On a sweltering afternoon in Chicago, with the bass from the closest stage at Lollapalooza booming in the background, a dozen kids cluster at a tent to watch a pale, gangly young man with neon pink hair play a video game.
“It’s Ninja! It’s Ninja! He plays Fortnite!”
“I wonder what kind of car he drives. It’s either a Prius … or a Ferrari.”
“I play Fortnite every day, Mom. It’s my dream to play Fortnite.”
Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, the object of their adoration, is tired. It’s about 1:30, later in the day than he usually starts streaming. “I just want to chill. Even when we’re out and about at night, it’s just so much,” he says, before turning on the camera to broadcast himself to millions. Throughout the day, Ninja, 27, talks about wanting to watch rapper Logic perform that night from a room with no mics and no cameras.
Hot and exhausted as he is, he takes pictures with every single kid who shows up after each game, bending his stringy frame so that his face is level with theirs. Some kids are too shy to ask for a photo, staring at him in awe. When that happens, he leans over and says, “Hey, buddy, I’d like to take my picture with you. Is that cool?”
Benny, the Chicago Bulls’ mascot, drops in to play and gifts him a jersey. Lollapalooza founder and Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell stops by too, his 13-year-old son in tow. Ninja doesn’t go to the bathroom all afternoon. He eats very little. Every so often, he turns to smile at his wife, Jess, sitting patiently behind him, and at one point mouths “I love you.” Jess, whom at least one kid calls “Mrs. Ninja,” brings him fries, makes sure he has enough water and acts as a first line of defense against the adoring crowds. No, Ninja will not play squads with them. Yes, he will sign that $2 bill, but only after he finishes the game.
Five hours later, Ninja turns off the stream and collapses in his chair, his tongue lolling out of his mouth. His respite is brief. More kids have appeared.
FOR TYLER BLEVINS, it is the summer of more: more people, more events, more fame. It’s June, and he is in Los Angeles for the biggest tournament of his life, the Fortnite Celebrity Pro-Am, where 50 gamers will be paired with 50 celebrities to duke it out for $3 million in charity prize money. He’ll team up with music producer Marshmello against NBA stars Paul George and Andre Drummond and actor Joel McHale.
In his room at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons, already dressed in jeans and a purple jersey featuring his logo of a masked warrior, he lets his signature shock of dyed hair — blue today! — dry before styling it. All the while, he’s trying not to get irritated at the things first-class accommodations cannot accommodate: “I lost 15,000 subs yesterday,” he says. Even though he’s headlining today’s celebrity event, because he’s not livestreaming on Twitch, he’s losing subscribers — 40,000 of them, to be exact, by the end of the two days he’ll spend in LA. And that means he could lose money in the hundreds of thousands.
If you haven’t heard of Ninja, ask the nearest 12-year-old. He shot to fame in March after he and Drake played Fortnite, the video game phenomenon in which 100 players are dropped onto an island and battle to be the last one standing while building forts that are used to both attack and hide from opponents. At its peak, Ninja and Drake’s game, which also featured rapper Travis Scott and Pittsburgh Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, pulled in 630,000 concurrent viewers on Twitch, Amazon’s livestreaming platform, shattering the previous record of 388,000. Since then, Ninja has achieved what no other gamer has before: mainstream fame. With 11 million Twitch followers and climbing, he commands an audience few can dream of. In April, he logged the most social media interactions in the entire sports world, beating out the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Shaquille O’Neal and Neymar.
This article originally appeared on ESPN