Winning million-dollar tournaments and breaking Twitch records with Drake is cool, but nothing beats coming home for Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, the 27-year-old who has become a household name in the United States over the past year with his mastery of the game Fortnite.
A Midwesterner and a die-hard Detroit Lions fan, Ninja is giving his hometown fans the opportunity to participate in an event usually seen only in cities like Los Angeles and New York. On the 99th floor of the Willis Tower in Chicago, Ninja and Red Bull are hosting an event like no other with “Rise Till Dawn,” where fans will have their chance to take down the face of Fortnite from the time the sun sets at 8:21 p.m. Central time all the way until sunrise Sunday morning at 5:35 a.m.
“It’s amazing I get to do this in my hometown of Chicago,” said Ninja. “I’ve never lived in the city — I’ve always been out in the suburbs — but my parents would always bring us here once in a while. I just know that if there are any kids who are coming to this tournament who might not be in a good place in the area and it’s kind of like a getaway, that’s really the only thing that matters to me.”
Unlike many streamers of today who lean toward outbursts and catering to a more adult audience, Ninja has steered in the other direction. While he will still have late-night streams where he can cut loose, he dedicates hours of his stream to more family-friendly entertainment in the hope of showing parents that not all video game streamers curse as often as the stereotype portrays. In what has been an overnight lifestyle change from streaming thousands to millions inspecting his every move, Ninja is embracing the role model status that has been thrust upon him and his newfound mainstream celebrity.
“I never used to [think about how I portray myself on stream] because I didn’t really realize the impact that I have on a bunch of people or on kids,” he said. “And once [my wife, Jess] and I started streaming a lot more and our content was getting out there to more kids and we were getting bigger with Fortnite, we had little children coming up to us being like, ‘Ninja! Ninja! Oh my gosh!’ Like 5-year-olds, 6-year-olds, 7s, 8s and their parents coming up to me, ‘Oh, they love watching all the time.’
“Some parents might not even be able to monitor what their kids are watching, so these are only the good parents coming up to us who know what their kids are watching. We just felt like it was 100 percent necessary to do the monitoring and parenting. Not necessarily parenting for them, just so these kids don’t grow up listening to someone swear every five seconds.”
In Chicago, it will be a family affair. His wife, Jessica, who is a streamer herself and works as her husband’s manager, will be emceeing and conducting interviews at the event. One of Ninja’s brothers will be participating in the tournament. Another will be spectating. This event is important to Ninja, who admitted to losing 40,000 paid subscribers when he took two days off to compete at the Fortnite Pro-Am event at E3 in Los Angeles last month.
For him, someone who never thought any of this was achievable a year ago, this event means much more than a shiny trophy or cash deposited into his bank account. If he can give back to the city that gave him so much, and smile while playing for fun alongside his friends and family following a whirlwind year of milestone after milestone, that will be enough for the most well-known video game player in the world.
But even if he’s playing for fun, don’t let that fool you. When asked if he was going to take it easy on his fans, family and anyone else who wants to take a shot at him tonight, he didn’t hesitate.
“Absolutely not,” said Ninja. “If I can beat them, I will, and win.”
Role model or not, no one wants to lose in his hometown.