Fortnite megastar Tyler "Ninja" Blevins made his debut on Mixer on Friday with Fortnite World Cup solos division champion Kyle "Bugha" Giersdorf, and they decided to try to break the internet by teaming up to compete in this week's edition of Fortnite Friday.
Only days removed from winning $3 million at Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York, and getting interviewed on live television by late-night host Jimmy Fallon, Bugha accepted Ninja's invitation to team up in what has grown into one of the most-watched esports events online. Created by YouTuber Daniel "Keemstar" Keem, Fortnite Friday has become the stage in which biggest names in streaming can team up and face off with the rising talent in the Fortnite scene, with $10,000 going to the winning team. The week before Bugha jetted off to change his life forever at the Fortnite World Cup finals, he won the Fortnite Friday tournament, partnering with Misfits pro player Cody "Clix" Conrod.
Although Ninja failed to qualify for the Fortnite World Cup finals, he made major news of his own in the aftermath of the tournament, announcing he would be leaving Amazon's Twitch to stream full time on Microsoft's Mixer website. The deal sent shockwaves through the esports and video game industry at large, his announcement posted to Twitter exceeding over 10 million views in a little over 24 hours. The move to Mixer signaled an end to an era in which Ninja was the de facto face of Twitch since he established himself as the top Fortnite streamer when the game released in 2017.
"I'm incredibly grateful for the opportunities Twitch has provided me," Blevins told The Associated Press, "but as I looked at the next step in my career, I wanted to be somewhere that empowered me to push the boundaries of gaming and achieve bigger goals within the industry. Mixer provides me with more ways to connect with my community."
In an attempt to create a bridge between Ninja's Twitch fanbase and his transfer to a new platform, Mixer offered a free subscription to anyone who followed Ninja's new channel. When Ninja finally went live for his first Mixer stream Friday at Lollapalooza in Chicago, he had already amassed over 300,000 subscribers. An average of 64,750 viewers tuned in for his inaugural stream, Ninja first warming up the live audience with a few practice games before queuing up with the 16-year-old World Cup champion for Fortnite Friday.
In the star-studded duo's first game, they were pitted against Soleil "Ewok" Wheeler, the 13-year-old deaf Fortnite live streamer who over the Fortnite World Cup finals weekend became the first female to be signed by the pro gaming team FaZe Clan. And although Ewok's team got off to a good start in the head-to-head battle to see who could rack up the most eliminations, Ninja and Bugha pulled away in the two-game series. The pair's 30 eliminations across the two games put on a show for the crowd at Lollapalooza and the over 100,000 combined viewer on Bugha's and Ninja's channels.
Though Ninja has seen bigger viewership numbers throughout his career, most notably when he pulled over 600,000 concurrent viewers partnering with rapper Drake, this was a record-setting day for the new world champion. Bugha has seen his social media numbers explode since winning the World Cup, and during the Fortnite Friday tournament with Ninja, he found himself No. 1 on all of Twitch with over 80,000 concurrent viewers. It has been a whirlwind of a week for the Pennsylvania teenager, going from needing to have his previous Fortnite Friday teammate Clix vouch for him because he was not well known in the scene, to being the most watched streamer on Twitch, his name now synonymous with esports in the mainstream media.
"I think the moment I knew I won [the World Cup] was when I got one of the zones that played for me in my favor," Bugha said in an interview with ESPN's Outside the Lines. "I pretty much saw it from there. I had a huge smile on my face because I knew with the potential I have, I could definitely bring it home."
For Ninja, the move to Mixer is one that might not be all about the money or record-breaking numbers. At the height of Ninja's popularity in 2018, a day off from streaming would result in a major backlash from his fanbase. When Ninja traveled to Los Angeles to participate in the Fortnite Pro-Am (which he won) at the Banc of California Stadium, he took two days off from his normal schedule of streaming. He said he lost 40,000 subscribers. It reached a point where everything he built felt as if it were always teetering on the edge of toppling, and where even a single day of hanging out with his family was something that could negatively affect his career.
By the end of his Twitch tenure, Ninja had become more icon than person. He was supposed to be what everyone wanted him to be as the face of Twitch, the wholesome multicolor-haired streamer that purposefully held back on profane language to accommodate for his younger audience. If he was too buttoned up, a part of the gaming community would see him as a sellout or a caricature of what a live streamer was supposed to be. If he dipped back into his more raw, off-the-cuff personality, then he was suddenly a poor role model or a bad influence on youth. He couldn't win.
With the Mixer deal, that should change. He probably won't be breaking any more viewership records or be on the cover of every magazine that mentions video games, but he can be himself. Ninja probably can now take a day or two off to relax and enjoy the money he has made over the past two years without worrying about losing half of his income. If he wants to buckle down and focus more on qualifying for tournaments like the World Cup with the announcement of the Fortnite Championship Series, the deal could also leave the door open on that front as well.
No longer does Ninja have to be the person who fits the Twitch mold. Instead, he can build Mixer in the image he wants for himself -- becoming the streamer he has always wanted to be.
As Ninja leaves Twitch to reinvent himself and build up his own streaming platform, Bugha has emerged as the site's brightest new star, the World Cup champion. Like Ninja in 2017, Bugha is the undisputed best player in the world, where fans can tune in to watch his mechanical prowess and be amazed at his in-game procession while also getting to know the person behind the elite game-playing skills.
Bugha will continue onward, building his brand and collaborating with the biggest names in gaming to take his career to the next level on Twitch.
Ninja, finally freed from the shackles of trying to be something different to everyone, will go his own route, hoping to create an alternative streaming platform to disrupt Twitch's monopoly.
A passing of the torch.