- Jessica Blevins, 27, is the wife and manager of Tyler “Ninja” Blevins, who is one of the most popular video-game players in the world.
- On August 1, Jessica, Tyler, and the handful of people part of “Team Ninja” signed an exclusive deal to leave Twitch, where Ninja rose to fame, in order to 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,” and hinted at even more “bombs” 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 game-streaming Twitch 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 showed overwhelming support, others remained skeptical, or simply wanted to know how much Ninja was paid to leave his high-profile status on Twitch for a growing community on a rival platform. Tyler is one of the world’s most popular video-game players, and many people perceived this move as Ninja “selling out.”
Jessica says this 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 says money and finances were not the main drivers of the new deal.
How Ninja’s Mixer move went down
Jessica, 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 – right after the couple’s big New Year’s Eve party in New York City, in early January.
But after many phone calls, with both Twitch and Team Ninja’s agency and legal team, Jessica said it felt like 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.”
One of the main sticking points with Twitch’s newly proposed contract was that it would limit Ninja’s licensing deals, which Jessica and Tyler 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, according to Jessica, was Tyler’s happiness. She said the Ninja chatroom had become “pretty toxic” on Twitch, and 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 continued to drag 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 to the months of talks with Twitch, Jessica said 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.
“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 spokesperson 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 she and Tyler recently flew out to Seattle to meet with folks from Microsoft and Mixer, where 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 an appearance on “Family Feud,” Jessica says 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 told me. “One thing about Tyler and I, we don’t settle.”
Jessica says the plan is 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 – it was the company’s first-ever brand deal with a pro gamer. She also mentioned cameos in movies and TV shows coming out soon, and the upcoming Super Bowl in February 2020: “Those are things we’re already talking about right now.”
But Team Ninja has gotten more picky about choosing the right projects. Compared to past years, where Tyler and Jessica would jump at a chance at a TV spot, for instance, Jessica says they’ve “reined back the excitement” to ensure opportunities also align with the goals of Team Ninja: to do “epic,” fun projects, and reward the fans that contributed to Ninja’s meteoric 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 number one. 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.”