- Getty/Matt Winkelmeyer
- Jessica Blevins, 27, is the wife and manager of Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, one of the most popular video-game players in the world.
- On August 1, Jessica, Tyler, and the handful of people on “Team Ninja” signed an exclusive deal to leave Twitch, where Ninja rose to fame, and stream exclusively on Microsoft’s rival platform, Mixer.
- We talked to Jessica to get the inside story about her husband’s deal with Mixer, which she called “one of the biggest bombs the gaming industry’s ever seen.” She hinted that even more “bombs” were on the horizon.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
On August 1, Jessica Blevins and her husband, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, were traveling from Boston to Chicago, having just filmed a small role in a movie coming out next year, when the news dropped online.
Tyler, who had accrued millions of followers and subscribers on Amazon’s Twitch game-streaming service since 2011, was leaving Twitch to stream exclusively on Microsoft’s growing Mixer platform.
Jessica said she and Tyler spent the whole day “sitting back and doing what everybody else was: reading the responses.”
“It was so nerve-wracking,” Jessica told Business Insider. “We just dropped one of the biggest bombs the gaming industry’s ever seen. It was like, oh my God, here we go. Saddle up, baby.”
While many of Ninja’s fans expressed overwhelming support, others remained skeptical, or simply wanted to know how much he was paid to leave his high-profile status on Twitch for a growing community on a rival platform. Ninja is one of the world’s most popular video-game players, and many people perceived this move as “selling out.”
Jessica said that couldn’t be further from the truth.
“Money was the last thing on our mind,” she told Business Insider. “It’s like, they don’t even know what went on behind the scenes and how hard we tried to make that deal work – and then how amazing Microsoft was for us.”
The value of Ninja’s deal with Mixer is still kept heavily under wraps. But Jessica said money wasn’t the main driver.
How Ninja’s Mixer move went down
Jessica, 27, who has run and managed the rapidly growing “Team Ninja” enterprise for about three years now, said she and her husband spent “months and months” discussing their next big step – internally at home, and with Twitch – after the couple’s big New Year’s Eve party in New York City.
But Jessica said that after many phone calls with Twitch and Team Ninja’s agency and legal team, they felt as if Twitch “did not listen to us.”
“Everything we were asking, it never came back reflecting our wishes – and that’s completely outside of finances,” she said. “And for us, two people who were streaming on Twitch, it was really upsetting for us to go months and months and keep reiterating that we love you guys, we’ve been here for a long time, but the things that are in the contract right now just don’t make sense.”
- Cynthia Blevins
One of the main sticking points with Twitch’s newly proposed contract was that it would limit the licensing deals that Jessica and Tyler had worked so hard to attain in the first place.
“With the wording of how that contract was going, he wouldn’t have been able to grow his brand much outside of gaming,” Jessica told us. “There were already conflicts with his current sponsors and resigning with that platform. And we were like, ‘Straight up, guys, we’ve worked so, so hard to grow the Ninja brand to license things and get his name out there. We can’t go backwards with it.’ So that’s where that deal just really started not making sense.”
Another major consideration for leaving, Jessica said, was Tyler’s happiness. She said that the Ninja chatroom had become “pretty toxic” on Twitch and that Tyler expressed a desire to press the reset button on everything.
“I could tell, as his wife, the last few months on Twitch, he just didn’t seem like the Ninja that I knew,” Jessica said. “He didn’t seem as enthusiastic, as loud, as hyped-up about wins and motivated to stream. It really seemed like he was kind of losing himself and his love for streaming.”
As negotiations with Twitch dragged on, Microsoft entered the picture.
“Microsoft was so aligned with what we wanted and where we were at,” she told us. “Microsoft backing us up and giving us support – it was such a warm, friendly environment. And when Tyler sat down, looked at the platform, and messed around with it, it was a quick decision. But it just felt like the right one to make.”
Compared with the months of talks with Twitch, the Mixer deal happened very quickly – in a matter of weeks – because Microsoft was so accommodating and really wanted to make Tyler’s stream feel like a home again, Jessica said.
“That was the first time we really felt like this is what’s right for the brand,” Jessica said. “And this last month of him streaming on [Mixer], he’s completely different. He’s back to that energetic, pumped-up Ninja. I don’t know if you can hear him screaming in the background right now, because he’s sniping people in ‘Fortnite,’ but, like – and this is just his wife speaking – hearing that excitement and seeing him so happy, I’m really, really happy we made it. It was a leap of faith, and Microsoft’s been nothing but amazing to us.”
When we reached out to Twitch, the company told us: “We’ve loved working with the Blevins family over the years, and we wish them the best.”
A Microsoft representative said: “We’re thrilled to welcome Ninja and his community to Mixer. Mixer is a place that was formed around being positive and welcoming from day one, and we look forward to the energy Ninja and his community will bring.”
Jessica said that when she and Tyler recently flew out to Seattle to meet with folks from Microsoft and Mixer, Tyler got to see previews of games that won’t be announced for another year.
“He’s like little-kid excited again,” she said.
‘We don’t settle’
While the past year has been filled with award shows, trips around the world, making the “Time 100” list, and even appearing on “Family Feud,” Jessica said that signing the Mixer deal “was the highlight for me of this year so far.”
But Team Ninja is far from done.
“Listen, we are not slowing down,” Jessica said. “One thing about Tyler and I: We don’t settle.”
Jessica said the plan was to continue “rolling out epic things” and “epic brand collabs.” The day after my talk with Jessica, Adidas announced a major sneaker deal with Ninja – the company’s first brand deal with a pro gamer. She also mentioned cameos in movies and TV shows coming out soon, and the Super Bowl in February.
“Those are things we’re already talking about right now,” she said.
- The Masked Singer/Fox
But Team Ninja has gotten pickier about choosing the right projects. Where in past years Tyler and Jessica would jump at a chance at a TV spot, for instance, they’ve “reined back the excitement,” Jessica said, to ensure that opportunities also align with the goals of Team Ninja: to do “epic,” fun projects and to reward the fans who contributed to Ninja’s meteoric rise to success.
“Everything still feels really new, and we don’t know if his audience is going to love certain collaborations and ways that we’re taking the brand. But we know that when we’re doing these things, they’re going to be done right,” she said. “The community’s really No. 1. We always want to make sure that the people who have us in this position in the first place – the fans – that they’re happy and that they still feel part of Team Ninja.”