavy lipstick and mustache stubble.
Near the end of the ad, the Ninja at the podium calls for a tech named Steve—who is also played by Ninja in a different costume—to press a button labelled “big announcement.” Instead, Steve stares blankly, twirling a banana. During the wait, the camera cuts back to show the dress-clad Ninja tossing their head back, knocking off their wig. The audience gasps in shock, and the character lets loose some appalled falsetto shouts.
Drag queens and trans women’s wigs falling off is an old comedy gag, although it’s one that has fallen out of fashion as society’s view of trans people has become more accepting. The construction of jokes like this, particularly the reactions of shock by other people, plays into tropes about trans people deceiving others or being fake. It furthers the narrative that trans people are ‘really’ the gender they were assigned at birth and that their current presentation is a costume or disguise. The punchline of ‘it’s really a man!’ and responding to that with gasps normalizes panic as an acceptable response to finding out someone is trans, a response that can get real trans people killed.
It’s hard to tell what the wig joke is trying to do in this ad. The audience members being disguised as question-asking Ninjas might be a play at the streamer’s popularity and a way to poke some self-reflective fun at what is a very insider-y announcement. But a punchline revealing the most eager questioners to actually be Ninja could have been made using any character in the audience. The suit-wearing man’s glasses could have fallen off, or the old man’s bald cap. Ninja could have morphed into Steve and pressed the button himself. But Ninja in a dress and stubble is framed here as being the flimsiest disguise, as well as the one that we’re culturally most used to spotting. We’ve seen the wig-falling-off joke before, so it reads as joke, and the gender reveal element—not just “that’s really Ninja,” but “that’s really a man”—gives it an extra punch. Ultimately, it’s a joke that has nothing to do with Ninja, games, or streaming.
By making trans people a punchline, the ad’s creators are reminding trans people like me that we’re not the audience for this announcement. We’re apparently not in the demographic of people targeted by the ad, which is supposed to be anyone who watches Ninja, or Mixer, or Ninja on Mixer. As I wrote back in October when PC marketplace GOG made an equally dull transphobic joke, “every time this happens, it feels like one more reminder that at least one person who works at a company that makes things I like thinks my existence is funny, and that enough people there either agree or don’t disagree strongly enough to stop them.”
I’ve had trouble getting the Mixer ad out of my head since I saw it yesterday. I think it’s because I just spent last weekend covering the Fortnite World Cup, where Ninja featured prominently. In my reflections on the event, I wondered whether Ninja and his adult streamer compatriots should be expected to be role models for young Fortnite players. Adults and kids play side by side in Fortnite, functioning in many ways like peers. In my weekend at the event, the huge age range of attendees and competitors seemed largely positive.
After watching the ad, I thought about all the kids I’d seen at the World Cup gazing at Ninja or calling his name from the stands. Statistically, some of those kids are trans. How many of them are actually watching a Mixer ad is up for debate, but the ad has over 1.4 million views on Ninja’s YouTube page, and it’s his pinned tweet. Some little trans Ninja fan has certainly seen it, and I worry about how it might make them feel. If Ninja is their role model, this ad might tell them that it’s OK for people to make jokes at their expense. If they see Ninja as a peer, they’re learning not to expect their peers to treat them with respect. They’re learning, even if only in a subtle way, that this aspect of who they are is something to be laughed at instead of something to be proud of.
By now, I’ve been out as trans for over two decades; I live a life surrounded by other trans people, where I can be out, generally, without risking my safety. Ninja being part of a tired joke with a transphobic history can’t really do anything to me, not in the same way that it might have when I was younger or earlier in my transition. But it can potentially do a lot of harm to his young audience. A lot of young eyes are watching Ninja’s move from Twitch to Mixer, and it’s a shame this is the first thing they had to see.
Streamers, like other humans who for some reason choose to not spend most of their day on camera, have to eat. Most streamers casually snack or have meals while streaming, which adds to the feeling that viewers are watching a regular person go about their daily routine. However, for Twitch’s headband-wearing money king Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, eating became a problem earlier this week due to Ramadan. “Bruh,” said one viewer in chat. “I’m fasting.” Others chimed in with similar messages shortly after.
