Last week was a very good California trip for the world’s best-known video game player, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins.
On Sunday, he played his signature game, Fortnite, alongside three prominent musicians in Studio A of the historic Capitol Records Building in Hollywood while hundreds of fans partied outside. The event, which also included a hackathon to build music applications that leverage 5G mobile technology, kicked off an unusual collaboration between Blevins and Capitol’s Astralwerks electronic-music label.
The collaboration’s result, the 13-song Ninjawerks Vol. 1 album, had already seen the early release of three tracks – by electronic music stars Tycho, Alesso and 3LAU – ahead of the full album’s launch this Friday. In the week since those first tracks came out, they already had attracted 5 million online streams, according to the label.
At the Gamers Choice Awards, on Tuesday, Blevins’ Fortnite matchup last spring with singer Drake was voted “Fan Favorite Gaming Moment,” and won two more awards as a favorite esports player. That Drake matchup drew 600,000 viewers, a Twitch audience record. Two nights later, at the Game Awards, Ninja was named “Content Creator of the Year.”
YouTube’s release of the site’s most popular 2018 videos came out mid-week, and gave Blevins the top two slots for gaming: 32 Kill Solo Squads!! Fortnite Battle Royale Gameplay (37.7 million views) and Fortnite with Ninja | Overtime 3 |Dude Perfect (34.5 million views).
And as good as the week was, Blevins said he probably would lose money. In a typical week, he plays as many as 90 hours, streaming the Fortnite matches on Amazon-owned Twitch from his suburban Chicago home. During the nine-day California jaunt, his longest-ever in the state, he might only put in 20 hours, he said.
When I asked about reports that Blevins makes $500,000 a month from his various endorsements and revenue from his streams on Twitch and posts on YouTube (where he has 20.2 million subscribers) and Instagram (where he has 11.8 million more), he says, “No doubt. Do the math.” I have the sneaking suspicion it might be considerably more than that.
It’s a good time not just for Blevins, but for the entire video game business, and the esports industry blossoming as part of it.
Los Angeles-based Riot Games announced today that its League of Legends World Championship Finals were watched by nearly 100 million unique viewers worldwide. Riot will also premiere a Netflix documentary following the winning team through the championships. Last winter’s Intel Extreme Masters championships in Poland drew 160,000 attendees, and more than 40 million online viewers.
Meanwhile, companies such as Subnation are connecting brands to those tens of millions of fans through pop-culture connections such as street art, sneakers, fashion, and yes, music. Subnation partnered with organizers of the recent Dreamhack championships in Atlanta, and previously with the trade group that runs the giant E3 game conference, to create branded experiences at both huge events.
And now Blevins is doing his part to move beyond his gamer and esports roots (he’s still a member of Luminosity and a Red Bull Esports athlete, and formerly played Halo 3 professionally) by partnering with Astralwerks.
The full album hits Dec. 14. The songs are all electronic music or EDM, and help boost Blevins when he’s gaming. But he insists music is much more than gaming atmosphere. It’s really a set of soundtracks to parts of his life.
“When I travel and do amazing events, I usually pick bands and just listen to that album,” Blevins said. “I can listen to an album and it takes me back to that time. That’s the power of music.”
Tycho, whose Jetty contribution to the album is one of his typically glistening, upbeat instrumentals, stopped in at the Capitol Records event. Like many of the album’s contributors, Tycho said he is a long-time gamer and a Ninja fan who couldn’t resist the chance to be on the album.
“It was a huge honor to be asked to take part, this idea of having music cross over into gaming,” Tycho said. “Games were the backdrop to my childhood really. Then they became an escape when I was working really hard (on a song). They were really kind of a cure of relaxation.”
Rapper Lil Yachty also joined Blevins at the Capitol Records event. He previously appeared at Subnation’s E3 booth last summer, playing Fortnite with notables such as Los Angeles Lakers guard Josh Hart. He even indulged in some good-natured razzing of other notables at the Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds booth next to Subnation.
For Ninjawerks, Astralwerks and Loaded quickly assembling the compilation and building a global marketing plan. The label even commissioned an artist to create characters inspired by Ninja and the 13 musicians, said Astralwerks General Manager Toby Andrews. Those images will be turned into collectable items, another way to drive engagement and fan anticipation as some tracks dribble out ahead of the full release.