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At 27, professional gamer Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins has seen enormous success: He’s the most popular streamer on Amazon-owned gaming platform Twitch, racking up an estimated 226 million streaming views on the site in 2018 (more than double anyone else).
Blevins even broke a Twitch record last year by attracting over 600,000 concurrent viewers by playing “Fortnite” with rapper Drake.
Blevins has over 12.8 million followers on Twitch, 20 million on YouTube, 12 million on Instagram and almost 3.8 million on Twitter, all of whom come to watch him play “Fortnite,” the incredibly popular online multiplayer survival game that took the gaming world by storm over the past year.
Those followers are worth a lot of money for Blevins. In September, his manager and wife, Jess Blevins, told CNBC Make It he was making nearly $1 million per month, and on Monday, Blevins told CNN that he earned almost $10 million in 2018 by streaming himself playing “Fortnite” on Twitch and posting videos YouTube. The two sites account for roughly 70 percent of his income, Blevins told CNN.
The rest of his earnings come from a growing list of sponsors that includes Samsung, Red Bull and Uber Eats.
Epic Games’ “Fortnite” exploded onto the scene at the end of 2017, and Blevins was one of the game’s best players and most active streamers from the jump. Essentially, he became one of the most recognizable faces associated with “Fortnite,” which itself has grown into a multibillion-dollar behemoth.
“Ninja,” as he’s known to his fans, had a meteoric rise in popularity since “Fortnite” launched, with his Twitch following soaring from roughly 500,000 people in September 2017 to nearly 13 million today.
But in the beginning, Blevins was a kid who was really good at gaming, so he was cautious about the industry. “I continued to do well in school and focus on the future of my life” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Alley” of his time at Silver Lake College in Wisconsin from 2009 to 2010.
“It was one of those things where if I was doing well in school, putting in the time and effort there, and soccer as well, that I would be rewarded to play as many games as I want,” he says. “I maintained my job that I was working at [fast food restaurant] Noodles & Company and I stayed in college while I was doing all of these things.”
Even as a kid growing up in Grayslake, Illinois, a suburban town about an hour outside of Chicago, Blevins says he’s always had a naturally competitive streak.
“I always want to be the best,” he said in a video for Bud Light. “I love competing and I always want to play the best. If I’m not doing well I’ll be upset and I’ll be raging.”
Along with his two older brothers, Blevins began playing video games at a young age.
“My dad actually was the main influence,” Blevins explained on the Twitch stream “Walshy’s Halo History.” “He loved video games when they started to come out and he would purchase them ‘for us,’ but really we would go to bed around as early as you can imagine when we were little, 6 p.m., 7 p.m., 8 p.m. …. He would play on the consoles until 2 or 3 a.m. in the morning.”
The family owned early gaming consoles like Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo and bought Microsoft Xbox and Sony PlayStation games when they came out in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In November 2001, Halo, a multi-player, futuristic war game was launched on Xbox.
As a 9- or 10-year-old, Tyler asked to play Halo along with his older brothers John and Chris Blevins, John remembers. They thought he was too young to play, but “he just destroyed us,” says John.
“He would stay up past the wee hours and just keep working,” Chris adds. “I think that’s when we were like, ‘Okay, maybe we’re not going to play with Tyler anymore.'”
As Blevins realized his skill and the potential to play in competitions and win prize money, he became serious about gaming.
“I started realizing, ‘Oh my god, you can actually go to these events, I can actually make a team and I can compete against them,” he says. “That was when stuff got real.”
He first played competitively in 2009 by entering a Halo 3 event in Orlando to small success. But Blevins gained notoriety playing a later version of the game, “Halo: Reach,” in 2011 at competitions in Dallas; Columbus, Ohio; and Anaheim, California.
“You have to be better than hundreds of people, thousands of people — you have to be the best player to even win money from tournaments,” says Blevins. And he was. The same year, Blevins was making about $100 a day streaming his playing on Twitch.
For Blevin’s family, the growing success was a surprise.
“You know you argue with him about how much time he’s spending on it, and he starts making a little money here and there, and it’s nothing,” Tyler’s father Chuck Blevins says. “Then the next thing you know, he tells me ‘I’m getting streams. I’m getting subscriptions. I’m getting sponsors.’ And I’m thinking, ‘Where is this coming from?'”
In 2017 switched his focus to streaming “Fortnite” on Twitch.
A giant force in e-sports and video games, Twitch users watched over 430 billion minutes of streams on the site in 2018, with 15 million daily active users and over 3 million unique broadcasters every month. The company was acquired by Amazon in 2014 for $970 million.
But Blevins doesn’t see professional gaming as a viable career path for everyone. For ambitious young people, he suggests diversifying your interests and skills.
“All the kids out there, you can’t just drop everything and focus on playing video games for a living,” he tells CNBC. “It’s also becoming a very competitive career choice right now, and you want to make sure that you’re securing your future.”
As for what’s next for Blevins, manager Jess tells CNBC Make It she wants to see his fame trend more and more into the mainstream via Hollywood. Blevins has turned down offers to do reality TV shows, but, Jess is convinced that Tyler’s personality — he entertains millions on his gaming stream every day — can translate to acting jobs at some point.
And Blevins is holding onto most of that money he’s making. “Our only big purchase, I think, has been our house,” Jess says of the five-bedroom home they bought in 2017 in a gated community in the Chicago suburbs, near where Tyler grew up. “And, I don’t think we went above and beyond with that. … We haven’t gotten anything like sports cars or gone on extravagant trips at all.”
“I would say our biggest splurges are when we are traveling and we’ll go to Louis Vuitton and Tyler will get a new pair of shoes and I’ll get a dress … that’s kind of our fun splurge, going to Louis Vuitton.”
Says Blevins of the his windfall: “[I’m] definitely investing and saving it as much as possible. I don’t plan on doing anything crazy with it.”
A previous version of this article was published on March 20, 2018.
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