Those messages were sent on the first day of Ramadan, May 6. Ramadan is a Muslim holiday that celebrates the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad. It lasts a month—this year running from May 6 to June 3—and includes a daily fast from dawn until sunset. It’s no cakewalk. And so, when Ninja started eating on stream on the first day of Ramadan, Muslim viewers couldn’t help but experience some hunger pangs. Moments after the messages began to pour in, Ninja turned off his face camera, leaving only Fortnite on screen.
“Sorry to the people who are doing Ramadan,” he said. “I’ll make sure to hide my screen when I eat for the rest of Ramadan.”
So far, he’s kept it up. Today, while Ninja was playing Fortnite with fellow popular streamers Dennis “Faze Cloak” Lepore and Benjamin “DrLupo” Lupo, the two asked him what he was eating. With his face cam off, Ninja refused to answer their questions.
“Don’t want to talk about it,” said Ninja. “Dude, Ramadan is going on right now. I don’t want to talk about food. It’s why I’m hiding my cam.”
He’s received a flood of support from Muslim fans for the gesture, with people in chat and on Twitter thanking him profusely.
“Mad respect,” said one fan earlier this week. “I don’t care if he is the best player or not. He has to be the best streamer right now. I know it doesn’t bother a lot of Muslims if he eats or not. We stan Ninja.”
“This is so awesome to see that he took this into consideration,” said another today. “Most people wouldn’t even think about this.”
These days, it’s not uncommon to see big companies promote their games by cutting deals with top YouTubers and streamers, but how much does one of those deals cost? In the case of chameleon-haired Twitch king Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, the number could be as high as $1 million.
Citing an anonymous source, Reuters published a report today saying publisher EA paid Ninja $1 million to play Apex Legends and tweet about it the day after the game launched on February 4. Ninja has over 13 million followers on Twitch, meaning that anything he streams will get an astronomical amount of exposure. That said, even by Ninja’s standards, $1 million is a significant chunk of change—in December, he told CNNhe makes $500,000 per month and “a lot more” in a “good month.”
Although Kotaku was not able to independently confirm the veracity of Reuters’ report, two people who have worked with Ninja said he was paid $600,000 for one event last year. Those people, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the deal, asked that we not name the event.
When asked for comment, Ninja did not reply, and while EA declined to go into specifics, an EA rep did tell Kotaku that the company had a “multi-part marketing program” for Apex Legends that included “paid engagements with some content creators at the launch of the game as we looked to quickly introduce the game to the world.” However, they said that the paid streams were short-lived; after midday on February 5, the day after release, “all Apex Legends streaming from content creators was completely organic.”
The rep also pointed to a disclosure policy streamers like Ninja were required to adhere to. “EA requires full disclosure and transparency with every Game Changer, content activation, or paid sponsorship that we are involved with,” it reads. “This is mandatory for every country, language, or influencer that we work with. We do not partner with influencers, agencies, or talent who do not support proper disclosure.”
It does not go into how often streamers are required to disclose sponsored content or what exactly proper disclosure entails, nor how prominent placement of said disclosure needs to be. This can lead to confusion, given that streams often last for many hours. Case in point: On Apex Legends’ launch day and the day following, I watched hours of streams from both Ninja and fellow battle royale kingpin Michael “Shroud” Grzesiek. Both had stream graphics that indicated they were part of an “Apex Legends partner” program, but during the time I watched them, neither outlined the exact specifics of what this program entailed. Shroud alluded to aiding in the game’s development as a consultant, but he didn’t disclose the terms of his compensation.
There is no denying that EA’s decision to partner with big streamers had an impact. On Apex Legends’ release day, it doubled Fortnite’s concurrent viewership numbers—pulling off a coup that, days earlier, nobody would’ve thought possible. More than a month later, Apex Legends remains a Twitch top ten mainstay, often occupying a spot among the service’s top three most-viewed games.